Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections: Farmers’ Issues Vs Religion in Hindutva Heartland

Poll employees check EVM and VVPAT machine before leave to Polling Centre for Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election, in Bhopal on Tuesday, November 27,2018. Photo: A.M.Faruqui   -  The Hindu

The elections to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly are likely to be a toss-up between matters of faith and issues affecting day to day lives of people. Although corruption and farmers’ issues have rocked the State in course of the past few years, the principal political parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, seem to be banking on faith and religion to garner votes.
In this article, K.V. Thomas lays out the issues facing the central Indian State and how the political parties went about their business during electioneering.

In Madhya Pradesh, which is going to the polls on November 28, the number of voters has gone up by almost eight per cent to 5.03 crore from 4.66 crore in 2013, with 1,37,83,383 voters in the age group of 20-29 years constituting the biggest segment, and male voters (2,63,14,957) outnumbering female voters (2,40,77,719)1.

Since the formation of undivided Madhya Pradesh, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—known till 1980 as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS)—have been the key players. Though the electoral arithmetic changed considerably in 2000, when Chhattisgarh was carved out from Madhya Pradesh's tribal-dominated districts, these parties continued to dominate the State’s politics. Both parties have a solid support base in its five major regions, namely Malwa (North), Malwa (tribal), Vindhya Pradesh, Mahakaushal and Chambal.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is present in select pockets, especially in the areas bordering Uttar Pradesh, in Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party (SP), too, has isolated pockets; mainly in those areas bordering Uttar Pradesh. The Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) that has significant support in the tribal areas of the Vindhya and Mahakaushal region is also in the election fray. The Aam Admi Party (AAP), capitalising on the issues of corruption and the deteriorating condition of farmers in the State, has also fielded its candidates in a majority of the assembly constituencies.

The Congress leadership’s efforts to forge a ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) by bringing together parties like the BSP, the SP, and the GGP failed after BSP Chief Mayawati unilaterally announced her decision to contest the Madhya Pradesh polls alone as her  demand for 50 seats was not met by the Congress which offered   only 20-25.

The Congress leadership’s efforts to forge a ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) by bringing together parties like the BSP, the SP, and the GGP failed after BSP Chief Mayawati unilaterally announced her decision to contest the Madhya Pradesh polls alone as her demand for 50 seats was not met by the Congress which offered only 20-25. She backed out from the talks, alleging that the Congress was conspiring to destroy the BSP and was, therefore, sabotaging the alliance.

The GGP, too, wary of the Congress’s offer of a seat-sharing arrangement, tied up with the SP instead, at the instance of Akhilesh Yadav, who toured Madhya Pradesh during the second week of October. The Congress’s strategy thereafter was to work out an understanding with parties opposed to the BJP in constituencies where it was facing a stiff contest, such as in the Chambal, Malwa-Nimar, and Chhindwara regions.

Hindutva: The main election plank     

As various demographic, caste or religious groups will influence the outcome of the Assembly polls, the major parties have wooed these groups. As per the 2011 census, Hindus constitute 90.89 per cent of the total population in the State followed by Muslims (6.57 per cent), Jains (0.78 per cent), Buddhists (0.3 per cent), Christians (0.29 per cent), Sikhs (0.21 per cent) and those without religion (0.13 per cent)2. The Other Backward Castes (OBCs) constitute over 51 per cent of the population, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute 15.62 per cent, and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) 21.09 per cent. At least 19 of the 50 districts are tribal-dominated3.

To counter the BJP’s hardline ‘Hindutva’ agenda, the Congress also employed a ‘soft-Hindutva’ line. Congress president Rahul Gandhi began his poll campaign from the State capital, Bhopal, with the party projecting him as a 'Shiv Bhakt'.

To counter the BJP’s hardline ‘Hindutva’ agenda, the Congress also employed a ‘soft-Hindutva’ line. Congress president Rahul Gandhi began his poll campaign from the State capital, Bhopal, with the party projecting him as a 'Shiv Bhakt'. Huge banners and posters of ‘Shiv Bhakt Rahul’ greeted him at the Bhopal Airport and all along an 11-kilometre-route. During the second leg of the election campaign, Gandhi visited more temples and Hindu iconic centres, such as the Jyotirlinga/Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain, Lord Parshuram’s birthplace at Janapav near Mhow, as well as Dalit icon BR Ambedkar’s birthplace at Mhow.

Over the past few months, Congress leaders have tried to project themselves as devotees of various gods. Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) President and party MP, Kamal Nath, a ‘Hanuman-bhakt’, has erected a 110-feet high Hanuman statue in his constituency, Chhindwara. Former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh undertook a six-month long 3,300-km padayatra of the ‘Narmada parikrama’ to shed his pro-Muslim image, and Congress Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha, Jyotiraditya Scindia, visited major temples of the State apart from meeting various religious leaders and seers.

Hinduism and ‘cow politics’ emerged as key elements of the Congress’s ‘soft-Hindutva’ agenda. Kamal Nath promised to build cowsheds in the 23,006 panchayats in the State. Claiming that the ‘cow-vigilantes’ of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar bodies lacked sincerity, Congress leaders highlighted mismanagement and corrupt practices in over 600 active gaushalas run by the BJP government’s Cow Conservation Board (Gau Samvardhan Board). Dijvijay Singh said the government would construct the 'Ram Path' (a route said to have been taken by Lord Ram during his 14-year exile) should his party come to power. This will link famous Hindu temples and pilgrimage centres such as Chitrakoot, Ujjain, Kamadgiri and Van-Devi, falling in eight districts.

Senior party leaders stressed that the party was not pursuing the communal, divisive line of the BJP and Sangh Parivar bodies, only upholding the concept of religious freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.

The party's poll strategy has been twofold—to ensure that its support base among Hindus does not erode and to win over more Hindus. Senior party leaders stressed that the party was not pursuing the communal, divisive line of the BJP and Sangh Parivar bodies, only upholding the concept of religious freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.

Indeed, Gandhi, after returning from Kailash Mansarover, told reporters in Hyderabad, “I don't believe in any kind of Hindutva, soft- or hard-core”4, and added that there was no harm in visiting religious places and meeting religious leaders. Kamal Nath, too, spoke on the same lines: “The BJP,” he said, “has positioned itself as the sole selling agent of Hinduism. We all are religious people. But we don’t bring religion to political platforms.”5

The BJP feels the Congress’s ‘soft saffron’ line will not cut ice with the electorate, with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan saying, “The Congress recalls cows, Bhagwan Ram and Shivji only during elections. I have no problem with that, except the fact that they do it only because there’s an election.”6 His statement cannot be brushed aside as Madhya Pradesh has, for the last few decades, been a laboratory for Hindutva forces that have systematically built a base among a cross section, including tribals and Dalits.

On the ground, the BJP and Sangh Parivar bodies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, and the Eklavya schools have been quite successful in rallying a large swathe under the saffron flag.

On the ground, the BJP and Sangh Parivar bodies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal (BD), the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), and the Eklavya schools have been quite successful in rallying a large swathe under the saffron flag. So can the Congress’s “soft Hindutva” line work? Can it beat the BJP at its own game? Or will the voters feel as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley quipped, “If the original is available, why choose a copy?”7

The BJP, on its part, activated its entire machinery to counter the Congress’s gamble of ‘soft Hindutva’ during the elections. At least half a dozen Hindu mahants, critical of the State government’s functioning, were placated by granting them status as ministers of state. In September, Chouhan called for the establishment of a full-fledged independent ministry in the State for the protection of cows. The BJP is also in the process of executing a number of religious projects. For example, prominent temples and tourist places such as Chitrakoot and Ujjain linked to the ‘Ram Van Gaman Path’ received liberal funding in the wake of the Congress’s move to hijack the project to gain electoral advantage. The BJP and Sangh Parivar bodies have also raked up the Ayodhya issue to exploit Hindu religious sentiments. According to information available, the slogan, “Ayodhya is a symbol of our ‘Aan, Baan, Aur Shaan’ (honor, pride, and prestige); nobody can do injustice to it”, recently heard in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, has created ripples in many parts of Madhya Pradesh, awakening religious sentiments dormant in the collective consciousness of sections of upper caste Hindus.

Anti-incumbency and scams rock the BJP

The biggest challenge for the BJP government is anti-incumbency as it has been in power since 2003, and Chouhan has been Chief Minister for 13 of the 15 years. In 2003, the BJP had ridden the crest of a wave dominated by the promise of bijli, sadak, pani (electricity, roads, water). Five years later, in 2008, the BJP returned to power as a majority of the voters were partially satisfied by the performance of the incumbent government. The Congress’s weak organisational set-up, coupled with its failure to mobilise voters also worked to the advantage of the BJP. In 2013, the BJP’s poll campaign showcased the government’s achievements over the last decade and pointed out that there was a strong possibility of a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coming to power at the Centre.

Vyapam and other scams involving BJP leaders

But things have drastically changed in the past five years. Though the Chief Minister remains popular, a number of Ministers and more than 50 per cent of the sitting MLAs are under a cloud due to acts of omission and commission and failure to properly nurse their constituencies. Such issues came to the fore, especially in the Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh regions, during the Chief Minister’s 'Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ that commenced from Ujjain on July 14, and was intended to cover 230 constituencies as part of his election campaign.

The opposition has made corruption an election issue against the Chouhan government.

Added to this are allegations of corruption and scams involving senior bureaucrats and ruling party leaders. The Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) scam, popularly known as ‘Vyapam’, an entrance examination, admission and recruitment scam that was unearthed in 2013, exposed the deeper crisis in the State’s education, medical, and employment sector. In this scam, which is still under investigation, the needle of suspicion has pointed towards a number of senior bureaucrats, businessmen, and even dignitaries of constitutional bodies. Another scholarship scam unearthed in 2013 threatened to drag the Chief Minister into a Lokayukta investigation. The opposition has made corruption an election issue against the Chouhan government.

The twin-issues of unemployment and droughts

Rising unemployment is another serious issue confronting the government, with data from the State’s Labour Ministry pointing to an unemployment rate of 40 per cent in urban areas and 44 per cent in rural areas in 2015-’16.8 (The overall unemployment rate was around 43 per cent.) Equally worrying is the mounting unemployment among the educated. The 2017 Economic Survey9 report says that at least 14.1 lakh youth are unemployed, of which nearly 12.9 lakh are educated. The percentage of educated unemployed increased from 79.60 per cent in 2015 to 85.74 per cent by the end of December 2016. Sentiments of unemployed youth assumes greater significance as around 1.38 crores of voters belong to the age group 20-29 years.

In rural areas, farmers’ agitations against a low MSP (Minimum Support Price) and interference of commission agents emerged as a challenge to the BJP to retain its traditional rural vote bank.

Droughts in 2016 and 2017 and water scarcity, especially in Jabalpur, Indore, Ujjain, and Sagar divisions, during April 2017 led to crop failure that exacerbated the farming crisis. Deficient rains in 31 districts during the 2017 monsoon season forced the government to declare 13 districts as drought-hit. The farmers’ agitation in June 2017 demanding better prices for their crops turned violent in Mandsaur leading to police firing in which six protesters were killed.

As part of damage control, the Chouhan government launched the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (BBY) in October 2017 under which registered farmers would be paid the difference between the MSP and a nodal price. The amount would be calculated by taking into consideration the average price of a crop in the State and two neighbouring states.

The Congress, to some extent, was able to exploit the farmers’ unrest and related issues to their advantage, as manifest by the participation of a large number of farmers and rural people during a rally led by Gandhi in Mandsaur on June 6 this year, coinciding with the first anniversary of the farmers’ protests.

Discontent among castes

The discontentment among upper caste and OBC voters, who constitute the core constituency of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, on issues such as amendments to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that were passed by Parliament and the rationalisation in job reservations has become a matter of concern for the BJP.

The agitations spearheaded by the upper caste-dominated Samanya Picchda Evam Alpsangkhyak Varg (SAPAKS) in support of their demands since July 2018 caused much discomfiture to the State BJP leadership which urged the central leadership to take urgent ‘corrective measures’ to resolve the issue. The ruling party’s leaders are optimistic that SAPAKS and similar outfits will not precipitate an issue detrimental to the electoral interests of the party. Their assessment is that upper caste sentiments on the reservation issue, the farmers’ unrest, and the resentment among the rural populace, to a great extent, can be offset by playing the Hindutuva and Ram-mandir cards.

The opposition parties, meanwhile, focused on the excesses against women, Dalits, and tribals, and the increasing trend of white collar crimes. Illegal sand mining and quarrying in forest areas, notably in the Chambal- Gwalior belt, have developed not only into a major law and order problem but has also become an environmental issue.

A string of attacks against police, forest, and administrative officials at the instance of such criminal syndicates has aggravated the issue. In September, the sand mafia crushed a Deputy Ranger to death with a tractor and shot and injured two forest guards in the Gwalior-Morena belt.

The Chief Minister’s ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ that sought the blessings of the people from all the 230 constituencies was a major effort to battle incumbency. Similarly, through the mass outreach programme or 'Samriddh (Prosperous) Madhya Pradesh', the BJP prepared a vision document for the 2018 polls based on the people’s suggestions. Senior BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, participated in the electioneering—the former addressed around a dozen rallies across the State during the second week of November. The party also took the precaution of denying tickets to over three dozen sitting MLAs, including half a dozen ministers, who had failed to fulfill the expectations of the people or are involved in controversies.

The Congress: on the road to resurrection?

The Congress, which has lost three consecutive elections in the State since 2003, after having been in power for a decade, has worked hard. It is mainly banking on the anti-incumbency factor, corruption, and the scams that had rocked the ruling party. Ridden with factionalism and incessant in-fighting at various levels, the Congress has had limited success in rebuilding its eroded support base, notably among tribals and Dalits, or in exposing the failures of the BJP government.

There are not one or two, but seven to eight prominent groups led by Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Suresh Pachauri, Ajay Singh, Arun Yadav, and Kantilal Bhuria, each of whom controls a specific region. Though the national leadership tried to project a facade of unity by holding joint rallies, such moves have not percolated down to the rank and file of the party. On the ground, the Congress has remained divided and spoken in multiple voices conveying different political messages to the public.

Leader-centric or party-centric? – the debate continues

There is a strong line of thinking among a section of state leaders that a ‘leader-centric’, rather than a ‘party-centric’, style of functioning would give more momentum to the party organisation. No doubt, factional leaders in their pockets of influence can instil more confidence and dynamism to their loyalists, but such ‘group-centric’ activities seldom translate into the overall benefit of the party or its victory during crucial electoral battles.

After Kamal Nath’s appointment as PCC Chief, the various factions did put up a united show. The national leadership—with the aim of establishing more cohesiveness and unity in the party—appointed Digvijay Singh as chairman of the party's coordination committee and Jyotiraditya Scindia as chairman of the election campaign committee in May. But such moves at the party hierarchy level failed to percolate down to the rank and file. Soon, the social media was flooded with posts and debates between the supporters of Kamal Nath and Scindia as to who would be chief minister if the party won the elections. Questions were even raised about Digvijay Singh’s role in trying to forge a Congress-BSP alliance.

The State in-charge, Deepak Babariya, has been heckled at many meetings by supporters of various groups, especially in the Rewa-Satna-Sidhi belt where the party’s leader in the State assembly, Ajay Singh, has a strong base.

Congress and its soft-Hindutva gamble

The party’s election gamble of pursuing a soft Hindutva agenda with a view to containing the BJP’s hardline Hindutva assumes considérable significance. A section of the party fears that the minorities, especially the Muslims, may react negatively to this shift in strategy. The party leadership feels that the seven per cent Muslims in the State will endorse the line, given the current political compulsions. But the question is whether it would be wise for the party to take Muslim support for granted, especially when the BJP is making all-round efforts to reach out to them.

A tough contest

The BJP’s three consecutive wins in Madhya Pradesh and its spectacular performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls demonstrate clear consolidation of the party in the State. But can it maintain the status quo in the 2018 elections, especially in the wake of mounting anti-incumbency? Can the Congress prevent the BJP’s return to power for the fourth time? A brief analysis of past electoral trends since 2003 can provide some pointers to the electoral prospects of the two parties.

The year 2003 saw the first Assembly election after the State's bifurcation. In the 230-member State Assembly, the BJP captured 173 seats (vote-share: 42.50 per cent) as against 38 seats (31.61 per cent) won by the Congress. The BJP’s vote share in the 2008 and 2013 Assembly polls were 37.64 per cent and 44.87 per cent, respectively, whereas the Congress’s was 32.40 per cent and 36.38 per cent. (See Table1). A similar trend was observed in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP improved its vote share (48.13 per cent) in the 2004 Lok Sabha (LS) polls and won 25 out of 29 seats from the State; the Congress, too, marginally improved its vote share (34.07 per cent) with four LS seats. In 2009, though the BJP’s seat tally came down to 16, its vote share was 43.45 per cent; the Congress, with 40.14 per cent votes, won 12 seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, a large swing in favour of the BJP-led NDA translated into 27 seats (54.03 per cent), while the Congress won just two seats and got 34.89 per cent of the votes (See Table 2).

Similarly, a large swing of around 20 percentage points for the BJP-led NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was the result of the ‘Modi factor’.

A history of huge swings

Data from past Lok Sabha and Assembly polls suggests that a large swing of votes is possible in the State. For example, in 2003 when the BJP stormed into power, the vote-share difference with the Congress was over 10 percentage points. This was largely attributed to the anti-incumbency against the Congress government that had been in power for a decade. Similarly, a large swing of around 20 percentage points for the BJP-led NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was the result of the ‘Modi factor’. The moot question is can we expect such a swing in favour of the BJP or the Congress in the impending elections?

Table1.

MP Assembly Election Outcomes—2013, 2008 and 2003

Table 1

MP Assembly Election Outcomes - 2013, 2008 and 2003

2013

2008

2003

Party

Seats won

Vote share %)

Party

Seats won

Vote share (%)

Party

Seats won

Vote share (%)

BJP

165

44.87

BJP

143

37.64

BJP

173

42.50

INC

58

36.38

INC

71

32.40

INC

38

31.61

BSP

04

6.29

BSP

07

8.97

BSP

02

7.26

SP

0

1.20

SP

01

1.99

SP

07

3.71

BISH

NA

NA

BJSH

05

4.71

BISH

NA

NA

Others

-

5,89

others

-

6.08

others

08

7.23

Ind

03

5.37

Ind

03

8.23

Ind

02

7.70

Source: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies Data Unit.,

INC – Indian National Congress (Congress)

 

Table 2

MP Lok Sabha Election Outcomes - 2014, 2009 and 2004

2014

2009

2004

Party

Seats won

Vote share(%)

Party

Seats won

Vote share (%)

Party

Seats won

Vote share (%)

BJP

27

54.03

BJP

16

43.45

BJP

25

48.13

INC

02

34.89

INC

12

40.14

INC

04

34.07

BSP

-

3.79

BSP

01

 5.85

BSP

-

4.75

SP

-

0.75

SP

-

2.85

SP

-

3.20

AAP

-

1.18

-

-

-

-

-

-

(Source: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies- Data Unit)

However, an analysis of the results of the last Assembly polls (2013) and the by-elections (2014-2018) in the State indicates that such a large swing is unlikely in the impending polls. For example, in the 2013 polls, the BJP won 112 seats with margins ranging from 10,000 votes to 50,000 votes and more. A majority of these seats could, therefore, go to the BJP this time, despite the fact that the results in some of these constituencies would be influenced by local factors coupled with the performance of sitting MLAs vis- a-vis the candidates in the fray. Last time, the party won 53 seats with margins of less than 10,000 votes. More significantly, 24 of these seats were won with margins less than 5,000 votes and three seats with margins of less than 1000.

A marginal swing of votes away from the BJP camp may influence the poll results in a majority of these constituencies (27). The ground level mood of voters indicates that there may be a swing of two to three per cent from the BJP camp due to anti-incumbency and other factors like corruption that may lead to a marginal decline in the number of seats to be won by the BJP this time when compared with the number they won in 2013 (165).

Of the 58 seats won by the Congress in 2013, they had a margin of 10,000 and above in 31 seats and below 10,000 in 27 seats (See Table 3). As the BJP’s main rival, the Congress will benefit from any vote swing against the BJP, as other contenders like the BSP and the SP have limited potential to convert these votes to their advantage. This may also marginally help the Congress to increase its total tally. However, if the party manages a vote swing of over five per cent in its favour, an entirely different electoral outcome will emerge.

Table  3          

Victory Margin of elected BJP & Congress MLAs (2013)

Victory Margin

BJP

INC

Total

Above 50,000

10

01

11

Between 40-50 thousand

07

02

09

Between 30-40 thousand

14

05

19

Between 20-30 thousand

29

04

33

Between 10-20 thousand

52

19

71

Between 5-10 thousand

26

11

37

Between 1-5 thousand

24

13

37

Below 1,000

03

03

06

Total

165

58

223

(Based on the analysis of Election Commission of India data)

The by-election results, to a great extent, indicate this trend. After the formation of the BJP government in 2013, the State has witnessed 15 by-elections (13 to the Assembly and two to the Lok Sabha) during the period 2014 to February 2018. The BJP, which had earlier won the Shahdol (ST) Lok Sabha (LS) seat with a margin of over 2,41,000 votes in 2014, retained the seat with a reduced margin of around 60,000 votes. On the other hand, the Congress wrested the Ratlam (ST) LS seat from the BJP by a margin of over 88,000 votes. In the case of by-elections to 13 Assembly constituencies, the BJP won eight and the Congress five. In the Assembly by-elections, both parties maintained status quo except in Vijayraghavgarh and Bahoriband.

By-elections point to waning BJP margins

The by-election results revealed a substantial decline in the winning margin of the BJP candidates in many constituencies, especially in the tribal belt. Similarly, the BJP’s efforts to wrest a couple of seats from the Congress in the latter’s traditional stronghold of Chambal-Gwalior failed. The Congress interprets these as a favourable trend for the party.

 

Table 4

Madhya Pradesh: Bye- election results (2014-18)

YearConstituencyLA/LS2013 statusMarginBy-election winnerMargin
2014VijayraghavgarhLAINC929BJP53397
2014BahoribandLABJP20918INC7977
2014Agar (SC)LABJP28859BJP27702
2015GarothLABJP25755BJP12945
2015Ratlam (ST)LSBJP108,447INC88832
2015DewasLABJP50119BJP30778
2016MaiharLABJP6975BJP28281
2016Ghoradongri (ST)LABJP8084BJP13180
2016NepanagarLABJP34071BJP36200
2016Shahdol (ST)LSBJP241,301BJP60383
2017Bandhavgarh (ST)LABJP18645BJP25476
2017Ater (SC)LAINC11426INC857
2017ChitrakootLAINC10920INC14133
2018MungaoliLAINC20785INC2123
2018KolarasLAINC24953INC8086

(Based on Election Commission of India data)

Just as in the case of by-elections, the civic polls held in 2017 also showed a similar trend. In the elections held to 43 local bodies, the BJP captured 25, the Congress 15 and Independents three. In the 2012 polls, the BJP had won control of 28 local bodies, the Congress nine and Independents six. Significantly, the Congress’s gains were mainly in the tribal belt, and in areas like Mandsaur that had been affected by the farmers’ protest.

This was in contrast to the BJP’s performance in earlier elections during the last decade and half when the party had done well in all parts of the State, including the tribal-Dalit belt that, for many decades, had been a Congress citadel. In 2013, the BJP was clearly dominant in all the five major regions, Chambal, Vindhya Pradesh, Mahakaushal, Malwa (North) and Malwa (Tribal). The party won the maximum number of seats (55) from Malwa (North). The Congress gave a tough fight to the BJP only in the Chambal region where it won 12 out of 34 seats. (See Table-5). The BJP did well in the reserved constituencies: of the 82 reserved seats (SC- 35; ST- 47); the party won 61, the Congress 18, the BSP 2 while an Independent got one (See Table-6 & Assembly segment wise data in Annexure-A).

 

Table 5

MP - Region-wise Results for Assembly Election 2013

 

Region – seats- turn out

Chambal-34- 67.8

BJP

 

INC

 

BSP

 

Others

 

Seats

Vote(%)

Seats

Vote(%)

Seats

Vote(%)

Seats

Vote(%)

20

37.9

12

35.6

2

15.6

-

10.9

V/Pradesh-  56- 69.7

36

39.1

18

33.0

2

12.0

-

15.9

Mahakoshal-49- 77.2

34

45,7

14

35.9

-

3.4

1

15.0

Malwa(N) 63- 75.1

55

51.8

07

37.8

-

1.5

1

08.9

Malwa T 28- 72.8

20

45.8

07

40.09

-

1.7

1

11.6

 TOTAL- 230- 72.5

165

44.9

58

36.4

04

6.3

03

12.4

Source: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)

 

Table 6

2013- Party-wise seat position (SC/ST seats)

Total no of reserved seats

Won by BJP

Won by INC

Won by BSP

Others

SC-35

29

04

02

Nil

ST-47

32

14

--

01

Total- 82

61

18

02

01

Source: Based on Election Commission of India data

The Congress was, therefore, keen to work out a pre-poll alliance with the BSP to take on the BJP. Had there been a constructive alliance between the two parties, the 2018 contest could have been closer.

In this regard, the role of the BSP, the SP, and the GGP assumes considerable significance. The BSP has presence in pockets bordering Uttar Pradesh, particularly in the regions of Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh. In 2013, the party won four seats (two each from Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh) with 6.29 per cent of the vote share. Moreover, in 52 constituencies, its vote share ranged from 10 to 30 per cent and above (See Table-7 & Constituency wise details in Annexure-B). On an average, the party recorded a seven per cent vote share in the last five elections in the State. The Congress was, therefore, keen to work out a pre-poll alliance with the BSP to take on the BJP. Had there been a constructive alliance between the two parties, the 2018 contest could have been closer.

 

Table 7

 Seats with more than 10 per cent vote for BSP (2013 polls)

Victory Margin

No of seats

Above 30 per cent

08

Between 20-30 per cent

17

Between 10-20 percent

27

TOTAL

52

Source: Based on Election Commission figures

Similarly, the GGP, which enjoys the support of the Gond tribe in southern Madhya Pradesh (mainly in Chhindwara, and in the Balaghat-Mandla belt), can influence electoral trends in at least half a dozen constituencies. After failing to sew up a pre-poll alliance with the Congress, the GGP worked out an electoral understanding with the SP which wants to broaden its support base among tribals in the State. The newly formed Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), a fledgling tribal political outfit floated by Dr. Hiralal Alawa, who quit his job at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, a couple of years ago, is another outfit that can influence the tribal voting pattern in the State. Dr. Anand Rai, a medical practitioner from Indore and Vyapam-whistleblower, is the principal strategist of this outfit. The Malwa-Nimar region comprising the districts of Jhabua, Dhar, Badwani, Khargone, Khandwa, Dewas, and Ratlam are the main pockets of influence of these tribal outfits. Of the 47 seats reserved for the STs in Madhya Pradesh, 22 are located in this terrain.

The emergence of these new tribal outfits has created uncertainty about the way the tribal vote will go.

The emergence of these new tribal outfits has created uncertainty about the way the tribal vote will go. One view is that the BJP, which has vigorously pursued its Hindutva agenda among the tribals with the help of RSS front organisations like the VHP, the VKA, and the Durga Vahini, will retain its tribal vote-bank. Fully aware of this challenge, the Congress’s strategy is to lure some of the nascent tribal outfits or groups to its camp.

Intensive calibrated campaign by the BJP and the Congress

As it is likely to be a close contest between the BJP and the Congress, both parties have worked out ground level strategies to overcome their hurdles in the electoral battle. After initial rumblings in their respective parties, the BJP and the Congress finalised their lists of candidates: in both cases, the main criteria for selection was ‘winnability’ This prompted the BJP to field sitting MPs such as Manohar Utwal (Shajapur PC) and Nagendra Singh (Khajoraho PC) in Agar (SC) and Nagod constituencies, respectively. Simultaneously, the BJP dropped sitting MLAs, including ministers, from their list of candidates and fielded new faces to contain the anti-incumbency factor.

Though the Congress retained more than 95 per cent of its sitting legislators in the list, the party was keen to field the maximum number of young new faces, including women. While around two dozen women are in the list, the senior leaders of the front organisations, such as the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the Youth Congress, and the Mahila Congress also figure in the list. The party also made a tactical move to win the support of the JAYS by fielding its President, Dr Alawa, from Manawar (ST) in Dhar district. Similarly, in order to influence BSP supporters in their strongholds, Babita Saket, who switched over to the Congress from the BSP, was given ticket for Mangavan (SC) in Rewa district. The party left one seat, Jatara, for its ally, the Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), besides accommodating three former BJP legislators, Sanjay Sharma, Padma Shukla and Abhay Mishra, apart from the Chief Minister’s brother-in-law, Sanjay Singh Masani, and former BJP Minister Sartaj Singh, who left the BJP after being denied party ticket.

Another major tactical move by the Congress was the decision to field former MPCC president Arun Yadav against the Chief Minister at Budhni. Mr Yadav, the son of the late ex-Deputy CM, Subhash Yadav, has substantial base among OBC voters, especially the Yadavas, who are almost twice that of Chouhan's Kirar community in Budhni. Mr. Yadav is a veteran who has defeated BJP bigwigs like Krishna Murari Moghe in the Khargone Lok Sabha seat in 2004, and four-time MP Nandkumar Singh Chauhan in the Khandwa Lok Sabha seat in 2009. Moreover, his proximity to SP leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav should help him mobilise pro-SP voters in the constituency. Whether Mr Yadav wins or not, by pitting him against Mr Chouhan, the Congress ensured that the latter had to spend time on his home turf which he otherwise would have spent in other constituencies.

On the ground, both the BJP and the Congress are engaged in tactical moves to make inroads into their rival’s strongholds. For example, the BJP’s main targets are in the Guna-Shivpuri-Gwalior belt and Chhindwara, traditional Congress strongholds, nursed by party veterans Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijay Singh. The BJP is now on a weak wicket in this belt which accounts for 42 seats. For the BJP, the presence of BSP candidates, however, could lead to the division of the traditional Congress base. Besides exploiting this factor, the BJP leadership has geared up the well-knit RSS machinery and the party’s booth committees to reach out to grassroots voters.

The Malwa-Nimar region spread across the Indore and Ujjain divisions of western Madhya Pradesh, which had emerged as a BJP stronghold in the last decade, has now become another area of concern for the party. In 2013, the BJP had nearly swept the region by winning 56 out of a total of 66 seats here, leaving only nine seats to the Congress. Since then, several issues detrimental to the BJP’s electoral fortunes have cropped up in this region, chief among them being the farmers’ unrest that surfaced in 2017 with Mandsaur as its epicentre.

The Congress has worked hard to turn the farmers’ unrest against the BJP, with its party manifesto promising to write off farm loans of up to Rs. 2 lakh besides other concessions/benefits such as social security pension, rebate in the registration fee for land documents, and financial help of Rs. 51,000 for the marriage of daughters of small cultivators.

The BJP’s dilemma on the issue got compounded when Gunwant Patidar, the troubleshooter who had brokered peace with farmers during the protests in June 2017, resigned from the party accusing it of neglecting the farmers. Another issue is the likely erosion of the BJP’s tribal vote bank because of the emergence of new outfits like JAYS, and their electoral understanding with the Congress. It may be mentioned that such factors helped the Congress’s Kantilal Bhuria wrest the Ratlam (ST) LS seat from the BJP in a 2015 by-election. The BJP is banking on the RSS and other Sangh Parivar bodies to meet these challenges, as they have influence in the Malwa region which had produced great RSS/BJP stalwarts such as Kushabhau Thakre, Sunderlal Patwa, Kailash Joshi and Virendra Saklecha.

In its campaign, therefore, the Congress has focussed on the negative impact of demonetisation, the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the lack of civic amenities that have created resentment in the urban electorate, particularly the business community, against the present government.

Meanwhile, the Congress is working hard to breach the BJP’s urban constituency, considered to be the impregnable fortress of the party. The five major cities, Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior, Jabalpur, and Ujjain, and other commercial centres like Sagar and Satna, account for 51 seats, of which 40 are now with the BJP. But since in 2013, the BJP won a number of these seats with a slender margin, a slight shift in vote-share could have a huge impact. In its campaign, therefore, the Congress has focussed on the negative impact of demonetisation, the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the lack of civic amenities that have created resentment in the urban electorate, particularly the business community, against the present government. To counter this, the BJP geared up its entire organisational machinery in these urban areas, and held road-shows and rallies with the participation of prominent central and State leaders.  

Annexure-I

2013 Assembly polls: Performance of BJP, INC & BSP in SC/ST seats              

LA

Status

Party won

Margin

AmbahSCBSP11288
GohadSCBJP19814
DabraSCINC33278
BhanderSCBJP7651
Karera            SCINC10320
GunaSCINC45111
AshoknagarSCBJP3348
BinaSCBJP18769
NaryawaliSCBJP16046
Jatara SCINC233
ChandlaSCBJP37397
HattaSCBJP2852
GunnourSCBJP1337
RaigaonSCBJP4102
MangavanSCBSP275
DevsarSCBJP33214
Jabalpur (East)SCBJP1155
GotegaonSCBJP20171
Pipariya          SCBJP51157
SanchiSCBJP20936
KurwaiSCBJP4081
ParasiyaSCINC6682
AmlaSCBJP39602
BerasiaSCBJP29304
AshtaSCBJP5504
SarangpurSCBJP18113
Agar               SCBJP28859
SonkotchSCBJP1880
KhanduwaSCBJP34071
SanwerSCBJP17587
Tarana            SCBJP16135
MahewarSCBJP4727
Ghatiya           SCBJP17369
Alote   SCBJP7973
MalhargarhSCBJP6571
ChitrangiSTINC9895
DhouhaniSTBJP19001
BeohariSTINC17342
JaisinghnagarSTBJP13963
Jaitpur            STBJP11206
AnuppurSTBJP11745
 Pusprajgarh   STINC35647
Bhandavgarh  STBJP18645
ManapuRSTBJP43628
Bidware          STBJP3287
SihoreSTBJP15004
ShahpuraSTBJP32681
DindoriSTINC6388
BichhiyaSTINC18316
Niwas STBJP10910
MandalaSTINC3827
BaiharSTINC32350
BarghatSTBJP269
LekhananadanSTINC12781
JunnardeoSTBJP20121
AmarwaraSTINC4063
PandhurnaSTINC1478
GhodadongrSTBJP8084
BhainsdehiSTBJP13276 
TimarniSTBJP16507
BagliSTBJP25332
HarsudSTBJP43571
NepanagarSTBJP34071
PandhanaSTBJP17261
BikangaonSTINC2399
BhagawanpuraSTINC1820
SendhwaSTBJP25686
RajpurSTINC11196
PansemalSTINC7382
BarwaniSTINC10527
AlirajpurSTBJP17369
JobatSTBJP11051
JhabuaSTBJP15859
ThandalaSTIND5116
PetlawadSTBJP17018
SardarpurSTBJP529
GandhwaniSTINC12326
KuleshiSTINC42788
ManawaSTBJP1639
DharampuriSTBJP7573
Ratlam (Rural )STBJP26969
Sailana BJPSTBJP2079

(Based on Election Commission Figures)

 

Annexure-II

MP- LA seats with more than 10% votes polled by BSP- 2013 polls

Sl no

Name of LA

Votes share (%)

1Sabalgarh14.54
2Jaura20.25
3Sumaoli30.71
4Morena39.03
5Dimani35.75
6Ambah (sc)44.62
7Ater30.19
8Bhind35.90
9Lahar23.85
10Mehgaon10.8
11Gwalior (Rural12.9
12Gwalior (East12.56
13Bhitrwar17.48
14Dabra (SC)14.85
15Sewda14.22
16Datia15.52
17Karera (SC)27.53
18Kolaras14.85
19Ashoknagar (SC)11.50
20Banda13.64
21Niwari14.47
22Maharajpur23.21
23Chandla (SC)13.01
24Rajnagar13.21
25Bijawar12.20
26Malhara20.57
27Gunnour (SC21.58
28Panna17.32
29Chitrakoot19.55
30Satna20.98
31Nagod22.55
32Maihar26.24
33Amarpatan23.57
34R/ Baghelan31.36
35Sirmour19.49
36Samariya25.05
37Teonthar20.42
38Maugang14.36
39Deotalab26.23
40Mangavan (SC33.08
41Rewa19.97
42Gurh19.57
43Sihawal10.09
44Chitrangi(ST)10.03
45Singrauli22.30
46Devsar (SC)11.76
47Dhouhani (ST)11.45
48Beohari(ST)10.81
49Vijaragahgarh10.34
50Bahoariband20.68
51Waraseoni13.33
52Katangi26.50

 

[K. V. Thomas is a former Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. He has over 36 years of distinguished service in the Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. He can be contacted at [email protected]].

References:

[All URLs were last accessed on November 28, 2018]

1. Election Commission of India, 2018. Return To text.

2. Census India, 2011. Return to Text.

3. Ibid.  Sl. no. 2. Return to Text.

4. FirstPost. 2018. "Don't believe in either soft or hardcore Hindutva, says Rahul Gandhi; claims Narendra Modi won't be PM in 2019", August 14. [https://www.firstpost.com/politics/dont-believe-in-either-soft-or-hardcore-hindutva-says-rahul-gandhi-claims-narendra-modi-wont-be-pm-in-2019-4964151.html]. Return to Text.

5. Shakil, M. 2018. "BJP Does Not Have Distributorship of Hindu Religion: Kamal Nath Fights off Congress’ Soft Hindutva Image", News18, October 8. [https://www.news18.com/news/politics/bjp-does-not-have-distributership-of-hindu-religion-kamal-nath-fights-off-congress-soft-hindutva-image-1901945.html]. Return to Text.

6. Sharma, S, N. 2018. "Madhya Pradesh polls: Can Congress' saffron pitch defeat Shivraj Singh Chouhan?", The Economic Times, September 23. [https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/elections/madhya-pradesh-assembly-elections/madhya-pradesh-polls-can-congress-saffron-pitch-defeat-shivraj-singh-chouhan/articleshow/65916411.cms]. Return to Text.

7. Shankar, K. 2018. "Congress’ soft Hindutva in MP", The Statesman, September 30. [https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/congress-soft-hindutva-mp-1502690974.html]. Return to Text.

8. Government of India, Ministry of Labour & Employment - Annual Report-2015-16. Return to Text.

9. Ministry of Finance, Governement of India. "Economic Survey 2017-2018". [http://mofapp.nic.in:8080/economicsurvey/]. Return to Text.

Post a Comment
  1. Comments will be moderated.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.