Madhya Pradesh Bypolls: Congress, BJP Slug It Out As Campaign Heats Up
A motorcyclist and passenger ride past Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election campaign bunting featuring India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh in a village in Bhopal District, Madhya Pradesh. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

Madhya Pradesh Bypolls: Congress, BJP Slug It Out As Campaign Heats Up

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For the first time in the history of Madhya Pradesh, as many as 28 assembly seats are going to bypolls at one go, giving the contest virtually the status of a "mini assembly election" with main rivals Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party pulling out all the stops for victory of their candidates.

Twenty-five of these seats fell vacant after sitting Congress MLAs resigned and joined the BJP, which again formed its government in March this year, just 15 months after losing power to India's oldest political party.

Resignations by Congress MLAs reduced the strength of the assembly from the original 230 seats to 205, paving the way for the return of saffron rule in the state.

Three other seats fell vacant due to the death of the sitting legislators, taking the number of such assembly segments to 28 — the highest at any one point of time in Madhya Pradesh's history.

A significant feature of the Nov. 3 by-elections is that they are being held amid Covid-19 and the polling centres will have a different look in view of Election Commission-mandated protocols related to coronavirus.

The BJP at present has 107 MLAs and it needs to win just nine more seats to reach the magic figure of 116 — the simple majority mark in the 230-member house.

In contrast, the Congress with its current strength of 88 legislators needs to win all the 28 seats to reach the majority mark of 116.

Though mathematical calculation is loaded in favour of the BJP, the final outcome will be decided by a host of other factors, including caste and development issues, said a political analyst.

When Babasaheb Ambedkar framed the Constitution, he made a provision for bypolls in the event of death of a sitting legislator or an MP.

"But he had never ever thought about a situation where by-elections will be held because of horse-trading. There was no provision for it in the law," said state Congress president Kamal Nath.

Nath has been repeating these lines almost in all his bypoll rallies while targetting the BJP.

Today bypolls are being held in the country, but in Madhya Pradesh they are being held in 25 seats not because of the death of sitting MLAs, but due to trading and auctioning of legislators.

"It has tarnished the image of Madhya Pradesh in the entire country, said a bitter Nath, who had to resign as chief minister in March after a section of Congress MLAs revolted and quit, reducing his government to minority.

Most of these rebel Congress MLAs were considered close to Jyotiraditya Scindia, who also walked out of the party and joined the BJP.

Countering Nath's charge, Scindia said, "Yes, I had ensured the fall of the Congress government because it had betrayed all." "Both Nath and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh have deceived people and my fight is with these betrayers," he said.

The former Union minister alleged that the Nath administration was mired in corruption.

They had turned the state secretariat into a den of corruption by starting a transfer industry with middlemen having a direct access in corridors of power, while peoples representatives were asked to go away, Scindia said.

The Rajya Sabha MP had made these remarks at a bypoll rally apparently referring to allegations levelled by a section of Congressmen that whenever they went to meet Nath for any development-related work, he used to tell them "chalo-chalo", citing fund crunch.

"Betrayer" has emerged as the most used term by both the Congress and the BJP while targetting each other in campaign rallies.

While the BJP claims the Congress betrayed people's trust while in power, the opposition party uses the word to target Scindia for switching sides.

Scindia also said that in 2018, the Congress was able to form its government in the state because for the first time in 70 years, the party had won more than 18 seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region, considered his stronghold.

The people from the region, however, were "betrayed" by the Congress leadership in the state, the former Guna MP said.

Stakes are high for Scindia in these bypolls as of the total 28 seats, 16 are in the Gwalior-Chambal region from where his supporters had won in 2018 on Congress tickets and joined the BJP more than seven months ago.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, while addressing rallies in support of BJP candidates, has been targetting Nath.

Chouhan said while Nath, when he was chief minister, always cited lack of funds whenever legislators went to meet him for development works, there was no dearth of money for Chhindwara (Nath's constituency) and events like IIFA.

The CM said the Nath government lasted for only 15 months due to its insensitive attitude towards people and their representatives.

While Nath is leading the Congress campaign from the front, Digvijaya Singh has confined himself to his pockets of influence.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has also campaigned in various constituencies for Congress candidates.

Former ministers in the Nath cabinet, including Sajjan Singh Verma, PC Sharma, Jaivardhan Singh and former leader of opposition Ajay Singh, have been campaigning vigorously for the Congress, which is aiming to notch up a respectable tally.

From the BJP side, besides Chouhan and Scindia, a battery of Union ministers and senior leaders have jumped into the campaign trail, showing the importance the saffron outfit is attaching to these bypolls.

These include Narendra Singh Tomar, Thawarchand Gehlot and Faggan Singh Kulaste (all central ministers), Uma Bharti, Kailash Vijaywargiya, Vishnu Dutt Sharma and state ministers like Narottam Mishra, Gopal Bhargava, Bhupendra Singh and Kamal Patel, among others.

The high-decibel campaigning so far in the midst of Covid-19 has generated a lot of heat with comments from Congress leaders against Chouhan and women and child development minister Imarti Devi hogging limelight and triggering controversies.

Though the main contest is between the Congress and the BJP, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party and some other smaller political parties are also in the fray.

A total of 355 candidates are trying their luck in these 28 seats, whose results will be announced on Nov. 10.

A dozen BJP ministers, who joined the party after quitting the Congress and were inducted in the Chouhan cabinet, are also in the arena and they will have to win their seats to retain their current posts.

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