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For the upcoming crucial assembly elections to five states in India, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has adopted a risky new strategy. The party has fielded a number of members of parliament (MP) for the state polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

So far, 18 MPs are on the candidate list in all — seven in Madhya Pradesh and four in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. This includes four Union ministers.

Almost all of them have been fielded in tough seats for the BJP, including those the party had lost last time. Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Union MoS for rural development Faggan Singh Kulaste, MoS for Jal Shakti, Prahlad Singh Patel will all contest from Madhya Pradesh. MoS for tribal affairs Renuka Singh is the BJP candidate from a seat in Chhattisgarh.

In Rajasthan, MPs Diya Kumari and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore are among the BJP candidates. There are many goals the BJP leadership is hoping to achieve with this electoral strategy.

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Chief Minister sidelined

One, to send out a message that they are putting their best faces forward and taking the state elections very seriously. These polls are expected to see a tight contest especially with the Congress as the main opponent, and the party clearly wants to take no chances ahead of the general elections which are due in six months.

The second goal is to reduce the party’s dependence on certain regional leaders and end factional feuds by casting a wider net. This is very apparent in the way the BJP leadership has sidelined Shivraj Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh.

It also reflects on anti incumbency and the unpopularity of some of these state leaders like Shivraj Chouhan who has been Chief Minister for four terms. Which also explains why the party has not committed to any chief ministerial face in these states, with union minister Piyush Goyal saying, “the lotus is our face in every election”.

The third aim will be to make way for fresh faces to contest the Lok Sabha polls next year. If many of these sitting MPs succeed in the state elections, it allows the BJP to try new candidates for the national stage. But all of this clearly comes with risks.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Bhupender Yadav

Infighting and discord

First and foremost, the BJP is grappling with a substantial rebellion within its Rajasthan ranks following the announcement of the first 41 candidates. Numerous loyalists of the former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje are disgruntled by their sidelining and have resorted to protests at party offices in nearly a dozen constituencies.

Many of these contested seats are precisely where the MPs have been nominated to participate in the polls. Consequently, there is a real possibility of numerous BJP dissidents opting to run as ‘independents.’

For instance, former BJP MLA Anita Singh Gurjar, an ardent supporter of Vasundhara Raje, expressed her frustration on her Facebook page, stating, “The BJP denied me a ticket due to my association with Vasundharaji. Instead, they granted it to an individual who lost in another constituency by a margin of 50,000 votes. In this new constituency, he may also lose his deposit.” Subsequently, she declared her candidacy as an independent.

Reports say the BJP leadership in Delhi is upset with this brewing rebellion in Rajasthan and party chief JP Nadda has met state leaders telling them to douse the fires quickly. A rebellion is also brewing in Madhya Pradesh for similar reasons especially in the Vindhya region where the BJP won most of its seats in the 2018 poll.

The risks with fielding MPs for state elections also exposes the BJP’s shift to what used to be the Congress culture — a centrally driven election strategy, where local leaders are ignored and ticket distribution is decided by the high command.

And even though Prime Minister Modi is the BJP’s star campaigner, this is no guarantee that the party will do well in state elections too under his name.

That has already been seen in several state polls that the BJP has lost since 2019. The party is often unable to replicate its national successes at the local level. This time, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the stakes are even higher.