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Gimmick or crusade? BJP in a fix over Uma Bharti’s anti-liquor drive ahead of MP civic poll

Ex-CM threw dung at liquor shop Tuesday, continuing campaign for prohibition. Some BJP leaders say it's a response to being 'sidelined' politically, but aide calls it 'purely social issue'.

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New Delhi: Former chief minister Uma Bharti’s latest drive against liquor has put the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a bind, with crucial civic elections due in Madhya Pradesh next month. 

On Tuesday, the firebrand leader, continuing her demand for total prohibition in the state, threw cow dung at a liquor shop in Orchha. Bharti shared the video on her Twitter handle, and it has gone viral.

In March, she had created a stir after hurling a stone at a liquor shop in Bhopal and threatening to launch an agitation against the new excise policy of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government. Under its new policy, the government had slashed the retail price of liquor by 20 per cent. Many in the party had then described Bharti’s action as “frustration at being sidelined in state politics”.

ThePrint reached Bharti by calls and texts for a comment, but did not receive a response. This article will be updated when a response is received.

Earlier, a close aide of Bharti told ThePrint that Tuesday’s action should not be linked with the upcoming civic polls. “Didi has made us clear that it’s not a political but a social issue. So, it should not be linked with political gains or losses. It has nothing to do with the civic elections. In states like Bihar and Gujarat, women voters have supported the move,” said the aide.

At the same time, the Congress — which has been smarting ever since Kamal Nath resigned as chief minister in March 2020 after 22 rebel MLAs joined the BJP — is targeting the ruling party over converting the state into a “land of liquor”.

ThePrint reached out to a BJP spokesperson in Madhya Pradesh who did not wish to comment on this issue. 

Also read: Why Gandhis are quiet on MP Congress decision to break protocol, announce Kamal Nath as CM face

‘Crucial civic polls on the horizon’

According to a BJP source, state party leaders are upset over the recent incidents but are wary of raising the issue, keeping the civic elections in mind.

Elections to 16 municipal corporations comprising 884 wards are to take place in two phases next month. While the first phase of voting will be held on 6 July, the second phase is scheduled for 13 July. The counting of the votes for the first and second phases will be on 17 and 18 July, respectively.

Many in the BJP feel that there is a pattern to Bharti’s ‘outbursts’. “She has been continuing her attack on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for quite some time now. In fact, she had even targeted the CM, days after a new excise policy slashing rates on liquor by 20 per cent was enforced,” said a senior BJP functionary. “It seems she is trying to create hurdles in the smooth functioning of the government ahead of the crucial 2023 state election.” 

More than 23,000 rural and urban local bodies were functioning without representatives for the past two years, as the MP government was insisting on implementing the OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota in the civic body polls. After pulling up the BJP government, the Supreme Court later gave its nod to the OBC reservation with a 50 per cent ceiling in May.

The civic election is crucial for the party as it comes ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections, said another leader. “Raising these issues is important and the party understands that. But there is a time for it. The way Uma ji has been raising these issues periodically shows she’s trying to send out a message to the state and central leadership about what can happen in case she’s ignored.” 

Back in March, another BJP leader had told ThePrint that Bharti had announced that she was taking a break from electoral politics for three years beginning February 2018. Bharti was now searching for a launchpad to return to state politics, the BJP leader had said. 

A second BJP state leader had a different opinion, saying Bharti was unwittingly helping the party. “She might be doing this to harm the government and the BJP, but it all works out well for us. You see this (liquor) is indeed a social and a political issue. It is linked closely with women voters too, many of whom have also protested (against the excise policy). So, a BJP leader raising this issue which the opposition would have otherwise works quite well for us,” he added. 

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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