In a recent video, BJP Rajya Sabha member Jyotiyaditya Scindia was seen urging voters to press the ‘panja’ — the Congress’s electoral symbol — while campaigning in Dabra constituency of Madhya Pradesh. He corrected himself immediately, asking voters to press the button for ‘kamal’ — the BJP symbol — but that moment captured the predicament faced by both sides in the 28 seats going to the bypolls on Tuesday.
With Scindia, who joined BJP after 20 years in the Congress along with 25 ex-Congress MLAs, bringing down the Kamal Nath government, the opposition party has been seen as being fumbling slightly in raising issues other than “gaddari” — betrayal — by Scindia and his team of legislators.
While that line of betrayal — set out by the party — is seen as having created an undercurrent of sympathy for the Congress, but it is unlikely to be enough for the party. The party has 87 MLAs in the current House, and will have to win all 28 seats to get to the halfway mark of 115.
The BJP, with 107 seats, needs only eight.
Nath has repeatedly reminded voters in the Gwalior-Chambal region, which accounts for 16 of these 28 seats, that “Chambal’s blood is hot — and it will never forget people who have betrayed them”. This exhortation was followed by a reminder that the Scindia family had purportedly sided with the British, leaving “Jhansi ki rani Laxmi Bai” alone following the Revolt of 1857, which eventually led to her death.
Aggressive campaign may give BJP edge
But even with the heavy-duty round of campaign by Nath, Congress, which looks strong in about six seats, is facing a tough fight from the BJP in a region considered a Scindia stronghold. With Congress seen as being ahead in reserved (SC) seats such as Gohad and Ambha, Satish Shikarwar, its candidate from Gwalior-East, is likely to give a tough fight to Munnalal Goyal, one of the former Congress MLAs who switched sides. Notably, the SC-ST population is about 21 to 28 percent of the electorate in at least 21 constituencies, including Gwalior-East. In what could queer the pitch for Congress, the BSP has fielded 27 candidates, making it a triangular contest on many seats.
Among the seats facing a three-way contest in Dabra, where Imarti Devi, initially seen as trailing, has won support of the business community following some aggressive campaigning by BJP. But a “strong” BSP candidate in Santosh Gaud is likely to eat into Congress votes in a seat that has traditionally been with the party.
Aiming to woo Dalit voters, Nath has emphasised that the Constitution of B R Ambedkar had provisions for bypolls in the event of death of a sitting MP or MLA, “but these bypolls have been forced on us due to betrayal”.
In a late attempt to sway Dalit votes, BJP released a pamphlet with a picture of Shikharwar sharing the dais with Rishabh Bhadoriya, main accused in the 2018 caste violence in Gwalior following the Bharat bandh – three members from Dalit community were killed in the violence. A controversy soon arose, with family members of the deceased stating that the picture was used without their knowledge, and that they had received little help from BJP, which was then in power.
Meanwhile, countering Nath’s “gaddar” narrative, Scindia, for whom the bypolls would determine his position in his new party, has pointed out that the 25 MLAs had little option but to move to BJP, as their demands for various development works in their constituencies went unheard under the “corrupt” Congress government. Scindia has emphasised that he is a “dog” loyal to his “masters”, who are the voters.
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