Gaming caste in MP

It has been a proverbial case of BJP falling between the two stools. It is an open secret that the Congress has been quietly stroking the caste divide.

Rasheed Kidwai
Senior Journalist

THE BJP seems caught in caste matrix while the Congress story in poll bound Madhya Pradesh is gaining strength by the day. Like deft chess players, senior state Congress leaders are playing their respective roles to the fullest; plotting, working out counter strategies in seemingly separate but well-coordinated manner. 

In contrast, the BJP campaign, led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan seems already peaked during his 55-days long Jan Ashirwad Yatra. Though Chouhan has been making more poll promises, the influential upper castes, already opposed to reservation in promotion of government employees belonging to the SC\ST communities, are deeply upset over the Centre's backing to the SC-ST Act that rules out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against people from SC or ST communities. 

The caste disquiet is evident from the fact that during a recently held Bandh by the upper castes, some protesters were wearing T-shirts that had "Hum hain mai ke lal" written over it. This reference dates back to June 2016 when Chouhan had thundered: "Koi mai ka laal aarakshan khatam nahi kar sakta' (No one can end job quota). The caste tightrope has become more acute as the BJP has been in power both at the centre and in the state, leaving little scope for delay or promises.  It prompted BJP chief Amit Shah to defer his political programmes in Madhya Pradesh that were scheduled to begin on September 12. 

The BJP is banking on the ``Modi' factor but there are reasons to wary of it. The entire politics of the state revolves around Chouhan and it will be difficult to turn the state polls into a contest between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Modi kicks off the party's poll campaign with a `Mahakumbh' on the birth anniversary of Deendayal Upadhyay on September 25 whereas Rahul has planned a road show in the state capital on September 17.   

In terms of personalities lined up for the Congress, Digvijaya Singh is playing role of an anchor, while Jyotiraditya Scindia is proving to be a seasoned campaigner. MP Congress chief Kamal Nath is into macro-level management including behind-the-scenes alliance confabulations with the BSP, Samajwadi Party and local Gondwana outfits, raising funds and resources. The trio is helped by the likes of Suresh Pachouri, Kantilal Bhuria and Arun Yadav (all former state Congress heads) and Ajay Singh, leader of opposition, son of late Arjun Singh and a five-time MLA. Then there are four state-level working presidents from different regions and castes. 

For the uninitiated, the state Congress line up may appear fragmented and packed with those driven by naked greed to be the next CM. But that's a deliberate ploy to keep the BJP guessing. In the event of Congress edging out Chouhan, Rahul Gandhi is expected to take a call on the coveted post. The absence of a CM face has deprived the ruling BJP from zeroing in on a target. During his Jan Ashirwad Yatra, Chouhan started off by attacking Nath and then took on Digvijaya and finally settled on Scindia as enemy number one.

On more substantial level, Congress use of poll issues in Madhya Pradesh has been fascinating. The party strategists sensed the disquiet among the SC and ST community and the Bharat Bandh call given by SC-ST organisations on April 2, 2018, had the maximum impact in MP. 

But in the process, the influential upper castes in the state have become angry and hostile.  It has been a proverbial case of BJP falling between the two stools. It is an open secret that the Congress has been quietly stroking the caste divide. 

Privately, some BJP leaders say they are counting on a Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute. In this context, Rahul Gandhi's recent pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar is coming handy for the Congress whose subtle counter narrative is not to overtly oppose the construction of Ram Temple but showcase the party and its leadership as Shiv bhakts. 

It is believed that the state's top Congress leadership agreed on 130 odd candidates. The Congress is hoping to net as many as 80-90 seats from this “A-list”. For the remaining 100-odd seats, 30 are likely to go to allies while on 

the remaining 70, a final selection has reportedly been left to 

Rahul Gandhi. 

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