Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Kailash Vijayvargiya during Jan Ashirwad Yatra Will it be the Congress party whose core incompetencies are reflected every alternate day in its inability to manage its affairs and lack of an interest in bringing sustainable development to the State? Or, Will it be the BJP whose ambitious plans could only partly translate on the ground?
Ashish Sogani & Nitisha Tripathy
Some say elections can change a state/country’s future. Some, on the other hand, don’t mark the voting day on their calendars. Nonetheless, election time unfolds a film whose climax lasts for five years. To be a part of this journey is not just fascinating but nerve-wracking.
For us, it is the elections to be held in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) which has enraptured our minds, nerves and skills for some time now. When you travel across the length and breadth of this State, it is when you understand why it is indeed the centre point of India. Diversity finds a new meaning in this State. It would be fair to look at it through two lenses — Before 2003 and After 2003.
A popular joke used to make rounds in MP in 2002—When the roads start giving you the back pain you never had, say hello to MP. It was Congress government's apathy towards the most basic developmental necessities like Road, Water and Electricity that cost them the 2003 Elections in Madhya Pradesh. The Shivraj-led BJP Government had a long battle ahead. It had to change the abysmal condition of the most basic infrastructure that the State needed to thrive.
15 years since then, a lot seems to have changed. The BJP has only become stronger with each election. The Shivraj Government won the respect of the Opposition also when it received the ‘Krishi Karman’ Award from the Congress-ruled UPA Government for the highest agricultural production in the country in 2013. There has been a paradigm shift in the infrastructure and the lives of people in MP. However, the BJP is contesting for the 4th term in a row, there is a tide of anti-incumbency towards the party, which cannot be overlooked.
Will the wave of development wash the tide of anti-incumbency or will it be the other way round? From the election war room in Madhya Pradesh, here is our analysis of the MP 2018 elections.
Battle of Development
The 2003 & 2008 terms of the Shivraj Government saw a lot of unfinished tasks come to an end. Revolutionary progress was achieved in every direction possible — roads became better, MP became a power surplus State, record wheat procurement and multiple JAN Kalyan Schemes (Laadli Laxmi, Kanyadaan, Awas, Ujjwala, Teertha Yojana for the elderly) were unveiled which touched people's lives. This led to a thumping victory for the BJP again in 2013.
2013 onwards was the period when the “law of diminishing returns” came to play. A lot more effort was needed to take the state further ahead. The left-over work started to get more highlighted than the work done, as people expected more. More educated youth translated into the demand of more jobs, better police force meant an increase in documented cases of crime, better irrigation & agriculture translated into record crop productions that led to storage losses, not to mention, procurement hassles. During this time, the BJP came into power in the centre (2014), and that increased the expectations of people even further. The entire government machinery was running as fast as it could with schemes like Jan Dhan, Pradhan Mantri Awas, GST, Demonetisation, Mudra, Aadhar etc. The BJP Government was extremely ambitious to bring a positive change, which in certain ways created a kind of chaos which became the ground for Congress’ campaign in the State.
The third front found its leadership under several names. Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), Samanya Pichra Alpsankhyak Kalyan Samaj (SAPAKS), Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) etc. However, it was interesting to witness their ideological rise and political decline in a few months only.
JAYS: Jays began its journey as a party which stood for its community—the tribals. Their grievance was that this community had been ignored by each government which had ultimately pushed them to find their leadership. Hiralal Alawa, MBBS from AIIMS, led this movement from the Kukshi constituency in Dhar District of MP. He received background assistance, financial and otherwise, from educated tribal government employees and teachers. Any conversation on the future of Jays always swayed between ‘Are they with the Congress party?’ or ‘Are they standing up for their community?”. Eventually, the Congress list of candidates came out and Hiralal Alawa got the ticket to contest the Manawar seat (Dhar District) from Congress. At present, Jays has officially scattered under different local leadership like Mahendra Kannauj etc.
SAPAKS: Aftermath of the SC-ST Amendment Act, this political outfit found its voice. Retired government officers, along with some government employees, were the force of this movement. The general category youth, which had suffered due to the reservation for SC/ST entrance exams, government employment etc., release for their aggression. Sooner than later, SAPAKS declared that it would contest the elections from all 230 seats. Hira Lal Trivedi, a former IAS officer, led this campaign. As opposed to the initial furore, SAPAKS is contesting from all 230 seats. It has managed to scrape only a a few tickets. It cannot be denied that some seats of the Gwalior and Malwa region will still be affected by this party. The deciding 3-5 per cent vote share in these regions will not see the same trend as it saw in 2013.
Alliances Make & Break
Congress and BSP: With its continuously diminishing hold in the State, the first opportunity that the Congress saw was allying with the BSP which had an average of 6-7 per cent vote share. Alliance with BSP would have made a lot of Uttar Pradesh bordering seats more comfortable for the Congress to win. But the Congress leadership was double minded here. They wanted to get the maximum benefits but offered little to the BSP to which the BSP responded negatively, and the alliance fell on its face.
Congress and JAYS: On the other hand, the assumption so far is that the Jays-Congress is not an alliance between two parties but an ambitious Jays leader and Congress party. This alliance might prove to be Jayas movement. However, the benefit that BJP would have derived from an independent contest by Jayas (with an expected vote share between 10-12 per cent in ST seats like Kukshi, Gandhwani, Petlawad etc.) has been lost as it would have cut traditional tribal Congress votes.
Battle for the CM Face
To say that MP is less than ten days away from deciding its fate for the next five years, and the Congress Party is still roaming around leaderless, is a fair assumption. One of the first drawbacks of this party has been its inability to manage its affairs. Between Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh, the cadre-less Congress Party is witnessing a leadership void which reflects the exact reason why it is not ready to govern a state like MP. It is even more surprising to note that none of these Congress leaders is contesting the elections. They have chosen to roar from the stage, instead of fighting on the battleground. To draw a comparison, both of their CM faces are running for elections in Rajasthan. This decision is a clear indication of their fear and lack of confidence in their abilities to manage a seat on their names.
The BJP, on the other hand, has a clear face—Shivraj Singh Chauhan. One can criticise his his words, but it has to find many cracks in his popularity. From Gwalior to Malwa to Bundelkhand to Baghelkhand to Nimar to Mahakaushal, every third person you come across, despite all the criticism, will have some appreciation for Shivraj. His policy decisions can be questioned, but he is also one of those CM faces who did not run his government from his bungalow but the ground. However, to say that BJP is devoid of factionalism is an unfair estimate. For 15 years, several leaders from different castes, have made a stronghold in their respective areas. This factionalism will be a challenge for the party in the upcoming election.
Battle of Caste Politics
MP is a playground for caste politics. Each of the seven regions in this State has its flavour and politics. Until 2013, Shivraj Singh balanced these equations through various Jan Kalyan Schemes, aimed to benefit each segment of the society. However, the year of 2018 witnessed an explosion in the form of the SC-ST Amendment Act. In a tussle between the judiciary and the executive, the Centre had the final word wherein it was declared that the accused could be imprisoned without any preliminary inquiry. MP bore the brunt of this decision more than any other state. The spark which caused the most damage came from the CM when in a public rally, he said -“Until I’m alive, no Mother’s Son (Mai ka Lal ) can remove reservation (SC/ST).” This proved to be the final nail for the general and OBC category which felt redeemed by the judiciary but once again, ignored by the government. BJP was the most affected as it was the incumbent party and the unrest arose from its core voter base—Brahmans, Thakurs, OBC etc.
Interestingly, Congress could not benefit much from it, as they remained silent in fear of rattling their core voter base. As elections drew closer, spring came for budding caste leaders who started demanding their piece of the pie. Be it JAYAS, AJAKS, Karni Sena, SAPAKS - they started claiming their territory and tried to convert it into a political storm. However, politics once again and the caste equations returned to their original leanings—reliant on ticket distribution. It was a stalemate for both the main parties here as none was able to create a massive caste movement.
Shivraj enjoyed unparalleled support of the farmers of Madhya Pradesh until 2013. The Mandsaur incident became the oxygen mask for the dying Congress in this State. It attacked the most secure voter of the CM-Farmers. Its primary weapon was the announcement of ‘Karz Maafi’ wherein the Congress promised to waive off all loans of the farmers within ten days of swearing in of a Congress CM. It would be fair to say that they were partly successful in creating a dent as well. Policy failure of Bhavantar Bhugtaan Yojana, bumper crop resulting in long queues and delay in receiving payments in bank accounts, the role of market forces (supply and demand) in affecting the crop price etc. are some of the reasons which coincided with Congress party’s sudden urge to become the farmers’ messiah.
However, history will be much kinder to Shivraj Singh Chauhan and his BJP Government as they consistently kept working for the farmers. They purchased and released bonuses of over Rs 30,000 Cr in the past one year which was directly crediting crop after crop in their account. Even today, every third farmer you speak to will have a smile for Shivraj Singh Chauhan ’s name. He is still credited for the development work he did for them, especially in irrigation, Bonus on MSP and electricity distribution.
Women Welfare Schemes
The welfare of the girls and women of MP has been a consistent priority for the CM. From the remaining life, the CM brought measures to ensure they have each step. Laadli Laxmi Yojana, Kanyadaan Yojana, Aid packages for Pregnant women, scholarships for girl students, Cycles and scooties for girl students—You name it, and the CM took steps to ensure it. Owing to this, it is another fact that the women of this state will always show gratitude to their ‘Mama’. For all his other disappointments, it was evident that the women and their welfare received attention in a way no other government had given them so far. As an acknowledgement of the same, this year, the CM sent a letter to all his sisters on Raksha Bandhan. Around 75 were sent to the households of Madhya Pradesh where the CM expressed gratitude for all the support he had received from his sisters so far and asked them to stand by him in future as well. In no other state, has the CM established such a deep and direct connection with his voters!
Unemployment Remains a Challenge
The youth is divided between the leadership of Narendra Modi and Shivraj Singh Chauhan and its quest for change. Employment for the youth through Kaushal vikas yojana, providing start-up support, loan facility, scholarships etc. has affected this community. However, unemployment remains a consistent challenge. Also, the youth has not seen the transformation of this State from 2003 until today. Its leanings will not be entirely dependant on how far the State has come but on what they see now.
The Micro View
Let’s focus on the micropolitics now. Politics is a game set from the balcony but played on the dance floor. The dance before the MP elections has been no less entertaining.
Ticket distribution is a tedious process for the parties. Choosing the candidate stands the risk of alienating many other aspiring leaders. This problem, according to the popular perception, is more of Congress than BJP. Despite power for 15 years continuously, there were defectors in the BJP as well. Many veteran leaders who were facing the brunt of anti-incumbency—Sartaj Singh, Sanjay Mesani (CM’s brother-in-law), Padma Shukla, Sunderlal Tiwari, Abhay Mishra, Sanjay Sharma left the BJP to join the Congress. This, by far, was the most damaging blow for the BJP. Congress suffered losses as well with the likes of Prem Chand Guddu, Bhupendra Dwivedi and KP Yadav. However, with party cadre and a strong sangathan backed by a strong leader, the BJP absorbed these shocks.
Caste politics is essential in ticket distribution and after the ticket distribution. Patidars in Malwa, Brahman-Baniya-Thakurs in Gwalior, Bundelkhand and Madhya Bharat, Bhil (ST), Gond, in the ST regions etc. were some of the communities which were paid particular attention to. However, some communities like the Lodhis, Sondhiya etc. had some digression from their traditional loyalty. Usual BJP and Congress seats are in a state of flux, loyal leaders have their own ground and contest on their names.
It will be fair to state that the NOTA option will receive more importance in the upcoming elections than what it has received so far. Particularly, in the ST areas and Gwalior-Malwa region, where a segment of the general population feels disappointed with both the BJP and Congress.
The National Picture
The MP Assembly Elections of 2018 will pave the way for the Lok Sabha Elections 2019. This State is considered to be the bastion of anti-Congress politics. With royalty still influencing the voters, disdain for former MP Congress Government and its leaders still is finding a mention in every alternate conversation on MP’s future. A man standing in the Government Hospital compound of Bhind constituency in MP said, “There was knee-deep water on the main road as soon as it used to rain during Congress rule...Look at that road now. It is the BJP who ensured that I could walk on during rain’, it is safe to assume state will influence the trend for the upcoming national elections.”
Since Independence, if there has been a political party, which has spent more time in corruption and scams than focusing on the national progress, it has undeniably been the Congress. The last two UPA terms are particularly etched in the voters’ memory. Since 2014, several issues have come up through which aspersions were cast on the BJP as well. The Rafale aircraft deal was one such example. A deal negotiated during the UPA Government saw the light of the day during the NDA rule. The role of reliance company, ignorance of government PSU like HAL etc. dominated this debate. Over time, allegations were withdrawn and changed, which reinforced the opinion that this issue was unearthed because India was in the ‘election’ mode.
A manifesto is a preview of the a party’s aspirations for a country—attempts are made to solve issues concerning necessities and building a future. However, the Congress party still chose to focus on ‘We will ban RSS Shakhas if we win’. Without delving into the unnecessary and futile nature of this aspiration, it is essential to remember that if a party or a leader wants to chart the course for a nation, it has to rise above its petty politics.
The communication line adopted by Congress found another crack in it when it found its powerful MP Congress MLA Umang Singhar and Kamal Nath to be a part of a telephonic conversation alleging that they had concealed over 25 properties in a Malaysian Bank. The veracity of these allegations is yet to be tested, but it is still interesting to note how this party always finds itself right in the middle of a conversation on corruption.
Despite its drawbacks and failures, the BJP has offered a narrative and hope of development and ‘Nation-First’ ideology to its voters.
Where is it Tilted?
The 2018 Assembly Elections, the fourth consecutive trial for the BJP, as opposed to 2013, will not be a cakewalk. The Congress party has been successful in identifying some deep cracks in the BJP fortress. However, the voter will not only see what BJP did wrong in the last 15 years, but it will also see why the BJP ruled this State for 15 years. A people’s CM, strong development mindset, progressive policy initiatives are some of the reasons which the MP voter will not forget when it steps out on November 28, 2018. However, it will also not forget the unfulfilled promises and over-ambitious plans.
Will it be the Congress party whose core incompetencies are reflected every alternate day in its inability to manage its affairs and lack of an interest in bringing sustainable development to the State? Or, Will it be the BJP whose ambitious plans could only partly translate on the ground?
We would like to believe that we are not biased when we say that MP needs the BJP government to come once again. We have seen it with our own eyes—people who could never imagine sleeping under a pucca makaan, own that makaan today; foodgrains are given at Re1 per kilo to those who need it the most, electricity is available at Rs 200, loans are given at 0 per cent interest rate, small girls are introducing themselves in English in a desolate village in Malwa region because they have cycles to go to a school nearby where they study for free, pregnant women are receiving monetary assistance. For all its drawbacks, one cannot deny that the BJP Government has changed the face of the weak State it received in 2003. So, women will vote for their brother Shivraj Singh who always took one extra step to make their lives easier. Farmers will vote for that CM who did not sit in Bhopal when they faced the worst drought of their lives and instead came to stand with them on that very field. Labourers will not forget the bulbs which lit up their houses and dragged them away from the dark, and parents will not forget that cracked the IIT because an Eklavya school gave them that push. All these feelings are registered in the private memory of the MP voters’. So, MP will forgive, but it will not forget.
(Ashish Sogani is an entrepreneur and an IIT Kharagpur graduate. Nitisha Tripathi is a researcher and lawyer by training. Both Ashish and Nitisha are working with the Arthashastra Group in Madhya Pradesh)