Bhopal: The ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh may regret its failure to drop a larger number of its sitting MLAs than the 43 it has axed for the upcoming Assembly polls on November 28.

The chopping of 75-80 names from the 165 elected in 2013 would have given it a fairer chance of returning to power on its own steam. This is what the RSS had recommended.

The fear of rebellion from old horses trumped hard ground realities in the end. The general opinion now is that the popular appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone can save the day for the ruling regime. The PM will be addressing as many as 11 public rallies in the next few days all over the state.

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The bulk of the bloodletting may occur in the caste ridden Bundelkhand-Bagelkhand-Vindhya belt where 62 seats are up for grabs. Bundelkhand, spread over the Madhya Pradesh-Uttar Pradesh border, comprises the districts of Datia, Damoh, Panna, Sagar, and Tikamgarh on the MP side, and Jhansi, Banda, Hamirpur and Jalaun on the UP side. The region remains steeped in grinding poverty, joblessness, seasonal migration, and acute water shortage is the order of the day.

The BJP will have entirely itself to blame should its strike rate be halved from the 23 (of the 29) seats it currently holds in the area. The region's voters have been putting their trust in chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan since 2008. But their overall economic condition has not changed a whit. Hence, the anger against the local legislators. 

The Bagelkhand-Vindhya terrain encompassing Rewa, Satna, Seedhi, Shahdol, and Singrauli is a melting pot of castes. Here too the BJP holds the lion's share of the 34 seats, but refusal to rid itself of incompetent MLAs pitted in multi-cornered contests may endanger the party's seat retention prospects.

Not that the final candidates' list of the rival Congress is lacking in intrinsic weaknesses serious enough to let the BJP sneak past the winning post in what by most counts may turn out to be a closer than expected poll. The stakes are almost as high since the Congress is hoping to wrest power after 15 years in the political wilderness solely on the strength of anti-incumbency and sans a single burning issue.

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The Congress' soaring hopes may crash land for two reasons: slash in OBC representation and instant gifting of tickets to 'parachute' candidates from the BJP. MPCC insiders feel that the sizeable cut in OBC nominees may prove fatal since they comprise well over 50% of the voters. A key OBC leader and former MPCC chief, Arun Yadav, has been made a proverbial  sacrificial goat from Budhni, the chief minister's seat of power. 

Ignoring OBC claims is largely due to the preponderance of upper caste leaders in the ticket distribution process. Campaign funds, however, may have been a constraint. Hence the compulsion to give tickets to "self-financing" candidates who are mostly upper caste. Only the loyalists of MPCC chief Kamal Nath have no cause for worry. Their boss has always been their financier.

The decision to nominate last minute defectors from the BJP has also not gone down well with Congress backers whose loyalties to the party have traditionally never been rock solid.

The most glaring instance is the nomination of liquor/mining mafia don Sanjay Sharma from Tendukheda (Narsinghpur). Sharma, a sitting MLA, quit the BJP on being denied renomination. The Congress promptly embraced him despite running a campaign against his illegal activities for the last several years.

Again, awarding a ticket to a political non-entity, and leech like Sanjay Singh merely to embarrass his uncle, chief minister Chouhan, was a no-brainer. Singh has been nominated from Waraseoni (Balaghat). The Congress positioned Singh as a big catch when in reality he was always a Nath loyalist who once openly boasted that Chouhan was his jija (brother-in-law), but Nath his leader.

Also read: Congress vs Congress war in Madhya Pradesh could offset anti-incumbency gains

No less galling was the sudden nomination of former state minister and BJP veteran Sartaj Singh as the Congress candidate for the Hoshangabad seat. In fact, Sartaj, a sitting MLA from Seoni-Malwa (Hoshangabad) is known to have received his nomination papers even before his formal admission into the party. 

There is no doubt that the BJP's decision to deprive the 78-year-old sardar the chance of a third stint as MLA was a glaring act of injustice. Quite apart from being a virtually certified do-gooder of spotless repute, the septuagenarian is also a two-time winner from the same seat and a David who once felled the Congress' mighty Goliath - Arjun Singh - from the Hoshangabad Lok Sabha seat in 1996. 

Now, whether the voters will keep their faith with someone who switched his three-decade-long loyalty to a party and its ideology merely to procure a ticket is a question many Congressmen are asking. Sartaj has a tough fight on his hands - his opponent is the sitting MLA and Speaker in the dissolved Assembly - Sitasharam Sharma.

More mortifying for the Congress will be the likely division in its adivasi vote bank in the Malwa belt. The decision of the breakaway Jay Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS) founder, Dr Hiralal Alawa, to accept a Congress ticket from Manawar (Dhar) is being seen as a betrayal by his supporters.

Result - 30 JAYS faithfuls are in the fray as independents. Even if they wean away a few hundred or thousand votes each, the loss will almost wholly be at the Congress' expense since Alawa had been angling for an alliance with the party. And if the BJP can persuade them to withdraw in its favour, it will be to its advantage.

All in all both the BJP and the Congress list of candidates is evenly balanced in their flaws and foibles. Much depends on whether the PM's rallies can tilt the scale.