Farmers' issues, poor economy a challenge for BJP in Madhya Pradesh

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 26, 2018 11:08 hrs
BJP

Madhya Pradesh is the next state up for assembly elections as the Congress and BJP fight it out. However, the BSP and Mayawati along with the Samajwadi Party and Akhilesh Yadav might have something to say for who forms the government as they don’t expect a definitive verdict as voters go to the polls next week.

History

A 230 member assembly is up for grabs and the last time assembly elections took place here, in 2013, the BJP cruised to victory earning more than 160 seats, with the Congress able to get only 58. In 1993, when the state wasn’t divided, the Congress won a relatively comfortable victory over the incumbent BJP winning 174 seats in the then 320 member house. It chose then state chief Digvijaya Singh to be the Chief Minister. However, in 2003, the party were routed and won only 38 seats.

The BJP has been in power in the state for the past three terms. According to a C voter survey, the Congress holds a slight edge going into the election day as they are likely to improve on their vote total and vote share this time as compared to the 2013 elections. The survey also bodes well for the Congress in that the party leader there Jyotiraditya Scindia is considerably more popular than Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Congress

Kamal Nath took over as the state Congress President in April. His main mission was to listen to the party workers in the state and set up booth committees for the first time in the state. Modeled after Amit Shah, Nath recruited ten workers to be deployed in each booth with the help of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and the party’s women’s wing. The party’s Indore spokesperson said in part, “Nath insisted that the Congress offices be kept open every day and function regularly so that workers could access the local functionaries”. Former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh isn’t the face of the party in the state anymore.

Instead, it’s being led by 41 year old Jyotiraditya Scindia. “I do not campaign during the elections because it could hurt the party”, says Singh. After the 2003 defeat, Singh didn’t participate in the state’s politics and instead went to the central government where he was elected AICC general secretary.

The previous census cited 91% of the state population identifying as Hindu. Kamal Nath and Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi are trying to appeal to that large section of voters by visiting temples, promises of building cow shelters in gram panchayats. A point of controversy came in the form of a point in the Congress manifesto for the state which states, “the holding of RSS shakhas in government premises would be banned and the order regarding relaxation given to public servants to attend them will be revoked”. This was criticised by the BJP as they said it meant the Congress would ban the RSS from the state, which Nath has refuted. This strategy however could backfire according to Seshadri Chari, former editor of the Organiser. In a column for The Print, he points out why this is a bad strategy –

It is not clear as to why the Congress should antagonise the RSS in Madhya Pradesh especially at a time when its president is busy temple-hopping and brandishing his newly acquired Hindutva identity”.

BJP

The BJP has history on its side in the state but could succumb to anti-incumbency. Last week, the party expelled 53 leaders for six years, who refused to withdraw their candidature as independents. The party did manage to persuade over 170 others who filed as independents to withdraw.

The Prime Minister went hard at the Congress, breaking out the greatest hits of corruption, scandal and the perils of dynasty rule. The recent criticism of demonetisation hasn’t affected him as he called it “bitter medicine” to root out corruption. His challenge to voters in the state – ensure that not even a single Congress candidate is elected, saying part, “History proves that no dynasty prevails after its fourth generation rule in Delhi and Congress will also meet the same fate”. BJP Chief Amit Shah had largely the same message going after Rahul Gandhi.

The Prime Minister also lauded the efforts of the Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan. He had a rocky start to campaigning in the past couple of weeks as jostling over distribution of tickets to candidates proved difficult. He does face some headwinds as the state economy has failed to keep up with the country’s’ during his tenure; owing to the agricultural sector which has performed poorly in the state. This has led to unrest among farmers and anger towards the state government.

The state also has a considerable upper and other backward caste population. The decision by the party to disavow the Supreme Court order that prevented immediate arrest in cases registered under the SC/ST Act could prove to be a deciding factor.

Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav

Mayawati and her party the BSP have stated their intentions ahead of next week’s assembly elections. The Madhya Pradesh head of the BSP Pradeep Ahirwar has predicted it will win 32 seats this time around, which would be a vast improvement from 4 in 2013. They did not align with the Congress prior to the polls and don’t have plans to but are confident of an alliance post election according to Ahirwar who said in part, “Neither the BJP nor the Congress is going to get a majority. In this case, the Congress would support us to form the government in Madhya Pradesh”.

Another factor in the state is the Samajwadi Party and its President Akhilesh Yadav. He blamed the Congress for not forging an anti-BJP alliance in Madhya Pradesh ahead of the polls. He said in part, “This is good that there is no alliance in MP with the Congress. Now we can speak against them and expose their weaknesses”. The party is contesting 51 seats in the state and has promised a full loan waiver, setting up a fund for farmers, free laptops for class 10 and 12 students among others.

The plight of farmers, which has been a long drawn out problem for the BJP, not only in Madhya Pradesh might prove to be a challenge in an election that is looking close. The Congress would do well to capitalise on this and work with other parties to help form a united front.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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