Will Scindia defect to BJP? MP govt. on the edge

The clouds of uncertainty hanging over the Kamal Nath regime in Madhya Pradesh are unlikely to clear before the commencement of Budget session of the state assembly on March 16. The session could prove to be stormy. However, a clearer picture should emerge on March 13, the last day of filing nominations for the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls thirteen days later. With swirling rumors on the possibility of former Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia switching over to the BJP, the Congress’ failure to give him an assured entry into the Upper House could spell trouble for the ruling party in MP.

Three of the 11 seats from the state are up for grabs. The BJP has the votes to retain only one of the two seats it holds, but hopes to disrupt the predictable outcome with the help of seven disaffected MLAs, four of whom are Independents with old Congress ties. Three belong to the SP-BSP, and one to the ruling party. The latter (Hardeep Singh Dung) has sent in his resignation (some say representation) to the Speaker who has yet to react.

The Congress and BJP have 114 and 107 members each in a House of 230. Two vacancies have reduced the effective strength of the House to 228. Backing of the SP (1), BSP (2) plus four Independents has kept the Kamal Nath government afloat since it came to power in November-December 2018. Both Congress and BJP, therefore, have 58 first preference votes to ensure the victory of one candidate each. The fight is for the third seat, with the Congress clearly better placed to win provided their allies stick with the ruling alliance. For the BJP to manage nine more second preference votes over and above the 49 will be next to impossible – at least on paper.

The disenchanted MLAs were only waiting for the right time to strike. As the RS poll date neared, they began playing hard to get. Four Independents flew off to Bangalore, and three to Gurgaon for reasons best known to them. This was when former chief minister Digvijay Singh, began hurling wild allegations of poaching on the BJP. This is because the Independents were at his beck and call. Known for his political guile and cunning, it took some time for the rest to realize his larger game. As one of the three outgoing RS members whose seat was falling vacant, the intention was to drive home the message that there could be a price to pay in case he was not given another six-year term, and still worse, if his arch rival, Scindia, is accommodated after the loss of his LS seat (Guna) in the 2019 election.

From the look of things, the Raja of Raghogarh’s grand plan seems to have fallen apart. Not only is Digvijaya not getting a second innings in the RS, it is Scindia who will probably get a call to foil a defection. The way the cookie crumbles will depend on whom the Congress nominates.

The problem is that Scindia’s discomfiture is separate from the disaffection of the seven MLAs. Given the rising levels of graft, the legislators are angry at being denied a share in the earnings. “Everyone wants to become a minister”, said a key Congressman, the scope for which is limited. Nath’s ministry already has 28 ministers, all of cabinet rank. There is scope for just six more. But the chances are that a cabinet expansion could whet the appetite of others, and prod them to throw similar tantrums.

Though most of the absent MLAs have returned to the state capital, even assured the CM of their continued support, their word cannot be taken at face value. One of the independent MLAs, Surinder Singh Shera, said he would settle for nothing less than the home portfolio. Another chimed in that he had gone on a teerth, and was now ready to become a minister. None, however, has uttered a word against the BJP, much less accuse it of forcibly holding them up.  Shera, in fact, gave the game away by saying there was nothing wrong in meeting BJP leaders.

Small wonder Kamal Nath has been moody and edgy. Two BJP MLAs alleged being threatened with dire consequences. The long-time personal bodyguards of one (Vishwas Sarang) were changed without notice. Another (Sanjay Pathak) suffered the mortification of seeing his resort at Bandhavgarh bulldozed on the ground that it was built on encroached land. Nath rushed to Delhi on Sunday to confabulate with his party president, and possibly even Scindia.

The BJP leaders, on their part, have also been camping in Delhi for the last several days. But their lips were tightly sealed since earlier threats to dislodge the Nath government came to knots. In any case, the prospect of the BJP’s return to power by capitalizing on the dissidence within the ruling party’s ranks has not gone down well with many. There will really be no cause to celebrate even if the improbable were to happen.


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About the Author

Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He writes regularly for the HinduPost as consulting editor.