The defeat of BJP candidate Rahul Singh Lodhi at the hands of Ajay Kumar Tandon of the Congress in the Damoh Assembly by-election (held in April-May) has brought to the fore the deep-rooted dissensions within the State unit of the party. The State leadership suspended from the primary membership of the party half a dozen Mandal presidents and issued a show-cause notice to Jayant Malaiya, blaming them for Lodhi’s defeat. Malaiya had won from the Damoh constituency seven times and had been a member of the Council of Ministers of Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Malaiya was defeated in the 2018 Assembly elections by less than 700 votes by Rahul Singh Lodhi who was then in the Congress. This time Lodhi lost by over 17,000 votes. The Mandal presidents suspended from the primary membership include Malaiya’s son, Siddharth Malaiya, who was also a convener of the Prashikshan Prakoshth (Training Cell) of BJP’s district unit.
Early this year Rahul Singh Lodhi was enticed to join BJP after resigning from the Congress and the Assembly. He was rewarded with the chairmanship of MP Warehousing and Logistics Corporation, a State enterprise with over 250 branches and huge resources at its disposal, as well as the promise to give him the ticket for the by-election caused by his resignation from the Assembly. As the ticket was being decided, some senior BJP leaders conversant with the ground-reality of the Damoh constituency were reported to have met the Chief Minister and told him that Lodhi had no chance of winning from there as the people were not happy with his performance as MLA. Even after the ticket was announced, efforts were reportedly made to persuade Chouhan to replace the candidate if the party wanted to wrest the seat. CM Chouhan and State BJP president V D Sharma were, however, said to be adamant on Lodhi.
A couple of days after getting the show-cause notice, Malaiya slammed the party leadership for being partisan and one-sided. In an interview with a newspaper, Malaiya said that it was wrong to say that Lodhi had lost in his (Malaiya’s) ward only. In fact, he got fewer votes in his ward, as well as in the ward where Union Minister and Lok Sabha member from Damoh Prahlad Patel resides; he lost heavily in urban areas and also in rural segments. It was, according to Malaiya, because of Lodhi’s arrogant nature that had made the people of the constituency turn against him. Malaiya also accused Lodhi of not doing people’s work until his palm was greased.
Party MLA from Patan in the adjoining district of Jabalpur and former Health Minister Ajay Vishnoi has tweeted that those responsible for the distribution of ticket and the in-charge of the Damoh constituency for the by-election should own up the responsibility for Lodhi’s defeat – indirectly blaming CM Chouhan, State party chief V D Sharma and Bhupendra Singh, who is a confidante of Chouhan and a minister. He was entrusted with the task of supervising the by-election.
Similar widespread discord in the party was also seen when the 22-odd former Congress MLAs were given the tickets from their respective constituencies during by-elections in October-November last year. Chouhan had, however, pacified the party men by claiming that the defection of 22 Congress MLAs was engineered at the behest of PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah as it was necessary for toppling the Congress government. Now the dissenters in the party are asking why Lodhi had to be induced to defect as the BJP government in the State already had a comfortable majority. The appointment of Lodhi to a lucrative post in preference to old party leaders is also a sore point with the dissidents.