Arun Yadav, the new chief of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, takes over in a setting that is all too familiar: the cadres are demoralised, senior leaders are blaming one another for defeats, and rivals have a spring in their step. Only time will tell how far the young leader, just turned 40, will be capable of taking on the BJP, but his immediate challenge is to get on board the leaders of all factions within his own party, a no less formidable task. Yadav is an OBC member like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his two immediate predecessors, Babulal Gaur and Uma Bharti. Nearly half the state falls in that caste bracket. More than his caste, however, what has got Yadav the job is the reluctance of other leaders, and the fact that he is younger than most.
In 2007, Yadav defeated Krishna Morari Moghe by over 1.18 lakh votes in a byelection necessitated by the sitting BJP member’s disqualification on the issue of offices of profit. Arun’s father, Subhash Yadav, was then the PCC chief and his son’s victory also earned him a reprieve from then ongoing demands to sack him. Much has changed since then. The cooperative sector, which the senior Yadav was believed to be in control of, has been wrested by the BJP, much before Yadav’s death last June.
Successive defeats have left the Congress so pessimistic that a senior leader admitted it would take a Herculean effort for Arun Yadav to help the party retain the 12 Lok Sabha seats it won in 2009. In his own Khandwa constituency, the Congress could win only one out of eight assembly seats.
Of all the factions in the Congress, the new chief is identified most with that of union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who had campaigned vigorously for him in the 2007 bypoll. Congress leader Aslam Sher Khan has given Yadav gratuitous advice: steer clear of Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Scindia. Scindia was made the campaign committee chief in the assembly elections. After the party’s tally was reduced to 58 from 71, he is believed to have turned down an offer to become PCC chief because he has an election to contest and Yadav agreed because he is likely to opt out of the polls.
Milind is a senior assistant editor basedin Bhopal.