The defeat in the Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha by-elections reflects the BJP’s poor network and the RSS’ low penetration in the largely tribal-dominated constituency spread across eight assembly segments of Jhabua, Alirajpur and Ratlam districts.
Even as state BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan issued statements on Wednesday, saying the party was reviewing the reasons that led to its defeat in the seat, it also discussed on how to consolidate the party’s presence at the village panchayat level where the Congress is still strong though it has been out of power in state for 12 years.
The Congress, experts say, has had two advantages.
One, the Congress began networking among villagers from 1952 when the then Madhya Bharat— which was later renamed Madhya Pradesh — chief minister Mishrilal Gangwal, who on the party’s special directives, began to draw impoverished tribes to the Congress fold from the Socialist Party, which dominated the region’s politics until 1960s.
Two, the Congress extended patronage to the church, which began to work among the tribes people with the arrival of the first missionary, Father Charles Capuchin in 1896. The church responded by supporting the Congress.
Former Congress lawmakers, including Xavier Meda from Jhabua, Panchilal Meda from Dharampuri in Dhar district, were close to the church.
Gabriel Gabbuji, who lost the 1970 Thandla assembly elections by a thin margin, was also a church-backed candidate.
At present, more than 40,000 Catholics reside in the region, according to the Jhabua Catholic diocese, which has 31 churches across Jhabua, Alirajpur, Ratlam, Mandsaur, Neemuch districts where it also runs schools and hospitals.
Compared to the Congress and the church, the BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS--founded in 1925—were late entrants in the region’s politics.
“Sangh’s influence is limited to the urban areas. The local BJP leadership couldn’t gain people’s trust, build a network strong enough to get votes without the support of outside leaders,” said a BJP functionary.
In public, however, the RSS and the BJP deny their weaknesses. “The RSS does have a presence in the constituency. Don’t link it with electoral politics,” said Malwa prant sanghchalak Prakash Shastri.
“Kantilal Bhuria’s win is his personal victory and not that of the Congress,” national BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said on his Facebook page.