3 union ministers and 4 MPs in Fray: BJP veterans create buzz in elections

After the BJP fielded seven Lok Sabha MPs, including three Union ministers, for the November 17 assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh in a change of strategy, the question doing the rounds in political circles is whether these big guns will fire and propel the saffron outfit into office for a fifth term in two decades […]

After the BJP fielded seven Lok Sabha MPs, including three Union ministers, for the November 17 assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh in a change of strategy, the question doing the rounds in political circles is whether these big guns will fire and propel the saffron outfit into office for a fifth term in two decades by overcoming anti-incumbency.

According to some political analysts, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s move looks “high on optics but low on substance” and an attempt by the ruling party to maximise its gains by banking on stalwarts who have wide appeal in certain regions of the state. Springing a surprise, the BJP last month fielded seven MPs, including three Union ministers — Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Singh Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste — all seen as potential contenders for the CM’s post, in the polls for the 230-member assembly. In addition to them, the ruling party has put up BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, also a potential CM face, from the Indore-1 assembly seat against sitting Congress MLA Sanjay Shukla. BJP is back in the campaign again after launching stalwarts and is offering a strong fight in many seats. Careful attention has been made to give tickets on basis of surveys and winnability and that’s why stalwarts have been given tickets because they can win.

It is an open secret that names of Narendra Tomar, Vijayvargiya , Prahlad Patel and others were not recommended for poll tickets by district units of the BJP, Kidwai said. Instead, he pointed out, they were picked by the BJP Parliamentary Board “in order to boost party campaign in various regions of the state”. Former state BJP president and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar, the incumbent Lok Sabha MP from Morena, is contesting from Dimani, where the Congress has once again fielded sitting MLA Ravindra Singh Tomar.

In the 10 elections held for the Dimani assembly seat since 1980, the BJP won six times. The saffron party, however, has lost all the three previous elections from the seat in Morena district, including a bypoll. In the eight assembly segments falling under the Morena Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress won seven and the BJP just one in the 2018 polls. The BJP, however, later wrested one seat from the opposition party in a bypoll.

Bhuvnesh Singh Tomar, a professor at the Centre for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication in Gwalior-based Jiwaji University, believes anti-incumbency worked against the BJP in the Gwalior-Chambal region in the last polls. “The situation is almost the same this time as well and the BJP must have got this feedback. So, the ruling party adopted a double-pronged approach in this region. It changed some candidates and fielded a party stalwart like Narendra Singh Tomar from the region,” he said.

Bhuvnesh Tomar said the BJP is trying to maximise its electoral gains through this approach. “It is believed that a Union minister is fielded to create impression among electorates that he may become the CM. However, the final outcome will also depend on the BJP’s ability to convert goodwill generated by its flagship welfare scheme Ladli Bahna (targeted at women) into votes,” the professor maintained.

Four of the sitting MPs who have been given tickets, including Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Faggan Kulaste, are in the fray in the Mahakaushal region. The BJP has fielded Rakesh Singh, the incumbent MP from Jabalpur, from the Jabalpur-West assembly seat and Uday Pratap Singh, the sitting Member of Parliament from Hoshangabad, from Gadarwara. All the sitting BJP MPs in the fray, barring Union minister Prahlad Patel, have been fielded from one of the assembly constituencies falling under their respective Lok Sabha seat. Prahlad Patel, the incumbent Lok Sabha MP from Damoh, is in the fray from Narsinghpur, which falls under the Hoshangabad parliamentary seat.

The Narsinghpur assembly seat is currently represented by Prahlad Patel’s younger brother Jalam Singh Patel. The Congress has fielded Lakhan Singh Patel, who was defeated in 2018 by Jalam Patel, against the Union minister. Faggan Kulaste, the incumbent Lok Sabha MP from Mandla (ST), is contesting from Niwas which falls under his parliamentary constituency. The Union minster wrested the Niwas seat from the Congress in 1990, but lost it in the next assembly elections in 1993. Since 2003, Faggan Kulaste’s brother Ram Pyare Kulaste had won the seat three times, but lost in 2018. Now, the Union minister is pitted against Congress candidate Chain Singh Warkhede.

Of the eight assembly segments under the tribal-dominated Mandla Lok Saha seat, the Congress has six with it, while the BJP holds the other two. Former state BJP president and sitting MP Rakesh Singh is contesting his first assembly election from Jabalpur (West), which was a Congress stronghold until 1990. Rakesh Singh is facing two-time Congress MLA Tarun Bhanot, who served as finance minister in the Kamal Nath government (December 2018-March 2020). The saffron party won from Jabalpur (West) for the first time when Jaishree Banerjee, mother-in-law of BJP president JP Nadda, wrested the seat from the Congress in 1990. It remained with the BJP until 2013 when Bhanot won it for the Congress and retained it five years later.

Of the eight assembly segments under the Jabalpur Lok Sabha seat, the BJP and the Congress hold four each. The BJP has fielded Uday Pratap Singh, the incumbent Lok Sabha MP from Hoshangabad (recently renamed as Narmadapuram), from Gadarwara, one of the assembly constituencies under the parliamentary segment represented by him. Three-time MP Singh, elected on a Congress ticket in 2009, joined the BJP just ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections and won the seat for the saffron party. He retained the Lok Sabha seat in 2019. The Congress has fielded sitting MLA Sunita Patel from Gadarwara.
Of the eight assembly seats under the Hoshangabad Lok Sabha constituency, five are held by the BJP and three by the Congress. Jabalpur-based journalist Ravindra Dubey said the BJP is paying special attention to Mahakaushal as state Congress chief Kamal Nath hails from that region (Chhindwara district).

“The BJP has fielded four MPs from Mahakaushal and two of them — Patel and Kulaste — are being seen as potential CM faces by their supporters. The BJP believes these candidates can create ripples in the region,” he said. Of the 38 seats in Mahakaushal, the Congress had won 24 in 2018, the BJP 13, while one went to an independent candidate. However, Mahakaushal was not given proper representation in the government by the Congress (when it ruled the state for 15 months) and also neglected by the BJP in the cabinet, Dubey said.

“Since Kamal Nath hails from Mahakaushal, the BJP is focusing on the region. There is anti-incumbency, but the BJP may still improve its performance,” Dubey said. The ruling party is also looking to consolidate its position in the Vindhya region, where it has fielded two Lok Sabha MPs — Ganesh Singh, a four-time MP from Satna, and Riti Pathak, a two-time Member of Parliament from Sidhi. Ganesh Singh, who fought his first Lok Sabha election in 2004, is contesting from the Satna assembly seat, which the BJP lost in 2018. Riti Pathak is contesting her first assembly election. However, Pathak seems to facing a major challenge in the Sidhi assembly seat as its sitting BJP legislator Kedarnath Shukla has announced he will contest the poll as an independent candidate.

Of the eight assembly segments under the Sidhi Lok Sabha seat, the BJP won seven and the Congress one in 2018. Satna-based journalist Sanjay Goutam said the major reason for changing the candidate in Sidhi was the urination case, in which an alleged supporter of incumbent BJP MLA Shukla was involved. “There was no strong candidate (for assembly polls) with the BJP so they fielded Pathak from the Sidhi seat. Another Lok Sabha MP, Ganesh Singh, has been fielded from Satna which may have an impact in other seats in the district,” Goutam said. Of the 30 seats in Vindhya, the BJP had bagged 24 and the Congress 6 in 2018.