Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections 2018:

To the booths after a closely fought contest


BJP hopes for a straight fourth term, Congress is banking on an anti-incumbency mood to turn the tide in its favour

As campaigning for elections to the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Assembly ended on Monday evening, the ruling BJP and the Congress sounded upbeat. The State goes to the polls on Wednesday.

The BJP is hoping for a straight fourth term in a State that has traditionally been a stronghold of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates. But the Congress is banking on an anti-incumbency mood due to 15 years of uninterrupted BJP rule.

Welfare politics

The BJP is heavily depending on welfare schemes to deliver the goods. Schemes such as Lakshmi Ladli that provide financial assistance to a girl child up to the age of 21, free pilgrimage for senior citizens from economically weaker families and rice and wheat at ₹1 a kg to BPL families are popular in rural and semi-rural families that make nearly 70% of the State’s electorate.

For the BJP, a robust grassroots organisation, support from the Sangh in mobilising voters and the continued popularity of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan are the positives. But there is visible anger and an anti-incumbency mood against sitting MLAs. To counter this, the party dropped 47 MLAs and replaced them with new faces.

But that has created a large number of rebels who may eat into the BJP’s votes. And unlike the 2013 Assembly polls when the BJP was riding a wave after it announced Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial nominee, there is no visible wave.

“People of Madhya Pradesh had decided that they will negate this time Modiji [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] and Shivraj Singh Chouhanji. They have seen through the veil and seen what the BJP is all about, trying to dupe people and giving out false promises. This time there will be no Modiji or Shivraj Singhji magic,” Congress campaign chief Jyotiraditya Scindia earlier told The Hindu.

The Congress’s campaign revolved around issues such as agrarian distress, joblessness, price rise, alleged scams such as Vyapam and law and order, especially crimes against women. And the Mandsaur firing of June 6 last year that claimed the lives of six farmers was the turning point in the party’s aggressive farmers’ outreach.

Loan waiver

Party chief Rahul Gandhi promised farmers a loan waiver within 10 days of the party coming to power. “If he dithers, another Chief Minister would be changed … The farmers in the State, for the first time in 15 years, will feel that they are in power,” Mr. Gandhi said at a rally in Ujjain earlier this month.

However, the Congress’s failure to stitch an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Gondwana Gantantra Party could prove to be a big setback. In 2013, though the BJP won 164 out of 230 seats and Congress 58, the difference in vote share between the two parties was 8.32%. Adding the BSP’s 6.29% vote share, Congress leaders claimed their seats could have gone closer to a three-figure mark.

The stakes are high for the BJP as winning in the Hindi heartland will build a momentum for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by demoralising the Opposition camp. The party can also hope to corner the 29 Lok Sabha seats from the State, the reason why Prime Minister Modi gave an extra push to his party’s efforts in the last few days of campaigning.

Accusing the Congress of dragging his mother’s name into the campaign (Congress MP Raj Babbar had referred to her), the Prime Minister hit back at a public rally in Chatarpur on Saturday. “The people in the Congress, you do not have the strength to fight Modi. In the last 17-18 years, I have challenged you at every instance and defeated you. And you are dragging my mother into politics,” he asked.