Madhya Pradesh polls: BJP is confident, Congress appears rejuvenated

Shivraj Singh Chouhan has dubbed Congress’ state unit chief Kamal Nath ‘udyogpati’
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’, which started on July 14, ended abruptly without covering all 230 assembly constituencies in the state that is going to the polls on November 28. It failed to cover areas in the Gwalior-Chambal region, where the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have a strong presence. 

Chouhan cut short his yatra after the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in a confidential report stated that workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the grassroots were unhappy with their leaders. According to party sources, the RSS also suggested the party drop more than 75 sitting MLAs. 

Another confidential report, reportedly submitted by the intelligence department to the CM on October 30, predicted that at least 10 ministers, including Rustam Singh, Maya Singh, Gauri Shankar Shejwar and Surya Prakash Meena, had only slim chances of winning the polls. Accordingly, the BJP dropped 34 sitting MLAs and two ministers — Maya Singh (urban development minister) and Shejwar (forest minister) —from its first list of candidates. Meena has already withdrawn from the ticket race. The sources said the next list could spring more surprises.

Despite his ministers on shaky ground, Chouhan — at the helm for three consecutive terms — is holding the fort. He is being aided by a capable team for public relations and the RSS, which has deployed its workers to bolster the BJP's campaign. 

Chouhan is mincing no words in attacking the Congress and its leaders. During the yatra, the chief minister often referred to the Congress’ big three in the state — Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath — as “raja, maharaja aur udyogpati" and called himself “the son of a farmer”. 

These efforts, it appears, are yielding some results: Two months back, there was an anti-incumbency wave, raising the Congress’ prospects, but now this sentiment has subsided. 

“No anti-incumbency is a great advantage for a ruling party. The Congress had this advantage in 1998 and it’s the BJP’s turn now. It was claimed that there was resentment among the farmers of the state against the BJP government. But now it seems that they are merely unhappy, not angry, and they may finally vote for Chouhan and the BJP,” says political analyst Girijashankar. 

After six farmers were killed in a police firing in Mandsaur in June 2017 during an agitation, the Chouhan government took several steps to make amends. The chief minister claimed Rs 330 billion reached farmers’ bank accounts in the last one year —this included bonus payments to those growing wheat, rice, soybean, onion and garlic; disaster relief; and money disbursed under the Krishak Samrudhi Yojana and the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana. Besides, Rs 50.82 billion was distributed among more than 1.6 million farmers in the state under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) for the 2017 kharif crop.

Still, many farmers did not get the benefit of these schemes in time and complained of discrepancies. Ramadas Raikhere, who cultivates 60 acres in Harda district, said the insurance for his field was calculated at the rate of Rs 1,500 per acre, but for the neighbouring field, the rate was Rs 7,000 per acre.  

Smaller parties are crucial 

Of the 230 assembly seats, 148 are general, while 35 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 47 for Scheduled Tribes. The BSP, the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GOGPA) and the Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti Sangathan (JAYAS) can influence a majority of these seats.

Vineet Tiwari, national general secretary of the Progressive Writers' Association and Leftist thinker, said: “The tendency of the Congress to abandon compromise whenever there is a prospect of victory may hurt it again. This attitude of the Congress is the reason for a multifaceted contest in the upcoming polls. The Aam Aadmi Party and the SAPAKAS (Samanya Pichra Alpsankhyak Kalyan Samaj) will also cut into the votes of the Congress. These parties will play a very important role in closely contested seats.”

In the last assembly election, 46 seats were decided by less than 5,000 votes. Three of those seats currently have BSP MLAs. 

The JAYAS has a presence in the Malwa-Nimad region. Its rallies witness large participation — often of nearly 100,000 people. Hiralal Alawa, national convener of the JAYAS is contesting from Manavar on Congress ticket. Alawa said: “I and other members of JAYAS are contesting on Congress symbol. JAYAS is a social-cultural organisation which is supporting Congress.” 

There are 66 assembly seats in Malwa-Nimad region. In the last elections, the BJP won 58 out and Congress had to satisfy with eight seats. This time with JAYAS support fortune may smile on the Congress.

BJP banks on welfare schemes

The BJP is banking heavily on the welfare schemes being carried out by the Chouhan government. According to the party, approximately 55 million people benefited from  schemes like Jan Kalyan (Sambal), Krishak Samruddhi, and Ladli Laxmi. The Sambal scheme targeted workers in the unorganised sector and marginal farmers. According to Sultan Singh Shekhawat, chairman of the Unorganised Urban and Rural Workers Welfare Board, which is the nodal agency of the Sambal, so far, 22.4 million people have been enrolled in the scheme.

The Congress’ strategy 

The Congress, on the other hand, is banking on the often-claimed new-found unity in the state unit, party president Rahul Gandhi’s rallies, and its relentless efforts to corner Chouhan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issues of VYAPAM and the Rafale fighter jet deal.

“In this election, there is a unity in the state Congress unit, which was much needed. Rahul Gandhi’s rallies have given a momentum to our campaign,” said state Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi. 

But the party is still placing its bets on anti-incumbency after the 15-year BJP rule. It is hopeful that state unit president Kamal Nath and Scindia, who is in charge of the campaign, would be able to exploit this.

Recently, in a major jolt to the BJP, sitting MLA from Tendukheda Sanjay Sharma and CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s brother-in-law Sanjay Singh Masani joined Congress. 

A lot is happening in the state ahead of polls — the BJP is confident, the Congress is appearing rejuvenated and smaller parties are set to play a big role. But, no one is in a position to give a conclusive opinion on who will win the election.

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