Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998
V. VENKATESAN

Total seats 40BJP 30Congress(I) 10

THE results in Madhya Pradesh do not in any way indicate that the Congress(I) has been rejuvenated by the merger of the All India Indira Congress (Tiwari) with it. The party, which won eight seats in 1996, had to be content with 10 seats this time. The BJP, which had 28 members from the State in the last Lok Sabha, increased its tally to 30.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, which won the Satna and Rewa seats in 1996, did not win any seat. Former Congress(I) leader and BSP State president, Arvind Netam, who contested from Janjgir and Kanker, lost in both places - to the Congress(I) and the BJP respectively.

The BJP retained 22 of the 28 seats it held in the last Lok Sabha and also took six seats from the Congress(I) and two from the BSP. The Congress(I)'s worst defeat was in Hoshangabad where AICC general secretary Arjun Singh lost to the BJP's Sartaj Singh. The huge victory margin (68,981 votes) of Sartaj Singh, who won the seat for the fourth successive time, showed that Arjun Singh erred in shifting from his previous constituency, Satna. The Congress(I) candidate in Satna, Rajendra Kumar Singh, lost to the BJP's Ramanand Singh by a margin of 44,485 votes.

THE Congress(I) was defeated in Mahasamund by the BJP. The victory of the BJP's Chandrasekhar Sahu (Champu) by a margin of 47,732 votes came as a surprise even to his party colleagues as the Congress(I)'s Pawan Diwan had won the seat in the previous elections. Pawan Diwan's defeat is attributed to the party's poor showing in most of the constituencies in the Chattisgarh region. Another Congress(I) veteran who lost was V.C. Shukla - in Raipur. Shukla did not contest the elections in 1996 and his chances of winning this time were rated high as BJP candidate Ramesh Bais was thought to lack popularity. The BJP also stormed another Congress(I) citadel, Sarguja (S.T.), where its candidate Larang Sai defeated the Congress(I)'s Khel Sai Singh by 20,620 votes.

The BJP also took the Sidhi (S.T.) and Bastar (S.T.) seats from the Congress(I). Sidhi, held by Tilak Raj Singh in the 11th Lok Sabha, was won by Jagannath Singh by a margin of 46,533 votes. Bastar, held by Mahendra Karma, was won by Baliram Kashyap by a margin of 16,886 votes. The BJP's success in these tribal constituencies shows that it has made inroads into the Congress(I)'s traditional support bases. However, the BJP lost the Raigarh (S.T.) seat to the Congress(I)'s Ajit Jogi by a margin of 4,382 votes.

The Congress(I) took the Dhar (S.T.) seat from the BJP. Its candidate, Gajendra Singh Rajukhedi, defeated Hemlata Chhatar Sinh Darbar. Hemlata is the wife of Chhatar Sinh Darbar, who held the seat in the 11th Lok Sabha. Chhatar Sinh Darbar was disqualified from contesting in view of his conviction in a murder case. The Congress(I) won the seat by a margin of 21,100 votes. Although Darbar's conviction was not an issue, the BJP's decision to field his wife, considered a political novice, is cited as the reason for the party's failure to retain the seat.

A new entrant to the BJP, Dileep Singh Bhuria, was defeated in Jhabua, the seat he won as Congress(I) candidate in successive elections. The Congress(I) candidate and a Minister in the Digvijay Singh Government, Kantilal Bhuria, won the seat by a margin of 82,373 votes. The BJP had assumed that Dileep Singh Bhuria had a vote bank of his own and that he would win comfortably. The reason cited for his defeat is that the Congress(I)'s move to field another Bhuria confused voters. Moreover, Dileep Singh Bhuria had to work hard to convince voters that he belonged to the "phoolwali" Congress (meaning the BJP). Jhabua's tribal voters were familiar only with the Congress(I) and this forced Dileep Singh to present the BJP as another Congress with a flower (lotus) as its election symbol. The resultant confusion among voters and the high turnout of Muslim voters of Ratlam appear to have sealed the fate of Dileep Singh Bhuria.

The only other member of the Digvijay Singh Ministry to win the election was Home Minister Charan Das Mahant. He won the Janjgir seat, defeating Manharan Lal Pandey of the BJP by a margin of 44,586 votes.

The erstwhile 'hero' of Chhindwara, former Union Minister Kamal Nath, the Congress(I) candidate, took the seat from the BJP's Sunderlal Patwa by a record margin of 1,53,399 votes. Patwa's failure even to visit the constituency after he won the seat in a byelection in 1997, and Kamal Nath's success in re-establishing rapport with his electorate, made all the difference.

Among the prominent losers is the BJP's former Chief Minister Kailash Joshi, who was defeated by Digvijay Singh's brother Laxman Singh in Rajgarh by a margin of 56,234 votes.

The Congress(I) candidate in Vidisha and son of former President S.D. Sharma, Ashutosh Dayal Sharma, lost to the BJP's Shivraj Singh by a margin of 1,37,858 votes. The State Congress(I) working president Dalveer Singh lost to the BJP's Gyan Singh in Shahdol (S.T.) by a margin of 39,734 votes.

Other prominent Congress(I) winners are Madhavrao Scindia in Gwalior, Motilal Vora in Rajnandgaon, Parasram Bharadwaj in Sarangarh and Vimla Verma in Seoni. Scindia won the seat by a margin of 26,279 votes, a big drop from his 1996 margin of 2,23,994 votes when he contested as the candidate of the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Party floated by him.

OVERALL, the Madhya Pradesh voters have given a decisive mandate against the Congress(I). The perceived political and administrative failures of the Congress(I) Government, failure to ensure adequate prices for the agricultural produce and relief measures for farmers affected by crop failure, contributed to its defeat. The BJP made political capital out of the police firing on agitating farmers at Multai in Betul district. Although the aggrieved farmers held both the BJP and the Congress(I) equally responsible for their plight in Betul, the BJP became the beneficiary of the anti-incumbency vote.

Congress leaders have begun to find scapegoats for the party's defeat. Narendra Mahata, who was a candidate in Mandsaur, resigned from the Digvijay Singh Ministry, blaming the Chief Minister for his defeat. Congress(I) circles are of the view that there could be fresh attempts to replace Digvijay Singh, as the party has to meet the challenge of Assembly elections later this year.

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