High attrition stares at BJP as Karnataka-like crisis plays out in poll-bound MP

While several leaders have accused the BJP of ignoring their interests, sources in the party claim that over a dozen party leaders are in touch with former CM Kamal Nath for a switchover to Congress

Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Several BJP leaders have accused CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan of ignoring their concerns and being busy protecting his own camp I File photo

Even as the BJP waits to assess the electoral damage inflicted upon it in Karnataka by its former leaders who defected to the Congress in the run-up to the assembly polls, a growing threat of attrition is now staring at the saffron party in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh too.

Among those who have been publicly speaking out against their party and dropping barely veiled hints of switching to the Congress are fourth-term Maihar MLA Narayan Tripathi and ex-MLAs Satyanarayan Sattan and Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat. Besides them, the one man whose increasingly caustic criticism of the BJP has created a flutter in the state’s political circles is Anoop Mishra, a former four-term MLA and nephew of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Crisis in MP

Sources in the state BJP claim that “over a dozen party leaders, including some sitting MLAs” are in touch with former chief minister Kamal Nath. The recent induction of Deepak Joshi, a former three-term BJP MLA and son of former chief minister, late Kailash Joshi, into the Congress could now “open the floodgates” for attrition as “disaffection and dissidence has been brewing for some time” within the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit, these sources said.

Joshi blamed the “lack of respect accorded to my father Kailash Joshi, who built the Jana Sangh and later the BJP in MP, by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and other state BJP leaders” as one of the key factors behind his decision to join the Congress.

The former MLA from Hatpipliya constituency in Dewas district said the Congress-led Kamal Nath government, which was toppled in March 2020 after Jyotiraditya Scindia and 22 Congress MLAs loyal to him defected to the BJP, had shown magnanimity by promising to sanction land for a memorial to honour Kailash Joshi. He alleged that the Chouhan government “refused my repeated appeals to sanction the construction of the memorial while the BJP spent ₹100 crores to build a new party headquarters in Bhopal”.

Joshi also claimed that in May 2021, when his wife Vijaya Joshi tested positive for COVID and required hospitalisation, “my cries for providing an ambulance to take her to the hospital were ignored because Chouhan instructed everyone that no help is to be offered to Deepak Joshi… my wife died of COVID and I hold Shivraj responsible for her death.”

Also read: CM Chouhan taunts Digvijaya, Nath; says they inflicted more harm on MP than COVID

“There is a sustained campaign within the BJP to force dedicated workers who have given a life time to strengthen the party at the grassroots into resigning from the party so that those loyal to individual leaders, be it Shivraj, Narottam Mishra, VD Sharma or the current favourite, Jyotiraditya Scindia, but not to the party can be accommodated with tickets and posts… I am in touch with many other BJP leaders who also believe that their time in the party is up,” Joshi said.

‘CM, BJP chief busy protecting own interests’

Nath, in whose presence Joshi joined the Congress, told The Federal that “many more BJP leaders are in touch with me and we will see who we can take without compromising on our ideology and interests of party workers… these are not leaders who are merely looking to join the Congress on the promise of an election ticket… in fact, Deepak Joshi has told me that he will not ask for a ticket from Hatpipliya but if the Congress wishes to field him in Budhni against Shivraj Chouhan himself, he would happily accept the challenge. Joshi will also be travelling across the state on a yatra soon to expose the real face of the BJP”.

Several leaders who are reportedly thinking of following in Joshi’s footsteps, while speaking to The Federal on condition of anonymity, largely cited two reasons for their growing discomfiture. A sizeable number of these dissidents, primarily from the state’s Gwalior-Chambal and Bundelkhand regions, felt that the party in these parts of MP has been “hijacked by Jyotiraditya Scindia and his supporters who helped the BJP to return to power through the back door” in March 2020, some 15 months after the Congress had won a narrow victory in the 2018 state polls.

Other disgruntled leaders said chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state BJP chief VD Sharma “have no time for leaders who spent a lifetime building the BJP in the state”, alleging that the duo are “too busy protecting their individual political interests and promoting their own camps while party MPs, MLAs and ordinary workers have been left at the mercy of an arrogant bureaucracy that refuses to listen to our grievances on issues of unfulfilled poll promises”.

Sharma, rebutted the charge saying “the party is united” but conceded that “few leaders have shared concerns over some organisational matters. He, however, said that the party is “confident that these small issues will be resolved and the BJP will win an absolute majority” in the assembly polls due in October-November this year.

BJP on damage-control mode

With Joshi moving to the Congress and the threat of an encore of a Karnataka-like crisis of attrition playing out in MP, Chouhan and Sharma, said sources, have huddled into damage control over the past few days. The chief minister and the state BJP chief, who are not known to share a cordial working relationship due to their competing political interests, have been forced to work together to pacify other disgruntled leaders.

“Mishra and other BJP veterans such as former MLAs Satyanarayan Sattan and Bhanwar Shekhawat have openly expressed solidarity with Deepak Joshi. It is clear to the party that these leaders are playing up Joshi’s sense of hurt over being disrespected in the party as a warning to the state leadership,” a MP BJP office bearer told The Federal.

The party functionary said that since Joshi’s entry into the Congress, the chief minister and the state BJP chief have begun to personally reach out to the dissidents in a bid for reconciliation but have found themselves confronted with demands they may not be able to readily accept.

Also read: MP Cong office decorated with saffron flags; Kamal Nath asks is bhagwa BJP’s trademark

Mishra had a meeting with Sharma on Sunday while Chouhan met with Sattan. “I have informed the state leadership that I will contest assembly polls from the Gwalior South constituency whether or not the BJP gives me a ticket, if they deny it would only mean that the BJP today has no respect for the family and legacy of Atal Behari Vajpayee and it doesn’t value people who gave decades to building the BJP in MP… my options are open and whatever I decide will have an electoral impact not just in Gwalior and Morena but in at least 35 seats of the Gwalior division,” Mishra told The Federal. He won from the Gwalior East assembly constituency in 2008 before winning the Morena Lok Sabha seat in 2014.

A day after Mishra’s meeting with Sharma, the state BJP chief had another visitor – senior leader Narayan Kushwaha who had won the Gwalior South seat in 2008 and 2013 but lost it to the Congress’s Praveen Pathak in 2018. Kushwaha told The Federal that he too had demanded a ticket from the Gwalior South seat and that if Mishra wanted to contest the upcoming polls, he should “apply for a ticket from his old seat of Gwalior East or from some other constituency in Gwalior or Morena”.

As was the case in Karnataka, BJP sources said, resentment among party leaders could grow sharper as the state moves closer to the assembly polls. Speculations that the party is set to deny tickets to a sizeable chunk of its 130-odd sitting MLAs in a bid to field fresh candidates who can duck anti-incumbency have only heightened the unease among restive party leaders.

The Scindia question

What makes things even more complicated for the saffron party’s crisis managers is the expectation that Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who had engineered the fall of the Nath government, will prevail in getting tickets for the two dozen Congress MLAs he had delivered to the BJP in March 2020. This could trigger protests from old BJP stalwarts and “asli BJP karyakartas” in these assembly segments.

A senior BJP leader told The Federal that “the Scindia question” will be “a very tricky problem” for the party when it gets down to finalising candidates. “So far, the BJP leadership has accommodated all of Scindia’s wishes because he was the main architect of our return to power after the 2018 defeat… but we need to think now whether we can again give tickets to all his loyalists.”

The leader added, “some of those 22 MLAs, like Imarti Devi, Adal Singh Kansana and Munnalal Goyal, failed to get re-elected in the bypolls but Scindia wants these people to be given tickets again… many of these 22 MLAs had, in 2018, won because of anti-incumbency against the Chouhan government and had defeated our leaders who had been MLAs for several terms. If we choose turncoats over our original leaders, it will strengthen the impression that we have surrendered control of the party in Gwalior division to Scindia but if we deny his loyalists tickets, his loyalists will think Scindia can’t protect their political interest anymore and they may want to defect back to the Congress.”

In the run up to the October bypolls that were necessitated due to the defection of Scindia loyalists to the BJP, Nath had reached out to several BJP leaders who had lost the 2018 assembly polls to these 22 turncoats with an offer that they join the Congress.

Former BJP MLAs like Parul Sahu and Kanhaiyalal Agarwal had, during those elections, been fielded on Congress tickets against candidates who they had been defeated by 15 months earlier. Though Nath’s strategy did not yield major electoral gains for the Congress, which could retain only nine of the 22 seats it lost to the BJP due to Scindia’s rebellion, the bypolls hardened the ground for an ideology-agnostic politics in the state where both Congress and BJP were happy adopting a revolving door policy for its candidates.

Nath reaches out leaders sidelined due to Scindia’s rebellion

Sources close to Nath told The Federal that the former chief minister is not willing to give up on that strategy just yet. Like Deepak Joshi, who was defeated in 2018 by the Congress’s Manoj Chaudhary – part of the ‘Scindia 22’ and now a BJP MLA, Nath is still in talks with other BJP stalwarts who wish to avenge their 2018 defeat at the hand of then Congress candidates and feel that the continuing patronage of these turncoats by the BJP is a threat to their own political careers.

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Sources say Nath has also reached out to KP Singh Yadav, who in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls had defeated Scindia in Guna and become the only leader to have ever defeated a member of the Scindia family from a constituency in the Gwalior division.

Despite this rare electoral accomplishment, Yadav, sources close to him say, has “not been suitably rewarded by the BJP” and has been sidelined within the party ever since Scindia joined it. While it is not yet clear whether Yadav would eventually join the Congress, sources say some of his aides in the Guna parliamentary seat who now find their chances of getting a BJP ticket in the assembly polls extremely slim due to Scindia may soon switch parties.