There does not appear to be a wave in favour of any party, including the Congress, in Madhya Pradesh even as political winds continue to gain momentum and change directions frequently ahead of the 17 November Assembly elections.
What appeared to be a cakewalk for Congress until two months ago has been turned into a respectable fight by the BJP with the contest to elect a new 230-member Assembly likely to go down to the wire. Both the ruling BJP and the Congress claim to be getting a comfortable majority, but the outcome could rest on about 40 seats which could be anybody’s in a state which is not known for the razzmatazz associated with campaigns and heightened visible activity in the build-up to an election.
While BJP leaders claim the party would win 135 seats, the Congress state leadership is claiming they will win a comfortable two-third majority when the results are declared on 3 December. But both the parties are wary of the damage a third party or independents may inflict on key seats.
Political analysts say the 40 swing seats, where the margin of victory in 2018 was less than 5,000, could land in anybody’s pocket and change the entire scenario. For example, they cite interesting election statistics that reflect the unpredictability in the state. In the 2018 Assembly contest, the BJP won 1.56 crore votes in the entire state and the Congress got 1.55 crore votes, yet the Congress got six more seats than the BJP. The Congress vote share was 40.9%, while that of the BJP was 41%.
The 47 tribal seats out of which 31 were won by the Congress in 2018 pose the biggest challenge for the BJP in the 17 November election.
In the ongoing battle of perceptions, both the ruling BJP and the Congress are trying to convince voters that they are coming to power. While vying to occupy space on social media, in electronic media and in newspapers, both want voters to believe that they are ahead of their rival in the race. If the BJP wants the state’s 5.61 crore voters to support it once again over its development and welfare performance, the Congress is looking to convince voters to usher in change and throw out the “corrupt” BJP government. The BJP, in turn, calls the 15-month rule of the Congress in 2018 as the most corrupt in the state with wrongdoings of the scale of Rs 15,000 crore.
With both parties offering similar social and cash sops, the election is turning out to be a battle built around welfare and freebies. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has announced pre-election schemes worth Rs 80,000 crore in the past six months, including the Ladli Behna scheme under which Rs 1,250 monthly allowance is being transferred to the bank accounts of poor women.
The Congress manifesto is also full of sops like Rs 1,500 monthly assistance for women, farm loan waiver, concessional electricity and unemployment allowance of Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 for the youth. However, voters of the state are silent—a signal that they have already made up their minds, but do not want to reveal their cards yet. Some voters don’t want to take sides in public view, fearing that if they reveal their favoured party and if it loses, they may be denied freebies by the victorious party.
Clear lines of polarisation were visible in state capital Bhopal with traditional voters showing no signs of changing allegiance. While a majority of voters from the minority community in the old quarters of the capital city are backing the Congress, the BJP is banking upon the support of women, farmers and young voters to hold on to power.
FEAR OF INTERNAL SABOTAGE
The Congress appears to be better placed compared to the BJP in terms of competing aspirations within its leaders. While Kamal Nath is the clear face of the party, the BJP camp is vulnerable to internal sabotage because of several leaders in the race to occupy the Chief Minister’s post.
For BJP, cold-shouldering Chouhan may prove costly and the organisation has realised this lately and corrected its course. If he is seen capable of winning the state for the party, he is also seen as someone who can engineer the opposite outcome if not given his due.
The BJP hoardings in Bhopal show several BJP leaders standing next to the larger-than-life image of Prime Minister Modi, while all Congress hoardings have just Kamal Nath’s face and no other national figure.
Rather than projecting it as a time for a change in leadership in the state after 18 years of rule, the BJP has now started calling Chouhan a “great finisher” like M.S. Dhoni who emerges victorious in the last moments of a cricket match.
It was Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who recently showered praise on Chouhan and called him a “great finisher like Dhoni”.
Apart from other towering figures like Union ministers and MPs in BJP with Chief Ministerial aspirations, the presence of Jyotiraditya Scindia and his supporters, who were formerly in the Congress, has also upset the old BJP equations. Head of Madhya Pradesh BJP’s media department, Ashish Agrawal denied any infighting in the party and said, “Dissidence and infighting are the features of the Congress. Its leaders try to spot this everywhere as this has been their own tradition.”
Seeing desperation in the BJP’s attempts to field Union ministers in Assembly elections, Madhya Pradesh Congress leader K.K. Mishra claimed the BJP just had Modi as a face to project; otherwise it would have named Chouhan in the list of candidates. “The BJP knows that the Congress is winning. It is only trying to lose the election honourably. By fielding such heavyweights in the Assembly elections, the BJP has conceded defeat.”
The Congress may put up a face of solidarity but the recent rap from Central leadership for Nath, senior party leader Digvijaya Singh and state election in charge Randeep Singh Surjewala soon after the filing of nomination has shown that dissidence and internal feud is not a rarity even in the Grand Old Party.
Both the ruling BJP and the Congress are trying to attract the young and first-time voters—who add up to 11.29 lakh—by sharing their plans to increase employment opportunities in the state. Chief Minister Chouhan has come out with Seekho Kamao Yojana (learn and earn scheme) and the Opposition is trying to highlight the issue of joblessness in the state as a big electoral plank.
Nath has promised jobs to the youth and on failure to get them jobs he has promised unemployment allowance for them ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000. Earlier last month, Chouhan transferred Rs 207 crore to the bank accounts of almost 4.60 lakh students for purchasing bicycles.
Apart from offering better employment to the youth, Chouhan has also tried hard to build bridges with women voters by promising 35% quota for women in government jobs.
The raising of monthly allowance from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,250 given to women under the Ladli Behna scheme is also being seen as his attempt to win over women voters. The next and third instalment of the enhanced amount is due two weeks before voting on 17 November and this could prove to be a big advantage for the ruling BJP.