Despite intensifying politics of polarisation, BJP suffered huge setbacks  

Political analysts believe that the results of the civic polls represent a significant shift in state politics. Since seizing state power in 2020 by manipulating defections from the dominant Congress party, the BJP has increased its reliance on dividing politics as the state has seen scores of incidences of communal violence, gathers Abdul Bari Masoud

The incumbent BJP in Madhya Pradesh suffered a huge setback in the just concluded two-phase local bodies’ elections in the state as it lost seven out of 16 Municipal Corporations. In the context of next year’s assembly election, it is seen as a significant blow for the party in power. The defeat in these elections, despite BJP blatantly using the police, local administration and money – as alleged by the opposition – would have set alarm bells ringing in the ruling party camp.  The debacle in Gwalior, Morena and Jabalpur Municipal Corporations should be more worrying for the BJP which were considered the pocket boroughs of some BJP union ministers.

In the Morena Municipal Corporation, the stronghold of Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the BJP was defeated. In Gwalior, Congress wrested the top post of Gwalior city, which is the home turf of the Congress defector and Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, after 50 years.

Elections for 413 municipal entities, comprising 16 Municipal Corporations, 99 Municipal Councils, and 298 Nagar Parishads, were held in MP in two parts on July 6 and 13. In the meantime, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) also opened their accounts.

In this election, the BJP won nine of the 16 open mayoral positions, a decrease from its landslide victory in 2014. While the AAP and an independent candidate each won one seat.

The Congress performed best with five mayoral positions since Madhya Pradesh began holding direct elections for the post in 1999. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has won one in Singrauli, while the Congress has increased from zero to five.

Prior to this, the Congress had its greatest year in 2009 when it took office as mayor of Dewas, Ujjain, and Katni.

However, despite its defeats, the BJP continues to maintain a majority in about 80% of the state’s municipal corporations and councils, according to party sources. The party won 123 out of 169 town councils and 24 out of 40 municipal councils. The BJP recorded a lead in 256 out of 347 of the civic bodies.  These elections were held a year before the state’s assembly elections scheduled in December 2023.

However, Katni and Morena dealt the party its biggest blows. In Morena, Sharda Solanki of the Congress defeated Meena Jatav of the BJP by 12,874 votes. Against Jatav’s 41,403 votes, Solanki received 54,277 votes. While Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar both ran vigorous campaigns, another Union Minister from MP named Jyotiraditya Scindia also did likewise.

In the Jabalpur division’s Katni, a stronghold of state BJP president Sharma, the rebel Suri defeated Jyoti Dixit by more than 5,000 votes. Three assembly districts in the Katni district are included in Sharma’s Khajuraho parliamentary district.

The BJP also suffered a huge setback when it lost control of Rewa, a civic organisation, after 24 years of rule. Ajay Mishra of the Congress defeated Prabodh Vyas to win the Rewa Municipal Corporation elections (Baba).

Despite huge losses in the local body polls, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan pat themselves on the back.

CM Chouhan thanked the people and tweeted: “Out of 16 municipal corporations, we won in 9… We’ve won 6 out of 8 Nagar Parishads in Jabalpur. We have won 11 out of 12 in Rewa, 5 out of 6 in Gwalior and all three municipal councils in Katni. In the election, BJP got the blessings of the people.”

Questioning the BJP’s post-results euphoria, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Kamal Nath noted that the party had lost seven corporation seats. The Congress leader tweeted: “In these elections police, admin & money were blatantly used by BJP. They can use money from Sarpanch to Presidential elections. BJP can attempt to buy people, but next year’s Assembly election will give them a befitting reply.”

He also took a dig at CM Chouhan: “We won 5 municipal corporations while 1 each was won by AAP and an independent. This means BJP lost 7 corporations, if they want to celebrate there’s no problem. A child is born at someone else’s home and BJP starts distributing sweets.”

In a separate statement, the opposition Congress claimed that it had “won” Chhindwara, a stronghold of the party’s state unit president Kamal Nath, for the first time, Jabalpur after 23 years, and Gwalior after 57 years.

In Bhopal, Kamal Nath told reporters, “The result is promising for the Congress. We have triumphed in Chhindwara, Jabalpur, and Gwalior mayoral elections. Numerous corporators have also prevailed in elections for civic bodies. After 50 years, we finally took over as city leaders of Gwalior.” The BJP was charged by the former chief minister with using the police and the government to win the elections.

In the mayoral elections in Bhopal and Indore, where the BJP holds a commanding advantage, he continued, “We are going to review the results.”

Meanwhile a top BJP leader from MP conceded the defeats were a disappointment but still praised the party’s victory in nine mayoral elections while speaking to a portal.

“It is obviously a setback if we compare it to the 2014 outcome. But in the majority of corporations and local governments, we still hold sway,” he added.

He claimed that despite having “a very senior leader from this area,” the most concerning findings were from the Chambal belt in the state’s northern region, where Morena is situated. The BJP will conduct a thorough analysis and look into the causes behind its defeats, according to Sharma, the party’s MP President. The BJP “may have lost mayoral [positions], but [it] has more] councillors, say in Rewa or even in Katni,” Sharma said, downplaying the losses.

Another top BJP leader, however, claimed that the results, which came a year before the assembly elections, had a negative impact on party workers’ morale.

Political analysts believe that the results of the civic polls represent a significant shift in state politics. Since seizing state power in 2020 by manipulating defections from the dominant Congress party, the BJP has increased its reliance on dividing politics as the state has seen scores of incidences of communal violence.

Bhopal-based senior journalist Parvaiz Bari said this is the BJP’s worst performance in two decades in Madhya Pradesh’s mayoral elections. In 1999 and 2004, the Congress won just two seats and in the 2009 polls, it managed to win three mayoral seats. However, BJP retained most municipal bodies in the civic elections.

Speaking with Radiance, he underlined that Madhya Pradesh has been essentially a two-horse race politically but in the just concluded civic elections in the state a significant political development came to the fore when two new parties made their entry. The parties are namely Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM. AAP won Singrauli mayoral seat while AIMIM managed to grab seven municipal wards in four cities and towns in the state.

He said just 15 months before the next assembly elections, the defeats in Gwalior-Chambal – the home turf of Union ministers Jyotiraditya Scindia and Narendra Singh Tomar – is worrying news for BJP.

Gwalior is Scindia’s hometown while Morena is the Lok Sabha constituency of Tomar. Even state Home minister Narottam Mishra comes from this region.

Ironically, after Jyotiraditya Scindia left Congress in March 2020 and joined BJP with an army of supporters including 22 MLAs, the BJP had claimed that Gwalior-Chambal region would be ”Congress-mukt (Congress free)” because the party had no other face to match Scindia’s popularity, he added.

Aslam Sher Khan, a former union minister and Congress leader, echoed Parvaiz Bari’s views when he noted that the defeats in Jabalpur and Morena are a clear indication of the direction of the political wind. He claimed that the outcomes also made the squabbling and fighting among the ranks of the ruling party public. He made the point that the victories of Congress lay bare how heavily the Congress still depends on Muslim voters.

Another noteworthy development in the local body elections was the debut of AIMIM, which gained seven seats in Jabalpur, Burhanpur, Khandwa, and Khargone.

Winners for AIMIM included Aruna Bai, who defeated closest challenger and BJP candidate Sunita Devi in Khargone Municipal Council’s ward number 2 by a margin of 31 votes.

Aruna Bai, a member of the Scheduled Caste (SC) community, claimed that Asaduddin Owaisi’s beliefs on adhering to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s principles were the reason she decided to join the party. As his party’s candidates lobbied for votes in Khandwa, Bhopal, and Jabalpur, Owaisi spoke at public gatherings. AIMIM won four corporator seats – two in Jabalpur and one each in Burhanpur and Khandwa.

AIMIM was also responsible for the defeat of Shahnaz Bano Ismail, a candidate for mayor from the Congress party, who fell to Madhuri Patel of the BJP by a mere 388 votes. Advocate Suhail Hashmi, the AIMIM candidate, received more than 10,000 votes, which enabled the BJP candidate to win.

A Muslim-majority town, Burhanpur has a Muslim population of over 65 per cent. Shahnaz would have been the sole Muslim mayor in Madhya Pradesh if she had won the election.

Mumtaz Mir, a journalist and author residing in Burhanpur, told Radiance that in addition to AIMIM, Zaat Biradari bigotry played a role in Shahnaz Bano’s defeat. Shahnaz Bano is from the Ansari biradari, which is the dominating class in the town, thus it is unfortunate that there is animosity between Ahsraf and Ajlaf in Burhanpur that cost the mayoral seat. He also pointed out that the MIM’s entry also helped in polarising the electorate.

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