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OBC leader joins Congress in MP, exit set to hurt BJP in central region

THE CONGRESS continues to wean away disgruntled leaders from the BJP in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, with influential OBC leader and former BJP MP Bodh Singh Bhagat becoming the latest to make the switch, on Wednesday.

Bhagat was elected in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket from Balaghat. In 2019, ahead of the general election, he left the party over growing differences with Gauri Shankar Bisen, who pushed his own candidate. Bhagat contested as an Independent but lost, following which he returned to the party.

In what might have provoked Bhagat to again leave, on August 26, Bisen was re-inducted as a minister along with two other leaders.

Bhagat’s departure will sting the BJP as he has strong grassroots connect, having been a panchayat and a janpad member from the early 1980s till 2002, and then an MLA from 2003 to 2008.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhagat said: “There were ideological differences between Bisen and I. When I was an MLA, he was in charge of the Agriculture Department and did not do anything for my area where farmers were struggling. I protested against the corruption and the fertiliser companies, and did not like Bisen’s policies.”

Bhagat joined the Congress on Wednesday in the presence of Congress state chief Kamal Nath, along with BJP leader Rajesh Patel, a leader from Budhi, the constituency of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who brought along over 1,500 supporters. Dilip Singh, the Loktantrik Janata Dal state president, also joined the Congress along with them.

The Congress said that apart from the above three leaders, 18 janpad panchayat members, 24 sarpanchs, 41 former sarpanchs, two janpad panchayat presidents, 1 district panchayat member, 4 former mandal presidents of BJP, and nearly 850 BJP officials and workers, joined the party.

Patel claimed to be “suffocated” under Chouhan and accused the CM of doing politics over the cow. “There is so much agony in the CM’s constituency that more than 1,500 people left with me today. My family has been with the BJP and, till 2018, we voted for the party. But I was influenced by Kamal Nath’s rule in 2018 (the Congress came to power, but its government was toppled in 2021). Shivraj only does politics on the Gau Mata,” he said.

At the event at the Congress headquarters where he joined the party, Bhagat attacked Bisen. “My fight was not against the BJP, it was against fake fertilisers, seeds and insecticides. I had raised this issue, but my voice was stifled. They made a corrupt man a minister… When the Congress government comes, they will all be in jail,” he said.

Bhagat also said there was shrinking space for freedom of speech in the state under the BJP. “If anyone even opens their mouth, they are put in jail… If an opponent even sneezes, it is a crime.”

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But the Congress too could see some tension over Bhagat joining the party. A section of block-level leaders of the Congress expressed their anger at the development in public and threatened to protest if he was given a ticket.

State Congress spokesperson K K Mishra said that as per protocol, local leadership was very much taken into confidence over Bhagat. “He is a powerful leader… Every intelligent BJP leader has seen the truth and joined the party,” Mishra said.

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The BJP dismissed Bhagat’s exit from the party, saying those who had left had done so for tickets. State BJP spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi said: “In this election season, it is expected of politicians to switch parties. They thought that their ambitions were not given space in the BJP. We worked for development, which is our policy. Look at our growth rate and how we have developed the state… We will give tickets only to deserving candidates.”

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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