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Heartland Braces for UP Ripple in 2022 as Chouhan Looks to Fortify Position, Baghel Aims

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Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh may not be heading to elections in 2022 but neither the BJP nor the Congress is resting easy in India’s heartland. Apart from protecting their respective citadels, both are trying to keep their flock together amid challenges from within, while bracing for impact from UP polls.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is eyeing consolidation while the Congress sorts out internal squabbles that saw it lose power despite winning the 2018 elections. Barring bypoll setbacks in Damoh and Raigaon, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has largely gone from strength to strength since returning to Shyamla Hills, where the CM’s official residence is located, in 2020.

In his fourth term, Chouhan has been able to convey that he is far from done and can still bring home poll victories. This was crucial amid speculation of the BJP replacing him with leaders like Prahlad Patel, Narendra Singh Tomar, BJP state chief VD Sharma and state Home Minister Narottam Mishra. But gradually, Chouhan positioned himself a notch above apparent competition.

In the Union Cabinet reshuffle of July 2021, Patel suffered a demotion when he went from being Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Culture Ministry to MoS in Jal Shakti and Food Processing ministries.

VD Sharma also suffered a setback when his strategy backfired in Raigaon bypoll. The BJP fielded late MLA Jugal Kishore Bagri’s daughter-in-law Pratima Bagri instead of his son Pushpraj Bagri as Chouhan wanted. Pratima Bagri was ultimately defeated by Congress candidate Kalpana Verma.

Leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiya do match the mass appeal of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, but the former comes with a baggage of controversies that don’t make him appealing to the party leadership, says a senior journalist.

A more potent challenge, analysts say, comes from Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia who jumped ship from the Congress to the BJP in March 2020. Shedding his regal image — Scindia belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior — the Rajya Sabha MP has enhanced his public presence and mass contact efforts, particularly in the Gwalior-Chambal and Malwa regions where his family enjoys a good following. He has also increased his participation in party activities.

The Scindia scion recently made it evident that he is in no mood to play second fiddle with a mega rally in arch-rival Digvijaya Singh’s hometown Raghogarh. Adding insult to injury, at the rally, Scindia welcomed Harendra Singh into the BJP. Harendra is the son of former Congress MLA Mool Singh who was a close confidant of Digvijaya.

However, asked a few months ago if would be the BJP’s CM candidate in 2023, Scindia said he was working under Chouhan like other leaders. “I am quite happy to find a place in the hearts of the public with my hard work and honesty,” he said.

Analysts say all is well between Chouhan and Scindia in the current term at least since the latter has a long way to go to cement acceptance and appeal among BJP cadre.

“In my personal opinion, Shivraj is easily the BJP’s best bet for this tenure and the 2023 assembly poll as well as he has winnability. He is someone who doesn’t foster ego and believes in adjusting with everyone under or around him, like he did with Jyotiraditya Scindia when the need arose,” a political analyst told News18.

A big part of consolidating his position in the party is the role Chouhan plays for the BJP outside MP. In 2022, the Madhya Pradesh CM will be a key campaigner in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Being a prominent OBC face, Chouhan is sure to be called up as a star campaigner in UP.

But it won’t be all smooth sailing for Chouhan. His in-tray is filled with tasks like putting the state’s Covid-hit economy back on track, ironing out discontent creeping up among cadre after the induction of Scindia and his loyalists, and getting the caste equation right in campaigning for 2023 elections.

Most recently, the Jobat bypoll ticket to former Congress leader Sulochna Rawat further fueled unrest among cadre, and her win ruffled feathers. Senior leaders like Jaibhan Singh Pavaiya, Ajay Vishnoi, Jayant Malaiya, Gopal Bhargav, Gaurishankar Shejwar, Kusum Mahdele and Vijendra Sisodia have time and again expressed displeasure over the presence of “outsiders” in the party organization.

These factors will test Chouhan’s popularity and winnability in the Panchayat and urban body polls due in early 2022, acting as a precursor to the Assembly elections a year later.

While the BJP is widely tipped to enjoy smooth sailing, Chouhan can’t risk giving the Congress psychological edge before 2023 even though the grand old party doesn’t seem to be in fighting shape in the state.

It still has the herculean task of setting its house in order and settling the leadership question. As Madhya Pradesh Congress chief, Kamal Nath has to contend with rebellious overtones from senior leaders like Ajay Singh and Arun Yadav, while balancing an unpredictable partnership with Digvijaya Singh.

If not a sweeping win, the party must at least give the BJP a good fight in 2022’s local body polls to regain some ground and boost cadre morale after losing power in 2020, say political experts.

Madhya Pradesh is not the only state where the Congress is struggling with infighting. In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, this problem is more profound since it’s one of the few states where it remains in power.

The Bhupesh Baghel government’s halfway mark in power in June this year was marred by claims from the TS Singh Deo camp, which demanded that the party honour a rotational CM formula it said was agreed upon in 2018. After several rounds of talks and high command intervention, the tussle was seemingly settled in Baghel’s favour, especially when the CM was elevated as the senior observer for UP polls to work alongside Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

But speculation is rife as to whether the Deo camp has given up its claim to power for good, or if it is just biding time until UP results are out. A senior political analyst in the state is of the view that Deo is in wait-and-watch mode, and will reveal his cards in case the Congress fairs poorly in UP.

Sources say party veteran Charandas Mahant is also not too pleased with Baghel and could pose additional headache for the CM Baghel in case Deo raises his rebellion again.

It would, however, be premature to write off the CM. Baghel has been hailed for his political maturity as he was quick to accommodate most of the MLAs with political appointments, the absence of which reportedly fueled discontent in MP. Experts also see the UP responsibility entrusted to Baghel as a sign of high command’s backing for the leader.

A political analyst, however, said the Congress would require Baghel to woo Kurmi voters in UP, but there is some confusion as to whether he is from the Thakur or Kurmi community. This could leave Baghel with the tricky task of spelling out his caste credentials before the UP elections.

Baghel’s fortunes also depend on how much ground the Group of 23 or G23 gains in the Congress. G23 is a group of senior Congress leaders who had written a letter of discontent to Sonia Gandhi, seeking organizational elections and more say for party veterans in election strategies.

Read all the Latest News, Breaking News and Coronavirus News here.



Read More: Heartland Braces for UP Ripple in 2022 as Chouhan Looks to Fortify Position, Baghel Aims

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