The BJP may have dubbed the Madhya Pradesh civic body election results “historic”, but ironically it went into the elections with all 16 incumbent mayors and lost nearly half of them, including in its traditional strongholds like Gwalior, Jabalpur and Rewa.
As these elections are being viewed as the semi-finals to the Assembly election scheduled 14 months from now, the scoreline has given the Congress much hope. And despite the official BJP line of “historic victory”, there have been calls for introspection within the party on why so many mayoral seats were lost.
Reading the subtext of the loss is just as important as the result itself, say its leaders. They point to how the BJP lost both the mayoral posts in the Gwalior-Chambal belt (Gwalior and Morena) that allowed the Congress to take a dig at its former member Jyotiraditya Scindia, who switched loyalties two years ago. In Katni — part of the Khajuraho Lok Sabha seat that BJP State president V.D. Sharma represents – the party lost to its own rebel Priti Sanjeev Suri, who contested as an Independent. It thus lost two of three seats (Singrauli to Aam Aadmi Party and Rewa to the Congress) in the Vindhya region, where it did well in the last Assembly election.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya has been more vocal than others about the loss. “I cannot deny that the loss of Gwalior is alarming,” he told a local TV channel on Thursday. Mr. Vijayvargiya said the entry of a group [Mr. Scindia and his supporters] was supposed to strengthen the party. “If we have lost there, we will have to think about the reasons,” he said.
There were reported differences between Mr. Scindia and Union Minister and Morena MP Narendra Singh Tomar that caused a delay in candidate announcement. If unresolved, these differences can pose a bigger selection headache in the next year’s Assembly poll, said a party leader.
After the final results were announced on Wednesday, there was an attempt to contextualise the mayoral post losses by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and State president Mr. Sharma.
“In Katni, which falls under my constituency, both the candidates [the winner Priti Suri and Jyoti Dikshit whom she defeated] were BJP workers, and even there 27 of the 45 corporators whom the people elected are from the BJP. Similarly, a majority of the newly elected corporators in Gwalior, Singrauli and Jabalpur are from our party,” Mr. Sharma said.
Mr. Chouhan called the Congress’s wins in the five seats “ adhoori jeet (incomplete win)”. “The mayors may be theirs but the majority of corporators are with us,” he said.
While they point to the fact that an overwhelming majority of the newly elected members of these urban bodies – including municipal corporations and councils – are from the BJP, many party leaders privately credit the Congress for its mayoral candidate selections.
A BJP leader said the party’s constant quest for widening its social outreach by diversifying representation may have resulted in such selections which also upset the upper caste voters, who play a key role in belts such as the Vindhyas and Gwalior-Chambal.
The Congress has its own take on fewer number of corporators being elected compared with the BJP. “The number this time is one-and-a-half times more compared with the elections in 2015. The BJP has used the administration and the Collectors. Given that the margin in Burhanpur and Ujjain was lower than 1,000 votes, we have reasons to believe that we wrested seven mayoral seats from them and not five,” said K.K. Mishra, Congress media in-charge of M.P.
While the Congress alleges that the State machinery worked for the BJP, it has some soul-searching to do as well. Three sitting MLAs lost the elections and some of the mayoral wins did not seem to have a carry-over effect in the wards, which the BJP claims was a sign of the mayoral candidates’ individual image rather than massive public support in favour of the party.
The emergence of AAP and the AIMIM has further complicated matters for the Congress, a possibility their spokespersons did not deny.