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November 24, 1998


Divisions plague both BJP and Congress in MP

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Archana Masih and Vaihayasi P Daniel in Bhopal

"Infighting is nothing new in Madhya Pradesh politics. The only difference is that there are two BJP parties against 25 Congress parties in the state," says Dr Suresh Mehrotra, editor of The National Mail. Mehrotra goes on to explain that unlike the '93 assembly polls -- when the Congress was split into the Vora and Scindia camps -- in '98, every strong leader -- Digvijay Singh, Arjun Singh, Kamal Nath, Ajit Jogi, Subhash Yadav -- has managed to form a subgroup in the party. "In MP, one Congress leader means one party," he adds.

The MP BJP, on the other hand, has functioned in the background of the pro-Patwa and anti-Patwa syndrome. Enjoying the patronage of party president Kushabhau Thakre and Vijayaraje Scindia, the Patwa lobby includes the likes of former state president Lakhiram Agarwal, former state cabinet minister Kailash Sarang and Jayant Mallaiya among others. Sardar Angre is understood to be the chief strategist of this lobby.

The anti-Patwa faction, even though larger in numbers, has failed to gain influence in the party because it largely remains scattered, and has consistently lacked leadership. Temporary leaders like Kailash Joshi, L N Pandey and V K Saklecha -- who left the party recently -- have not been able to match up to the other faction.

"Though the BJP factions manage to unite themselves in times of crisis, this time the infighting in the BJP is much more than in the Congress," says local journalist Shiv Anurag Pateria.

In the light of Patwa's poor recent record -- the party won 12 seats under his chief ministership in '91, lost the '93 assembly polls; he himself lost Chhindwara to Kamal Nath in the '98 Lok Sabha election -- observers believe factionalism was responsible for the party's poor showing in '93, and could again be the reason if the BJP is unable to form a government in the state.

However, Patwa vehemently denies any such allegation. "There is no pro-Patwa group, I only see a pro-BJP group in the party," he says. "This is not a party of devtas. We are a party of human beings. Some 97 per cent of our party workers are satisfied, so why should the three per cent make such news?"

On the premise that party members were upset with tickets being given to relatives of prominent leaders -- former chief minister Saklecha being denied a ticket himself -- Lakhiram Agarwal says of the 320 candidates, 300 were unanimously decided by the 15-member party election committee. "This proves that we are a united party," says Agarwal.

"There has been a long history of dissidence," says Lajja Shankar Hardenia, vice president of the MP National Integration Committee. Known as a disciplined party with a strong RSS base, the BJP is facing problems with rebels because it has opened its membership and finds itself within reach of power. Party leaders agree that rebels, with personal political aspirations are bound to be a problem in any party.

Without ruling out the point that dissidents could be a disadvantage to both parties this time, Hardenia feels that unlike the BJP, the Congress knows the technique of managing revolts. "I don't think the Congress party has any democracy either," he continues. "I remember Dr Sanjeeva Reddy once said in Nehru's time that chief ministers were not imposed on the party. I asked Indira Gandhi about this when she was in Bhopal, and she replied: 'As if he knows Nehru more than I do.' "

Some are of the view that like the Congress, the coterie in Delhi will select the chief minister if the BJP comes to power. A senior journalist reveals how in '90, Kailash Joshi left Delhi with the assurance that he would be the new CM, but when he reached Bhopal, he was asked to propose Patwa's name instead.

Not that the Congress is above similar charge. Party insiders reveal in that '80, when Shiv Bhan Singh Solanki got majority votes in the CLP, Kamal Nath said he was transferring his vote to Arjun Singh after the casting of votes was over.

Although Arjun Singh's star has been on the descent after two successive defeats in Satna and Hoshangabad, he has had a lasting influence on his party's politics in the state. "There was a time when Arjun Singh ran a departmental store in MP politics, and his counters were run by the likes of Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Suresh Pachauri etc," reveals a senior journalist.

However, the past five years have seen the emergence of Digvijay Singh as the major power centre in state politics. Enjoying the support of most of the Congress candidates in the fray, Singh has also won favour with Sonia Gandhi -- which has further strengthened his position.

Meanwhile, the CM is also known to have a greater influence than the BJP in 45 assembly constituencies that have a two per cent victory/ defeat margin. The insider further reveals that in agreement with the BSP, Ajit Jogi -- one of the four Congress working presidents in the state -- had agreed to support BSP candidates in 10-11 constituencies. In response, Digvijay Singh managed to persuade the BSP to remove all candidates in those constituencies.

Assembly Election '98

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