BJP bites dust in MP bye-elections: Congress starts singing Ode to the Wind of Change

Lalit Shastri

When Madhya Pradesh Finance Minister Jayant malaiya was busy presenting the election year Budget for 2018-19 in the State Assembly with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan seated near him, the counting of votes for the Mungaoli and Kolaras bye-elections was also in progress and the Congress candidates in both these constituencies not only took an early lead but also emerged victorious crushing all plans of the ruling BJP to capture these seats that were earlier held by the Congress party.

Obviously it was the ruling BJP’s plan to capture these seats and use the opportunity as an ideal strike force to achieve the maximum amount of propulsion for its campaign for the upcoming Assembly election. For this end, the BJP, backed with the might of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Government, State ministers and their retinue of supporters had not left any stone unturned to strike a major dent when it came to the main opposition Congress and more particularly the image of popular Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. All eyes were on Scindia – the scion of ruling family of the erstwhile Gwalior State as the bye-elections were being held in his area of influence. While Scindia should get a large part of the credit for ensuring BJP’s defeat, credit also goes to the Congress party and its prominent leaders from Madhya Pradesh as they presented a united Opposition and together they became a force to reckon with.

Over the years, Chief Minister Chouhan could succeed in building for himself the image of an invincible leader by returning his party to power in Madhya Pradesh twice in succession in 2008 and 2013. But this image took a battering as the BJP lost the Ater and Chitrakoot bye- elections last year. With today’s defeat, the ruling BJP has lost four bye-elections in a row. It is not a good omen for Chouhan and the latest poll results have left a direct message that he is no longer the Knight in shining armour for the BJP.

Reacting on today’s electoral debacle, the Chief Minister and the State BJP chief nandkumar Singh Chouhan, both went on the defensive saying that these seats had gone to the Congress party with a huge victory margin when the BJP had swept the polls in 2013. They appeared unruffled and content as they went on to underscore how the BJP had succeeded in bridging the gap and hugely reducing Congress party’s victory margin in these bye-elections.

The outcome of these elections comes as lengthening shadows marking the end of the day and the results have cast a shadow on the prospects of the ruling BJP which will go to polls later this year after remaining in power for 15 years.

BJP’s stock in Madhya Pradesh is at the rock bottom. The slide down started in a major way with the massive VYAPAM scam, linked with medical admissions and recruitment in a number of government departments. This notorious scam has has played havoc with the hopes, aspirations and lives of a multitude of the youth.

The malaise of corruption also is staring the people at large – from the commoners to all in every strata are suffering on this count.

The prevailing law and order situation leaves much to be desired. What to talk of the status of the neighbourhood beats and more particularly the rural and far-flung areas when the police force is mostly kept busy with VIP security on the one hand and on the other there is no dearth of complacency among those posted in police stations as they are deeply entrenched with the political masters. The quality of generalised policing can be gauged from the disenchantment of the common people towards the policeman. People carry a genuine grudge as victims of crime have to invariably run from pillar to post just to get an FIR registered. Under the circu-stances it should be difficult to assess what must be the overall track record of the police when it comes to prosecution and ensuring that the culprits do not go scot-free.

Illegal logging and mining – particularly sand mining – has been in news and in focus for far too long in Madhya Pradesh. Those close to the powers that be have flourished by indulging in reckless mining activity. The rapidly depleting forest cover, especially in the catchment of the rivers, including the Narmada, in the last 10 to 15 years has been a major cause of concern. A Principal Chief Conservator of forest, who has recently retired, said only yesterday that the State is on the verge of going through the worst water crisis and the problem will magnify each year. He also went on to point out that the Narmada, which is the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh is gradually vanishing. He squarely held the politicians at the helm of affairs responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

The woes of the farmers are also endless. The chief minister himself gave a clear insight into this only the other day when campaigning for the BJP candidate in the Kolaras Assembly area, he had said that the agricultural fields are dry and parched, there is total lack of irrigation and the farmers were suffering. The farmers’ agitation in western Madhya Pradesh had even turned violent and culminated with a number of protestors getting killed in police firing in Mandsaur district last year.

The Chief Minister has also come under attack due to his blatantly discriminatory stand against State Government employees and officers who are suffering for long years due to the Reservation in Promotion rule in favour of the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs). Even after the Madhya Pradesh High Court struck down this rule and declared this provision as unconstitutional in 2016, the State Government, at the behest of the Chief Minister, went ahead and challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court of India. Not only that, a day after the appeal had been filed in the apex court by the State Government, the Chief Minister had roared at a function organised by the association of SC/ST officers and employees of the State Government and said “koi mai ka lal reservation nahi hata sakta” (no true son of a mother can bring an end to the reservation regime). He also announced from the same platform and later backed it with government action – the decision that the Government will pay the entire fee to the lawyers who would be representing the SC/ST employees in the Supreme Court in the reservation in promotion case. This has created a huge divide and the government offices and employees belonging to the general category, minorities and the backward communities have rallied forces and supported by the people they are gunning for change in Madhya Pradesh. They have taken head on the “Mai ka lal” challenge by uniting under the umbrella of SAPAKS (Samanya Pichda Alpsankhyak Adhikari Karmchari Sanstha) and with the support of a larger SAPAKS movement which has acquired a mass base, especially among the youth, their opposition has got translated into a vote against the BJP in every bye-election since mid-2017.

The plight of the students, both in schools and colleges that are deprived of basic facilities and staff, gets aggravated due to poor quality of education and skill development, coupled with this are issues of economic infrastructure and lack of employment avenues. Together, they constitute an entire array of crises, particularly restricting the progress of those subsisting below the poverty line or somehow surviving in the unorganised sector. Their number across the state is rather huge.

The overall situation is quite grim. People are suffering while most of the ruling party netas (leaders) have chosen to climb the pedestal and distance themselves from the masses. This is creating a typical pressure zone vis-a-vis the ivory towers of the ruling elite, including a few selected bureaucrats who continue to draw special powers from the chief minister and are calling the shots much to the chagrin of many topmost bureaucrats and even against the larger interests of the ruling party. The storm is brewing. Come elections later this year – it will not be just anti-incumbency. The storm clouds are visible on the horizon and the writing is clear on the wall.

The Congress party enthused by today’s results has already started singing the Ode to the wind of change.

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