The BJP Central Election Committee’s decision to replace all 10 sitting MPs from Chhattisgarh for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls has triggered discontent within the state leadership, with many alleging that multi-term members have been “disrespected”, and that the move will do “more harm than good”.
On Tuesday evening, BJP state in-charge Anil Jain announced that no candidate would be repeated from the last Lok Sabha elections, where the BJP won 10 of 11 seats, and that MLAs who lost the Assembly election three months ago would also not be considered.
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This will mean that senior leaders, such as former Union Minister and eight-time MP Ramesh Bais, current Union Minister and four-time MP Vishnu Dev Sai, and two-time MP Dinesh Kashyap from Bastar, will all miss out. Click for more election news
On Wednesday, three-time former CM Raman Singh reiterated the decision and added that “everyone should respect” it. However, the party appeared to be divided over the move, with some supporters urging their multi-term MPs to “show their strength”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Raipur MP Bais said he was hopeful that there would be a change in the decision. “I don’t think it’s final, we will wait and see. Things will be clear in two or three days.” However, he said: “The party workers who have been with me will get angry. We may have to convince them if that is the final decision. It’s a difficult task.”
From late Tuesday night, supporters began trickling in to the Raipur home of Bais, who is considered close to the BJP old guard. “How can you disrespect someone who has been such a big leader, and an MP for eight times running? If the BJP sticks with this decision, people may not work for the party at all,” said a supporter.
Bastar MP Dinesh Kashyap said: “I don’t know why the party has taken the decision. I have been told that the party wants to put up fresh faces as we lost the Assembly election. It’s a party decision, we will have to obey.”
But senior state leaders said a blanket decision could upset sections of supporters across constituencies, and caste calculations that helped the party win every Lok Sabha election in the state.
“Bais, for instance, is the only big Kurmi leader the BJP has, which is a big chunk of the OBC vote, especially in the Raipur seat. If the Kurmi Samaj gets angry, they will point to the Congress which has made Bhupesh Baghel, another Kurmi, as Chief Minister. And look at who he has defeated the last three times… Congress powerhouses like Satyanarayan Sharma, Shyama Charan Shukla, and Bhupesh Baghel himself,” he said.
Another party MP, who did not wish to be identified, said every leader was “upset” with the decision, which “was taken without proper discussions”.
Sources close to some of the disgruntled MPs said they felt they were being held accountable for losses at the Assembly level, and that they were “part of an experiment”.
“It is clear that the state leadership had little to do with this call. Which is why the Chhattisgarh list is now being delayed because you have to look for new candidates. But we have a good name among the electorate. We were not involved in the Raman Singh government, which brought the party down to 15 in the state, but we are paying the price. This decision has shocked us,” a leader said.
Some leaders said that while it was “not a bad idea” to inject fresh blood, the “additional stipulations” made little sense.
“Why announce things like no family members will get tickets. They have constricted themselves. Now if they give one person a ticket like this, for instance Raman Singh instead of Abhishek Singh, the others will cry foul,” he said.
“As for not fielding any losing MLAs, they should realise that a lot of them lost because of 15 years of anti-incumbency. This election is a central election and people want Narendra Modi. But who will vote for someone nobody knows at all? How do you generate new faces in 20 days? They will have to make some concessions, and give seniors some tickets,” a senior leader said.
A BJP leader, who backed the move, said it was important to make the distinction between “supporters of a leader” and “workers.” “The supporter may be angry, but the worker on the ground won’t be. Surveys showed the party was not doing well, so one of the methods to counteract this was to completely reboot the party in Chhattisgarh. Once the outrage cools down, people will come around,” he said.