After defeat in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, BJP presses search button

NEW DELHI: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan did not listen to the leadership’s suggestion to drop ministers and leaders close to him who had a poor chance of winning, BJP insiders said a day after losing the assembly polls. In Rajasthan, CM Vasundhara Raje did not allow the organisation to manage the poll campaign, they claimed.

They conceded that there was strong anti-incumbency against the Raman Singh government in Chhattisgarh and defeat was inevitable. Backing Ajit Jogi to cut into the Congress votes backfired too. However, faulty candidate selection in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, they said, were prime reasons for the drubbing, along with anti-incumbency and local factors.

They pointed to the BJP securing almost the same percentage of votes as the Congress in the two states to contend that the BJP stood a good chance to win in 2019. Some even gave credit to Chouhan for the close contest in Madhya Pradesh despite BJP’s 15-year rule. They also acknowledged that the Congress fought exceptionally well, unlike the three previous elections. BJP leaders also acknowledged that Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh made it a tough battle for them. Similarly, in Rajasthan the party gave credit to Ashok Gehlot for the tough fight put up by the Congress.

BJP insiders, however, said the results could still have been different in MP if the central and the state leadership had worked in tandem. Based on the feedback from the ground via surveys, the central leadership had asked Chouhan to drop some of his ministers much before the polls. He did not “muster the courage” to take the call. The issue of not giving tickets to some ministers came up at the time of ticket distribution as well, but Chouhan played safe, they said. Eleven ministers lost the elections.

The row over the ‘dilution’ of the SC/ ST anti-atrocities act also affected the party’s prospects in MP. While some of the blame was laid on the Modi government for passing the law to overturn the Supreme Court verdict, Chouhan had also made a controversial remark during the campaign that apparently irked upper castes. The response of voters has been perceived to be mixed, with Dalits backing BJP in some areas while voting against it in other areas. The upper castes were unhappy with the BJP on the same issue and the reading is that it was one of the reasons for the loss. BJP drew a nil in Bhind region and won only a seat in Gwalior.

BJP insiders alleged that all three CMs had alienated leaders within the state organisation and promoted only their coteries. The party suffered as it is dependent on its cadre and the RSS to win elections. Weeks before polls, Raje had refused to toe the central leadership’s line on several issues. One suggestion was to let the organisation — comprising mostly RSS and local leaders — to manage the campaign.

BJP leaders from the three states maintained that the implications of demonetisation, goods and services tax and failure to give MSP for crops promised in the Union budget too contributed to the defeat. The central leadership had sensed that BJP’s prospects were not bright and hence kept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies to a minimum in the elections.