The Gwalior-Chambal region was instrumental in bringing the Congress to power in 2018 and it has now caused the party’s downfall 15 months later.
Besides Jyotiraditya Scindia, who hails from the Scindia royal family of Gwalior, 22 MLAs resigned from the Congress, reducing the Kamal Nath government to a minority in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. Out of these 22, 14 MLAs happen to be from the Gwalior-Chambal region:
- Imarti Devi - Dabra
- Pradhuman Singh Tomar - Gwalior
- Mahendra Singh Sisodia - Bamori
- Brajendra Yadav - Mungaoli
- Jajpal Jajji - Ashok Nagar
- Suresh Dhakad - Pohari
- Jasmant Jatave - Karera
- Munnalal Goyal - Gwalior East
- Ranvir Jatav - Gohad
- OPS Bhadoria - Mehgaon
- Kamlesh Jatav - Ambah
- Giriraj Dandotiya - Dimani
- Raghuraj Kansana - Morena
- Adalsingh Kansana - Sumaoli
Except Adalsingh Kansana, all the others are said to be Scindia loyalists.
The Gwalior-Chambal region includes districts like Sheopur, Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Shivpuri, Datia, Ashok Nagar and Guna.
The region is highly feudal and there are frequent instances of violence against Dalits. Dalits, on their part, are comparatively more assertive than in rest of MP. The Jatav community is present in sizable numbers here and the BSP also has a strong base.
Gwalior-Chambal has been a BJP bastion but in the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress performed phenomenally well winning 26 out of 34 seats, a sweep which helped its tally narrowly inch ahead of the BJP in the state.
The Congress’ success was largely a result of the caste-based mobilisation in the region, especially around the 2 April 2018 Bharat Bandh.
The bandh was called by Dalit organisations against the Supreme Court’s decision to allegedly dilute the provisions of the SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
However, upper caste groups attacked the protesters and there was violence across the Gwalior-Chambal region.
The Narendra Modi government at the Centre decided to take steps to overturn the SC judgment but this provoked the anger of upper caste groups, who had been its strongest backers for decades.
As a result, both Dalits and upper castes in the Gwalior-Chambal region turned against the BJP, leading to its rout in the area in the Assembly elections.
Palace vs Fort: Conflict Between Scindias & Digvijaya
It’s not just caste conflict, the area has witnessed strong rivalry even within the erstwhile royals. One such rivalry is between Digvijaya Singh and the Scindia family.
In the Madhya Pradesh Congress, the rivalry is known as “Mahal aur Qile ki ladayi”, that is the conflict between the Palace and the Fort.
Singh hails from the royal family of Raghoharh in Guna, which has an older ancestry in the area compared to the Scindias. Raghogharh State was established in 1673 by Lal Singh Khichi, a Rajput tracing ancestry to Prithviraj Chauhan.
But a century later, the Raghogarh State’s fortunes suffered due to Maratha attacks led by Mahadji Shinde. Shinde established the Scindia dynasty, which established its dominance in the region. During the British rule, Raghogarh came under the Gwalior Residency and the Scindias of Gwalior were given a higher status by the colonial rulers.
After Independence, the Scindia family initially aligned itself with the Congress, with Vijayraje Scindia winning Lok Sabha election from Guna in 1957 and Gwalior in 1962 on Congress tickets.
On the other hand, Balbhadra Singh, the Raja of Raghogarh and the father of Digvijaya Singh, won from Raghogarh on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket in 1952.
However, in 1967 Vijayraje Scindia shifted to the Jan Sangh under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s influence. In the 1970s, she tried to persuade Digvijaya Singh to join the Jana Sangh as well but he chose to join the Congress instead and became a protege of senior leader Arjun Singh.
Digvijaya inherited Arjun Singh’s rivalry with Madhavrao Scindia in MP politics, which got passed on to Jyotiraditya Scindia after his father’s death.
Scindia’s supporters allege that Digvijaya played a major role in sidelining the former in collusion with Kamal Nath. Digvijaya, on his part, refutes this and says that Scindia was given full authority over party affairs in the Gwalior region.
Apparently it was the Congress’ decision to name Digvijaya as its first candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections instead of Scindia, which precipitated the latter’s departure.
What Lies Ahead?
With Scindia’s exit and fall of the Congress government, politics in Gwalior-Chambal will now be in flux.
The BJP will now be faced with the tough task of balancing the interests of its existing leaders from the area and the Scindia loyalists who are likely to join it.
Since this has been a BJP bastion, it has a fair share of entrenched leaders in the area who may not be very happy if Congress defectors are given tickets for the by-elections instead of them.
It may be relatively easy for former Congress leaders with a strong hold over their seats, like Imarti Devi from Dabra or Govind Singh Rajpur from Surkhi (not in Gwalior Chambal), but not so much for those who won for the first time due to caste anger against the BJP.
The second churn will take place within the Congress. With Scindia out, Digvijaya Singh is likely to exert far greater influence over party affairs in MP, especially in this region.
How Singh balances various caste interests in the region and maintains cordial relations with other Congress factions in the state remains to be seen.