"I will come on behalf of my party and will ask for your votes… but I will never say that as a member of the Lodhi community, you are bound to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)."Uma Bharti, BJP Leader
Uma Bharti, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and a prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from the state, while addressing a gathering of the Lodhi community in Bhopal on Sunday, 25 December, said that the "community is free from any political compulsions" and "they should vote as per their interests."
Uma Bharti on Thursday, 29 December, took to Twitter to reiterate her statements to the Lodhi community, saying: "There is no need to refute my statements, because I have said exactly that."
However, she said that her statements pertained to the 2018 Assembly elections, when her office received requests to cancel one of her public meetings, citing resentment among local BJP leaders.
"I am a devoted worker of the party. I will come asking you to vote for the BJP, but you have to take care of your interests and then decide for yourself. We are bound by love, but you are totally free from any political compulsions as far as I am concerned," she had said on 25, December.
Bharti's statements assume great political significance as a cold war brews between her and the BJP in the state, which political analysts believe might lead to bigger problems for the latter.
A Hurt Uma Bharti Can Spell Trouble for BJP
Known for her 'bebaak' (rigid and fearless) personality, Bharti's rise during the 2003 Assembly elections was significant.
Leading a staunch campaign against then chief minister Digvijaya Singh, Bharti emerged as a sterling leader and was instrumental in forcing the Congress out of power back then.
However, Bharti's hold didn't last long and her chief ministerial position was given to Babulal Gaur and then Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Bharti, who is believed to have been sidelined by senior BJP leaders in 2005, holds sway over OBC voters, especially the Lodhi community, and is still fighting to retain her stature within the party.
However, this fight took an unpleasant turn when Bharti started cornering the Chouhan government by proposing a ban on the sale of alcohol in Madhya Pradesh. In a viral video, she was also seen pelting stones at a liquor shop in March 2022.
After Chouhan commented on the matter in April, Bharti took to Twitter to allege that she previously had a cordial relationship with the chief minister, but he later stopped interacting with her directly.
Bharti has continued to stage protests while forcefully closing liquor shops and demanding a blanket ban on the sale of liquor in the state.
The BJP retaliated swiftly and expelled her relative Pritam Singh Lodhi for his controversial comments on Brahmins in August this year.
More Cause for Discontentment
Pritam Lodhi's expulsion didn't send an encouraging message to the Lodhi community. Madhya Pradesh has around 50 percent OBC population – and the Lodhi vote is the deciding factor in the Bundelkhand region and districts like Balaghat, Sagar, Hoshangabad, and Seoni.
Three days after his expulsion, Pritam Lodhi organised a "show of strength" rally in Pichhore constituency of Shivpuri district, which was attended by thousands. The participants even raised slogans against the state home minister Narottam Mishra and BJP state president VD Sharma, both of whom are Brahmins.
Discontent among a significant section of the Lodhi voters after Pritam Singh's expulsion is evident.
Adding to Uma Bharti's woes, her nephew Rahul Singh Lodhi's election was termed void by the Madhya Pradesh High Court earlier this month. The court found him guilty of furnishing wrong information on his nomination papers – and hence, ordered the elections void.
Assembly Elections Due Next Year
Journalist and political analyst Deepak Tiwari, while speaking to The Quint, said that Bharti's recent statement shows "deep hurt and discontentment" – and that is bad news for the BJP.
"One thing is very clear from her statements – she is hurt and the scar is deeper than what the BJP leaders would have predicted. Uma Bharti is among the tallest OBC leaders in the OBC community in the state, and when a leader of her stature openly speaks of "no political compulsion to vote for the BJP," it is bad news for the party, with elections due next year."Deepak Tiwari, Political Analyst
Tiwari further said that Uma Bharti has been on the sidelines – and with the recent events, such as the expulsion of Pritam Lodhi and the cancellation of her nephew's election, might have pushed her to take this 'unfavourable' stand for the BJP.
Taking a dig at Bharti's remarks, Congress spokesperson Anand Jat said that the BJP was busy coddling the MLAs it 'horse-traded' to come to power and was neglecting one of their own.
"The BJP is busy coddling the former Congress MLAs it bought to come to power while a devoted BJP worker like Uma Bharti is being sidelined. The BJP will face the consequences in the 2023 Assembly elections."Anand Jat, MP Congress Spokesperson