Zafar Alam Khan | Bhopal
As the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress prepare for crucial by-polls to 27 assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, the political grapevine in Bhopal is agog with speculation over the possible return of former chief minister Uma Bharti to electoral politics. The rumours got further strength when the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister said last days that she will remain active in the by-polls going to be held on over two dozen assembly seats of the state.
Sources in BJP say after Chouhan was sworn-in as CM for a fourth term in March, Bharti began showing renewed interest in MP politics and this only increased after news of Ram Mandir bhoomi pujan was announced. Bharti visited Ayodhya for the bhoomi pujan despite having announced just a day earlier that she would give the ceremony a miss. After attending the function, she returned to Bhopal and has been in the state capital since.
BJP insiders say rumours about Bharti’s return to electoral politics gained momentum after resignation of Congress MLA from Bada Malhera, Pradyumn Singh Lodhi’s resignation.
Lodhi’s resignation “Spooked Chouhan as speculation began in the BJP immediately about Bharti trying to use this as a way to get back to MP politics by contesting from Bada Malhera.” The BJP has kept Bharti away from her home state since she rejoined the party back in 2011. She was expelled from the BJP in November 2004 after a very public falling out with LK Advani and had made no secret about her ambition to return as MP Chief Minister. Amid rumours of Bharti trying to edge her way back into MP politics, sources say Chouhan is now working overtime to ensure that the speculation doesn’t turn into reality. In his fourth term as CM, Chouhan doesn’t enjoy the comfort of his previous stints given the distrust that the party’s central leadership has of him and the pressures from an ambitious Scindia. He moved quickly to avert Bharti becoming another power centre in the state.
“As soon as Lodhi joined the BJP, Chouhan appointed him as chairman of the MP State Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd. and announced that he will hold the rank of a cabinet minister. The message was clear Chouhan had addressed Bharti’s concern over the alleged sidelining of Lodh community under his government,” a senior BJP leader said. The leader added that Bharti’s return to electoral politics may not happen immediately though the 61-year-old former CM has been “desperately planning a comeback.” “Not just Chouhan, even the BJP central leadership is wary of Bharti because of her unpredictability. Though she can use the Ram Mandir issue to bounce back into relevance because of her role in the Mandir movement, the pendency of the Babri Masjid demolition case against her is an immediate hurdle. Her candidature for the by-polls won’t happen just because she wants it; the central leadership needs to agree too. However, she will not fade away lightly and may become a troublemaker if the party continues to sideline her,” the leader said.
A close aide of Bharti said that her decision to not contest the Lok Sabha polls was largely because she wanted to contest from Bhopal but the party was against the idea. The aide adds that the rumours around Bharti’s return to MP politics “are not unfounded… they reflect her aspiration” but adds that “she would prefer the hype to build up right now and then stay active in the state till the next assembly polls due in 2023 to lobby for a greater role.”
Zafar Alam Khan | Bhopal