Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath may have reclaimed his status as a 'star campaigner’ for the Congress Party but the relief will be largely illusory. For, the Supreme Court restored his status after the campaign for the 28 assembly seats had already closed. However, it may help in accounting for the expenditure incurred by him as a star campaigner with the Election Commission. The more crucial matter for Nath is the outcome of the mini-assembly poll in the state. Should his incessant pleas to the voters to 'punish’ the traitors (' gaddar') be heard, he may yet retrieve some of his lost political sheen. Otherwise, it may be curtains for his ambition to return as chief minister.
Given the internal differences in the MP Congress, with the Nath camp publicly blaming former chief minister and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh for forcing Scindia out of the party along with his loyalist legislators, it remains to be seen if the party can make a dent in the traditional bastion of the former Gwalior Maharaja. Besides, for the continuance of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan ministry, the BJP needs to win only eight of the 28 seats going to the polls on Tuesday. But Nath needs to win all 28, to be able to restake claim to the chief ministerial post. By all accounts, that seems an uphill task, especially when Chouhan, Scindia and the RSS-BJP cadres have closed ranks, to ensure a good showing.
The Congress had all along relied on the goodwill of the Scindias for a good showing in the Gwalior-Chambal belt. The party has 87 MLAs now, while the BJP has 107, eight short of the half-way mark. With Scindia aspiring to a senior cabinet position at the Centre, an extraordinarily sterling performance by the BJP would make the case for his elevation stronger. It will also help him regain some of the lost sheen in his pocket-borough, which rejected him in the Lok Sabha poll last year when he had contested on the Congress ticket.
As for Chouhan, who's not very popular with the current Central leadership of his party, he too will receive a shot in the arm from a good outcome, given that the byelections are being held in seats which the party had lost to the Congress in the 2018 poll. In other words, the election is a do-or-die battle for Nath and Scindia, far more than it is for Chouhan, though it is unlikely that the outcome will pose a threat to the stability of his government.
BJP in Gujarat and UP too on test
Two other BJP-ruled states are holding a slew of assembly bypolls. Together with the on-going poll for a fresh Bihar mandate, byelections in MP, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh may also reflect the popular mood in the traditional BJP strongholds amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the on-going standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. The price of humble everyday food items such as onions and potatoes ruling record high may also be factored in by voters.
Not unlike Madhya Pradesh, the byelections in Gujarat too were necessitated by the resignations of the sitting Congress MLAs. In Gujarat, it is alleged the MLAs were induced on the eve of the Rajya Sabha poll last June when the BJP leadership made a strong but eventually futile bid to prevent the reelection of Ahmad Patel. Of the eight Congress MLAs who had resigned at the time, five are now BJP candidates. The outcome will not impact the continuance of the Vijay Rupani government but still can be a morale-booster for the party should it win a majority of the seats.
It is, however, in UP where the Yogi Adityanath government might be on test, especially following the recent Hathras rape-murder of a Dalit girl and amidst reports of rising crimes against women. Of the seven byelections, the ruling party was a winner in six in the 2017 poll while the Samajwadi Party had held the seventh. Again, the outcome will not impact the stability of the government, but a failure to retain most of the seats would be a warning to the Yogi Adityanath Government that he cannot take the voters for granted. Meanwhile, how the Congress fares in the bypolls will be keenly watched, given the hyper-active Twittering by the Gandhi scions, especially at the height of the Hathras outrage.