The 28 Assembly by-elections in Madhya Pradesh are becoming more problematic for the ruling BJP than for Congress. Of the BJP candidates, 22 are those who had quit Congress along with Jyotiraditya Scindia, to bring down the Congress government of Kamal Nath, resigned from the Assembly and joined BJP. They are at the root of the problem. A few more Congress MLAs had resigned from the Assembly later on and joined BJP. Three vacancies were caused by the death of MLAs.
Scindia supporters were taken aback when their leader quietly joined the BJP because they were not sounded about it before they were asked to rebel against the Congress leadership in March this year. They were given the impression that it would possibly be a pressure group within the Congress or, if it became so imperative, Scindia would form a new party with them and ally with BJP to form the government. It took Scindia some days to persuade them to join BJP along with him. A word was quietly spread at the time that Scindia might become the Chief Minister. Besides, an assurance was explicitly held out that the defecting MLAs would be given the ticket in the by-elections.
The BJP workers and those who had contested against these then Congress candidates have been feeling uneasy ever since. There is a discernible disquiet among the State leaders also. They have been trying to convince the party workers that the decision to engineer defections was taken by the party’s central leadership. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was reported to have told a meeting of party workers at Sanwer constituency in June that the decision to lure the Congress MLAs out of Congress to bring down the Kamal Nath government was taken by the central leadership. More recently a similar observation was made by BJP’s national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya. He said that he could have brought down the Congress government within two months but was asked by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to wait, insinuating that Shah was deeply involved in the toppling game.
With polling scheduled for November 3, the electioneering for the by-elections is at its peak. However, the reports from these constituencies suggest only a half-hearted attempt by BJP workers to work for the victory of these former congress MLAs whom they had jeered and abused only two years ago. There is also an apprehension at the higher ranks of the State BJP that victory of all Scindia supporters would adversely affect their own standing in the party. The way Forest Minister Vijay Shah made a mockery of the Scindia supporters recently indicates the true feelings of the State leadership. Shah said that he had not seen in his life such a vast Mandi where so many MLAs could be purchased like horses and donkeys. Shah is very close to Chief Minister Chouhan.
The Congress, led by Kamal Nath, selected candidates for the by-elections after consulting, sometimes more than once, the local leaders — a practice which has not been witnessed in Congress for quite some time. Nath has been assuring the voters that the Congress will return to power after the by-elections. That, though, does not appear to be so simple. With its 88 MLAs now, Congress needs to win all 28 seats to reach the majority point in a House of 230. The BJP, on the other hand, needs only 9 as it has 107 MLAs at present. The Congress leaders’’ hope lies in the dissensions within the BJP and Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s own fear of Scindia becoming much too powerful in the State BJP if all or most of his supporters win in the by-elections.