Madhya Pradesh Congress needs to reinvent itself

April 13th, 2009

So the first seat of this Lok Sabha election has been won! Sushma Swaraj, the BJP candidate from Vidisha, needs only the Vidisha Returning Officer to hand her Form 21 C (testifying that a candidate has won an election). The circumstances of her victory are bizarre, but are also a comment on how and why the BJP will get more than 20 out of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh.

Rajkumar Patel was the Congress candidate fielded against her. As a candidate, when you file your nomination you need to submit ‘Form A’ in the original that proves that a candidate is a particular party’s official choice. According to Patel, he “forgot” that this has to be filed in the original: he tried to file a photocopy and by the time he procured the original the nomination deadline was over. As all the other candidates in Vidisha are of no consequence, Swaraj knows she’s won and has – more or less – stopped campaigning.

It is not that Patel is a novice. He was an education minister in Digvijay Singh’s government. This means he is a Digvijay Singh man. Singh, his mentor, had taken a vow not to fight elections for ten years after he lost the state elections in 2003, a period that will be over in 2013.

In the meantime, Madhya Pradesh is slipping out of Congress hands. There was no clarity whether Suresh Pachoury, the state party chief was going to fight the Lok Sabha elections or not. Pachoury has served in the Rajya Sabha for five terms – the maximum permissible – and was moved as party chief for this reason. One way to establish his leadership would have been to lead, contest and win a Lok Sabha election. He suddenly developed cold feet and has stayed out of the fray. Digvijay Singh, the tallest Congress leader, is watching all this and laughing.

Arjun Singh, the other person who has been Madhya Pradesh’s face in Delhi for several years, is caught in a family drama that rivals Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. His son Ajay, aka Rahul, and his daughter Veena were locked in a public quarrel for the Sidhi constituency. Finally the Congress ticket was given to a third person and the claims of both ignored. Veena Singh is contesting the election as an independent. This resulted in Arjun Singh dabbing his eyes publicly while campaigning for the Congress candidate from Salempur, UP, where he commented poignantly: “Aisa hota hai, kabhi kabhi is umr me (This happens in old age).”

Madhya Pradesh watchers say the Congress is going to get three seats from the state: Chhindwara, held by Kamal Nath; Guna held by Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kantilal Bhuria from Ratlam. A fourth would be a bonus.

In a state where the opposition is decimated, the ruling party tends to become its own opposition. This is what is happening in MP. Sushma Swaraj and Shivraj Singh Chouhan are taking out ‘nyaya yatras’ all over the state. You would have thought they were the ones to be at the receiving end. But no, they are blaming the Congress-led central government for the plethora of development-related problems that plague Madhya Pradesh. West Madhya Pradesh has areas that get electricity once in eight days. There are days when even Bhopal gets water once a day. Roads have shown marginal improvement. To the people, the BJP-led state government’s response is: the centre is not giving us coal so we cannot run thermal power projects which means you get no electricity. Such is the infirmity of the Congress that it is unable to nail this patently absurd argument. The drama unfolds relentlessly meanwhile: recently the Chief Minister led a Satyagraha at a thermal power plant and seized a lump of coal there – ‘This coal is Madhya Pradesh’s. Give our coal back to us,” was the rallying cry.

Unless the Congress can pull itself up by the bootstraps, it will take years to reinvent itself, And reinvention is needed urgently.

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