Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): As the electoral drumbeats have silenced in Madhya Pradesh, eyes are set on central figures from both the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. After Shivraj Singh Chouhan serving as the longest Chief Minister, the BJP this time has decided to contest elections without disclosing the CM’s face creating controversy around whether the BJP has sidelined Chouhan. Meanwhile, the grand old party is once again betting on former chief minister and leader of opposition Kamal Nath, a seasoned politician known for his sharp political methods. With the elections scheduled for November 17 in the state, Kamal Nath’s strategic moves are under question by many speculating he is diverging against the party line for electoral victory or accusing him of using soft Hindutva.
eNewsroom spoke to a group of men indulged in political discussions after the massive road show of Rahul Gandhi on November 13 where he predicted that the party would win 150 seats in Madhya Pradesh. From the same stage, former chief minister also hailed about constructing 1000 gau-shalas during their government. A man in his late 50s, Mohammad Khan, seemed unconcerned with Kamal Nath playing soft Hindutva cards.
Kamal Nath’s Soft Hindutva
He said that the BJP has falsely painted Congress as a Muslim party which is not true. “BJP has not succeeded in polarizing the electorates this time because Congress under the leadership of Kamal Nath is well countering the narrative with soft-Hindutva which seems beneficial for the victory. They are proving themselves as inclusive Hindus. Besides, BJP leaders are struggling to respond to the Congress’s questions on corruption. They are giving baffling statements tarnishing the image of the party. Interestingly, the Congress party does not seem to feel the need to react to those ill-humored statements. Even the prime minister called Rahul Gandhi moorkhon ke sardar (leader of stupids) does not befit a leader of such stature. It has impacted negatively,” expressed Khan.
Without mentioning, the PM on Tuesday attacked Gandhi and called him “Moorkhon ke sardar” in a rally in Betul district for his claims over the dominance of “Made in China” mobile phones in India.
Khan added that it is after two decades that I see people talking about the Congress party which is in a strong position compared to 2018. The leader of oppsotion is leading elections almost single-handedly. The consecutive release of corruption-related videos that went viral has caught the public eye. People can’t be fooled anymore.
An alleged video of Devendra Tomar went viral on social media where he was heard discussing transactions of hundreds of crore rupees. Devendra is the son of union minister and BJP candidate from Dimni, Narendra Singh Tomar. However, the BJP has dismissed the video claiming it is fake. The Congress party has attacked the state government for not using investigative agencies yet.
Veteran journalist LS Herdenia in conversation with eNewsroom said that there is a shift in Congress politics where only Kamal Nath cannot be held accountable as the party has adopted this difference where Rahul Gandhi visits temples. It seems they are changing the character of the party. “Politicians adopt various tactics during elections. Keeping a 2018-like victory in mind, Kamal Nath has included different policies in the election manifesto. He has full command over the party as the fractions have reduced to zero under his leadership. This unity was missing in the elections of 2008, 2013, and 2018. The response received by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi proves that there are no fractions,” claimed Herdenia.
He continued that occasionally Congress seems to follow the footsteps of the BJP. Kamal Nath honored a man and organized his sermon who compared women with open plots. He also began religious activities in Congress office which is contradictory to what the Congress party stands for.
Kamal Nath and his son Nakul Nath had organized a 3-day religious event in Samariya of Chhindwara hosting controversial godman Dhirendra Shastri, a head priest of Bageshwar Dham. Shastri is the open supporter of one Hindu nation. He faced condemnation from all quarters for making derogatory comments against Hindu women in which Shastri compared women who don’t wear sindoor and mangalsutra with available plots for men. Both the Congress and BJP have attempted to woo voters using Shastri for his fanbase.
“What is the point of making a Hindu nation, 82% are Hindus here. In a country where there is such a huge percentage, is it a matter of debate? What is the need to say Hindu nation, these figures state,” Nath emphasizing on secularism had said to reporters in Bhopal.
Love-hate relation with Godi Media
It stirred debates when Congress’s CM candidate gave an interview to a journalist boycotted by the INDIA alliance with presumptions that Nath is breaking rules. However, local politicians believe that the decision was taken not to send their representatives on the shows and events of the said anchors.
Sharing his experience as a journalist Herdenia said that there is no space for boycotting journalists in a democracy. It is an inappropriate thing because journalists work under the pressure of media house owners.
Herdenia mentioned that Kamal Nath has included different policies in the election manifesto. However, there are limitations in not adding policies to fight against communalism and provisions for the safety of minorities, for instance.
“Neglecting minorities is a dangerous move in a democracy. With a 7-8% minority population in Madhya Pradesh, the lack of representation raises questions about political inclusion. There was a time when Congress saw Muslim MLAs winning seats and holding ministerial positions even in areas without an influential Muslim population, like Gufran from Betul, Gulsher, and Aziz Qureshi from Satna. However, it appears that Congress has moved away from this practice. Concerns arise that if incumbent MLA Arif Masood loses and Atif Aqueel does not win, Madhya Pradesh may not have any Muslim MLAs,” he expressed concerns.
The highest number of Muslims in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly was in 1962 when seven MLAs were elected. In 1993, despite no Muslim representative being elected, then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh nominated Ibraheem Qureshi as a cabinet minister in his council of ministers. However, Qureshi had to resign after six months.
In the 2023 Madhya Pradesh elections, the Congress party has fielded only two Muslim candidates. They are contesting from the Bhopal Madhya and Uttar constituencies. The incumbent MLA Arif Masood is seeking re-election from Madhya, while Atif Aqueel is replacing his father, Arif Aqueel from Uttar.
Herdenia condemned the usage of Lord Ram by the parties to gain power. “Of course, the Congress party laid the foundation of Ram Mandir. Lord Ram was the symbol of abandoning power and the throne on the instructions of his father. It is unfortunate what the politicians do these days,” he stated.
Abdullah, an activist from Bhopal who is actively promoting political awareness within the society speaking with eNewsroom said that Madhya Pradesh is the land of the Janata Party from where leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Vijayraje Scindia, and Kusha Bhau Thakre came. Congress has always patronized Hindutva leaders like Dwarka Prasad Mishra in the state. However, if electorates want to vote for Hindutva why will they choose soft Hindutva in comparison to hardcore Hindutva? This strategy might fail as the BJP has still not lost their stronghold and the Congress party gets votes that are against communalism.
“There is no doubt that Kamal Nath is in a good position in his region. He has developed Chhindwara in a remarkable manner. Muslim votes have always been loyal to the Congress party. There is a precedent when the now prominent Congress MLA Arif Masood contested elections from the Samajwadi Party but he only got a few votes,” said Abdullah.
Arif Masood joined the Samajwadi Party in 2003 and contested elections, however, despite a fanbase he failed to win elections.
As Madhya Pradesh gears up for the elections, the contrasting strategies of the Congress led by Kamal Nath, and the BJP opting for suspense over its CM candidate set the stage for a closely watched political contest.