MP polls: RaGa’s rousing reception sends alarm bells ringing in BJP camp

Bhopal: During his recent whistle-stop tour of the Malwa-Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh, while addressing a public meeting at Khargone, when Congress president Rahul Gandhi repeatedly referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as chowkidar, the crowd responded with full-throated cries of chor hai.

Gandhi began his two-day visit of the region with an elaborate puja at the Mahakaleshwar Temple at Ujjain. He addressed public meetings at Ujjain, Indore, Jhabua, Dhar, and Khargone. He took out a road show at Indore and interacted with professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and chartered accountants. He also took time to pay his respects to Baba Saheb Ambedkar at the Constitution-maker’s memorial at Mhow.

The visit, which began on October 29 morning and ended late in the evening on October 30, by all accounts, was a success. Wherever he went, Rahul was greeted by enthusiastic crowds and his road show at Indore was well-received. “The public response was overwhelming,” gushes Pankaj Chaturvedi, spokesperson for the Madhya Pradesh Congress committee.

The Congress was wiped out in Malwa-Nimar region in 2013

The Malwa-Nimar region, with Indore as its hub, comprises 14 districts Dewas, Dhar, Indore, Jhabua, Mandsaur, Neemuch, Rajgarh, Ratlam, Shajapur, Ujjain, Barwani, Khandwa, Khargone and Burhapur. A relatively prosperous region of the state, it has, over the years, emerged as a bastion of the BJP. Figures speak for themselves. In 2013, of the 66 constituencies in the region, the BJP had won 56 while only nine went into the Congress’s kitty. The sole Independent candidate, who won from the region, is also supporting the ruling party.

And that is what makes the Congress chief’s success in drawing crowds in the region significant. Though crowds do not necessarily get converted into votes, they do indicate the way the wind is blowing. Obviously, the trip has boosted the morale of the beleaguered Congress, for even contemplating a fourth successive defeat in Assembly polls sends a shudder down the collective spine of the Congressmen. The BJP, of course, is not convinced that the crowds at Rahul Gandhi’s events were, in any way, indicative of voters’ mood.

Panama gaffe

  • The BJP did have something to cheer about when during the course of his visit, Rahul Gandhi referred to the name of chief minister Shivraj Singh’s son Kartikey as figuring in the Panama Papers.
  • This was a factual error. Quick to grab the opportunity, the BJP launched a counter-attack on Rahul, with Kartikey saying he would be filing a defamation case. The Congress chief took a U-turn the next day. ‘So many scams have been scripted in BJP-ruled states that I got confused,’ he said.

Sadhus up in arms

  • There is yet another reason for the BJP to worry. A powerful section of Sadhus, who have always been supportive of the BJP, have intensified their campaign against the chief minister.
  • Namdev Tyagi, known as Computer Baba, who had recently given up his minister of state status, conferred by the state government, is turning increasingly aggressive towards the Shivraj government. Devkinandan Thakur, a katha-vachak, has also decided to field candidates in all the 230 constituencies.

Desertions from ruling party ranks

BJP MLA Sanjay Sharma, OBC leader Gulab Singh Kirar and Dalit leader Kamlapath Arya joined the Congress in the presence of Rahul at Indore. Sharma, elected from Tendukheda, is a moneybag. Kirar is an influential leader of the OBC Kirar community, to which Shivraj also belongs. The Congress later denied that he had joined the party. “Yes, he was there at the dais with our president but he was not there to join our party,” said spokesperson Shobha Oza. Obviously, the party does not want to burden itself with Kirar, who is an accused in the Vyapam scam. The state PCC chief Kamal Nath has already declared that many BJP legislators are waiting to join the party.