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Why BJP swept Madhya Pradesh but suffered a setback in neighbouring Rajasthan

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New Delhi/Bhopal: In December last year, the BJP conducted an experiment as it opted for fresh faces as the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh after winning the assembly polls. While in Rajasthan, the party chose a first-time MLA and Brahmin face, Bhajanlal Sharma, it picked senior leader Mohan Yadav in Madhya Pradesh. 

The BJP had performed well in both states in the previous two general elections, pulling off clean sweeps in Rajasthan both times; it won all 25 seats in 2014 and 24 in 2019, with an ally winning the remaining seat. In Madhya Pradesh, it won 27 out of 29 seats in 2014 and 28 in 2019.

However, the results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in both states have become talking points. While the BJP managed a clean sweep in Madhya Pradesh for the first time, it suffered a setback in Rajasthan as it won just 14 seats out of 25, losing the rest to the Congress (eight seats) and its allies.

The voting being held in four phases, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) involvement in election management, the BJP extending the tenure of state president V.D. Sharma and the management of caste equations — these are some of the reasons party leaders are giving for their victory in Madhya Pradesh. 

In contrast, in Rajasthan, the sidelining of tall leaders such as Vasundhara Raje, state president Satish Poonia being replaced by C.P. Joshi in March 2023, an inexperienced chief minister and the denial of tickets to sitting MPs all seem to have worked against the party, leaders said. 

“Elections in Rajasthan took place in two phases and the issue of lower voter turnout had a role to play in the first phase. On 19 April, when Rajasthan voted for 12 seats, the lower turnout left parties and their candidates surprised and concerned. Out of these 12 seats, we lost eight and voter turnout was over 57 percent,” said a senior BJP leader. 

However, soon after this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the people to step out in big numbers to exercise their franchise, and the BJP cadre was also asked to mobilise the voters and ensure better turnout. 

“In the second phase, our voter turnout went up to 64.07 percent and this was reflected in the results, too, as we won 10 seats out of the 13 that went to polls,” said the leader.

Another leader said the low voter turnout signified that committed or “organic” BJP voters did not come out to cast their vote. “At the same time, the fact that several MLAs didn’t take much interest in the elections also led to the cadre being demotivated and hence not reaching out to the voters the way the BJP generally does,” added the leader.

According to party sources, the underwhelming performance can also be attributed to rebellion by those denied tickets and dissension among leaders, apart from the caste arithmetic in ticket distribution. Not only this, the absence of the general secretary (organisation), who acts as the link between the Sangh and the BJP, also affected the party’s election management, sources said. Chandrashekhar, who held the post in Rajasthan, was shifted to Telangana in January after the assembly polls. 


Also read: ‘Infighting, public anger, Lallu Singh’s slip of tongue’ — what led to BJP’s poll debacle in UP


‘Jat-Rajput dispute, CM’s inexperience’

Another leader said that while local issues were clubbed with national ones in Madhya Pradesh, they were completely ignored in Rajasthan, including the issues of bijli and pani. “Local issues were ignored as national issues took precedence. There was no leader who could understand and resolve the caste-based politics in the state. The Jat-Rajput dispute started with the release of the BJP’s first list of Lok Sabha candidates on 1 March and was further fuelled by Parshottam Rupala’s controversial statement,” said the leader.

Remarks made by Rupala — a Union minister from Gujarat — in March had sparked a backlash from Rajputs in his state and elsewhere. 

The leader added: “Denying a ticket to Churu MP Rahul Kaswan, who had been winning elections continuously, became the starting point of the friction and the entire election in different areas became caste-centric soon after.” 

Kaswan was denied a ticket in favour of Paralympic gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia. Although both are from the Jat community, Kaswan accused Rajput leader Rajendra Rathore of being behind the denial of a ticket, exacerbating polarisation along caste lines. Kaswan went on to defect to the Congress, was fielded as its candidate from Churu and defeated Jhajharia to win the election. 

“The party also did not have a leader who could understand, take preemptive measures and do damage control as state president C.P. Joshi was busy with his own election and the rest of the leaders were also contesting from their respective seats,” said the leader quoted above.

A BJP state functionary said the Jat-Rajput dispute wasn’t restricted to Churu but spread throughout Rajasthan. He also referred to the party’s decision to replace former state president Poonia, a Jat leader, with Joshi, a Brahmin face, which “raised eyebrows” — not so much during last year’s assembly polls, but more so as caste came to the fore during the Lok Sabha elections.  

Apart from Churu, the elections were impacted by caste divisions in seats like Dausa, Barmer, Sikar, Bharatpur and Tonk-Sawai Madhopur. “In such an atmosphere, the party’s strategy and preparation could not match the changes on the ground. Rajput voters did not participate in the elections with full enthusiasm due to their displeasure with BJP leaders. This was a big dent for the BJP. By forming an alliance, the Congress left seats for other parties, due to which it gained its own seats,” said the leader. 

Another BJP leader pointed to a decline in support from the Scheduled Tribes due to Kirorilal Meena, one of the “big leaders” of the BJP from Eastern Rajasthan, not being made deputy CM in the state government. 

“Even after this, he was not given ministries of his choice. This was the reason he took charge late. Kirori was asking for a ticket for his brother. But he was disappointed here also. Kirori’s indifference and his internal resentment wiped out the BJP in east Rajasthan. Similarly, the three seats of Shekhawati — Sikar, Churu and Jhunjhunu — came into the hands of Congress alliance,” the functionary said

Another factor is that the sitting MPs fielded by the party this election had to face massive anti-incumbency, and the “inexperience” of CM Sharma also affected the campaigning, according to BJP leaders. 

“The entire election in Rajasthan was led by Sharma. Senior leaders were busy with their own campaigns and Sharma’s political experience in the entire state is limited to five months. He is a first-time MLA, so even he was largely looking for support from the Centre,” said a leader. 

State functionaries contrasted this lack of experienced leadership with the previous two elections fought under former CM Raje, who was on the sidelines this time and active only in Jhalawar, where her son, Dushyant Singh, was the BJP candidate and emerged victorious.


Also read: Down from 3 to 0, what led to BJP’s whitewash in Jharkhand’s tribal seats in LS polls


Formula for success in MP

 In Madhya Pradesh, on the other hand, the BJP organisation began work from January onwards to strengthen its prospects in regions where it was weaker, with a special focus on the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and seats where the winning margin last time was less than 2,000 votes, a leader said. 

BJP national general secretary and state minister Kailash Vijayvargiya was made in-charge of crucial seats such as Chhindwara and looked after defections and voter outreach. State assembly Speaker Narendra Singh Tomar took charge of seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region, including Morena as well as Bhind, where BJP candidate Sandhya Ray was pitted against the Congress’s Phool Singh Baraiya.

“When BJP candidate Sandhya Ray was reeling under anti-incumbency, the BJP organisation adopted a new strategy, releasing videos of Phool Singh Baraiya where he was seen criticising other castes, especially the Brahmins. These dynamic strategies in each of the seats ensured that the candidates got the needed support in gaining the winning edge,” said a BJP leader. 

What further gave stability to the efforts of the BJP organisation was a continuation of not just the state president in V.D. Sharma, but also Hitanand Sharma, the state general secretary of the BJP. 

Under Hitanand Sharma’s leadership, seven seats — especially the tribal-dominated Mahakoshal region with seats including Mandla, Chhindwara and Betul, along with Jhabua, Dhar and Barwani in the Malwa-Nimar region — were identified and outreach started.

Through examples such as the inability of the BJP to form a government after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, party workers in MP were urged not to overestimate the impact of the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. 

They were instead pushed to redouble their efforts to reach out to beneficiaries of state and central government schemes. Villages within the above constituencies were identified, and beneficiaries who lived in these places were pinpointed through a database. Then, these beneficiaries were divided up among booth in-charges and ardh-panna pramukhs (responsible for half a page of the electoral roll), who reached out to them.

The Ladli Behna Yojana, a popular scheme rolled out by former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that offers financial assistance to women, was not only effectively continued but measures were taken through self-help groups to ensure that misinformation about the scheme being discontinued was dispelled. 

In contrast, in Rajasthan, “No such schemes or sops, which the people were expecting from a new government, were announced by the Bhajan Lal Sharma government,” said the leader quoted above. 


Also read: Down to 5 seats from 10 in Haryana, why Khattar-Saini change of guard may have been BJP’s own goal


‘MP a committed BJP state’

Yatindra Sisodia, professor and director at the Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research in Ujjain, told ThePrint: “MP became a BJP state from 2003 and there has been a gradual expansion of the rank and file of the BJP.” He added that the number of committed BJP voters had expanded over the past four Lok Sabha elections, resulting in majoritarian politics becoming very strong in the state.

“On the other hand, Rajasthan has had an alternating government from 2003 onwards. There is strong caste politics and two communities — Jats and Rajputs — being unhappy with the BJP worked in favour of the Congress and other parties. But unlike in Rajasthan, caste politics has never worked in MP. Not just now but since 1990 — it has never, ever worked. After Gujarat, now it is MP that is a firm BJP state,” he said. 

Sisodia added that the Congress was never expected to get any great results barring Chhindwara and maybe one of the seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region. However, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) still has a committed vote bank in the latter, which played spoiler for the Congress alongside a string of defections — including three MLAs and thousands of workers — that left voters confused.

“The Congress could not put out a very decisive political narrative before the voters as its cadre was demotivated. Viewing their own party as a sinking ship, they failed to take the BJP head on. It was visible,” said Sisodia. 

With the voting percentage dropping during the first two of the four phases in MP, the BJP organisation started a special call centre where women were assigned to call up women voters and tribal people assigned in to call tribal voters in a bid to drive up turnour. 

Party leaders said the state unit was successful in mobilising the cadre on the voting day during the assembly elections, and ensured that wake-up calls were continued during the Lok Sabha elections as well. 

Former home minister Narottam Mishra, heading an initiative called the ‘New Joining Toli’, worked towards identifying disgruntled opposition leaders and facilitated their joining the BJP, further weakening the Congress on the ground. 

“After the assembly debacle, even though many Congress leaders who switched over might not have been handy in converting votes on the ground, their joining the BJP created a psychological onslaught, further demotivating Congress workers,” a BJP functionary told The Print.

An important example is Chhindwara, where not only did Kamlesh Pratap Shah — the MLA from the Amarwara seat — and Chhindwara mayor Vikram Ahake join the BJP, many other Congress workers were also brought into the fold. 

BJP sources said that the rumours of Kamal Nath himself joining the BJP further affected the Congress in Chhindwara. Amidst the confusion, several BJP booth agents met with those appointed by the Congress and put up pictures of this on social media, sowing doubts about the credibility of Congress agents.

What also came in handy for the BJP organisation was the presence of Chief Minister Mohan Yadav — an RSS worker and third-term MLA who was a minister in the previous government — supported by two deputies in Rajendra Shukla, a four-time MLA who represents the Rewa seat in the Vindhya region, and Jagdish Deora from Malhargarh in Mandsaur, who was the finance minister in ex-CM Chouhan’s cabinet. The three maintained effective control of the administration, further helping the BJP, according to party leaders.


Also read: Candidate choice, polarisation, cadres who ‘didn’t join fight’ — what tripped up BJP in Bengal


 



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