Uma Bharti was dealt a blow on Thursday as her party, the Bharatiya Janshakti, lost Bada Malehra and Vidisha by-elections. In a setback in her first electoral test after she floated the new party, her candidate Rekha Yadav lost to BJP’s Kapoorchand Ghuvara by a margin of over 4,300 votes in the Bada Malehra Assembly seat. In December 2003, Bharti had won the seat on a BJP ticket, defeating her Congress rival by over 31,000 votes.
In another jolt for Uma, BJP candidate for the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat, Public Health and Engineering Minister Rampal Singh, defeated his nearest Congress rival Rajshri Singh by more than 85,000 votes. Uma’s nominee Raghunandan Sharma came third.
The BJP has more to rejoice in its victory in Bada Malehra than in Vidisha. The BJP’s slide – from a victory margin of 2.6 lakh votes in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections to 85,000 votes — in Vidisha was a letdown to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who was expecting a better show. Chouhan had nurtured the constituency as his family borough. He had resisted pressure from central party leaders like A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani to give the ticket to Varun Gandhi. Chouhan had won Vidisha in 2004 by a margin of 2.60 lakh votes.
The BJP attributed the decrease in the Vidisha margin to the lower voting and triangular contest which was not the case in the previous election.
Though the Vidisha win could bring only two cheers for Chouhan, the Malehra debacle is a huge shock for Uma. She has not, however, lost all hopes as her party hasn’t done too badly in Vidisha, given the fact that the Bharatiya Janshakti is only six months old with a barely recognisable party symbol.
However, in an election the victory matters and not the margin. From this point of view, the by-poll results were a feather in the cap for Chouhan. He has proved wrong Uma’s oft-repeated claim that the BJP owed its spectacular victory in the 2003 elections to her charisma rather than the party’s strength.
The Congress’s stake in the by-elections was the least, so it has little to lament. The reduced margins of the BJP have given the Congress reasons to cheer. Though Raghunandan Sharma was pushed to the third spot in Vidisha, his presence in the fray cost the BJP some votes as the Congress gained ground in the saffron bastion.
Rampal polled around 2.58 lakh votes against Congress’s 1.73 lakh. The BJ could garner 1.37 lakh votes. Despite Uma Bharti camping in Malehra and functioning as Rekha Yadav’s poll agent, BJP’s Ghuvara emerged winner in the poll that was marred by allegations of unethical practices and clashes between supporters of the sanyasin and BJP workers, leading to registration of an attempt to murder case against her. Ghuvara bagged 38,880 votes against 34,494 of Rekha Yadav. The Congress got 20,241 votes.
Attributing the victory to hard work of party workers, Chouhan told reporters that usually anti-establishment wave is noticed during by-elections but development initiatives of his government built trust among the people.
To a query on Bharti, he said, “I don’t want to comment on any particular individual but wish that good sense prevails on everyone”.