An assembly bypoll in Madhya Pradesh turned on its head on Friday after an audio tape allegedly hinted at the chief minister’s fears of a defeat just a day ahead of voting, raising Congress hopes of a rare victory in the state.
The bypoll for the Garoth assembly seat, scheduled for Saturday, would have been of academic interest for the ruling party, which enjoys a healthy majority in the assembly.
But the audio tape, circulated on social media, is now being seen in the larger context of the BJP troubles at the Centre over the Lalit Modi issue and given the Congress hopes of pulling off an upset victory.
The audio tape is of a purported conversation between chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and another party leader Rajesh Chaudhary who was denied a ticket for the by-poll. Hindustan Times has a copy of the audio tape.
In the conversation, one person believed to be the chief minister is heard expressing fears about the party’s defeat and seeking his support in garnering votes of the Porwal caste to which Choudhury belongs.
The chief minister is also heard offering a reward to Choudhury after the elections. The latter is heard reiterating his loyalty to the party repeatedly.
The BJP has fielded Chander Singh Sisodia against the senior Congress leader Subhash Sojatia, a four-time MLA.
The by-poll was necessitated after BJP MLA Rajesh Yadav passed away.
AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh called Chouhan’s alleged seeking of favour a violation of the Election Commission’s model code of conduct and demanded action against him.
However, state BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat dubbed the Congress charges as ridiculous.
“I can feel pity for the Congress leaders who have no real issues to raise during the by-election. How can the chief minister talking to his own party worker for his support during the election be a violation of model code of conduct?” he asked.
Though Sojatia had lost in the last election, he is a known face and a senior leader who was first elected to Assembly from here in 1985.
The party hopes that fielding Sojatia, who was an ex-minister would help its chances in the by-election.
In fact, for the Congress, it is a matter of prestige to do well in the upcoming elections.
The party had lost all the urban bodies across Madhya Pradesh for which elections were held in separate phases in December 2014 and January 2015.
None of the over a dozen municipal corporations that had gone to polls in the state have a Congress Mayor now.
The party has also been losing Assembly elections in a row.
Party leaders say that it won’t be easy for the Congress, especially, after Chouhan and top BJP leaders of the state addressed a series of rallies in the constituency.
However, Madhya Pradesh Congress vice-president Manak Agarwal says the Congress is on a strong wicket in Garoth.