The Madhya Pradesh by-polls signal fresh trouble for the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi

The results of two by-elections from Madhya Pradesh (MP) were declared today, both won by Congress. The two seats – Kolaras and Mungaoli are in the Guna Lok Sabha seat, held by presumptive Congress Chief Minister (CM) candidate Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Both Kolaras and Mungaoli were held by Congress in the 2013 assembly election, and Scindia polled more than his BJP rival in both seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election too. In fact, Scindia won 6 out of the 8 assembly segments in 2014 in the Guna constituency but just Kolaras and Mungaoli gave him a lead of more than 59,000 out of the total winning margin of 120,000.

Congress won Mungaoli today with 1.5% vote margin. The vote difference was 2,123, down from 20,765 (2013) and 30,384 (2014). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained 10.5% vote share over 2013, while the Congress dropped 3%. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had won 8.8% vote in 2013 and seems most of it went to the BJP.

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Similarly, Congress won Kolaras with 4.6% vote margin. The vote difference was 8,083, down from 24,953 (2013) and 28,757 (2014). The BJP gained 12.5% vote share over 2013, while the Congress gained 1.4% too. BSP had won 15% vote in 2013 in this constituency. Yet again, most of the BSP vote went to the BJP and some to Congress.

Congress barely scraping through in the Scindia stronghold will perhaps lead to more resistance to his name as the CM candidate. Congress in-charge of the state Deepak Babaria made a highly speculative remark just after the two by-polls suggesting that leaders over 60 should not contest the 2018 assembly elections. This suggestion will fall foul of both Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh, the other two Congress stalwarts in the state. They will surely use today’s results to dissuade Rahul Gandhi from appointing Scindia as the CM candidate.

The fourth Congress leader who can potentially stake a claim to the CM candidature Ajay Singh earlier won the Chitrakoot by-poll in his stronghold of Satna with similar smaller margin, piggybacking on the BSP. Digvijay Singh, on the other hand, had a very strong showing in his Narmada Yatra, where he walked around the river worshipped so dearly in the state.

This creates an awkward problem for Rahul Gandhi to resolve, as all the four leaders have a strong influence in respective areas. Additionally, Arun Yadav, another young leader, is also believed to be close to Rahul, extending his problem of plenty.

That Congress needed BSP absenteeism to win its own strongholds today augurs poorly for the Congress. This isn’t good news for a possible Congress-BSP alliance in the 2018 assembly elections. The mahagathbandhan is supposed to wrest seats from the BJP, not to be used to retain its own strongholds. Today’s results will embolden BSP to ask for a greater share of seats in a potential alliance against CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Chouhan has managed to put up a good showing in 4 difficult by-polls in the last year – Ater in Bhind being the fourth seat. The BJP has increased its vote share in all seats, but failing to convert the strong showing in a win. Chouhan had spent many days campaigning for these two seats. He will be disappointed, but the BJP had some positives to take from today’s results, just like in Chitrakoot.

Madhya Pradesh is a key state for the BJP to win in 2018 before the Lok Sabha polls. Today’s results effectively mark the start of the election campaign. Both BJP and Congress will explain these results to their advantage as the campaign bugle blows.

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