Congress is on shaky ground in Madhya Pradesh

Delhi, India Oct 16, 2018, 11.41 AM(IST) Written By: Valay Singh

File photo of Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Photograph:( ANI )

Story highlights

Almost every seat in the state has different factions with allegiance to one of the aforementioned leaders and to get them all united towards the common aim of defeating the BJP is proving to be a Herculean task for the grand old party.  

While Congress has almost finalised its list of candidates for 115 seats out of a total of 230, insiders in the state unit say that the party is likely to alienate many district units and booth level workers because of the way candidates were selected.  The Congress’s first list is expected to be out next week. For half of these 115 seats, most of the 58 sitting MLAs have been given the ticket again.

Many of the remaining 57 seats have been distributed using PCC President Kamalnath’s criterion of ‘winnability’. This has meant that many Congress loyalists have been ignored and are now sulking. The difference between victory and defeat in most of the seats in the 2013 elections was only a 2,000-3,000 votes and these disgruntled Congressmen are likely to hurt the party’s chances at the booth level. 

But Congress’s problems are not limited to resentment caused by ‘outsiders’ alone. Even though Congress president Rahul Gandhi had categorically stated that ‘outsiders’ will not be given tickets, his state president seems to have quickly realised that given the rampant factionalism in Congress at every level, bringing in ‘outsider’ candidates would perhaps be least damaging to the party’s chances.  

In many assembly seats, Congress is also facing what can be called the mini-dynasty syndrome. In such places, one family has been fighting elections on the party’s tickets for decades. Naturally, the party’s prospects have suffered because of that. But it seems even in this crucial election, Congress is unable to recognise this dynastic-politics as a problem. 

Take the example of Raisen district bordering Bhopal where for at least the last two decades a particular candidate, Prabhuram Chaudhary, has been getting the Congress ticket. While he has lost the last two elections to BJP minister Gauri Shankar Shejwar,  sources in the Congress say Chaudhary is tipped to be given the ticket this time as well.  

This has led to a disillusionment with the party, and as a result, many local Congress leaders are likely to stay on the sidelines instead of working for the same old candidate. In such seats,  Kamalnath’s ‘winnability factor’ is trumped by cynical factionalism that has been the bane of Congress in Madhya Pradesh and other states. 

Chaudhary is said to be backed by chief ministerial aspirant and Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, and therefore despite his clear ‘unwinnability’ he is most likely to get the ticket.  Another seat being closely watched is Budhni, from where chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is an MLA.  It is being speculated that a total outsider, Arjun Arya, is likely to get the Congress nomination from this seat.  Congress still has significant support in Budhni and garnered more than 36, 000 votes in the 2013 election despite infighting. If Congress’s state leadership can send a message of unity from this seat it will certainly boost its cadres' morale in the rest of the state.  

But Scindia is just one of the factional leaders in the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, and has influence over 15-17 seats in the state. Besides him, there are other big and small factions like Digvijaya Singh (who controls more than half of the present Congress MLAs), Kamalnath himself and Arun Yadav, the former state president with influence in a few seats.  

Almost every seat in the state has different factions with allegiance to one of the aforementioned leaders and to get them all united towards the common aim of defeating the BJP is proving to be a Herculean task for the grand old party.  

It is this factionalism that was at blatant display at the Bhopal rally of Rahul Gandhi. When state media in charge Shobha Ozha tried to get Scindia and Kamalnath to join hands in a show of support, Scindia was seen pulling away from it. This move was just one visible sign of the disunity in the party.  

In 2013 elections as well Congress’s crab mentality had led to its poor performance, winning just 58 seats as opposed to the incumbent BJP which had won 166 seats.  

At the moment Congress leaders, aware as they are of the serious infighting, are only hoping that they will be able to come closer to the halfway mark of 116 seats. This speaks volumes about the party’s organisational unity and strength as it goes into polls against a three-term BJP government beset with anti-incumbency. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)