New Delhi: With elections in Madhya Pradesh still 10 months away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched an all-out effort to retain power in the state. “Mend your ways or you won’t get a ticket,” Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has told BJP MLAs who received negative feedback in an internal survey conducted by the party, ThePrint has learnt.
Following the no-confidence motion moved against his government in the legislative assembly last week, the chief minister held one-on-one meetings with more than 40 MLAs from more than four districts in the past three days. His meetings with BJP legislators, in which he has been sharing feedback gathered during the internal survey conducted in December, are expected to continue for another week.
According to sources in Madhya Pradesh BJP, the internal survey found that the performance of 40 per cent of BJP MLAs was not up to the mark — which could hamper their chances of getting a ticket to contest the 2023 assembly election.
The survey report factored in a number of indicators, including developmental work done by each MLA in his/her constituency in the past four years, popularity among voters, contribution to the promotion of government schemes, shortcomings, allegations by opponents, and public feedback.
The BJP’s decision to drop 45 sitting MLAs reaped significant benefits for the party in the just-concluded Gujarat election.
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‘Improve, before it is too late’
“There is a complaint against you that you do not meet the public and are not active in your area. Interact more with voters or else your ticket will be cut,” Chouhan told a BJP MLA from tribal-dominated Morena district, citing the findings of the internal survey. He also cautioned the legislator to make improvements before it was “too late”.
An MLA from Rewa district, who was summoned by the chief minister and advised to carry out more outreach in his constituency, told ThePrint, “The CM asked me to pay attention to ensuring there is no shortage of foodgrains in my area, besides spending as much time as possible among the public.”
The legislator said the chief minister also directed him to meet people from all classes in public meetings, adding, “Some adversaries have complained that I don’t spend enough time with the public. He (Chouhan) hinted in that direction, and I have been asked to implement the feedback.”
Subedar Singh Rajodha, the BJP MLA from Joura in Morena, said Chouhan asked him to focus on villages in his assembly constituency where Tyagis are the dominant caste. Maintaining that there was no negative feedback in his report card, Rajodha said the the CM’s comments were prompted by the low turnout in these villages in the previous assembly polls.
Similarly, the chief minister asked Gopilal Jatav, the BJP MLA from Guna, to focus on rural areas in his constituency. According to Jatav, “The BJP got good votes in rural areas even in the last election, but the survey highlights concern about rural areas. In addition, they (MLAs) have been told — in the context of those works that have been completed and those nearing completion — to cut ribbons, perform bhoomi pujas, and break coconuts, and that all these events should involve public participation.”
‘Alerting MLAs in advance a good exercise’
Explaining the process, a senior MP BJP leader told ThePrint that warning the MLAs in advance will allow them to improve since there is still time for ticket distribution.
The party opted for a similar approach in Gujarat where, in a bid to blunt anti-incumbency, it dropped more than 40 MLAs and ended up winning a historic mandate of 156 of 182 seats.
“Although the party’s situation is different in the two states, we also have the example of Himachal where dropping many MLAs hurt the BJP. The Congress is not as weak in Madhya Pradesh as it was in Gujarat, but we have to adopt all these strategies that could help us bridge the anti-incumbency and return to power,” the leader added.
Another leader from the state BJP claimed that there are also MLAs who are doing good work in their constituencies but don’t have strong voter outreach. He added, “The image of some MLAs has been tarnished, while some MLAs are cut off from the public. All of them have been asked to rectify their shortcomings in time.”
The MLAs who’ve been asked to make improvements include a number of state ministers, who’ve been warned about this in meetings of the BJP legislature party and the council of ministers, said sources in the Madhya Pradesh BJP.
Political observers agree that warning non-performing MLAs 10 months prior to the election could turn out to be beneficial for the BJP.
Professor Y.S. Sisodia, director of the Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research in Ujjain, told ThePrint, “Alerting the MLAs is definitely a good step by the BJP. This will make them aware and they will also work in their respective constituencies.”
“Rebel MLAs have not had any notable success in Madhya Pradesh. The public even rejected the party formed by (former chief minister) Uma Bharti. But in a close contest, parties would not want to lose even a small number of votes.”
Malwa, Mahakaushal and Gwalior-Chambal
For the BJP, the Malwa, Mahakaushal, and Gwalior-Chambal regions — home districts of Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Jyotiraditya Scindia, besides state BJP chief V.D. Sharma — remain areas of concern.
Not only did the BJP perform poorly in these regions in the 2018 assembly elections, it was handed a crushing defeat there in the local body elections held earlier this year.
Compared to the 2013 elections when the BJP won 100 of the 138 assembly seats in these three regions, the party’s tally there was reduced to 48 in 2018. In Gwalior-Chambal, its total fell from 20 in 2013 to seven in 2018, while in Mahakaushal, only 13 of its MLAs won in 2018 compared to 24 in 2013. Similarly, the party saw a sharp fall in its tally in Malwa where it won only 28 seats in 2018, in contrast to 56 in 2013.
As many as 57 of the BJP’s sitting MLAs, including 13 ministers, had lost their seats in the 2018 assembly election.
The party suffered a massive setback in Malwa, where there’s a large tribal population. While it won 30 of 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) in 2013, the party was able to manage a victory only in 16 of those seats in 2018.
However, while the Scindia-Digvijaya Singh-Kamal Nath trio limited the BJP’s influence in Gwalior-Chambal in 2018, Scindia’s departure to the BJP has since weakened the Congress in this region.
The BJP, since returning to power in Madhya Pradesh under the leadership of Uma Bharti in 2003, has held on to power in the state, with the sole exception of the 18-month Kamal Nath-led Congress government in 2018-2020. But despite that, the BJP has witnessed a consistent decline in the number of its MLAs and vote percentage in the assembly, with the 2013 election being the only exception owing to Chouhan’s sky-high popularity at the time.
In 2003, the BJP won 173 seats and the Congress 38 seats in the 230-member assembly. Cut to 2008, when, under Chouhan’s leadership, the BJP was reduced to just 143 seats. This rose to 165 in 2013, when the Congress was able to get only 58 of its candidates elected to the legislative assembly.
However, the 2018 MP elections were a major setback for the BJP, with the party’s tally dropping to 109 seats, while the Congress won 114 seats. The 8 per cent difference in vote share between the two parties in 2013 had dropped to a mere 0.1 per cent.
According to BJP leaders, the party has now resolved to secure 51 per cent of the total votes polled at each booth in the 2023 Madhya Pradesh assembly election. This, they feel, can only be possible if the government undergoes a surgery and non-performing MLAs are dropped.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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