Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections 2018: This time, it is 'Mama versus Mama'

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan
‘BJP and Congress have a fifty-fifty chance in MP this time,” says Rajeev Kumar, a cab driver, residing in Chola area of Bhopal.

Kumar, who divides his time between doing social work and driving, said that while he isn’t into politics big time, he strongly feels that Madhya Pradesh state elections are being fought on an even keel this time around.

“Till very recently, Congress was hardly seen in any election, but this time, they are working and their party cadres are visible on the ground. However, candidate familiarity remains a big issue, mainly in urban centres,” he said.

Winding his way through the lanes of a city, which has doubled in last 15 years, Kumar said Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government has done a lot of things in last 15 years, but of late it has become arrogant and started talking and behaving like Digvijay Singh’s regime in its last days.

“I went to the local MLA several times with some work and he was always helpful and ready to listen. However, in the last few years, he has acquired an air of arrogance and is always surrounded by a coterie which does not let us go near him,” he said.

Kumar noted that while Shivraj worked and delivered on his promises during the first 10 years of his rule, soon afterwards things started faltering.

“Look at this road,” he points towards a cement-concrete by-lane dotted with newly laid colonies and schools. "15-years back, this was marshland and no one dared to venture in these parts after nightfall. Just look at it now."

"A thriving sub-city has developed, but all this happened in the initial few years. Since then, this part is as neglected as others," rues Kumar.

Be it in small talk, roadside gossip or structured panel discussions, the main point of talk among small-time traders, barbers, farmers and the common man on the street is how good or bad Shivraj’s last 15 years have been and who all have benefitted by it.

Nothing else seems to matter, be it the Rafael controversy, Modi’s image, central government’s performance or Ram Temple.

Although MSP and Modi’s promise of doubling farmers’ income are criticized in semi-urban areas and villages, more questions are raised against Madhya Pradesh’s experiment of Bhawantar Bhugtan Yojana and its drawbacks, along with the flat payout introduced this time.

In poster after poster, Shivraj is the most dominating personality around whom BJP’s entire campaign appears to be centered.

In many places, the local candidate is relegated to the background and finds passing mention in vehicles, but not the chief minister.

Although, Prime Minister Modi still seems to quite popular, the electorate is not willing to judge his performance and is more eager to evaluate how Shivraj’s long tenure has worked for them.

The personality cult that the BJP has built around Shivraj has its own challenges, but in the absence of a dominating issue guiding the elections, it is a double-edged sword, giving more ammunition to Congress to attack BJP.

While Modi has planned a series of rallies in the next few days, he too is expected to harp more on what the state’s condition was 15 years back and what it is at present. The BJP’s campaign, in the media too, has been built towards the same.

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