Behind BJP’s Gwalior-Chambal setback, too many heavyweights, rising AAP, Cong rebound


On the face of it, the BJP’s performance in corporation elections in Madhya Pradesh, a year ahead of Assembly polls, should make the party happy. However, more than the nine mayoral seats it won, out of the 16, it’s the two it lost to the Congress that are keeping the BJP occupied.

It was the first time that the BJP lost the Gwalior mayoral seat in 57 years, while it has never lost Morena before this. The two fall in the Gwalior-Chambal region, which is not only the BJP’s citadel in MP, but home turf of some of its biggest leaders – including Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the Morena MP; Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, the MP from Chambal, with Gwalior his family pocketborough; state Home Minister Narottam Mishra, MLA from Dabra in Gwalior; Power Minister Praduman Singh Tomar, MLA from Gwalior; and former higher education Minister and Bajrang Dal’s former national president Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, who is from the region.

Overall, apart from winning nine mayoral seats, the BJP is set to establish a majority in at least 11 corporations and in over 50% of the municipalities and nagar parishads.

As the party sits down to analyse the reasons for its loss, a prime cause that is emerging is factionalism, with BJP workers owing allegiance to different heavyweights pulling in different directions, apart from AAP eating into its dedicated upper caste voters, thus helping the Congress.

“Both Gwalior and Morena seats are considered the party’s strongholds, where getting a ticket was considered enough. But while the BJP fights every election together as an organisation, irrespective of who the candidate is and their differences, unlike the Congress where elections are leader-oriented, this time, in Gwalior and Morena, everyone simply fought for themselves,” a BJP leader said.

Firstly, not many in the BJP were happy that around 15-20 tickets in the Gwalior corporation of 66 wards went to Scindia’s followers. The BJP eventually won 34 wards, the Congress 25, while seven went to others.

In the contest for the Gwalior mayoral contest, the Congress’s Shobha Sikarwar defeated the BJP’s Suman Sharma by 28,805 votes; AAP walked away with 45,000 votes, which proved crucial.

Sharma, the state BJP Mahila Morcha president, was picked as the candidate after much deliberation, turning down names such as Maya Singh reportedly put forth by Scindia, and Khusboo Gupta and Hemlata Bhadoria backed by others. After her name was declared, supporters of one of the big leaders of the region took to social media to project her as their choice, in a clear game of one-upmanship. Consequently, supporters of the other faction stayed away, say sources.

Moreover, the Congress candidate who won, Subha Sikharwar, is the wife of Satish Sikharwar, who was the district president of the BJP Yuva Morcha but switched to the Congress after Scindia moved to the BJP in 2020. That made Subha a strong candidate. Sikarwar himself, with a base among the Schedule Castes in the region, is now an MLA, having won bypolls from Gwalior East on a Congress ticket following his defection.

In Morena, the Congress’s Sharda Solanki defeated the BJP’s Meena Jatav for the mayor seat by 14,684 votes. Of the 47 wards in the Morena Municipal Corporation, the Congress won 19, the BJP 15 and the BSP eight, with one seat each going to AAP and Samajwadi Party, apart from three Independents.

Apart from these two municipal corporations, the Congress also impressed in districts of the region such as Bhind. While the BJP had dominated Bhind in the 2014 civic polls, this time the Congress took a massive lead, winning Bhind, Lahar and Gohad municipalities. In Lahar, the constituency of Leader of the Opposition Govind Singh, the Congress swept all the wards.

Apart from a slide from 2014, the results also indicated a decline from as recently as two years ago. In March 2020, in bypolls necessitated by the defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia with his 22 MLAs to the BJP – causing the fall of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government – the BJP had won nine of the 16 Assembly seats in the Gwalior-Chambal region.

What definitely marred the BJP’s performance was AAP’s entry in Gwalior. Riding on promises of free water and fighting corruption, AAP’s Ruchi Gupta polled 45,000 votes in the mayoral contest. A district president of the Congress’s women wing, she had switched to the party just before the polls, after being denied the mayor ticket by the Congress.

“One can easily assume that of the 45,000 votes that AAP got, at least 40,000 were of dedicated BJP voters. This was also coupled with a decline in our voter share amongst the kshatriya community,” a BJP leader said, requesting anonymity.

The BJP failed to capitalise on the announcement by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, just ahead of the local body polls, taking back cases registered against Thakurs and Dalits in the backdrop of the April 2, 2018, caste violence.

On the other hand, while BJP leaders denied any adverse impact of the Agnipath scheme, observers believe the violent protests in Gwalior over the changes in the Army recruitment process hit the party in Gwalior as well as Morena and Bhind.

A Gwalior-based analyst said: “More than Scindia, it is Narendra Singh Tomar who people looked up to for a statement as protests engulfed these regions over the Agnipath scheme, as he is the Morena MP. His silence did not help.”

The final blow to the BJP may have come from the failure to take action against district president Kamal Makhijani, who was seen in videos purportedly collecting Rs 10,000 as samman nidhi from party aspirants for tickets, along with their bio-data. Makhijani is not too popular in the region, and the videos didn’t help.

Asked about the results, state BJP president V D Sharma said that “overall, the performance of the party has been stellar”. Crediting party workers, he added: “There were minor setbacks and there were various reasons for it. Each of these reasons is being minutely studied and necessary steps will be taken.”

But if the BJP was done in to a big extent by its own issues, to give the Congress its due, it put in effort to revive its worker base, improving synergy and unity amongst cadres. Congress sources said what helped was the removal of Scindia from the picture, thus taking out one of the poles around which leaders gravitated. Buoyed by the results, Congress leaders joked in the state: “Desh azad 1947 mein huwa tha, par Gwalior azad 2020 mein hua (The country got Independence in 1997, but Gwalior became free in 2020).”

Congress MLA from Gwalior South Praveen Pathan said: “Earnest attempts were made to distribute tickets to candidates with a winning possibility, based on a detailed survey, rather than patronage of any leader. Accountability was fixed and was closely monitored through the use of technology.”

Congress state president Kamal Nath thanked the people for their support. “Despite the muscle power and misuse of government machinery by the ruling BJP, it is with the overwhelming support of the people that the Congress has emerged victorious in these corporations.”





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