Bhopal: Has former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee helped the BJP regain part of its lost ground in Madhya Pradesh?
Party candidate Narayan Tripathi’ victory by 28,281 votes in the by-election for Maihar constituency on Tuesday came as a big relief to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan after electoral reversals in the Lok Sabha by-election in Ratlam-Jhabuain in November and in the urban bodies elections in December.
Although Chouhan has attributed the Maihar victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development policy, his posters were missing throughout the campaign. The Vajpayee posters, plastered all over, apparently did the trick in the constituency that has returned a Brahmin each of the past five terms. The BJP, which gambled on Tripathi despite resentment from within the party, used the caste card to the hilt during the campaign. The “no-Modi strategy” created initial resentment in anti-Chouhan camp. But, all seems to be well now.
The party was staring at a full-blown rebellion during organisational elections some weeks ago. With the drought looming over the state, government facing a major financial crunch and with its liquor policy coming under fire from within the ruling party, Chouhan approached the Maihar by-election with considerable trepidation.
The by-election should not have been warranted in the first place. Shortly after Narayan Tripathi won the seat in 2013 in the state assembly elections as the Congress candidate Chouhan engineered his defection to embarrass the beleaguered opposition party. Tripathi has won the Maihar seat thrice so far under the banner of three parties -- Samajwadi Party, Congress and now BJP. His nearest rival, Manish Patel, another turncoat who had contested the previous election on BSP ticket, managed to secure 54,377 votes against Tripathi’s 82,658.
The BJP had decided to brazen out Tripathi’s defection. His resignation as MLA came long after his defection as the Speaker Sitasharan Sharma ignored Congress’ protests.
The Congress which has been consistently facing charges of disunity was expecting a sympathetic response from the voters. The party is kicking itself over the choice of candidate. The Maihar loss only underlines that the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha by-elections victory was largely due to former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria’s personal appeal in the constituency. If there was a reminder needed, Maihar just handed it.
While the Congress sought to make a case against Tripathi for disobeying the people’s mandate the BJP candidate said he crossed the floor to ensure the constituency doesn’t miss out on development. The Congress did not help itself by fielding another party-hopper.
Chouhan is savouring the moment of success. The onset of spring has marked better tidings for the Chief Minister’s camp in Madhya Pradesh. Three tests were lined up for Chouhan and his government over the week. The first was cleared with ease with the peaceful conduct of puja and namaz at the controversial Bhojshala in the Dhar district where trouble keeps cropping up during the Basant Panchami festival every time as both falls on a Friday. More than the Muslims and the opposition Congress party, the BJP fears the intra-party discontent Chouhan’s rivals keep fomenting. They also find support from some senior party leaders in Delhi. With victory in Maihar, Chouhan has cleared the second test. But will his rivals keep quiet for long?
The third test would be in hosting the Prime Minister who is visiting Sehore near the state capital on Thursday. There have been protests by farmers and party leaders in Sehore due to which the party lost the elections to the urban bodies. Discontent persists over the coterie comprising Union minister and former state BJP chief Narendra Singh Tomar, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and RSS point person Arvind Menon, who marginalised many regional leaders to manipulate the organisational elections.
Chouhan government compounded the problem by administrative lapses that pushed the state into a financial abyss. Poor handling of the looming drought turned the rural folks against the ruling party. With the UPA at the Centre the state government could feign victimhood and extract funds at will. Now with the NDA at the helm Chouhan government finds the going tough given the intra-party equations.
Fatigue over Chouhan’s decade-long incumbency and his refusal to share the spoils of power by cabinet expansion or other political appointments has been clearly visible. Dissidence is finding expression through various means. The Chouhan camp hopes no trouble is created during the Prime Minister’s visit. Chouhan is still paying for siding with the party patriarch LK Advani before Modi was nominated to be prime ministerial candidate. He has to keep proving his loyalty to the Delhi durbar at regular intervals.