As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grapples with the challenge of anti-incumbency in the lead-up to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has launched a series of announcements to resonate with voters and counter the prevailing dissatisfaction.

However, the party is now confronted with a new hurdle in the form of defections by its leaders. Some of these leaders are defecting to the Congress, while others are opting to oppose the party.

Over the past three months, more than 30 BJP leaders from various parts of the state have left the party. Most recently, Girija Shankar Sharma, a former two-time MLA, made the decision to resign from the BJP.

The Sharma family, with deep-rooted ties to the BJP spanning decades, boasts a significant political legacy. Over the past three decades since 1990, the Sharma family, which includes Girija Shankar Sharma and his brother Sitasaran Sharma, has achieved a remarkable feat by winning the Hoshangabad Assembly seat, formerly known as Itarsi, for seven consecutive terms.

Sharma's resignation came just a day after Virendra Raghuvanshi, the incumbent MLA from the Kolaras seat in Shivpuri district, left the BJP. Raghuvanshi accused leaders and ministers closely associated with Jyotiraditya Scindia, of corruption and also highlighted instances of alleged mistreatment of long-time party loyalists.

On Saturday,Raghuvanshi officially joined the Congress, in the presence of the party's state president and former Chief Minister, Kamal Nath.

Among the various reasons cited by these dissidents, a significant one is their feud with Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia.They allege harassment by the Union Minister within the party and have also raised allegations of corruption within the BJP. They also claim that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been unwilling to address their concerns.

“Rampant corruption was either being tolerated or actively encouraged by ministers,” Raghuvanshi asserted. He accused the Chief Minister of disregarding his warnings and grievances, recounting that he had raised the issue during a meeting at the chief minister's residence in Bhopal.

Raghuvanshi said that the Chief Minister showed "no inclination to address the matter." Despite his repeated requests over the past three-and-a-half years, he lamented that he had not been granted "even five minutes" with the minister responsible for the Shivpuri district to discuss these concerns.

In a two-page letter addressed to BJP state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma, Raghuvanshi expressed his sense of being intentionally sidelined. He wrote, “It is with a heavy heart that I am resigning from the primary membership of the party and as a special invitee to the state executive," after drawing attention to the appointment of corrupt officials in his constituency.

Raghuvanshi alleged that he was specifically targeted due to his pivotal role in helping BJP candidate KP Yadav secure a victory over Jyotiraditya Scindia in the 2019 general election in Guna by a substantial margin of 1.20 lakh votes. This marked a significant loss for Scindia on his home turf, fostering a lingering resentment towards Raghuvanshi.

It's noteworthy that Raghuvanshi, originally a Scindia loyalist during his tenure with the Congress, won the Shivpuri assembly seat in a by-election in 2006. However, after losing to BJP leader and Scindia's aunt, Yashodhara Raje, in the 2013 Assembly elections, he felt marginalised and switched allegiance to the BJP in preparation for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Raghuvanshi also claimed that Scindia had once attempted to implicate him in a false case.

Nonetheless, a Congress strategist and incumbent MLA disclosed that these defections were also integral to the Congress's electoral strategy. Their intention was to leverage these defected leaders as a strategic counterbalance against the former Congress member who aligned with Jyotiraditya Scindia, leading to the downfall of the Kamal Nath-led government in 2020.

Last month, three other important BJP leaders had crossed over to the Congress: Awadhesh Nayak from Datia, Rajkumar Dhanora from Sagar, and Raghuraj Singh Dhakad, a staunch supporter of Scindia, representing Kolaras in Shivpuri.

“In a strategic move aimed at revitalising its support base, the Congress has been actively engaging with BJP leaders who sense neglect or marginalisation within the ruling party. This is to give them a taste of their own medicine," the Congress MLA stated.

"The Congress is directing its efforts toward all 230 assembly seats, with a notable focus on defectors. Intriguingly, while some, like Raghuvanshi and Dhakkad, are officially joining the Congress party, there is also a cohort of defectors who are operating discreetly and are resolute in their mission to overthrow the Shiv Raj Singh-led state government from behind the scenes.” the MLA added.

Historical data indicates that the Congress has previously benefited from granting electoral tickets to dissatisfied BJP leaders. A prominent example occurred during the 2020 by-elections when the party nominated Satish Sikarwar and Suresh Raje for the Gwalior East and Dabra constituencies. They achieved notable victories, defeating Scindia loyalists, Munnalal Goyal and Imarti Devi, in the 2020 elections.

However, political analyst and commentator Girija Shanker believes that these defections may not wield significant electoral impact and are primarily a reflection of disgruntled leaders seeking political space.

“I don't foresee any major electoral repercussions resulting from these defections. They are a customary part of the pre-electoral process, and it might be premature to assert their substantial electoral impact. Rather, I view it as a contest for personal prominence among dissatisfied leaders," he explained to The Citizen.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, who orchestrated a significant shift by joining the BJP alongside 22 MLAs in 2020, which led to the downfall of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government, responded to the recent resignations by underscoring the dynamic nature of politics, particularly during election seasons.

He emphasised, "In a democracy, everyone possesses the right to make their own choices. In 2020, the Congress government faced criticism over its handling of issues related to farmers and young women.

“Moreover, allegations of corruption marred the 15-month tenure, resulting in the simultaneous resignation of six cabinet ministers. However, it's essential to note that the current wave of resignations is occurring two to four months ahead of the elections.”