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It is going to be a three versus one personality clash though for the sake of pun it might be tempting to describe the forthcoming assembly contest in Madhya Pradesh as Kamal versus Kamal—BJP’s party symbol versus Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee President Kamal Nath. But it is much more than that. Three Congress bigwigs – Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijay Singh are on the forefront to jointly take on the BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh. None of them is a chief ministerial candidate. The Congress has fielded its top three leaders in various capacities but decided against naming its chief ministerial candidate. The BJP is also not banking on the Shivraj’s face. Sensing huge anti-incumbency sentiments against the Chief Minister, BJP President Amit Shah told party workers in Bhopal that the next election in Madhya Pradesh would be fought by the organization. However, Shivraj will remain its star campaigner.

He is set to launch a state-wide campaign on a luxury vehicle turned into a ‘chariot’ from July 13 and cover all 230 assembly constituencies in phases. Battle lines are already drawn for the three versus one contest, even though the assembly polls are five months away. The Congress troika has got down to the urgent business of reviving the moribund Congress organization. Their main rival, the Chief Minister, too is in full election mode, showering bonanzas on different sections of the voters with an eye on the coming polls. Congress’s main strategy is to cash-in, on accumulated public anger against the 15 years of the BJP rule. Shivraj is relying on government resources and organizational network. Neither the Congress trio nor the Chief Minister is leaving anything to chance in pursuit of their goal which is to defeat each other. Out of power for 15 years, it is a do-or-die battle for the Congress. On the other hand, the BJP is also acutely conscious of the fact that defeat in three states –Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan—could sound the death knell for the party’s dream to recapture Delhi in 2019 Lok Sabha election. However, in the run-up to the high-stakes election, each of the top four players is encountering different fault lines. For Kamal Nath, the most formidable challenge is to acclimatize himself with rough and tumble of street politics as MPCC President. Although he is the senior most Congress leader in the state, he is reputed as fun-loving king of his citadel –Chhindawara—who is more comfortable in Delhi’s air-conditioned drawing room strategies. Guna Lok Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is head of the party’s campaign committee, too had the similar reputation till a couple of years ago. But the scion of the erstwhile Gwalior family has worked hard to shed that image by reaching out to Congressmen and women across the state. Still, his task requires the satrap of Gwalior-Chambal region to work harder on emerging as pan-Madhya Pradesh leader. Digvijaya Singh, who is tasked with coordinating with all committees, that the MPCC has formed to win the election, has endured the humiliation of being described as the chief destroyer of the Congress for a long time. Thanks to his arduous Narmada circumambulation that took him away from active social and political life for six months till April this year, the former Chief Minister has regained his prestige to a great extent. He is the only pan-Madhya Pradesh leader of the three. All through his famous Narmada Yatra with his much younger second wife, Digvijaya was welcomed by party workers. The yatra has immensely contributed to his image makeover. He is no longer trolled in social media as an irresponsible, anti-Hindu leader who is more a liability than an asset for the Congress. Digvijay Singh is currently touring the state with the sole objective to persuade idle Congress workers to work for the party. Of the four players, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan faces the worst image crisis. He is now likened to Digvijay Singh of 2003 vintage. In the run-up to the 2003 assembly election, the BJP had invented ‘Mr. Bantadhar” a sobriquet for the then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. The sobriquet got stuck on him so deep that the Congress tally in the election shrunk to 38 in the assembly of 230. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, more or less, stares on similar fate in this election.

Rakesh Dixit

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