Bhopal: Not so long ago Jyotiraditya Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan were adversaries. Given their drastically different personas it would have been anybody’s guess that they would make strange bedfellows.
But politics having brought them on one side of the fence, the two Madhya Pradesh leaders are now seeking votes for the BJP, ahead of the crucial bypolls on 3 November, in contrasting styles.
While Scindia is at home identifying himself as the head of the ‘Scindia family’, Chouhan seems comfortable with his son of the soil image.
No other politician has occupied the chief minister’s chair in Madhya Pradesh longer than Chouhan. The 61-year-old had helmed the state from 2005 to 2018. Scindia’s rebellion against the Congress earlier this year had helped Chouhan to again enter the picturesque chief minister’s residence in Bhopal’s Shymala Hills.
Scindia, 49, whose family ruled the Gwalior kingdom, was a union minister for many years under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But a defeat in the 2019 parliamentary election from family pocket borough Guna came as a rude shock for the foreign educated leader.
He led a flock of 25 loyal MLAs in March to bring down the Congress government and was rewarded by the BJP with a Rajya Sabha berth, amid speculation over his entry into the Narendra Modi Cabinet. He also ensured BJP tickets for all the 25 Congress defectors.
‘Scindia parivar ka mukhia’
Out of the 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh where the byelections will be held, as many as 16 fall in the Gwalior-Chambal region. Besides being a part of the erstwhile kingdom, this region was also part of Scindia’s political fiefdom when he was with the Congress, his word final on candidates and organisational posts.
“It’s not an election between the BJP and the Congress. You should know this is my election. The entire country is watching if the Scindia family flag in Gwalior-Chambal region will flutter high or not. For Scindia family’s honour to remain intact there’s no need to look at the candidate or the party, (you need to look at) only me and Shivraj,” Scindia had thundered at a recent rally in Bamori.
He often makes himself the centre of attraction, especially while campaigning in the Gwalior-Chambal region where he seeks votes in his and his family’s name. He does refer to the BJP and Chouhan but almost on a second thought.
Underscoring how he brought down the Congress government, he has also identified himself as “Scindia parivar ka mukhia” (the head of the Scindia family) in the rallies, often telling people that he was the candidate, not those actually contesting.
“Imarti Devi ye chunav nahi lad rahi. Imarati Devi ke parivar ka mukhia Jyotiraditya Scindia chunav lad raha hai (Imarti Devi is not contesting, the head of her family Jyotiraditya Scindia is contesting the elections),” he said at a rally in Dabra on 20 October.
Once in a while, he has also said how senior Congress leader Kamal Nath had once dared him to take to the streets (in support of protesting guest teachers) but instead it was he who brought the Congress government on the streets.
“They asked me to take to the streets, the Scindia family head defeated them (Scindia parivar ke mukhiya ne dhool chata di). If they torment farmers, women or youth, Jyotiraditya Scindia will defeat them squarely (Jyotiraditya Scindia unko dhool chata dega),” he said at a rally in Sanver on 18 October.
Scindia has also projected former party colleagues Nath, Digvijaya Singh and Ajay Singh (son of former chief minister Arjun Singh) as adversaries who once challenged him.
“Congress claims Kamal Nath is known internationally. Did he ever bring any industry? All he did was start a transfer industry in the secretariat,’’ Scindia said on 21 October at Pohari.
It is to note that the BJP’s campaign theme for the 2018 assembly elections was “Maaf Karo Maharaj”, a jibe at Scindia, even though he was not the Congress’ official chief ministerial candidate then.
‘I am a farmer’s son’
In contrast, speeches by Chouhan, who prides himself on his son of the soil image, have been less aggressive. “Main kisan ka beta hu (I am a farmer’s son),” he has been telling at the rallies, to highlight his humble origin.
Once in a while, Chouhan has even said that he was a “temporary CM”, a reference to the party’s strength in the assembly. The BJP has 107 MLAs in the 230-member house and will need to win at least eight or nine seats to reach the halfway mark.
“If you make O.P.S. (state minister O.P.S. Bhadoria) win, I will remain the CM or I will have to pack my bags,’’ he said at a rally on 15 October, while seeking votes for Bhadoria, the party’s candidate from Mehgaon.
Chouhan has also been referring to himself as “bhooka-nanga”, in an apparent reference to a Congress leader’s jibe at him, before reeling off the steps he took as the CM.
Having headed the state for so long, he has much to talk about. He also does not forget to invoke Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has been seen seeking votes in the BJP’s name. Occasionally, he has told people that he owed his fourth term as the CM to the Congress MLAs who gave up power and resigned to bring down a corrupt government.
While their campaign pitches have been different, both Scindia and Chouhan have often dubbed Nath as an outsider.
“Tum to thehre pardeshi saath kya nibhaoge? (you are an outsider, you won’t keep company),” said Chouhan at a rally. At another gathering, Scindia had remarked, “I was born in Madhya Pradesh, Shivrajji was also born here, Kamal Nathji, where were you born?