Madhya Pradesh elections 2018: 10 factors that may influence MP polls outcome
Madhya Pradesh with a bipolar polity faces a straight battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress. But it is also a large and complex state with various regions, caste groups, economic and political factors. Based on interaction with voters across 15 districts, 10 variables emerge that are likely to influence the Madhya Pradesh Elections.
1. Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s record
The chief minister is seen as having delivered on infrastructure, especially roads and electricity, agricultural growth and welfare schemes. Even his critics acknowledge that. These accomplishments helped him win the 2008 and 2013 state elections, since he first became chief minister in 2003. Will MP’s voters reward him again or do their aspirations exceed his delivery? This time around, Chouhan must also battle the perception that power is tightly controlled by members of his family and select bureaucrats, besides corruption scams like Vyapam (the scam involved politicians and bureaucrats securing government jobs for undeserving candidates through cheating and bribe).
In 2013, the BJP swept the polls with over 160 of the 230 assembly seats. Now, there is resentment against many incumbent legislators for not doing enough for their constituencies, for being partisan to certain caste groups, and not bringing ‘vikas’ (development). Anti-incumbency may play a role in what appears to be a hyper local election. The BJP however, hopes its formidable organisational apparatus, and the concerted assistance of all Sangh affiliates, will offset the local disillusionment.
3. Agrarian distress
The BJP government delivered high rates of agricultural growth, but farmers have not got the prices they aspired for. The issue took centre stage during the protests in Mandsaur last year, in which farmers died due to police firing. The Chouhan government responded with a slew of benefits, such as the Bhavantar scheme in which the government either meets the gap between the market rate and Minimum Support Price (the price at which the government acquires farm produce, effectively setting a base price) or provides a flat bonus. The scheme has worked in some pockets; in others, there are complaints of delay in payments and procedural difficulties. The Congress meanwhile has tapped into this discontent and promised a loan waiver. Will farmer anger undo the Chouhan government?
4. Congress and ‘badlav’
In MP, a range of factors, including 15 years of rule by one party , has led voters to seek ‘badlav’ (change). But will the yearning for change be cause enough to effect a reversal in the house arithmetic? The BJP can lose 40 seats and yet win this election. The Congress can gain 50 seats and yet lose this election. Converting the sentiment for change into enough votes is a test that Congress faces.
5. Congress’s internal matrix
Factionalism is a key reason for consecutive defeats of the Congress in MP. Rahul Gandhi dealt with this by appointing senior leader Kamal Nath as the party chief and Jyotiraditya Scindia as the campaign committee chief, not declaring a CM, and keeping the third leader, former CM Digvijaya Singh in the background. The three factions are not sabotaging each other, but beneath the united front, there is underlying tension. Candidates are seen as associated with one or the other leader rather than the party, and there is an undercurrent of competition among supporters to project the leader they are loyal to as the potential chief minister.
6. Caste contradictions
A substantial proportion of upper castes, OBC (Other Backward Classes) caste groups, adivasis and a segment of Dalits voted for BJP. This election, some are upset with the centre restoring the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, others are upset with the Chouhan’s support for SC/ST reservations in promotions in government jobs, and the business community is still reeling from the impact of demonetisation and the implementation of the new Goods and Services Tax. Will the BJP’s careful social engineering succeed? Has the Congress been able to get both, upper castes and segments of the BJP’s loyal OBC base on its side? In the heartland state where caste is often a determinant of political choice, this will be a key variable.
7. A Hinduised polity
The fear of being seen as a pro-Muslim party, and the BJP exploiting that to convert the election into a Hindu versus Muslim one, meant that the Congress has extensively played up its Hindu association. From frequent temple visits by Gandhi, Nath and Scindia to a manifesto that takes a pronounced position in favour of what are perceived to be Hindu causes such as cow protection, the Congress has competed with the BJP in telling Hindu voters that their concerns will be taken care of. The Congress will also rely on the consolidation of the state’s 7% Muslim population. Perhaps because it has adopted this strategy, polarisation in this election is neither as pronounced nor as much of a factor on the ground.
8. State versus general election
Madhya Pradesh’s voters have made a clear distinction between the state and general elections. This is why Modi’s campaign has not had the same impact as in previous state polls. On the other hand, those veering towards Congress are also not doing so because of Gandhi’s campaign. State issues, state leaders and local factors dominate. And that is why it would be a mistake to extrapolate the outcome of December 11 to what could happen in general elections of 2019.
India’s politics on the ground remains dominated by both promise and delivery of welfare. Chouhan is banking on schemes for unorganised labour and small farmers, reduction in electricity bills, and allowances for families of those dying below 60. The Congress is relying on farm loan waivers, social security pensions and financial assistance for the marriage of daughters of small cultivators. Irrespective of who wins, welfare will be the matrix of governance.
Across adivasi villages in Malwa belt, buses ferry young men in search of work to Gujarat. Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are favoured destinations across the Bundelkhand belt or in Gwalior-Chambal. The state has held investor summits and claimed advances in industrialisation. The Congress has alleged that this is not reflected on the ground and promised policies to create jobs. Who the young trust more will eventually determine MP’s outcome.