The 2018 Madhya Pradesh Assembly election is set to witness a titanic battle between Congress aspirant Jyotiraditya Scindia and BJP defender Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
With an eye to next year's Assembly election, the Congress high command has decided to opt for the ‘Punjab model’ to dislodge Chouhan. Earlier this year when Punjab went to polls, the Congress projected Captain Amarinder Singh as its chief ministerial face, giving him almost a free hand in the selection of party candidates and picking talking points of the campaign. This was uncharacteristic of the Congress, which always insists upon enforcing the high command culture of its Delhi Durbar.
Since March this year, Punjab’s success has been constantly cited as proof that the Congress stands a better chance when it makes clear to voters who it is offering as head of the Government. During the Punjab election, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had campaigned sparingly and Amarinder Singh was given authority to do anything that the former maharaja of Patiala deemed fit. The results were spectacular. While the Congress was routed in Uttar Pradesh and failed to form a Government in Goa and Manipur, the Punjab victory was a saving grace.
An indication of Scindia getting an Amarinder-type of role in Madhya Pradesh came recently when the Congress removed AICC general secretary Mohan Prakash as in-charge of Madhya Pradesh. Prakash was an unpopular figure, so much so that a month back Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh, three key persons in Madhya Pradesh Congress, had called on Sonia Gandhi to complain against His style of functioning. The trio had reportedly told Sonia that as long as Prakash was at the helm of State party affair, the Congress would not do well in Madhya Pradesh.
In Congress circles, AICC general secretary Mohan Prakash is often referred to as "Ulta Paras" for his alleged ability to convert every opportunity into a failure. (Paras is a mythical stone that can turn base metal into gold). Prakash was handling party affairs in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and a few other States where the Congress has been losing constantly and badly. He has now been divested of all responsibilities except for Maharashtra.
Speaking to local media at Guna airstrip on Wednesday
, senior Congress leader Kamal Nath confirmed that Scindia was set to be Congress’s chief ministerial candidate. "I have no problem with Jyotiraditya Scindia if he's made MPCC chief," Nath, a nine-time Congress MP from Chhindwara and himself a contender for the post, said.
According to Nath, the Congress needs a credible face to take on Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh. “I am open to the idea of supporting Jyotiraditya Scindia if the party high command entrusts him with the responsibility," Nath said.
Informed sources said an announcement of a change of guards in Madhya Pradesh is expected soon after Dusshera. At present, Arun Yadav is head of MPCC but a large number of Congressmen from the State are dissatisfied with his performance.
Sensing a change of guard in the State Congress, Chouhan has started viewing Scindia as a rival. The Chouhan regime recently appointed a receiver for Maharaja Jiyajirao Education Society (MJES) that governs Samrat Ashok Technical Institute (SATI) in Vidisha. In January this year, Scindia was removed as chairman of the board of Governors by MJES by Pratap Bhanu Sharma, a Congress leader who is secretary of MJES. For years, Sharma, a former parliamentarian and AICC functionary was considered a ‘Scindia loyalist’.
At another meeting held during Amit Shah's visit to Bhopal, Chouhan had told party leaders that ensuring Scindia’s defeat in Guna parliamentary constituency was his ‘Mission 2019.’ Scindia has won four Lok Sabha elections since the 2001 by-poll when his father Madhavrao’s death in an air-crash brought him into politics. Madhya Pradesh has 29 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP holds 26 of them. Scindia, Kamal Nath and Kantilal Bhuria are three Congressmen who have won Lok Sabha seats.
Chouhan has been accusing Scindia of grabbing land meant for the poor. On one occassion, Chouhan, while talking about Scindia’s grandmother Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia’s contribution to the rise of the BJP, had remarked, “My head will always bow before Rajmata, but those who didn’t walk the path shown by her will never get respect,” adding, “Rajmata is our source of inspiration. But when you talk about the likes of Jyotiraditya, never try to equate the two. Selfish people like Jyotiraditya…I am surprised the land belonging to trusts meant for people’s welfare was usurped and is being used for business purposes,’’ Chouhan had said.
While the BJP has been winning bulk of the State’s civic and panchayat level polls, Assembly and parliamentary elections since 2003, the VYAPAM scam and the Mandsaur farmers’ agitation has seriously undermined Chouhan’s position. The State Congress is confident that if the party presents a united face under Scindia’s leadership, Chouhan can be defeated in a State that has been with the BJP since 2003.
Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is @rasheedkidwai
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