November 22, 2020

Madhya Pradesh By-election: Not BJP’s Victory but Congress’s Defeat

Jaswinder Singh

TWENTY-EIGHT assembly seats went to the by-polls in Madhya Pradesh. In 2018 assembly elections to the MP there was a decisive mandate against the BJP’s 15 years rule and it was defeated. As the Corona pandemic was spreading its fangs, 22 MLA’s of the Congress were bought by the BJP on an alleged amount of Rs 35 crore each and toppled the government and the mandate of 2018. After assuming power, the BJP continued to buy three more Congress MLA’s and made them resign from the assembly. Three MLA’s died during this period and hence by- elections took place for 28 seats.

During the election campaign for these 28 seats, the Congress gave the slogan of “bikau nahi tikau”(Not saleable, but sustainable). The Congress drew a parallel between 15 years of BJP’s rule to 15 months of Kamal Nath’s administration. But the Congress did not conduct a campaign on political issues but a ‘soft Hindutva’ campaign

The day the election commission announced the schedule for these by-elections, the Congress leaders tweeted that the announcement is on Tuesday, so is the polling and also the counting. Tuesday is the day of Hanuman and Kamal Nath is a Hanuman devotee, hence Kamal Nath will win. Even Kamal Nath used this narrative and in several public meetings announced that the biggest temple of Hanuman was constructed by him in Chindwara.

The Congress’s campaign did not limit to Hanuman. There were two ‘sadhu babas’ in the star campaigner list of the Congress. One of them was a known Congressman the other was a ‘computer baba’ who was earlier with the BJP. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan(BJP) had even given him the status of a state minister. The third one is a ‘mirchi baba’ who had during the parliamentary elections declared that in case Digvijay Singh (contested from Bhopal, Congress candidate) loses the elections, he will commit suicide through self-immolation. However, he is still alive, though Digvijay Singh lost the elections.

When this force of ‘babas’ was campaigning for the Congress candidates, none other than the BJP used to ridicule the Congress saying that it was playing- ‘soft Hindutva’. Later when Shivraj Chauhan dismantled the illegal ‘ashram’ of ‘computer baba’ and found and exhibited all that is generally found from such ashrams from illegal items to human trafficking this further tarnished the image of the Congress. In short, the Congress was trying to transform the political fight into a religious one and seeking support from the people on political issues. There was a contradiction inherent in the campaign.

The second important reason for Congress’s defeat was that it gave a slogan against those who had deserted from the party as ‘traitors’ and ‘saleable’ commodity. This shift of the MLAs took place in March 2020. The by-elections were in October and in these months the Congress did not unleash any campaign against them rather in the beginning tried to woo them back.

Kamal Nath proclaimed that the elections are won not through political campaign rather by sharp election management. In this light, instead of choosing candidates from within the Congress party, Kamal Nath selected candidates from BJP and BSP to ensure that his loyal people win and that he could counter Digvijay Singh within the party. The balloon of traitor etc., got burst by such tactics.

The ego of Congress party along with its apolitical ideas also contributed to its defeat. There are other political forces and civil society groups which have relevance and who are quite determined to fight the BJP. All of them could have contributed to the defeat of the BJP. Neither the Congress approached such combinations nor was there any effort to form a network to unify the campaign against the BJP.

These results have raised questions as people are not happy with the BJP in general . The Rs 35 crore issue is still in their minds but the BJP won a majority of the seats owing to its organisation and election machinery. The BJP used the government machinery and was able to win 19 seats out of 28. It got 49.46 per cent of vote share which is 8.44 per cent more than 2018 assembly elections. There is not a major fall in Congress vote percentage, it was 40.87 per cent in 2018 and 40.5 now. BSP increased its vote share from five per cent to 5.75.

The BJP could have been defeated had the election campaign been built on political issues. In Gwalior, BJP lost the assembly seat where Jyotiraditya is a voter and his palace falls in the same precinct. Even Narendra Tomar, agriculture minister is from the same constituency but they could not win this seat. In Gwalior the BJP lost two seats; Gwalior East and Dabra. Imarti Devi the former minister in both Shivraj and Kamal Nath cabinets was the BJP candidate from Dabra. In 2018 she had won this seat as a Congress candidate by a margin of 57,000 votes, but in the by-election, she lost by more than 7,000 votes. Kamal Nath had made a misogynist comment on Imarti Devi in the same constituency which cost heavily to the Congress in the elections in all the constituencies.

In Morena, the two MLA who had switched sides from Congress to BJP and were also made ministers by the Shivraj Singh government, lost. The BJP lost three out of five seats in Morena. In one seat where the BJP MLA had died and his son was fielded as the candidate, quite natural there was a sympathy wave for him. However, the BJP lost this seat. Though the BJP won 19 of 28 seats, the anger of the people against the BJP and particularly Scindia was quite evident.