New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh is set for bypolls to four seats — three assembly and one Lok Sabha — the results of which are crucial to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
While the elections will have no bearing on the stability of the government, they come at a time when the BJP has been replacing chief ministers in other states.
Although there is nothing to suggest that Chouhan could face the same situation, even BJP leaders admit that the results will be closely watched for a number of reasons.
For one, the BJP lost the Damoh bypoll, held in April during peak Covid, and party leaders say that the current round of bypolls, being held across the state, will help in gauging the mood of the electorate.
“Imagine a scenario where a government, despite being in power, is unable to win the bypolls. It happened in Damoh earlier. Chouhan’s mismanagement of Covid-19 and internal differences had surfaced as the major reasons,” said a BJP leader who did not want to be named.
“To ensure it is not repeated, the party has already held a number of meetings, formed committees to ensure everything is in place for 30 October (voting day). So these elections are being watched keenly by supporters as well as detractors (of the CM).”
A second BJP leader said the outcome of the bypolls will also help the central leadership decide on the future course of action for the 2023 assembly polls and make changes if necessary.
“There is a growing clamour to replace the CM. Poor results in the bypolls will only make that louder,” said the second leader. “If the central leadership is waiting for a valid reason before taking a decision, then a poor show in these bypolls can become that reason.”
A senior BJP leader, who backs the CM, however, told ThePrint that a good show in the by-elections will only strengthen Chouhan’s position.
“We have undertaken a number of measures for the tribal population and not only at the level of the government but at the party level too,” the leader said. “We are confident that we will perform well and this will also silence those who have been questioning the CM’s leadership.”
Of the three assembly seats, Raigaon is reserved for Scheduled Castes, Jobat is reserved for Scheduled Tribes while Prithvipur is a general seat. The Khandwa Lok Sabha seat is also a general constituency. Voting is scheduled to take place on 30 October.
The Raigaon and Khandwa seats fell vacant after the deaths of BJP MLA Jugal Kishor Bagri and MP Nandkumar Singh respectively. Elections were necessitated in Jobat and Prithvipur after the deaths of Congress MLAs Kalawati Bhuria and Brijendra Pratap Singh respectively.
The bypolls are the second major litmus test for Shivraj Singh Chouhan since he became chief minister for the fourth time in March 2020, when Kamal Nath’s Congress government fell.
In his first such tests, during bypolls in November 2020, the BJP won 19 of 28 seats, polls for which were necessitated after former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia joined the BJP along with his supporters.
This time, the ride will not be an easy one. Rising fuel prices, food inflation, an increase in atrocities against tribals and Dalits in Madhya Pradesh, and issues related to farmers, are the major talking points ahead of the elections.
Congress focuses on fuel prices, inflation
With the Congress campaign aggressively focussing on rising costs of fuel, inflation and power outages, the BJP is now concentrating on shifting the narrative by deciding to conduct Valmiki Jayanti on 20 October, a move the Congress says is political.
“Kamal Nathji has been highlighting the issue of rising fuel prices and the impact it is having on other commodities too. Not only this, atrocities against tribals are increasing every other day under this government’s tenure and crime against women has been increasing constantly. These are important issues and the party is highlighting them,” said Congress spokesperson Ajay Yada.
“The BJP government has also stopped all the important welfare schemes, be it the loan waiver for farmers or the subsidised electricity one. Farmers are not getting fertiliser, and when they protest they are beaten up.”
The fuel rates have touched a record high across the country. In Madhya Pradesh’s Balaghat, petrol breached the Rs 116-per litre mark while diesel cost Rs 105.59 per litre.
The BJP, however, claims fuel prices are increasing across the globe and are not something that can be controlled by any government.
“Fuel prices are not in the hands of the government. Entire Europe is affected. Nobody is spared. It is not because of the government’s policy or a failure of the government. Crude oil is an international commodity and even Congress-ruled states are not able to do anything,” said Hitesh Bajpai, BJP spokesperson in Madhya Pradesh.
When asked about politicising festivals, a charge made by the Congress, he said. “If we are using it for political messaging, who is stopping the Congress? Why don’t they celebrate Valmiki Jayanti? We know they won’t do kanya poojan but will criticise those who are doing it.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)