Compared to 2014, this summer in Madhya Pradesh is going to be much more difficult for the BJP. Essentially, the Congress party has nothing to lose and everything to gain, while for the BJP, maintaining its 26 seats to repeat its previous win, is a serious challenge. This, because it recently lost its fifteen-year-old government in the state by a slim margin. Thanks to the ‘Modi wave’ in 2014, the BJP won 27 out of 29 seats in the state. Later, it lost the Ratlam-Jhabua seat in the by-elections, bringing its toll to 26.
If we compare the results of the December 2018 assembly elections with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it becomes clear that even though they lost power, the BJP still made gains in 17 Lok Sabha seats – Guna, Sagar, Tikamgarh, Damoh, Khajuraho, Satna, Rewa, Sidhi, Shahdol, Jabalpur, Balaghat, Hoshangabad, Vidisha, Bhopal, Ujjain, Mandsaur and Indore.
Even in the current elections, the BJP has high hopes from all these seats and is fighting a direct contest with the Congress. In Madhya Pradesh, Narendra Modi is once again the 'big face', all other BJP candidates paling in comparison.
‘Mutiny’ Within BJP in Madhya Pradesh Due to Denial of Tickets
The BJP has cut out 14 of its 26 sitting MPs this time, but it took so long to announce the candidates, that ticket contenders were roused to rebellion. The most fierce competition was for the BJP's ‘safe seats’ like Bhopal, Indore, Vidisha, Khajuraho.
At a recent election meeting in Indore, Narendra Modi was singing praises of Sumitra Mahajan, saying that only Sumitraji has the right to ‘scold’ him, but Modi forgot to mention why the eight-time winner from Indore was denied a ticket this time. It’s being said that her ticket was cut, following the ‘over 75 years of age’ rule. Mahajan pulled all strings to get a ticket for her son, but Modi and Shah paid no heed. After denying Sumitra Mahajan a ticket, and being caught in the political tussle between old players like her and Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP is now playing its stakes on lesser-known face like Shankar Lalwani.
The same story was repeated in Khajuraho. The RSS pick VD Sharma, who had been adamant on fighting from Bhopal, and was forced to adjust in Khajuraho due to stiff opposition.
Even here, there was strong opposition to him. The party is having to sweat it out to pacify the various mutinous groups.
Even in Bhopal, where they are up against former CM Digvijaya Singh, Pragya Thakur’s name was announced at the last moment, due to opposition from local leaders. In the BJP-occupied seat, which it has held for the last three decades, Pragya Thakur's entry has made the electoral battle both interesting and extremely difficult. Thakur belongs to Lahar town of Bhind district in MP. By giving the terror-accused a ticket, the BJP has succeeded in polarising voters not just in Bhopal, but in all of Madhya Pradesh.
If Thakur loses to Dijvijaya Singh, it’ll be a huge blow to the BJP.
Bitter Battle Over Tickets
The BJP faced resistance on both fronts – where it cut tickets based on its performance in the recent assembly elections – and also where it didn’t. Bhind, Sidhi, Balaghat, Rajgarh, Tikamgarh, Mandsaur, Khandwa and Shahdol were the areas where the party had to face opposition in both the situations.
BJP MP Gyan Singh, commenting on the ticket being given to Himadri Singh, went to the extent of saying that ‘the ticket has been sold for crores’. He was insistent on contesting the election as an independent, but eventually, he was pacified.
When former Balaghat minister Dhal Singh Bisen got the ticket, another claimant Mausam Bisen, daughter of Gauri Shankar Bisen (a minister for years in the Shivraj Singh government), expressed her dissent on social media.
Another front was opened against MP Virendra Kumar in his constituency, Tikamgarh. Ashok Argal exploded when Narendra Singh Tomar entered the fray in Morena. The Agral family has had a hold on this seat for a long time. Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was shifted from Gwalior to Morena this time. Anoop Mishra was so angry at not being given the ticket from Morena that he even refused to campaign for the party.
But Where Are the Strong Women Candidates?
One had hoped to see three national-level women MPs this election, but they were left out of the fray: Sumitra Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharti. Swaraj refused to contest elections due to health reasons and Uma Bharti chose not to, for personal reasons. Sushma Swaraj won the last two elections from Vidisha, which is considered to be one of BJP's most secure seats in the state. Uma Bharti is from Tikamgarh and has represented both Bhopal and Khajuraho Lok Sabha seats.
Apart from those who have voluntarily chosen to opt out of the fray, there is a large number of people who are unhappy with not getting tickets. BJP spokesperson Rahul Kothari, while giving a clarification over this resentment, said that the BJP is a ‘big family’, and that quick resentment over not getting a ticket is natural; the party has distributed tickets keeping all political equations in mind.
Like in the BJP, there is also a lot of turmoil in the Congress over people not getting tickets. In Shahdol, local leaders were enraged when Pramila Singh, who left the BJP to join the Congress, was given a party ticket. Pramila Singh was given ticket on Kamal Nath’s recommendation. Here, the BJP has fielded Himadri Singh, who was formerly with the Congress.
Key Issues Like Access to Basics & Unemployment Have Been Buried
In Mandsaur, when Congress announced its candidate, chaos erupted and Rupa Ureti, daughter of former minister Ganga Bai Ureti, resigned. When Shailendra Patel got a ticket from Vidisha, senior Congress leader and former minister Rajkumar Patel was so angry, that he immediately went to file his nomination as an Independent candidate, but he was somehow pacified by Jitu Patwar in time. In Satna, former Assembly Deputy Speaker Rajendra Singh and Ajay Arjun Singh were demanding a Congress ticket, but despite resistance, Singh was given the ticket from the Sidhi Lok Sabha seat, even though he had lost the assembly election from this seat by a heavy margin.
Rebellion is common to many parties including the Congress and the BJP. But Congress spokesperson Shobha Ojha denies rebellion within her party in MP.
She says there is no intense resentment and that Chief Minister Kamal Nath is talking to the people himself, and the issues have been resolved.
The tragic reality of these elections is that basic questions such as road, water, electricity and unemployment have gotten lost somewhere in the electoral noise over nationalism and religion. During the assembly elections four months ago, issues such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were everywhere. They had a serious impact on the election results, but in the Lok Sabha elections, all these old issues have evaporated.
No Tall Leaders to Pacify Rebels
Many tall leaders of the BJP and the Congress in MP have jumped into the fray this time. Neither party has senior leaders left to handle rebels within.
All the big leaders from the Congress, including Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Arun Yadav, Ajay Arjun Singh, Kantilal Bhuria, Vivek Tankha are in the fray.
The BJP seems to be in the same situation. State President Rakesh Singh is in the fray; Shivraj Singh's role seems to be limited. Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar is also in a tough fight from Morena. Another tall leader, Kailash Vijayvargiya, was holding fort for the party in West Bengal, while Narottam Mishra was campaigning in UP. As a result, when BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe had convened a meeting of former party MLAs, Councillors, district presidents in Bhopal, over half did not show up.
(The article was originally written in Hindi, and has been translated by Mariam Shaheen.)
(Somdatt Sastri is a senior journalist based in Bhopal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)