The BJP State-unit hopes a tried and tested election team will help it overcome anti-incumbency voter sentiment

After the rout of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Karnataka Assembly elections, the knives were out for South Bangalore MP Ananth Kumar, and his position as the party official in charge of Madhya Pradesh appeared in doubt. But Mr. Kumar has made it clear that he isn’t going anywhere.

“When I joined the party we had only two seats in the Karnataka Assembly. Now, look how far we have come. The party had sent me to work in this State (M.P.) and we have won two elections and we are going to win the third,” he said at a press conference in Bhopal.

The BJP announced earlier this week that Mr. Kumar would retain charge of M.P. even though Bihar, which he additionally handled, has been placed under the charge of Odia politician Dharmendra Pradhan. With Mr. Kumar in place, the team that will lead the party in the Assembly polls this year is the same one that returned it to power in 2008: Rajnath Singh as party president, Narendra Tomar as State president, Shivraj Chouhan as Chief Minister and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Dave steering the election war room.

Sops

Clearly, the BJP does not think it needs to make any drastic changes in the party leadership in the State, and believes the previous team and its performance can see it through. In the run-up to the elections which are to be held later this year, the State unit is chanting the development mantra. If the Atal Jyoti Abhiyan, the State’s attempt to establish 24x7 power supply to all villages has not been entirely successful, there are other sops — wheat at Re.1 per kilo and rice at Rs.2 per kilo. More than one lakh senior citizens have used the State-sponsored pilgrimage train journeys.

But Madhya Pradesh is no paradise. The State has the highest number of rapes reported in India, roughly 14 per cent of all rapes reported in the country in 2011. Crimes linked to caste discrimination also are common although communal violence has been under control. Corruption and the slow pace of prosecution is an albatross round the party’s neck; the BJP hopes to capitalise on the scams of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre.

Corruption

This week, after a three year investigation, a BJP MLA was finally chargesheeted in a land scam in Indore. Industries Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya, who rivals the Chief Minister in the clout he wields, was the main accused in the petition that led to the investigation. But the future is not bright for the investigation. The government’s “Senior Secretary level officer Committee” to coordinate corruption probes has not met for seven months.

While the Congress has been highlighting corruption through open letters and protests, it is seen as a divided house. Allegiances of party leaders are divided between Opposition leader Ajay Singh, former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, State president Kantilal Bhuria, Union Minister of State for Power Jyotiraditya Scindia and Union Urban Development & Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.

Changes

The BJP, on the other hand, has a tight-knit leadership team that has managed its internal differences. The bonhomie between Chief Minister Chouhan and State unit chief Tomar is well known. In 2010, some unhappiness attended Prabhat Jha’s appointment as State president. The Chief Minister and Jha, an RSS man from Bihar, were not the best friends. With the change, Dave too withdrew from the political scene to run his NGO, Narmada Samagra. He was the BJP’s poll strategy point man in the last two elections.

But Tomar made a comeback late last year, taking the presidency back from Jha. As president, Tomar is a buffer for dissent against the Chief Minister from within his party. With Jha out of the way as the “in charge “ for Andhra Pradesh, Chouhan went all out in the last few weeks to woo Dave back to active politics. Further clarity on his role would become apparent after the party’s national executive meets in Goa next month.

Speaking to The Hindu, Dave refused to disclose what he is cooking up for the next election. But he did toss this take-it-or-leave-it remark: “The team is the same, not the candidates. The strategy also has to be different.” Nor did he shine any light on how the party plans to overcome the perceived communication gap between party workers and their leaders in government.

But hard-nosed political animals in the State are not waiting for poll strategies to see which way the wind will blow. They are already reading the tea leaves. Veteran political columnist N.D. Sharma is one such tea leaves-reader. “There is definitely anti-incumbency after eight years of Shivraj as Chief Minister. Law and order is in a bad shape and corruption is quite serious. Three-fourths of the State does not have proper drinking water supply this summer. But,” said Mr. Sharma, pointing to why the BJP may win a third term, “the Congress lacks a credible leadership [in the State] and its factions are more interested in fighting each other.”

pheroze.vincent@thehindu.co.in

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