Congress party retained the Mungaoli and Kolaras seats in the recently concluded by-polls in Madhya Pradesh. This has prompted party leaders at both state and central level to claim that Congress will dislodge Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government in the state elections due in Q4 later this year. Some political commentators also in their zeal have declared return of Congress in the state on the back of performance in just 2 seats. Despite the results, Shivraj is comfortably placed to win a consecutive fourth term and solidify his position as the longest serving BJP Chief Minister of a big state.
1) Significant decline in margins in Scindia’s den
Mungaoli and Kolaras seats were won by the Congress party in 2013 state elections. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, party was leading in both the assembly segments and increased its vote share, from 51.2% to 61% in Mungaoli and 46.5% to 57.4% in Kolaras. Congress managed this improvement despite Modi wave gripping the nation, only highlights that these are stronghold seats of Congress and Jyotiarditya Scindia. The party just managed to scrape through this time, in Mungaoli by 2000 and Kolaras by 8000 odd votes, a steep decline from the lead it enjoyed in 2014 as seen in chart below. In Kolaras, the party also benefitted from sympathy factor having fielded the son of the deceased ex legislator.
2) BSP votes have shifted to BJP
What is even worrisome for Congress is that BJP has managed to pocket a significant chunk of BSP votes in both these seats. BSP has emerged as the third force in the state bagging 5%-7% vote share in the last three elections. The party received 22% Dalit support in 2013. In Kolaras party candidate received 15% and in Mungaoli 8.8% vote share. These were essentially anti-BJP votes. With BSP not putting up candidates in the by-polls, Congress expected these votes would transfer to them. But that didn’t happen as seen in table below. BJP’s support among Dalits has been increasing nationally due to the decline of BSP and these by-polls suggest party has been able to replicate the trend in MP and win the support of Dalits who account for 16% of population of the state. The dent in BSP vote bank by BJP will increase the gap with Congress and provide an added cushion is state elections later this year.
3) Infighting within Congress unit
It’s an open secret that the Congress is a divided house in Madhya Pradesh. It has seven to eight prominent leaders who are running their own show independently without any co-ordination. These include Kamalnath, Digvijay Singh, Jyotiarditya Scindia, Arun Yadav, Ajai Singh, Jitu Patwari, Kantilal Bhuria. Kamalnath and Scindia are pitching to be announced as party’s face. Arun Yadav has on more than one occasion declared party won’t be announcing any CM candidate and contest on the basis collective leadership. Digvijay is on a spiritual Narmada yatra and nobody knows what trick he will pull up after his return. While elections are increasingly becoming Presidential style, this could turn out to be a big shortcoming of the Congress.
4) Massive development under Shivraj
Under Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s leadership the state has witnessed a significant transformation in the last 12 years. MP has recorded the 2nd fastest GDP growth in India, after Gujarat, in the last 5 years (2013-2017), average 8.1% vs 6.9%. MP is amongst the five big states which has been able to contain inflation at below national average level, 6.6% vs 6.8%. Government’s performance on the price rise front is expected to reap benefits as it was the biggest issue of 2013 elections (20% voters). The state no longer carries the BIMARU tag and boasts of a network of roads, highways and power plants.
5) Innovative govt. schemes for anchor voting segments – youth, women and farmers
Shivraj Singh Chouhan belongs to a farmer family and nobody knows agriculture better than him. This is the primary reason state boasts of highest agriculture growth among states in India. It has won five consecutive Krishi Karman awards. The success story of irrigation in the state is a case study in itself. The government recently launched ‘Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana’ which compensates farmer for decline in prices below MSP. 15 lakh farmers have benefitted from the scheme and have been disbursed Rs. 1,500 crores. Niti Ayog is studying the scheme and this could be replicated at national level and by many states in coming years.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan enjoys huge support among womenfolk, +2% compared to men. His schemes like Ladli Laxmi Yojana, Kanya Vivah Yojana have been a huge success in improving the sex ratio of the state and providing financial security to the girl child. He has strongly pitched for death sentence to rapists of minor girls aged 12 or below which is awaiting Presidential assent. MP government has launched an ambitious scheme ‘Medhavi Vidyarthi Yojana’ in which it pays the fees of students for higher studies. This has given wings to the dreams of youth who would have otherwise dropped out of studies due to financial constraints. Some 30,000 students have benefitted so far.
6) The Shivraj factor
Shivraj Singh Chouhan remains the most popular leader of Madhya Pradesh. He is in fact one of the tallest leaders of BJP nationally after Modi having a mass appeal. Congress has no leader who can match his charisma. He enjoyed a 20% lead over Scindia in 2013. More than 20% traditional Congress supporters also wanted to see Shivraj as CM in 2013. Modi factor was one of the least visible in the state in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Only 15% of BJP voters in a CSDS survey said they would not have voted for BJP had Modi not been the PM candidate. The national average was 27%. The stupendous performance of BJP bagging 27 out of 29 seats was a combined result of Modi factor as well as Shivraj factor.
To conclude, merely managing to retain two seats in their own backyard and party due to sympathy factor is by no means a great achievement as is being put out by the Congress party. One of the biggest themes emerging from the polls is the transfer of BSP votes to BJP. This along with other factors mentioned above, comfortably place Shivraj Singh Chouhan for elections due later this year.
This article was first published in Swarajya.