"Karnataka pharnatak ke result se gharbarne ke zarurat nahi hai. Abhi hamare tarkash me bahut teer baki hai (No need to be scared of the Karnataka elections results, we have many arrows in our quiver)," said Madhya Pradesh's chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a working committee meeting held in Bhopal to boost their morale ahead of the 2023 state election.
His statement had come a week after the BJP lost the assembly polls to the Congress in Karnataka.
In the last three months, the BJP government has shot several arrows from its quiver [tarkash] in a desperate attempt to combat anti-incumbency and infighting. It has also attempted to pacify the anger of specific communities with lucrative announcements.
He even recently inaugurated a model coach of Bhopal metro installing it in Bhopal's smart city park.
While announcing the budget for the metro in 2018, CM Chouhan promised to run the metro by 2022 in Bhopal and Indore, but the deadline was extended in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, the state is going for polls without the metro, and with a dim hope of returning to power as a chief minister, Chouhan unveiled a model coach to put his name in the official documents.
Schemes and Cabinet Expansion: Chouhan's Scramble
These days, the CM is making almost three promises every day, and has launched several schemes
Ladli Behna Yojana that gives Rs 1000 to women, which will be reportedly increased to Rs 3000
Sekho Kamao Yojana for youths that offers a monthly stipend of Rs 8000-1000 a month to college-passed students for an apprenticeship
LPG cylinder at Rs 450 for the Savan month
Cheaper electricity bills to Ladli Behna beneficiaries for the month of September to counter inflation
He also tried to pacify the anger of major communities in small meetings held at the CM's house with community leaders.
He held almost 15 such rallies, announced voluntary holidays on the birth anniversary of revered figures of their respective communities, and even set up community-based welfare boards and construction corridors in their names on the lines of the Mahakal Lok Corridor.
In one such desperate announcement made on 29 July, in a rally for the Keer Community at CM House, Chouhan announced the decision to include the community in the scheduled tribe list.
Further accelerating the preparations for the polls, the saffron party expanded the cabinet, inducting two OBC leaders and one Brahman face just three months before voting begins in order to balance regional and caste equations, and counter growing infighting.
“The decision of cabinet expansion was taken by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to end all the infighting and satisfy the senior leaders of BJP in MP. Many leaders, who were sidelined in the party for different reasons, have been made in charge of different committees formed for the upcoming election,” said a senior BJP leader.
On August 26, the party inducted; Rajendra Shukla, Gauri Shankar Bisen, and Rahul Lodhi into the cabinet. While Bisen and Shukla were administered oaths as cabinet ministers, Lodhi was administered the oath of minister of state.
The most important induction in the cabinet is of four-time MLA Rajendra Shukla who represents the Rewa assembly seat of Vidhya region. In 2018, when the BJP performed poorly in other regions, it won 24 out of 30 seats in the region but remained ignored since the party returned to power in March 2020 with Jyotiraditya Scindia and his 22 loyalists. Rahul Lodhi who is the first-time MLA inducted in the cabinet to pacify Uma Bharti, has been critical of the state government on an ‘unbalanced cabinet’ as the Gwalior-Chambal region has given a major share.
The party, however, faced criticism over cabinet expansion from a former Minister and sitting BJP MLA from Jabalpur Ajay Bishnoi. “On the face of it, cabinet expansion will trigger a disconnect. In an attempt to pacify the anger of a few, it will anger many.”
You can read more about the infighting among the BJP here.
Re-inducting Suspended Party Leaders
To strengthen a party whose leaders were in the rat race to join the Congress, the BJP party inducted suspended party leaders like Preetam Singh Lodhi and Katni's mayor Preeti Sanjeev Suri.
Lodhi and Suri were suspended from the party last year for six years. Lodhi was accused of making inappropriate comments against the Brahmin community and Suri for contesting mayoral elections against the party line.
Lodhi, who is akin to former Union Minister Uma Bharti was not only inducted in the party but also given a ticket from Pichhore assembly seats.
"Learning from the recent elections, the party is doing everything to counter discontent, infighting, and anti-incumbency by announcing welfare schemes,” said a senior party leader Hitesh Bajpai.
Another BJP leader explained that the BJP didn't offer direct money, cheaper LPG, and others in Karnataka and Himachal which the Congress did. Hence, in Madhya Pradesh, the party is making all the promises that Congress is offering in the state from cheaper LPG, and power bills to offering direct money through Ladli Behna Yojana.
BJP state president VD Sharma said, “In the last three months, the government has transferred Rs 3627 crore to the bank accounts of 1.26 lakh Ladli Behna beneficiaries, and out of eight lakh registrations under Sekho Kamao Yojna, the government managed to accommodate close to 60,000 youths."
He also promised to fill 1 lakh government posts and launched schemes like CM Yuva Udhyami Yojana in a bid to provide financial support to entrepreneurs.
The BJP's morale in the state has however been boosted in light of the traction that the Chouhan government’s welfare schemes are believed to have got among the people, especially its Ladli Behna scheme.
The BJP leadership in Delhi is hoping that the party will be able to ride on various welfare schemes undertaken by the Chouhan government to return to power in MP.
The BJP is in Need of a New Plan
Ruling the state for the last 18 years, the BJP is running short of enemies to target in Madhya Pradesh. With a lack of issues to attack the Congress, the party is digging into two decades-old topics and catchphrases that were popular in 2003 assembly polls and drawing parallels with the economic conditions of the state from 2003 to 2023.
Often, the party creates adversaries if there are none in sight or delves into history to breathe life into characters long forgotten.
When the Congress tried to clone the Karnataka model of 40 percent commission to 50 percent commission in Madhya Pradesh over a viral letter that made the national headlines after Priyanka Gandhi tweeted it, the government tried to throttle the issue by lodging dozens of FIRs against the Congress leaders including Gandhi in 41 districts.
"The party is taking all measures to return to power, considering the inputs of the ongoing surveys. From introducing welfare policies, patronising the upset leaders to invoking the issues that were forgotten long ago, everything is on the table," said Narendra Singh Tomar in Bhopal during his last visit on 28 August. "The efforts are showing results. In the latest survey, the party's performance graph among the voters has improved."
The BJP, however, is mostly banking on Ladli Behna Yojana. Huge hoardings reminding beneficiaries of approaching the 10th of every month, when the money is deposited in their bank accounts, are regularly put up across the state. Ladli Behno 10 tareekh aane wali hai the hoardings prominently promise that the amount will be gradually increased to Rs 3,000.
Similarly, the banners were put up with the picture of young beneficiaries of Sekho Kamao Yojana across the state to counter unemployment.
In his speeches, Chouhan often warns people that the Congress would discontinue the scheme if voted to power as they have discontinued pro-poor policies after returning to power in 2018. "It doesn’t matter that Congress has promised to give Rs 1,500 a month," he reiterated in it in rallies.
Even though the elections are still a few months away, the ruling party will need to come up with something fresh to attract voters. The "double-engine sarkar" argument has been going on for a while and the CM's image as Mama may not help the BJP in the polls.
(Kashif Kakvi is a journalist based in Madhya Pradesh. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)