Sartaj Singh, recently of the BJP, is a five-time member of Lok Sabha and a two time MLA. He once defeated Arjun Singh, one of the tallest Congress leaders of his time. The 78-year-old Sikh leader was a minister in union government and then a member of the Shivraj cabinet until three years ago when he was dropped on age ground.
Sartaj Singh is popular nurses his constituency well. One of the apocryphal stories about him is that on entering Itarsi, his hometown, he sends his vehicle home with the driver and walks down the streets. It normally takes him 4 to 5 hours to reach home, situated just a km away. He would stop to chat to passer-bys, have a cup of tea at a stall, visit a friend’s home, enter the odd shop to enquire about business, exchange pleasantries with people and sign on petitions of any citizen who cares to buttonhole him on the road.
He has never lost an election. Yet the BJP refused him ticket, making him weep publicly like a child, prompting him to cross over to the Congress. The Hoshangabad seat, from where the Congress has fielded him, became doubtful for the BJP and so is now his old constituency of Seoni Malwa.
If winnability is the criteria for ticket, then the BJP seems to have failed the test. Take for example Indore, where no one doubts the influence of BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya. The Indore strongman is a known opponent of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Three years ago he was made to quit the state cabinet and sent off packing to New Delhi. In 2013 assembly election too he was deprived of a ticket from Indore because he had insisted on the candidature of his confidant Ramesh Mendola. Vijayvargiya was asked to contest from neighbouring Mhow, a totally unchartered territory for him. To his credit, he managed to win against all odds.
This time, he has been refused a ticket because he insisted on a ticket for his son, Akash. His opponents saw to it that he sacrifices his own ticket to get one for his son. The BJP has fielded a reluctant Usha Thakur from Mhow, making the outcome doubtful. Thakur’s constituency was handed over to Akash Vijayvargiya. Ramesh Mendola, a lieutenant of Kailash Vijayvargiya, offered to vacate his seat for Akash. But the BJP leadership asked him to stay put, in an apparent move to sow seeds of discord between the guru and the disciple. Someone in BJP was playing politics, without bothering about the fate of Mhow seat.
If you think that Sartaj Singh was denied ticket on age criteria or Kailash Vijayvargiya was kept out because of kin issue, think twice. The BJP has given at least 44 tickets to close relatives of its leaders. It has similarly fielded several leaders who are in the same age bracket as Sartaj Singh is. The way ticket has been distributed does not augur well for the BJP. Despite a strong and visible anti-incumbency, it has repeated more than two-thirds of its seating MLAs, including some whose victory is doubtful. It has also fielded 16 such candidates who had lost 2013 elections even at the height of pro-Modi wave in 2013.
The only conclusion one can draw from the BJP’s list of candidates is that the party with a difference is now afflicted with the same disease that had always plagued the Congress, viz factionalism. The only person who could emerge victorious in this tug of war was former Chief Minister Babulal Gaur, a ten-time MLA, whose margin of victory has been increasing with each successive election. In his case, the high command intervened to ensure a ticket for his daughter-in-law because it learnt that if he revolts, the BJP would definitely lose not only his seat, but also a few others surrounding it.
An analysis of the Congress line-up shows that it has played its card well, keeping in mind winnability criteria, by and large. Only two candidates were ‘para-dropped’ Sartaj Singh and Sanjay Sharma. The party was convinced that they have a winning chance. Sanjay Masani, Chouhan’s brother-in-law, is the only exception. It has also given more ticket to women candidates as compared to the ruling party. It has also fielded more young faces, including candidates from its students’ wing and youth wing.
The selection of candidates is normally considered the first round of election. The BJP will now have to step up its effort to quell the revolt from within its rank if it wants ‘abki baar, 200 paar’.
(The writer is a senior journalist)