Madhya Pradesh Congress may tweak campaign strategy in the wake of sops offered by Bharatiya Janata Party


Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge with party leader Kamal Nath at a public meeting in Sagar on August 23, 2023.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge with party leader Kamal Nath at a public meeting in Sagar on August 23, 2023.
| Photo Credit: PTI

 A slew of sops announced by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on the eve of Raksha Bandhanmay force the Congress to recalibrate its strategy, say party insiders.

“We definitely played our cards [a bit too] early, and that gave time to the Shivraj Singh government to come up with these schemes,” said a senior leader who is involved in preparing strategy for Madhya Pradesh.

“We have a few things up our sleeves but we will wait until the model code of conduct kicks in,” he added.

To match the Congress’ promise to provide a monthly cash assistance of ₹1,500 under the Mahila Samman scheme, the BJP government had announced ₹1,250 under the Ladli Behna scheme (LBY), plus an additional, one-time ₹250 as a ‘Rakhi Shagun’.

The BJP had announced its women-centric scheme at the beginning of the year, but pivoted its strategy and revised the amount upwards after the Congress promised ₹1,500 and a ₹500 gas cylinder to all women beneficiaries every month.

Mr. Chouhan reiterated his plan to hike the LBY benefits to ₹3,000 eventually, at a pre-Rakshan Bandhan event in Bhopal while also making another announcement that tackles, for the time being, the cooking-fuel component of the Congress’ poll guarantee. The Chief Minister said cylinders would be offered to beneficiaries for ₹450 during the auspicious month of Sawan.

Congress MP Kamal Nath, who had questioned the sincerity of the promise, claimed that the BJP was doing it out of compulsion and that he was pleased that his promise had triggered a discussion on cylinders.

However, if the BJP makes the ₹450 promise a long-term one, the Congress’ sting on the issue may be blunted.

Also read | BJP in MP dealing with open dissent as elections approach 

The Congress has also promised to give 100 units of electricity for free and halve the electricity bills for up to 200 units. It has further promised that if elected, it would supply free power for irrigation pumps up to 5 horsepower and waive the outstanding amounts farmers have incurred for power used in irrigation.

In response, the BJP government offered partial relief by announcing that the announcement of electricity surcharge, following complaints, would be postponed by a month till September.

In a bid to match the BJP’s brand of Hindutva, Mr. Nath organised a sermon by Bageshwar dham priest Dhirendra Shashtri at Chhindwara in August. While that prompted a few questions within the party, in September, another famous Katha Vachak (preacher), Pradeep Mishra, would be hosted for a Shiv Mahapuran Katha by the Nath family.

Buoyed by the success in Karnataka, the Congress not only deployed the same team — Randeep Surjewala as the general secretary in-charge of the State and election strategist Sunil Kanugolu — but also adopted a similar approach.

On the lines of the “40% commission sarkara” tagline in Karnataka, the Congress has come up with 50% commission in Madhya Pradesh.

“We feel that sooner or later, Shivraj-ji will run out of steam. And when it comes to sops, our line is that we forced him to do so. He had three-and-a-half years to announce it; why didn’t he do it earlier?” asked a senior leader.

Congress functionaries insist that senior BJP leaders having joined their party over the past four to five months had spokenˀ favourably of their party. In the past five months, over two dozen BJP leaders, big and small , along with a bunch of supporters in many cases, have joined the Congress.

These include the likes of former minister Deepak Joshi and former legislator Radhelal Baghel. A sitting MLA and two ex-MLAs [one of them Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat, a two-time BJP MLA] also joined the Congress on Saturday.

One of the most recent exits from the State BJP is the former MLA from Kolaras in Shivpuri, Virendra Raghuvanshi, who accused the government and new entrants (Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s supporters) of targeting BJP workers.

While Mr. Raghuvanshi, who has been part of the Congress in the past and returned on Saturday, could be fielded against State Minister Yashodhara Raje Scindia, the party has not made any promises about giving tickets to others.

Now, with speculation that the BJP may look at early Lok Sabha polls and club the five Assembly elections to ride on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular appeal, the Congress may also have to keep some contingency plans ready.


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