Madhya Pradesh bypolls to pave way for bigger electoral battle ahead


Mumbai: Bypolls will be held in two key assembly constituencies in Madhya Pradesh on Saturday, providing an opportunity to gauge the mood of the state that will elect a new assembly later this year.

The state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Congress will face off in the Mungaoli and Kolaras seats, both currently held by the Congress. Both fall within the Guna Lok Sabha constituency, represented by Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia. The bypolls were necessitated by the death of sitting Congress legislators.

The two seats have been Congress strongholds for long; so for the party, which is looking to recapture power in the state after 15 years, the challenge will be to expand its lead over its rival.

The MP bypolls have also shaped the contours of a likely political duel later this year between chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Scindia, who is largely seen as a challenger to the latter.

Scindia himself added the personal dimension to the electoral battle earlier this week when he told reporters that he favoured declaring a chief ministerial face ahead of elections. For this reason, the Mungaoli and Kolaras bypolls have become a precursor to the bigger battle later this year.

Last year, despite putting up a fierce contest, the BJP could not win the Ater and Chitrakoot assembly seats held by the Congress. This time, it has put up another spirited fight to make a dent in the Scindia citadel and score an important personality battle.

The Congress has fielded Mahendra Singh Yadav and Brajendra Singh Yadav from Kolaras and Mungaoli seats respectively. The BJP nominees are Devendra Jain from Kolaras and Baisaab Yadav from Mungaoli.

In the 2013 assembly elections too Jain had contested from the BJP against the Congress nominee, the late Ram Singh Yadav, who won by nearly 25,000 votes. In Mungaoli, Congress candidate late Mahendra Singh Kalukhede had defeated his BJP rival Rao Deshraj Singh by nearly 21,000 votes.

“Guna Lok Sabha seat and the assembly segments within have always been Congress strongholds. Before Jyotiraditya, his father Madhavrao Scindia would contest and win from this Lok Sabha seat. Hence, it is more of a prestige battle for Jyotiraditya than Shivraj Singh Chouhan,” said a BJP functionary in Bhopal who did not want to be named.

He said Scindia had made things difficult for himself by making it a prestige battle between him and Chouhan. “He has virtually staked claim for the post of chief minister, even when his party refuses to name him as a candidate because even they know he is not the right candidate to take on Shivraj Chouhan. Since he is rooting for himself, other Congress leaders and their loyalists are not backing him in these bypolls,” the BJP functionary added.

A Madhya Pradesh Congress office-bearer, however, countered this, saying leaders and workers from all factions were present when the Congress nominees filed their nominations last month.

“The BJP is nervous that its candidates would lose by even bigger margins than in 2013. We are considering the bypolls as the semi-final ahead of the final in November 2018 and the results of the bypolls would show the winds of change already sweeping Madhya Pradesh. Did we declare a chief ministerial candidate in Gujarat? Yet, we nearly defeated the BJP in Modi’s Gujarat. Scindiaji has taken the lead because he is the MP from Guna and has the responsibility to get Congress elected. The party high command will decide our chief ministerial candidate when the time comes but BJP will be defeated whether or not we declare the CM nominee,” said the Congress leader, requesting anonymity.

Both Chouhan and Scindia have led hectic campaigns for their parties in these bypolls. Earlier this month, Chouhan announced a few sops for farmers to blunt the Congress criticism over farm unrest.

In a first, the BJP also deployed Yashodhara Raje Scindia, minister for sports and youth welfare in the Shivraj cabinet, and Jyotiraditya’s aunt, to the campaign, in a departure from the Scindia dynasty’s tradition of not directly campaigning against each other.

Campaigning for the two bypolls ended on Thursday and votes will be counted on 28 February.livemint