Bhopal: The BJP has kept its promise for the crucial by-elections in Madhya Pradesh, fielding all 25 former Congress legislators who have switched sides. But it has a tough job at hand in convincing its cadres to seek votes for the same people they campaigned against in the 2018 assembly elections.
When Jyotiraditya Scindia led 22 legislators to the BJP in March, toppling Kamal Nath’s Congress government in the process, it was on the condition that all of them would contest the by-elections on the BJP’s lotus symbol. Three more Congress legislators resigned later, when the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government was already in place.
Unofficially, the BJP had always maintained that it would have no choice but to field all the rebels, because it owes its government to them, but there was speculation in some quarters that the party may spring up some surprises later. However, when the party released its list of 28 candidates — including for three seats that fell vacant due to incumbents’ deaths — there were no surprises.
The Congress, meanwhile, has released 27 names over three lists, and is yet to name a candidate for Biaora, where the vacancy was caused by the death of its legislator Govardhan Dangi on 15 September. The Congress had put out its first list more than three weeks ago, days after the BJP claimed it had difficulties in finding candidates.
Why BJP delayed announcement
Asked about the BJP’s delay in naming candidates, CM Chouhan had hinted that the Congress rebels would be his party’s pick, but stopped short of making it official. Many of the former Congress leaders attended political gatherings organised by the BJP before the Election Commission announced that the bypolls would be held on 3 November.
The BJP was playing its cards close to its chest to avoid possible backlash from its leaders, including former legislators, who were hoping that the party might reward them instead of the new entrants. Some BJP leaders said they might find it difficult to campaign with and for their former Congress rivals.
One of those dissenting voices was former CM Kailash Joshi’s son Deepak Joshi, who was a minister in Chouhan’s previous government. Joshi said all his options would remain open if he was not considered for the Hatpiplya seat, from where he lost in 2018.
Other BJP leaders who dropped hints about their frustration included former ministers Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya and Ajay Vishnoi, former Apex Bank chairman Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat, and Mudit Shejwar.
All these leaders publicly maintained that they would not switch sides, but the BJP waited for the Congress to announce candidates first before making its own list official. It also chose not to take disciplinary action against the likes of Joshi, Pawaiya and Shekhawat who had gone public about their frustration, saying it had sorted out the matter.
Hints for cadres
BJP leaders who spoke to ThePrint said most cadres are not relishing the idea of campaigning for people they called names two years ago.
This is why leaders like CM Chouhan are saying in public rallies that the BJP government is in place only because of Congress rebels — it’s a hint to cadres to repay the debt.
Chouhan himself has repaid the debt by including 14 of the Congress rebels in two cabinet expansions. Scindia loyalists Tulsi Silawat and Govind Rajput were inducted in his cabinet on 21 April, and the rest on 2 July.
However, Silawat and Govind Rajput’s permitted term of six months as ministers without being part of the legislature ends on 21 October, nearly two weeks before polling day.