By Sushil Kutty
To be intuitive is not a criteria to understand what’s troubling the Bharatiya Janata Party as it gets set for the next set of assembly elections including in Madhya Pradesh, where the party has released its second list of 39 candidates. There’s a message in the list, for all those who favour the BJP: Don’t play favourites because what if the BJP loses? Remember, the BJP had lost to the Congress in 2018 before eventually engineering a takeover. This time round, the chances of losing the elections are brighter because of the severe case of multiple anti-incumbency.
The second list of 39 candidates betrays nervousness in the BJP. It is a tale of the party realizing it’s up against a gale force after being too long in the saddle. And it calls for corrective steps. It is a case of taking the bull by the horns, hoping against hope the corrections will help the saffron party clear the fence, overcome the hurdles without breaking too much of a sweat. And as unlikely as it might sound, the 39 candidates include 3 Union Ministers, once upon a time “top guns” in Madhya Pradesh but maybe no longer so because Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been Chief Minister for donkey’s years. Three terms to be exact.
Normally, somebody entrenched for long should have cemented his seat and the powers that be wouldn’t be looking around for a replacement. The Bharatiya Janata Party hasn’t said Chouhan will be replaced, but the ‘39’ has in the names of politicians who have the caliber and reputation to give Chouhan competition at the time of reckoning, which would when and if the BJP notches yet another victory.
As of now, Chouhan is sporting a poker-face breaking out in a big smile only for the cameras. That being said, only a substantial margin of victory will guarantee the continued rule of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. With the BJP going all-out Hindutva/Sanatana Dharma for the 2024 general elections, chances are a hardcore Hindutva leader would be named Chief Minister, somebody like Narrottam Mishra, perhaps.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has learned some hard lessons in the last few months. One of which is that wooing the Pasmanda Muslim is a lost enterprise. The Muslim wouldn’t vote in winning numbers for the BJP. When it comes to Muslims, faith comes first and foremost. The BJP, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hasn’t earned the Muslim’s trust, especially the trust of the male of the species.
The BJP perhaps is banking on female Muslim voters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a childish faith in Muslim women. The current thinking is, he will have to change his outlook. Perhaps he already has, as witnessed by his Hindutva warcries in Rajasthan at the weekend. The BJP’s second list of 39 candidates has nothing to do with Muslim voters. There aren’t any Muslim candidates in the list.
The surprising element is the presence of three Union ministers and a number of other Members of Parliament. The Union ministers are definitely heavyweights and quite evidently Chief Minister-material. One of them is Union Agriculture Minister and was most seen during the farmers’ agitation against the three farm laws. Whether MP’s farmers will welcome this gentleman in the fray is a thought. Then, there is another heavyweight in the list whose son believes his father’s status gives him the clout to hammer people with a cricket bat.
The second list has such candidates. With the ’39’, the BJP has now named 78 candidates. There are a total of 230 assembly seats. There was a first list of 39 candidates released in August. They were for constituencies where the BJP had a lousy electoral record. And now there is more proof that the BJP is convinced it cannot win without big names in the fray. Ministers and MPs. People who haven’t been “local” nor “vocal” in the assembly constituencies they will be contesting from.
It is uphill, definitely. Is the party making an all-out effort to make a comeback in hard to win constituencies? Maybe so. Another thing to note is that the list is not based on the Women’s Reservation Bill, the “Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam”. There are only five women in the list. In 2018, the BJP won 109 seats to the Congress party’s 114. This time, luck looks like favouring the Congress and the BJP is darkly aware that it cannot even bank on potluck.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, pitting Union ministers and MPs in assembly elections is at best a concerted effort to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat and at worst, a gimmick. And gimmicks are a BJP specialty. The BJP has a record of doing good with stunts. The question is should this be considered as a “dodge” or a “stratagem”? If it is the latter, then it’s something born out of desperation, best described in the story of the drowning man and the straw. (IPA Service)