Congress' win in MP bypoll sparks power tussle; newly-elected Jhabua MLA Kantilal Bhuria becomes top contender for state party chief's post

Bhuria is also known for his proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. This had ensured a ticket for him despite resistance from a section of the party.

Debobrat Ghose October 29, 2019 21:23:36 IST
Congress' win in MP bypoll sparks power tussle; newly-elected Jhabua MLA Kantilal Bhuria becomes top contender for state party chief's post
  • The Congress in Madhya Pradesh, days after securing a win in the Jhabua bypoll, is bracing itself for yet another power struggle.

  • The struggle is for the post of the chief of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC).

  • Bhuria, who won the Jhabua bypoll, has now emerged as the strongest contender for the post.

The Congress in Madhya Pradesh, days after securing a win in the Jhabua bypoll, is bracing itself for yet another power struggle.

The struggle is for the post of the chief of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC). While the issue has been hanging in balance for a long time, it has assumed significance in the light of the victory of veteran Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria, who is from a tribal community, in the Jhabua bypoll. Bhuria has now emerged as the strongest contender for the post.

There are speculations among leaders who are part of the PCC that the unit may soon get a new president. Presently, Chief Minister Kamal Nath holds the post. It is believed that Nath wanted to relinquish the post after taking over as the chief minister, as it was difficult for him to discharge both the responsibilities.

A member of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee said, "The chief minister is in Delhi. The purpose of his visit may be to get a final approval from the high command for a new PCC chief."

Bhuria's victory in Jhabua was important as it helped the Congress retain its hold over tribal voters, and to increase its tally to 115 seats in the 230-member Assembly. But apart from that, it has also helped Bhuria cement his status as an important state-level leader. Indeed, the election was a make-or-break battle for the veteran Congressman, who has held several positions in the party and the government in the past.

Congress win in MP bypoll sparks power tussle newlyelected Jhabua MLA Kantilal Bhuria becomes top contender for state party chiefs post

Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria after winning the Jhabua bypoll. Image courtesy: Twitter/@KantilalBhuria_

Recently, Bhuria's fortunes had hit a low as he had lost two consecutive elections — during the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls and then during the Lok Sabha polls.

Now, the win in the bypoll has made Bhuria the top contender for PCC chief, ahead of party general secretary and senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. Recently, Sajjan Singh Varma, the state PWD minister, supported Bhuria for the post. Varma, along with some other leaders, has argued that Bhuria has held the post in the past, and has also served as a minister at both the state and Central levels.

Bhuria is also known for his proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. This had ensured a ticket for him despite resistance from a section of the party that opposed his nomination citing his defeat in the Lok Sabha polls a few months ago.

Political analysts say that Varma's support for Bhuria has less to do with the latter’s experience, and more to do with a desire to keep Scindia out of the race. Varma is considered a close confidant of Nath.

Prior to the 2018 Assembly election, both Nath and Scindia had strongly lobbied for the post of PCC president. Generally, in the Congress, the PCC president becomes the foremost claimant to the post of the chief minister.

Scindia's aura as the uncrowned king of the Gwalior-Chambal region has evaporated due to his defeat in his pocket borough of Guna. He had lost the election only months after the Congress had made a stellar comeback in Madhya Pradesh politics after having stayed out of power for 15 years.

It is worth recalling that after the Congress’ victory in Madhya Pradesh, both Nath and Scindia had emerged as strong contenders for the post of chief minister. While Nath became the chief minister, Scindia wasn’t made deputy chief minister, unlike Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. Pilot is also the president of the Rajasthan Congress.

Though Scindia has never publicly staked claim for the position of PCC chief, he is believed to be keen on getting the post. In fact, in August, his supporters had threatened to quit the Congress and join the BJP if Scindia wasn’t made the president of the party’s state unit.

To stay relevant and make his presence felt in state politics, Scindia has been relentlessly criticising the Madhya Pradesh chief minister on issues ranging from transfers and postings to the execution of the farm loan waiver. He also recently spoke in support of the Centre’s abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Meanwhile, a cabinet expansion is expected to take place soon. The state government was said to have been waiting for the outcome of the Jhabua bypoll to carry out the expansion. It is now clear that Bhuria would be offered an important portfolio, even as his supporters have demanded that he be made the deputy chief minister.

According to sources, the unfolding situation is essentially a tussle between different power centres. If Scindia becomes the state party chief, he will become another centre of power in addition to the existing ones — Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh and Bhuria.

In the periods when the Congress ruled Madhya Pradesh, the state largely had a strong chief minister and a lightweight party chief. For example, during Digvijaya Singh's ten-year tenure as chief minister, Paras Ram Bharadwaj, Radha Krishna Malviya and Urmila Singh were the state party chiefs.

In the ongoing power struggle, the Rajya Sabha seats from the state constitute another factor. Three seats will fall vacant next year, and the Congress, being the ruling party, is seeking a victory in at least two of them.

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