The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) retained the Garoth assembly seat on Tuesday, winning a by-election that seemed unaffected by the raging PEB scandal that has cast a shadow over the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
Chander Singh Sisodia won the seat in Mandsaur district, where by-polls were ordered after the death of incumbent MLA Rajesh Yadav of the BJP.
Sisodia defeated former Congress minister and four-term MLA Subhash Sojatia by a margin of 12,945 votes, which was nearly half the margin by which Yadav had won the seat in 2013.
But the reduced margin was not necessarily because of the PEB scam but a initially slow BJP campaign which picked up steam only towards the close of electioneering. With the loss, the Congress may have passed up an opportunity to regain some political ground in the state, analysts said.
“(The) next assembly elections are due only in November 2018 and the by-election was a golden opportunity for the Congress to remain in the fight but they lost this chance,” said political commentator Girija Shankar.
“Clear leadership is missing in the Congress which gives an advantage to the BJP. The Congress did not have a clear cut strategy, no planned campaign and no leadership leading the campaign.”
With this, the BJP has won three out of the four assembly seats that saw by-elections since the state assembly elections in 2013. Sources said chief minister Chouhan was not confident of a BJP victory in Garoth but his sustained campaign over the last four days before the vote made a difference.
The Congress sought to defend its loss, saying that in a by-election the ruling party has an inherent advantage because people usually vote in favour of the governing party hoping for returns.
But the BJP victory appeared to be because of both its well-coordinated strategy as well as a weak opposition campaign.
The Congress campaign lacked co-ordination with only a few senior leaders making an appearance at public meetings for a day. In contrast, the BJP campaign saw Chouhan and union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Thawarchand Gehlot campaigned continuously.
Of the four by-elections held in the state at Vijayraghogarh, Agar, Bahoriband and Garoth since 2013, the Congress won in Bahoriband and that too barely 9 months after the spectacular win the BJP had scored in the 2013 assembly elections.
The Bahoriband loss was in part due to the BJP’s choice of candidate. The party had fielded the son of Prabhat Pandey, whose death had necessitated the by-elections, instead of choosing a winnable candidate. The Congress had given the ticket to Subhash Sojatia, a veteran leader from the area.
In Garoth, the BJP did not repeat such mistakes.