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MP Election: As BJP Winds Up Underwhelming Yatra, There's No Sidelining Shivraj

The Centre's efforts to clip Shivraj's wings have not worked and he is the only leader who has gotten any publicity.

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A lukewarm response to the BJP's Jan Ashirwad Yatras in Madhya Pradesh should be a cause of concern for the party, given that it is facing a heavy load of anti-incumbency and even heavier infighting among the heavyweights, ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections.

Even the presence of the chief ministers of Assam, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and the deputy chief ministers of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, hardly made any difference with respect to the turnout.

And as if that was not enough, more party leaders have quit the saffron party.

The much-hyped party campaign came to its conclusion without the participation of the likes of the state BJP president VD Sharma, union ministers Jyotiraditya Scindia, Narendra Singh Tomar (also convenor of the BJP's election management committee in MP), and Prahalad Patel among others, because they are expected to be busy in the special parliament session.

The mass public reach-out campaign crisscrossing almost 11000 km and 210 assembly seats out of the 230, culminated in Bhopal on 22 September, and the party has planned a massive show to mobilise 10 lakh workers who will be addressed by PM Narendra Modi on 25 September.

However, the yatra did not seem to meet the party’s expectations. The big question, therefore, staring in the face of the BJP ahead of the polls is: will the party get the Jan Ashirwad it needs?

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'A Massive Success': Was It Really?

The state's urban development minister Bhupendra Singh, who is the coordinator of the five Jan Ashirwad Yatras, claimed that the campaign has proved to be a grand success and evoked a tremendous response from the masses.

Additionally, state BJP president VD Sharma termed the yatras "a massive success," one that "touched 1 crore people across the state."

Its claims notwithstanding, the lukewarm response has been a matter of anxiety for the BJP. The yatras are led by an air-conditioned four-wheeler, redesigned to be a chariot, and are accompanied by other vehicles carrying party workers and leaders. They stop at venues where public meetings are scheduled.

"You will hardly find any people en route these meeting points except at some stopovers where the yatra is welcomed by villagers (often those who are party workers)“, explains a BJP leader who has been accompanying the yatra in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh.

On different days in Bundelkhand, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was accompanied by Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, Haryana CM Manohar Khattar, and also Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Dhami. While they focused on issues like Sanatan, Galwan, and those of national importance, Shivraj focused on his flagship schemes like the Ladli Behena in which he is giving benefits worth Rs 1250 to 1.28 crore women.

“I will deposit Rs 1600 crore in their accounts every year”, he would highlight in every meeting.

Additionally, deputy CMs from Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh Devendra Fadnavis and Brajesh Pathak respectively addressed meetings at various places in MP but failed to attract crowds. Before the special parliament session began on 19 September, the two Union ministers Bhupender Yadav and Ashwinin Vaishanav, also took part in these yatras.

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Shivraj Can't be Sidelined

The whole idea was to generate the interest of the masses and attract them to these yatras, and to motivate party workers by organising speeches of these politicians. “The party leadership in Delhi intended to minimize the anti-incumbency and reduce the monotony of the same party faces from the state”, a party functionary told The Quint. But it has hardly served the purpose.

Interestingly, the Centre's efforts to clip Shivraj's wings for the yatra have also not worked and he is the only leader who got any publicity, eclipsing all others.

I also experienced one interesting fact.

People would wait and listen to the speeches of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and, to the embarrassment of the CMs from other states, people would start leaving when they began speaking. On one occasion in Sagar, the number of people attending Haryana CM’s meeting did not even touch three digits.

“Is it because the crowd is mobilised by Shivraj's supporters- the candidates and the ministers of the region- that the people were not showing interest in the speeches of other politicians”, I asked a senior party leader in Bhopal. His response was interesting.

He said, “In the similar yatras in previous assembly elections, Shivraj would be the only spearhead, but in 2023, Jan Ashirwad Yatra, they (the Delhi leadership) wanted to sideline Shivraj. The message, however, these yatras are sending to Delhi is different. The message is that Shivraj is inevitable."

The BJP leader added the MP CM is getting all the publicity in the regional media as well.

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Defections and Infighting Continue

The yatras also underline another issue - the division within the state BJP. The Maharaj, Shivraj, and Naraaj BJP factors were evident, as I wrote about in my previous article.

Two-time former MLA Girija Shankar Sharma, whose family has been associated with the BJP for decades, quit the party. He belongs to Hoshangabad District, rechristened as Narmadapuram.

Sharma's resignation came a day after the sitting MLA from Kolaras seat of Shivpuri district, Virendra Raghuvanshi, also quit the BJP. While doing so, he accused leaders and ministers close to Jyotiraditya Scindia of corruption as well as "torture" of people who have been with the party for a long time.

Former BJP MLA from Indore Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat has joined the Congress party. All of them joined the Congress just before the Jan Ashirwad Yatra began in the presence of the party's state president and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath.

In the past 3 months, other BJP leaders who have left the party and crossed over to the Congress include former minister Deepak Joshi, who is the son of former chief minister Kailash Joshi, former MLA Radhelal Baghel, former MLA Kunwar Dhruv Pratap Singh, Yadvendra Singh ( son of former MLA Deshraj Singh), and Samandar Singh Patel, a staunch Scindia supporter who had defected with him in 2020.

During the course of their journey, the yatras have also been marred by incidents like stone pelting by villagers in Neemuch where people affected by the Cheetah project expressed anger. Later, many of them were identified and booked. But the BJP alleged that it was Congress behind the incident.

The sole purpose of the yatras or the mass public contact campaign was to reach out to the voters and galvanise the party workers. But the BJP will have to undertake a serious and sincere review of this massive exercise to find answers - are the people receptive and workers excited?

And will the party get Jan Ashirwad?

(The author is a senior journalist based in Madhya Pradesh. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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