Congress sounds 2023 bugle in M.P., but familiar challenges may haunt still

While recent electoral wins and the general anti-incumbency mood may bode well for the party, it still has to fix internal problems to reap the best of the situation

January 01, 2023 01:24 am | Updated 01:24 am IST - Bhopal

Madhya Pradesh Congress president Kamal Nath. File photo

Madhya Pradesh Congress president Kamal Nath. File photo | Photo Credit: A.M Faruqui

On the day that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi made a bold prediction that his party will sweep the 2023 Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, the party’s State unit sounded the election bugle in its new year wishes to MP residents.

The Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee greeted the citizens in all the major cities of the State with ‘Naya Saal, Nayi Sarkaar’ (new year, new government), declaring its State president and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath as the ‘Bhavi Mukhyamantri’ or the ‘CM in waiting’.

In his new year wishes to his party colleagues, Mr. Nath also called upon them to take the pledge to form a new government while cornering the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government as one that has been “identified with scams, corruption, atrocities on women, tribals and Dalits, distressed farmers and unemployed youth”.

A section of the party that underscored the political importance of the coming year and laid out its campaign blueprint through its latest moves believes that it is well poised to take on the ruling BJP. The confidence exhibited by the local leadership, as well as Mr. Gandhi in Delhi, also stems from the anti-incumbency factor coming from a long BJP rule, as well as recent positives in the year gone by. These include the Congress’s performances in the mayoral elections in the middle of the year and the encouraging response Mr. Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra received in its MP leg.

However, the road to Vallabh Bhawan is paved with many challenges as well. “It is true that there is some anger against the BJP MLAs, but they are well entrenched and replacing most of them, like Gujarat, won’t be easy. The kind of organisational machinery the BJP has in the State will also make it difficult for the Congress to utilise the public mood fully,” says political commentator Rakesh Dixit.

Yet, the biggest problem, as detractors and even insiders point out, is that of factionalism. While Mr. Nath has more time compared to 2018 to set the house in order, bringing more stability to the equation, there are several camps that exist within the party.

There are talks of a rift between him and senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Arun Yadav. Mr. Nath’s absence in the no-confidence motion moved by the party in December was also seen as an indication of his displeasure against the call taken by the Leader of Opposition. This has also prevented the development of a second-rung leadership in MP Congress. The hoardings the party has displayed also do not contain pictures of any senior leader other than Mr. Nath, though some State-level spokespersons have been included in a few hoardings.

On the ground, while mayoral elections included wins in corporations like Gwalior after almost six decades, the same was not translated at the ward level, which could have indicated a wider penetration. At a socio-political level, the BJP government is aggressively working on wooing the tribals, a traditional vote bank for the Congress. While the Congress plans to wrest the traditional Hindu votes from the BJP (Mr. Nath’s new year message talks about cow shelters, he is clad in a dhoti in some of the pictures and is seen praying at the Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain), the BJP feels it is its turf and issues like Love Jihad give it a further edge.

In the past one week, there have also been talks of an internal survey that predicts only 54 seats for Congress in 2023. That purported survey was quoted by Minister Bhupendra Singh to dismiss Mr. Gandhi’s claim of a sweep in MP. “The statement that Mr. Gandhi has given about MP suggests that he dreams well but Rahul Gandhi should know that a survey that the Congress conducted internally has only given 54 seats and their own senior MLA Laxman Singh has said that the situation of the Congress is pretty bad in MP,” Mr. Singh said. Other BJP spokespersons have also termed as delusional the Congress’s move to declare Mr. Nath the next CM.

Mr. Nath has denied any such survey, calling such reports misleading. “The news of an alleged survey of the Congress is going on in the media regarding the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections. The Congress party has not conducted any such survey in the state. Such news is misleading and baseless,” he tweeted.

He followed it up with another tweet predicting 150 seats in 2023 for the Congress. For a party that won 114 in the 230-member Assembly in 2018 but went on to lose power two years later, anything short of the majority mark in 2023 could trigger an existential crisis in MP.

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