MP Polls: Why Congress May Not Win ‘Shivraj Vs Kamal Nath’ Battle

Congress’s ‘Shivraj v Kamal Nath’ strategy may go awry; after all, Kamal Nath is not a mass leader, unlike Shivraj.

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Opinion
4 min read
Kamal Nath (L) and Shivraj Singh Chouhan (R). Image used for representational purposes.
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The much awaited Madhya Pradesh by-polls have been announced. Elections to 28 seats in the state will take place on 3 November, with counting on 10 November with Bihar.

25 sitting MLAs of the Congress resigned and joined the BJP, while on the other 3 seats polls have been necessitated due to the death of the MLAs. 22 of these MLAs belong to the Scindia camp who switched sides leading to the installation of the BJP government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

The polls are crucial as it will decide the fate of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.

While Congress is using ‘gaddari’ (allegedly of these MLAs) as their poll plank, and exhorting people to vote them out, the BJP is busy chanting ‘wahi bharosa, dugani raftaar’.

The Congress says it will win most of the seats, and Kamal Nath will be back as chief minister – but the ground reality is quite different. The party faces a daunting task due to the following reasons:

Has Congress Got It All ‘Wrong’ This Time?

The Congress strategy in this election is bound to go awry; it has made it a Kamal Nath vs Shivraj battle. Even hardcore Congress supporters would agree that Kamal Nath is not a mass leader. He is a great organiser, yes, but is not a master orator. His discomfort during road shows and rallies is apparent. He hardly moved out of Ballabh Bhavan, the government secretariat, during his 15 month tenure. On the other hand, Shivraj loves to be among the people who fondly call him ‘mama’.

When Congress emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 state elections, it ran a very tight localised campaign; not the presidential style which they are carrying out now.

They didn’t pitch anybody against Shivraj Singh Chouhan. They made it a one-to-one candidate contest in each seat, exploiting the local anti-incumbency and anger against the BJP MLA.

Congress in MP: A Trust Deficit & Missing Bonhomie

The Congress fought under a combined leadership umbrella in 2018 – Kamal Nath (Mahakaushal), Digvijay Singh (the whole of MP), Scindia (Gwalior-Chambal), Ajay Singh (Vindhya), Arun Yadav (Malwa) – and everybody worked hard to ensure victory.

However, most of these leaders are missing from the scene these days. The Digvijay-Kamal Nath bonhomie is missing. 

The two have not held any rally or road show in these 28 seats. Kamal Nath is likely upset at Digvijay Singh’s mismanagement of the situation which led to the downfall of his government. It is alleged that the names of candidates are being decided by Kamal Nath – who is also the Congress President of the state – without any consultations with the top leadership. There is a trust deficit between the top two leaders of the state.

Congress Needs A 100% ‘Strike Rate’

The current strength of the house is 222. BJP has 107, Congress 88, and others (BSP/SP/Independents) have 7 seats. The majority mark is 116. Congress needs to win all 28 to reach the magic mark, implying a strike rate of 100 percent, which has a near-zero probability. BJP, on the other hand, needs to win just 9 of these seats, implying a much lower strike rate of 33 percent – one out of every three seats.

Could Kamal Nath Have Been More ‘Resourceful’?

16 of the 28 seats where by-elections are to be held are in the Gwalior-Chambal region which is considered to be the stronghold of the royal family of the Scindias.

The Congress doesn’t have strong candidates for these seats. It has failed to lure the BJP contestants of 2018 to hop onto its bandwagon, barring a few seats.

The candidates announced by the party do not enthuse its workers, leave alone the public.

The fact that the party has not managed the exodus of big leaders of the BJP despite reports of their sulking and unhappy with BJP leadership, has demotivated the workers. It is being perceived as Kamal Nath’s failure to be resourceful.

Congress’s ‘Gaddar’ Jibe At Scindia Isn’t Working

Congress is mainly harping on the fact that these MLAs who jumped ship are ‘gaddars’ and have received monetary compensation to join the BJP –– but this jibe is not working on the ground. Scindia belongs to the royal family, and he’s been able to shake off this accusation with enough resources in hand.

The fact that Congress has taken pains to point out that 6 of the MLAs who resigned were ministers, and that there was no good reason for them to ‘risk their careers’ – is also not helping the Congress on the ground.

Instead of the ‘gaddar’ jibe working, as the party had hoped, Scindia has turned the situation around to his benefit – and has cited this insult within his party as impacting his ability to serve the people of the region.

Earlier, the ‘Chowkidaar chor hain’ chant hadn’t worked for the Congress; clearly, it hasn’t learnt from its mistakes.

BJP is fighting on name of Shivraj

It is very natural for BJP workers and leaders to oppose the ‘imported’ candidates in the 22 seats. They have been fighting them tooth and nail for decades. The local media is abuzz with news of the tussle between these candidates and the BJP’s organisational machinery in several seats. Many workers still consider them as ‘bahari’. Some of these candidates have highlighted the issue of non-cooperation from the BJP and the RSS to the top leadership of the party.

To neutralise the anger of the workers, the BJP has adopted the strategy of contesting the elections in the name of Shivraj and Modi.

The party believes they will be able to lift the morale of the cadre and exhort them to work for the victory of these candidates for the sake of a bigger cause.

To sum up, the Madhya Pradesh by-elections, which is being touted as a ‘do or die’ battle for Shivraj, is becoming easier as the day passes, mainly because of the lower threshold required to remain in power.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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