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1984 – An Election To Be Remembered: Arjun Singh’s Strategy And Atal’s Defeat Against Madhavrao Scindia From Gwalior!

The Congress party is going through its hardest phase currently, but there was a time when the grand-old-party used to have several political “Chanakyas” in its core team. One of such sharp politicians was Arjun Singh, former union minister and Ex-CM of Madhya Pradesh. Belonging to Vindhya region of MP, Arjun Singh had played a vital role in not only the state but the national level politics of the Congress party. 

In 1984, after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, her younger son Rajiv Gandhi, who was a pilot by profession, was made the Prime Minister of India in October, and the Lok Sabha polls were to be held in December. Though there was a wave in favour of the grand-old-party due to the sympathy for former PM late Indira Gandhi, the Congress party was facing a tough fight in some particular parliamentary constituencies from the BJP, which was formed in 1980 and was contesting in Lok Sabha elections for the first time. This was the time when Bollywood stalwart Amitabh Harivansh Rai Bachchan was fielded from Allahabad Lok Sabha seat against the Cong’s rebel Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna. 

At that time, despite the sympathy wave, one of the biggest challenges for the Congress party was Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was contesting from his home constituency Gwalior and the Congress party had filed a local leader “Vidya Razdan” against Vajpayee. The BJP too was aware of the sympathy wave in favor of the Congress party, but was confident of Shri Atal Bihari’s victory from Gwalior, while Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia was announced as the Cong’s candidate from Guna Lok Sabha seat, the neighboring constituency of Gwalior.

On the other hand, no one had any idea about the two way strategy of INC’s chanakya Arjun Singh. Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia was a political competitor of Arjun Singh in Congress itself, who was emerging as a popular leader in Madhya Pradesh and even at the national level. Amidst the ongoing campaign for 1984 Lok Sabha Elections, Arjun Singh took a meeting of some senior Congress leaders in Bhopal. 

Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, unaware of the behind-the-curtains strategy of the Congress party, was busy campaigning in UP, Rajasthan, Delhi and some other states, as he was confident of winning from Gwalior. Meanwhile, Arjun Singh met the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi for the third time in two weeks. Some local journalists were reporting of something big cooking in Cong’s kitchen for MP, but no one had an idea on what it exactly was. 

So, it was the last day to file nominations, and  Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in Delhi with other senior BJP leaders. On the other hand, the Congress leaders started arriving the state capital Bhopal and Arjun Singh headed a crucial meeting, after which Arjun Singh left for Guna. The BJP leaders were busy with their party meeting in Delhi, having no idea what was going on in MP. 

It was evening and last hour was left to file the nominations. Shockingly, Arjun Singh met Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia in Guna, and both the leaders went to Gwalior where the Congress party fielded Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia as its candidate, while from Guna, in place of Scindia, his confidant MLA Mahendra Singh Kaludkheda filed his nomination as the Congress candidate. That time in the 80s, neither there was any digital media platform, nor a WhatsApp communication like today. When Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to know that Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia filed his nomination from Gwalior instead of Guna, the entire BJP camp was shocked as they were aware of the political position and power of Scindias in the entire Gwalior belt. 

Shri Atal, in a hurry, even tried to file another nomination from Rajasthan’s Kota, but unfortunately, he was late, as the time to file the nominations was over and the Election Commission didn’t allow him to do so. The political battle on Gwalior Lok Sabha seat, suddenly turned out to be the most interesting in the entire country. On the other hand, BJP candidate, the then Rajkumari Vasundhara Raje Scindia, was fielded from Bhind Lok Sabha constituency, and the Congress party fielded Maharaj Krishna Singh Ju Dev against Vasundhara, the King of Datia estate. 

From Bhopal to Lucknow, Patna to Delhi, the political temperature was at its peak. Finally, the day of results arrived, and the Congress party was leading since the first round. In Bhind, Rajkumari Vasundhara Raje, now former CM of Rajasthan, was trailing against Maharaj Krishna Singh Ju Dev of the Congress party, in Allahabad, Amitabh Bachchan was leading against Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna.

Then came the results of the most critical Lol Sabha seat Gwalior as a big shock to BJP. Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia defeated Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee with a huge margin of over 1,75,000 votes. It was a Congress wave in the entire country and the grand old party won more than 415 Lol Sabha seats. This was the first Lok Sabha election of BJP, where the party was able to win just 2 seats – Hanamkonda of Andhra Pradesh and Mahesana in Gujarat. 

With Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia’s victory from Gwalior against BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the journalists, analysts and politicians from across the country were now fan of Arjun Singh – the “chanakya” of Congress. The two way strategy of Arjun Singh was focused on these scenarios-

1). If Atal Bihari Vajpayee wins, it would dent Scindia’s image in MP, and as Scindia was his political compeititior, it would benefit Arjun Singh. 

2). If Scindia wins, then the too the Arjun Singh’s strategy would be praised and he’d be more close to the Gandhis.

Eventually, Scindia won, defeating Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee from Gwalior and Arjun Singh became a more powerful leader in the Congress party. This is how the strategy of Cong’s “chanakya” led to the defeat of Atal Bihari from Gwalior and the Congress party even sweeped all the Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh.

Written By: Tanishk A Choubey Political Analyst