Rajya Sabha member and national vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prabhat Jha is one of the key strategists who has ensured the saffron outfit’s three successive terms in Madhya Pradesh. As the state readies for another Assembly election at the end of the year, Mr Jha analyses the prospects of the BJP. He predicts “doom” for the Congress which is fighting a “do-or-die” battle this time. In an interview with Rabindra Nath Choudhury, Mr Jha says the farmers’ stir, which turned into a flop show, may prove to be a bad omen for the Congress as the Opposition failed to make any dent in the BJP’s support base through it. Excerpts:
The just-concluded 10-day stir (June 1-10) called by different farmers’ bodies was billed as a litmus test for both the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress as far as wooing ryots (Indian peasants/tenant farmers) who constitute nearly 70 per cent of the electorate in MP are concerned, particularly when the Assembly elections are round-the-corner. Has the agitation threatened to erode the support base of the BJP among farmers?
No. In fact, we were thrilled to find that the stir had evoked little response from the peasants in the state. There was absolutely no disruption in the supply of vegetables and milk from villages to urban areas as the farmers had decided to stay away from the agitation.
The Congress-aided stir was a “super flop” and has completely foiled the party’s bid to make it a major poll issue for the Assembly polls. The collapse of the farmer agitation may spell bad omen for the Congress. A major reason for this flop show was that the peasants had realised that the Congress was behind the violence during a similar agitation in the state last year which led to a number of death in the police firing at Mandsaur. Hence, the farmers maintained distance from this year’s stir, much to the dismay of the Congress. Even Gujarat Patidar leader Hardik Patel’s meetings in MP evoked little response.
Why was there no impact of farmers’ agitation in MP this time?
Our government has earmarked the largest allocation for agriculture and welfare of farmers in the state budget in the country. I can vouch that no other state government in the country has done as much as our government has done for the farmers. Whenever the farmers were in distress, our government intervened to help. We procured potatoes and tomatoes directly from the farmers so that don’t go in for distress sales of their produce. We also purchased wheat from them at minimum support price (MSP) to save them from exploitation by the middlemen.
In a unique initiative in the country, the MP government floated Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana to compensate the farmers for not being able to sell their food grains at remunerative prices in the open market. We connected with the farmers at the grassroots level to apprise them of the welfare measures undertaken by the state government. All these measures helped.
The Congress has dropped hints on forging an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Gandwana Ganatantra Party (GGP), a tribal party having influence in, at least, two dozen Assembly constituencies in the Maha Koshal region of Madhya Pradesh, to turn it into a formidable electoral force by bringing the SC and ST voters under its fold. Will the proposed alliance pose a challenge to BJP in Assembly polls?
We will not be intimidated by such alliances. Had these parties formed an alliance in the last Assembly elections, it would have cost BJP 41 seats. We could still have got majority by winning 125 out of 230 Assembly seats. This time, the BJP is in a far better position than it was in the 2013 Assembly elections. Our government has undertaken many social welfare measures to take care of all the sections of society. Besides, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has emerged as a credible pro-farmer and pro-poor mass leader in the state.
That is our USP. Hence, we are confident that such an alliance would hardly have any impact on the prospects of BJP in the elections.
Moreover, caste plays no role in Madhya Pradesh elections, so the Congress’ ploy of playing the caste card will not pay off. In the last Assembly elections, we won 75 out of 82 Assembly seats, earmarked for SC and ST in the state, which clearly shows our stronghold over the SC and ST communities.
But reports say that the internal surveys by the BJP have suggested poor show by the party in the upcoming Assembly elections…
These reports are baseless and have been spread by the Congress. In fact, our internal survey has forecast a comfortable victory. We will form the government for the fourth time in a row.
How do you plan to counter anti-incumbency that is bound to surface as the party has been in power for the last 15 years in the state?
Development will be a major poll plank. We will showcase before the people the developmental works carried out by our government in the last one-and-half-decades and the poor performance of our predecessor Congress regime. This will stir a strong pro-incumbency wave in the elections, helping the party retain power in the state.
But there are reports that the BJP is going to drop nearly 60 sitting party MLAs to fight anti-incumbency.
It is a matter of interpretation. Rather I would like to put it this way: Win-ability will be our sole criteria for selection of candidates. Our slogan is Jo jitega usko hi ticket milega (candidates with winning prospects will only be given party ticket).
The Congress is trying to make inroads into the BJP base by luring Lodhi community, an influential section of other backward class (OBC), by attempting to make “marginalisation of Lodhi leader Uma Bharti” an emotive issue among them.
Uma Bharti is a respected senior leader. There is no question of her marginalisation in the party. The Congress’ attempt to spread falsehood among the members of the OBC community is bound to fail as the community is our traditional support base.
Do you feel a rejuvenated Congress under the new president Kamal Nath will pose a threat to the BJP in the coming elections in MP?
Mr Nath will pose absolutely no challenge to the BJP. He is not a state leader. He is considered a constituency leader who does not even know the names of district presidents of his party outside his Lok Sabha seat, Chhindwara. He has remained aloof in the state affairs during his 37-year-long electoral career and has hardly shown interest in state politics. He has no time to connect with party cadres and leaders.
Besides, his style of running the party, like a corporate boss than a political leader, will not inspire the Congress cadres.
The corporates deal humans as resources whereas in politics we deal humans as humans. The sooner he learns it; the better it will be for his party.
Even Jyotiraditya Scindia, who has been made the campaign committee chairman of Congress in MP, is a constituency leader, not a state leader. He has his influence over a particular region in the state, not across the state.
There is only one state leader in Congress — Digvijay Singh who has his following across the state. Besides, Congress is faction-ridden in MP, having nine groups each working at cross purposes against the others. The party lost a connect with masses long ago. Its leaders appear only during elections.
Do you think Vyapam issue involving corruptions in admissions in different medical colleges and recruitments in government jobs in MP will be an elections issue this time too?
Vyapam (issue) had cut little ice among the electorates in the last Assembly elections. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been given a clean chit by the court in Vyapam, leading ghost of Vyapam to be exorcised for once and all. Vyapam (issue) is dead.