BHOPAL: Opposition Congress suffered a jolt just four weeks before the October 30 parliamentary and assembly by-polls in Madhya Pradesh, as party's former MLA Sulochana Rawat and son Vishal Rawat joined the ruling BJP on Saturday late night.
The development came as a major setback to the party's prospects in the by-poll to Jobat-ST assembly constituency, which is among the three assembly seats up for by-poll on October 30.
Sulochana Rawat was a minister in the Digvijaya Singh-led erstwhile Congress government in the state two decades back. He had won the Jobat seat in 1998 and 2008, while son Vishal contesting on Congress ticket had lost from the seat in 2013 to BJP's Madho Singh Dabar. He finished third behind Congress rebel candidate with over 30,000 votes in the 2018 polls.
Importantly, the Jobat-ST seat of Alirajpur district has been won by the Congress 11 times, losing only four times since 1951. The powerful Rawat family had successfully contested the seat 9 times, including Sulochana Rawat after her father in law Ajmer Singh -- who won the seat seven times in a row between 1967 and 1993.
Sulochana Rawat and son Vishal joined the BJP in Bhopal at around 11.30 pm on Saturday after around six hours marathon meeting with saffron party's top brass in the state, including state CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state party chief VD Sharma.
The mother-son duo attributed tribal development and welfare centric recent announcements by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government to have prompted their switchover from Congress to BJP. But an audio clip of Vishal Rawat purportedly talking to one of his supporters over the phone about the change of party, suggested that he along with ex-minister mother joined the saffron party following an assurance from top BJP leadership of ruling party ticket in the Jobat by-poll.
However, when asked by scribes at a press conference at state BJP HQ about whether Sulochana Rawat or Vishal Rawat will be fielded by the BJP in the October 30 by-poll, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan smilingly replied, "you'll be informed about it soon."
As per informed sources, it is union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is behind the mother-daughter duo's joining the saffron party, which was clearly revealed by the presence of Scindia loyalist cabinet minister Rajvardhan Singh Dattigaon in the evening. Sulochana Rawat has in the past being seen as a Kamal Nath's loyalist.
Though Shivraj Singh Chouhan was present at the duo's BJP joining and also at party's press conference at state party HQ on Sunday, it's believed that he is in favour of BJP fielding ex-MLA Nagarsingh Chouhan's wife Anita Nagarsing Chouhan from Jobat seat.
According to informed sources in Alirajpur district, the district Congress chief Mahesh Patel (whose brother Mukesh Patel is Congress MLA from Alirajpur seat) is the frontrunner for Congress ticket from Jobat seat and was opposed to Sulochana or her son Vishal being fielded by the party. He would have fielded a rebel candidate had Sulochana or Vishal been given the Congress ticket.
Knowing well that Congress would deny by-poll candidature to them, Sulochana Rawat and Vishal Rawat joined the BJP.
Three assembly seats -- Jobat-ST, Prithvipur and Raigaon-SC will be up for by-poll along with by-election to Khandwa-Burhanpur Lok Sabha seat on October 30. The by-elections to the three assembly seats and one LS seat were necessitated by death of sitting MLAs and MP. While two of three seats (Jobat-ST and Prithvipur) were held by Congress, the ruling BJP held the Raigaon-SC and Khandwa-Burhanpur seats.