New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the mayor’s position in three local bodies, two of which went to the Congress in the second phase of the Madhya Pradesh municipal elections, whose results were announced Wednesday.
BJP leaders ThePrint spoke to attributed the party’s losses to infighting, poor selection of mayoral candidates, and overconfidence.
While one of the mayoral posts the BJP lost was in Morena — the stronghold of Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar — another was in Katni, the turf of the pary’s Madhya Pradesh president and Lok Sabha MP, V.D. Sharma. The latter has gone to a BJP rebel.
In total — also counting the results of the first phase, whose results were announced on 17 July — the BJP has won nine of the 16 mayoral posts up for grabs this election, down from its 2014 clean sweep.
The Congress, meanwhile, has gone up to five from zero, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has won one in Singrauli.
With five mayoral positions, the Congress put up its best performance since Madhya Pradesh introduced direct elections to the post in 1999. The party’s best performance before this was in 2009, when it won mayoral posts in Dewas, Ujjain, and Katni.
Despite its losses, however, the BJP still holds a majority in almost 80 per cent of municipal corporations and councils in the state, according to sources in the party. The party won 24 out of 40 municipal councils and 123 out of 169 town councils.
The local body elections come a year before assembly polls are due in the state.
‘Infighting, poor candidate selection, overconfidence’
Speaking to ThePrint, a senior BJP leader from MP admitted that the losses were a setback, but the party had still won nine mayoral posts.
“If we compare it with the 2014 result then it is, of course, a setback. But we still have a majority in most corporations and town councils,” he said.
The most alarming results, he said, came from the Chambal belt in the northern part of the state — where Morena is located — despite having “a very senior leader from this area”.
Sharma, the BJP’s MP president, said that the party would conduct a thorough review and look into the reasons for its losses.
“You see, the BJP has won 95 per cent of the seats in the local body elections. It’s only in the mayoral elections that we haven’t performed up to the mark. We’ll conduct a review and make the necessary changes,” Sharma told ThePrint.
However, he played down the losses by pointing out that the BJP “may have lost mayoral [positions] but [it has more] councillors, say, in Rewa or even in Katni”.
But according to another senior BJP leader, the results, coming a year ahead of the assembly elections, have affected the morale of party workers.
“There are so many things that went wrong from the beginning. The selection of the local candidates for mayor wasn’t based on performance. The workers worked very hard but they were let down by the constant infighting between the senior leaders,” the leader told thePrint.
BJP loses Tomar’s and Sharma’s strongholds
The results declared Wednesday showed that the BJP had won mayoral positions in Dewas and Ratlam. The Congress won in Morena and Rewa, while BJP rebel Preeti Suri won in Katni. The BJP had won all five in 2014.
The biggest blows for the party came from Katni and Morena.
In Morena, the Congress’s mayoral candidate Sharda Solanki beat the BJP’s Meena Jatav by 12,874 votes. Solanki polled 54,277 votes compared to Jatav’s 41,403 votes. The loss came despite aggressive campaigning not only by Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, but also by another Union minister from MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia.
In state BJP chief Sharma’s stronghold of Katni, in the Jabalpur division, the rebel Suri won against the party’s candidate, Jyoti Dixit, by more than 5,000 votes.
Sharma’s Khajuraho parliamentary constituency includes three assembly segments in Katni district.
Another significant loss for the BJP is Rewa, a civic body that the BJP lost control of after 24 years. Here, the Congress’s mayoral candidate Ajay Mishra was leading by 9,299 votes at the end of the eighth round of counting.
A BJP leader in Madhya Pradesh told ThePrint that the party had lost Katni because of its choice of mayoral candidate.
“Preeti Suri (a former councillor) was a strong candidate,” the leader said. “She has the goodwill of the people in her area because of her social work. She helped people during Covid by providing blood where it was needed and ensuring water supply.”
But the party caved in to pressure from former BJP state minister Sanjay Pathak and chose Dixit as its mayoral candidate, claimed the leader.
“He [Pathak] promised to ensure that the party won in Katni, but we lost because of infighting,” the leader said.
Another BJP leader told ThePrint that although the losses in both Morena (Chambal) and Katni were significant, the defeats in Rewa and Singrauli meant that the party was losing its foothold in the state’s Vindhya region. The Vindhya Division consists of the Rewa, Satna, Sidhi, and Singrauli districts of the state, while Chambal consists of three districts — Morena, Bhind, and Sheopur.
“The Morena candidate was given preference because of Tomar. But now, not only have we lost the mayoral seat, our numbers have also been reduced in the municipal corporation,” the leader said, although he added that the results would be different in next year’s assembly polls because people vote over “urban issues” in municipal elections.
Morena district BJP president Yogesh Pal Gupta told ThePrint that the results were a setback for the party.
“We have to look at why we lost despite our best efforts. The Congress won a significant number of seats on the council, which is worrisome,” he said.
In Morena, the Congress won 19 wards, the BJP 15, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) eight.
The silver lining for the BJP however, came from its victory in Khargone, which saw communal clashes in April after a Ram Navami procession. The party won 19 out of 33 wards in the municipal election, compared to the Congress’s four and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s three.
The AIMIM won two wards in Jabalpur, one in Khandwa, and one in Burhanpur.
‘Time for introspection’
A senior leader of the BJP said that in Katni, the rebel candidate, Suri, was a district secretary with the patronage of a senior leader of the party.
“This is why, after being denied a ticket, she had the confidence to fight alone. The infighting between two senior leaders cost us this seat,” said the leader.
The party is also concerned about the growing footprint of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a state BJP leader said.
The leader said that an informal review meeting was held Wednesday to take stock of the elections and pinpoint the reasons behind the “poor performance”.
Another party leader pointed out that the fact that the BJP had still managed to win “over 80 per cent of the ward elections” shows that the people were in favour of the party, but had rejected the mayor candidates.
“During the mayoral selection process, feedback was shared regarding those who would go on to lose. But the ground feedback was never taken seriously, and senior leaders opted for their close aides. This had to happen,” said a party functionary.
Questions are also being raised about the overall election management in the state and how Sharma and Chouhan managed the party’s affairs.
“Across the country, the Congress is being rejected by the voters, but in Madhya Pradesh, if the voter is choosing the Congress, there’s a need for greater introspection. There’s also a need to innovate, and the same tried and tested formula of contesting elections will not do,” said another functionary.
Another BJP leader from the state said the fact that the party secured 80 per cent of seats in local bodies meant that the BJP’s councillors were winning and its booths were intact.
“Our mayoral candidates were selected according to the whims and fancies of senior leaders,” he said. “Despite being the ruling party in the state, the public continues to repose its faith in our councillors. So it’s not anti-incumbency on the ground. People have rejected state leaders’ nominees,” the leader said.
He also said that the Congress’s election strategy was smarter.
“Their campaign strategy was better, but their last mile connect is not as strong on the ground. That’s why they haven’t won enough councillors.”
This copy has been updated to correct the name of the BJP district president of Morena and the year when the civic body elections were last held in MP. The errors are regretted.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)