Chandigarh, September 27
Packed with major surprises, the BJP’s second list of 39 names for the upcoming polls to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly a couple of days back appeared to hold several nuanced messages for party leaders and cadres not just in the state but across the country ahead of key Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The party fielded three Union ministers, four MPs and a national general secretary in the state where it has been in power for more than two decades and is now facing a tough competition from its main rival—the Congress.
Apart from the fact that the inclusion of high-profile names raised the pitch of the Madhya Pradesh battle to the next level, observers were able to read several subtle messages for cadres and senior leaders of the party aiming for its third term under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 general election.
While the first list was not high-profile, largely concentrating on the seats it lost in the 2018 Assembly election, the second featured who’s who of BJP’s state politics—Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and his colleagues in the central council of ministers Prahlad Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste. The list also included MPs Rakesh Singh (former state BJP president), Ganesh Singh, Reeti Pathak and Uday Pratap Singh and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, the Indore leader perceived to be close to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Message number one—countering infighting
According to state leaders, fielding top leaders representing various caste groups and areas is the right step in the right direction for a “build up” ahead of Assembly and Lok Sabha election in the state mired in a long anti-incumbency and fatigue.
Tomar, Rakesh Singh and Uday Pratap Singh are Rajputs, Patel (Lodhi) and Ganesh Singh (Kurmi) are OBCs, Kulaste tribal and Pathak Brahmin.
MP is seen as the ‘garh’ of the RSS and the decision is said to be aimed at settling factionalism and internal fighting for tickets and the top post. The fielding of Prahlad Patel is said to be aimed at cancelling the 'Lodhi' benefit of former CM Uma Bharti who has been making noises regarding OBC reservation in the Women Reservation Bill which PM Modi is showcasing as BJP’s major achievement ahead of the upcoming elections.
Two –all hands on the deck
BJP pitching senior central ministers also shows the fight with Kamal Nath-led Congress may be a tough one. In power in the state that has deep-rooted connection with the Sangh, the BJP seems worried about fatigue proving the nemesis of Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan, once seen as an equal, rather competitor, of PM Modi.
Chouhan has not been directly named the CM face while Kamal Nath is giving BJP a fight in its core areas (Hindutva, welfare schemes, etc) signals a lot about the future of the senior BJP leader.
Meanwhile, fielding Tomar is said to be a measure to test the sentiments in the farming community.
Three—senior leaders need to prove themselves
Observers see the naming of senior leaders as a direct signal of what may be going on in the minds of PM Modi and Union Home Minister Shah, the two main strategists of the party. There have been reports that they want all ministers, including those from the Rajya Sabha quota, to contest the Lok Sabha election to test and prove their popularity and merit.
“The fact is everyone needs to work hard for the party in elections and prove their worth electorally. Going to the people is the only way to prove that,” they add.
Four—field is always wide open
Senior leaders in the fray is also a message to cadres and leaders that the field is wide open for the chief minister’s choice.
And this is a message not just for Chouhan who has been chief minister for 20 years except for the two-year period after the 2018 results when the Congress finished ahead of the BJP.
"It may be one way of putting those aspiring for the post in other states, for example Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, in their place," say observers, predicting major surprises from neighbouring desert state as well.
BJP generally contests under the incumbent CM but now the field is wide open. According to some reports, the seven MPs whose names were announced were informed in advance but Chouhan was not. Though there was speculation that Vijayvargiya may contest, the names of others are said to have taken the Chouhan camp by surprise.
Five—No one is indispensable
Whether former Congress leader and also a claimant for the top post Jyotiraditya Scindia will also contest remains to be seen but the fielding of many experienced leaders is aimed at underlining the merits of collective leadership.
It also showcases another political point, that in the Modi-Shah regime no one is indispensable.
Incidentally, many of the 39 seats for which candidates were announced were also those which the BJP lost last time. If a Lok Sabha MP is not able to win an Assembly seat, what good can he or she do for the party, says a senior BJP leader, adding that all decisions were made on the basis of internal surveys.
After the announcement, Nath claimed the BJP has “accepted defeat in MP” and played its “last bet of false hope”.
Whether he proves correct or the BJP has formulated a new winning template for contesting and winning elections remains to be seen.
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