Chitrakoot bypoll: Congress’s fresh gains leave BJP worried in Madhya Pradesh


Mumbai: Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh are exactly one year away, but the crushing loss for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the bypoll for the Chitrakoot constituency on Sunday has sent alarm bells ringing across the party.

To be sure, the Chitrakoot constituency has always been the Congress bastion. But it is the margin of victory as well as the social profile of voters who backed the Congress nominee which have caused heartburn in the state BJP, party cadres and functionaries admitted.

Situated on the border with Uttar Pradesh, the Chitrakoot seat in Satna district has always been a Congress stronghold since the state’s formation in 1956. There have been only three exceptions—in 1977 when the Congress lost during the Janata Party wave, 1993 when the Bahujan Samaj Party won here, and in 2008  when the BJP won. Yet, the scale and nature of the Congress victory in the bypoll, prompted by the death of sitting Congress legislator Prem Singh, have stunned the BJP.

The party’s immediate worry is two more upcoming elections: Mungaoli and Kolaras bypolls expected in December or January.

The Madhya Pradesh assembly elections are likely to be held in November 2018 and the BJP, which has been ruling the state since 2003, is targeting 200 of the total 230 seats. In the last assembly elections, BJP won 165 seats and the Congress 58.

In Chitrakoot, Congress nominee Neelanshu Chaturvedi won by 14,133 votes, the party’s biggest margin here in the last 14 years. The BJP has been ruling Madhya Pradesh for 14 years but it won the Chitrakoot constituency only once in 2008, that too by a mere  722 votes. And in 2013 assembly polls, the BJP lost Chitrakoot again to the Congress by 10,970 votes even though it won a massive mandate across the state.

“It would not be incorrect to say that this was a tough election for us given the political legacy of Chitrakoot which has a certain congenital bond with the Congress. But we certainly did not expect to lose by such a huge margin when we are in power in the state and the centre,” a Madhya Pradesh BJP functionary told Mint over the phone.

This functionary, who did not want to be identified, blamed “complacency and lack of energy” for the BJP defeat. He, however, pointed out that the BJP had won nine out of 12 bypolls in Madhya Pradesh since December 2013. But two of the three Congress victories in these 12 bypolls have come in 2017, the first being in the by-election to Ater seat in April which the Congress won by a narrow margin of 857 votes.

Bhopal-based political commentator Girija Shankar said the Chitrakoot defeat was “the defeat of mismanagement and anarchy”. “During the campaign, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was away in the US for 10 days. The defeat proves that the BJP as a party organization cannot win a single seat in Madhya Pradesh without the direct involvement of Chouhan. The victory certainly gives a psychological boost to the Congress party ahead of the next round of bypolls and later regular assembly polls,” Shankar told Mint.

He, however, does not see any role of farmers’ protest in the state in June-July this year in the BJP’s defeat.

The Chitrakoot seat has an interesting social profile since Brahmins account for more than one-third of its 1.98 lakh voters. The next large social block comprises 32,000 tribal voters, followed by nearly 30,000 Dalits.

A Madhya Pradesh Congress leader, who requested anonymity, said the Congress got support from Brahmins, tribals, Dalits, and even Kshatriyas. “Both the BJP and we had fielded Brahmin candidates but the significant takeaway for us is that the tribals, Dalits and Kshatriyas voted for our nominee in larger numbers. Chitrakoot is not a typical Madhya Pradesh constituency because it has a significantly higher presence of Brahmin voters unlike most other constituencies. While the Brahmin vote may have got divided equally between us, we got more Dalit, tribal, and Kshatriya votes than the BJP,” the Congress leader said.

He added that the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, re-invigorated by the ascent of Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia as the likely chief ministerial candidate, would work on this “takeaway” to replicate the Chitrakoot mandate.