- Digvijay Singh: Controls all party outfits. Has popular base in the Guna-Rajgarh region.
- Kantilal Bhuria: Tribal leader who is influential in the districts of western Madhya Pradesh
- Jyotiraditya Scindia: Has a clean image. Can wrest seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region.
- Ajay Singh: Arjun Singh’s son and Digvijay’s son-in-law. Has influence in the Vindhya region.
- Kamal Nath: Influence limited to Chhindwara and adjoining districts
Political parties are apt to replace MPs and MLAs by fielding their relatives. It usually works: the influence of the former incumbent makes it easy for the new entrant. But the formula has boomeranged on the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. And badly too. The party has lost four byelections in a row in the last two years. All four were Congress bastions and one seat—Kukshi seat in Dhar district—had been held by the Congress for nearly 60 years. In the other three, where it fielded relatives of former legislators—Jabera in Damoh district, Sonkatch in Dewas and Maheshwar in Khargone—it lost to the BJP.
The Maheshwar defeat was last month. The Congress MLA from the seat, Dr Vijay Laxmi Sadho, had resigned her seat on election to the Rajya Sabha. The party fielded Devendra Sadho, her brother, in the constituency, which is reserved for the SCs. But he lost to Raj Kumar Mev of the BJP by over 31,000 votes. However, state Congress leaders seem unfazed. “Byelections are usually won by the ruling party,” says Rahul Singh, leader of the Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh assembly. “Moreover, the electoral battle was fought using foul means.”
The Kukshi seat, in Dhar district, had been represented by Jamuna Devi since the mid-1950s. She never once lost the seat till her death in 2010. Since 2003, she had also been leader of the Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh assembly. But when her nephew was fielded by the Congress, ignoring the claims of many senior leaders, the family connection did not bring victory.
The same story was repeated in the Jabera constituency, in Damoh district, where the death of Ratnesh Solomon, brother-in-law of Congress leader Ajit Jogi, led to the byelection. Although Ratnesh was a Christian in a constituency with hardly any Christian presence, he was extremely popular among the people. Banking on this perhaps, the Congress decided to sponsor his daughter, who had virtually no exposure to politics. Again, it lost.
Imposing family members cost the Congress yet another seat, in the Sonkatch constituency in Dewas district, after Sajjan Singh Verma resigned his assembly seat following his election to the Lok Sabha in 2009. The Congress chose his younger brother as its candidate and had to bite the dust.
Very unlike a national party, the Congress has failed to take advantage of the BJP government’s acts of omissions and commissions. There are serious corruption charges against ministers; raids conducted by the Lokayukta have revealed dozens of crorepati patwaris, forest rangers and transport inspectors; an IAS couple was found owning property worth Rs 350 crore; an ips officer was killed while trying to stop a tractor-trolley laden with illegally mined stones; and three successive directors of health were sacked for being embroiled in scams of monumental proportions.
The Congress’s dismal performance as the main opposition party, like in neighbouring Gujarat, also ruled by the BJP, was prefigured by the fact that it is not the Congress—but the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an RSS arm—that is spearheading a powerful peasants movement in the state. Even as Congress satraps squabble over the chief ministerial gaddi that isn’t, the BJP and its associates are occupying both the establishment as well as the opposition space. Unless the Congress quickly gets its act together, the BJP seems all set to rule the state again.