MP: Whether the Rebels-independents spoil the battle of the BJP or the INC?

Both the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) are eagerly awaiting the outcome of elections held to Madhya Pradesh State assembly on November 28, 2018 in which 2,907 candidates were in the fray for 230 assembly seats. Of the major parties, the BJP has fielded candidates on all 230 seats, the INC in 229 (allotted one seat Jatara in Tikamgarh district for the LJD.); the BSP -227; the SP-51 and the AAP-208.  There were 1,102 independent candidates into the fray.

Despite the hectic efforts by the Central and State leaders of the BJP and the INC to field  consensus candidates, a large number of rebels and independents supported by the disgruntled leaders from these parties have entered into the fray, making the contest even more competitive in at two dozen seats. The BJP as their election strategy to rebuild the image of the party denied tickets to around 50 per cent of the sitting MLAs including ministers who failed to perform or involved themselves in controversies that paved the way for ‘rebel-menace’. Aggrieved by such a decision, a few of them left the party to manage the candidature of the INC, while around 60 other leaders or their supporters filed nominations as rebels or independents.  On the other hand, in the INC camp, the hectic lobbying by the leaders of different groups to ensure party tickets for their loyalists led to the emergence of ‘rebels; or   candidates contesting as independents. Such intensive lobbying has also been made by Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who have succeeded to get their men included in the list, and naturally depriving the chances of other contenders for the party ticket. There was no surprise that as many as 70 such aspirants entered the fray as ‘rebels’ or independents or the  candidates of other parties like the SP, the BSP  and the GondwanaGanatantra Party (GGP) which has its major pockets in the Tribal districts of Malwa region. .

When we analyze the ‘rebel – problem’ in MP-polls, certain interesting aspects or discerning trends of our polity come to the fore.  Firstly, octogenarian political leaders who lavishly enjoyed the fruits of our democratic institutions for many decades are adamant not to leave the space under one pretext or the other. For example, when the BJP denied ticket, Sartaj Singh (78) Ex-Union Minister and a Minister in Shivraj Singh Chouhan government (2013-16), left the party and joined the INC which offered him Hoshangabad seat. Similarly, Babulal Gaur (88), the former BJP Chief Minister of the state who was elected 10 times to the state assembly, was reluctant to leave his seat.  Same was the case with Ramakrishna Kusmaria (76) five times- MP (from Damoh & Khajuraho) who on being denied the party ticket  posed a serious threat to the party by fielding himself as ‘rebel’ candidate  in Damoh and Patheria A/C s of backward  Bundhelkhand region where he has sizeable following. Another unique example is Raghavji (84), a former Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and ex-State Finance Minister in Babulal Gaur ministry who too revolted against party leadership on his candidature.

A second factor is that such senior leaders who half-heartedly left the arena under pressure or other promises, very often were adamant in accommodating their kith and kins in the list of candidates. The veteran Babulal Gaur made truce with the party only when his daughter in law Ms. Krishana Gaur, who otherwise is popular in the BJP politics, was accommodated in the safe-secure Govindpura seat. Batting for relatives or close loyalists was a noticeable trend in the impending MP polls. The party has to succumb to the pressure of Kailash Vijayavarghiya, National General Secretary of the BJP to accommodate his son Akash in Indore-3 A/C, much against the opposition of other senior leaders from the area. The INC has tried to capitalize from such issues in Indore – Mhow belt which is a citadel of the BJP.

Ironically, the INC camp was flooded with similar issues. The hectic lobbying by many senior leaders to accommodate their relations in the list, precipitated the crisis in many areas. Nitin Chaturvedi, son of veteran INC leader, Satyavrat Chaturvedi who failed to get party ticket has filed nomination as the SP candidate from Rajnagar in Chhattarpur district which is a strong belt for Kamal Nath. In the tribal – belt of Jhabua, the adamant stand of Dileep Singh Bhuria, MP, the tribal face of the INC to allot Jhabua seat to his son Vikrant Bhuria forced  Xavier Meda, the sitting INC MLA to revolt against the party. Kantilal Bhuria’s niece, Kalavati Bhuria was the INC candidate from the nearby constituency, Alirajpur. Digvijaya Singh’s brother, nephew and son, are contesting from their traditional stronghold of Raghogarh – Guna belt.  Ajay Singh, the son of late Arjun Singh, Arun Yadav son of late Subash Yadav, Ex Deputy CM, are the other prominent leaders in the fray.

As per the ground level indications, the rebels/ independents in Gwalior – Chambal belt, Vidisha district and in Bundelkahand region (especially Damoh district) may cause more harm to the prospects of BJP, as the party in 2013 polls won a number of seats in these areas with comparatively  low margin (below 10000). Moreover, the rebels would work to the advantage of the INC which had scrapped through some of these seats with narrow margin. On the other hand, the presence of such candidates may shift the balance against the INC in the tribal belt of Malwa – Nimar region especially in districts like Anuppur, Mandala and Jhabua where the rebels along with the candidates of the SP, the GGP etc. would pocket the INC votes.

Both BJP and INC were optimistic that they can contain the ‘rebel-menace’ to a great extent, at the instance of the central leaders. The INC, besides initiating disciplinary measures against adamant leaders, tried to placate them by engaging them as ‘Constituency in charge of election campaigns’, an organizational assignment which would improve their status in the party on the victory of their assigned candidates.  The state BJP leaders now console themselves that the ‘rebel-menace’ may not adversely affect their electoral prospects as they  could successfully contain the threat  through the hurricane tour-campaign of the central and state  leaders including the notably the Prime Minister. Let us wait till December 11 to know whether their expectations will come true or not?

* K V Thomas is a Senior Fellow at CPPR 

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