ON June 29, Dashrath Singh Lodhi of BJP emerged victorious in the Jabera by-election in Madhya Pradesh and defeated his closest rival Dr Tanya Solomon of the Congress by a comfortable margin of over 11,000 votes. Jabera had returned the late Ratnesh Solomon of Congress to the assembly for five consecutive terms. Thus the BJP victory came as a stunner to the Opposition Congress. The Jabera by-election result needs to be analysed in this context as it has potentially important local and national ramifications.
For Congress, it was the first election contested under the leadership of newly appointed MPCC president, Kantilal Bhuria and the newly appointed Leader of Opposition in MP Assembly, Ajay Singh. It was hoped that their appointments would help revive a declining and directionless state Congress. Ajay Singh had gone to the extent of saying that the Congress would win hands down in Jabera and that the party was not thinking in terms of defeat. The shocking loss of a safe seat like Jabera has not only punctured these egos but also shattered hopes of a Congress revival at least for now.
On the other hand, under the leadership of state president, Prabhat Jha and the state general secretary (organisation), Arvind Menon, the BJP has scaled new heights. For BJP, Jabera marks the third in the sequence of constituencies, following Sonkatch and Kukshi, which have been wrested from the Congress. Moreover, Congress candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections retained all of these assembly segments. The organisational might of the BJP combined with the transparent and development-oriented governance of Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan remains a force that is difficult to reckon with, let alone defeat.
There was a monumental difference in the campaign styles of the BJP and Congress. The Congress, which was probably confident of retaining the safe seat undertook a personality blitzkrieg. Senior Congress leaders including Digvijay Singh, Ajit Jogi, Kamal Nath and BK Hariprasad addressed rallies. On the other hand, the BJP employed its time-tested winning formula of micromanaging the campaign by assembling local resources. The BJP would do well to apply this formula at the all India level. The logic is simple: The organisation understands the realities at the grass roots level more than anyone else. Therefore, a campaign driven by the local organisation unit is bound to inspire confidence among the people.
Most Congress leaders have tried to dismiss the result as an outcome of the abuse of state machinery. The over-confident Ajay Singh now claims that he is not disheartened by the loss. Some Congress leaders such as Sriniwas Tiwari have been more forthcoming and have underlined the need to introspect and analyse the reasons for the defeat. In fact, Sriniwas Tiwari, in what would appear to be a direct rebuke to a large section of Congress leaders, went as far as to say that “it won’t help us if we are content saying that the BJP won because it is in power in Madhya Pradesh”.
There is a national angle to this by-election result. Madhya Pradesh is often considered to be a saffron stronghold. However, in 2009, out of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress won 12 (as opposed to 4 seats in 2004) and the BJP’s performance dropped to 16 (from 25 in 2004). Thus in 2009, the Congress might have ended up with fewer seats than the BJP but its performance witnessed a dramatic and crucial improvement. Two years have passed since and the Congress-led UPA has registered an unimpressive, scam-tainted performance. The fact that the Congress can be ousted from its safe bastions suggests albeit preliminarily that corruption has dented the image of the Congress at the grass roots level.
It is now up to the BJP to seize the initiative, regain lost credibility and project itself as an honest alternative to the corrupt Congress. Honesty and probity in politics does not simply mean the absence of corruption. It requires a proactive approach towards promoting transparency and reducing arbitrariness in governance. The BJP must convince the electorate by example that its brand of nationalism does not and cannot have a place for corruption.