State Elections 2018: Why BSP Dumped Congress Or Is It The Other Way Round?

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has announced that her party will go it alone in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh which go to polls in the next two months. Mayawati, who announced this decision at a press conference on 3 October, has already formed an alliance with Ajit Jogi’s party in Chhattisgarh. This has ended months of speculation on whether a mahagathbandhan on the lines of Uttar Pradesh (UP) will be formed in these states to take on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Many analysts and news channels have described it as Mayawati dumping Congress and handing a severe blow to its prospects in the state polls, which are touted as semi-finals to the Lok Sabha elections. However, it’s the other way round. Congress strategists did earlier think of allying with Mayawati as it could provide them access to Scheduled Caste (SC) votes. However, after thorough deliberations decided to not move ahead.

Factors In Favour Of The Alliance

BSP has pockets of influence in these three states, which share their borders with Uttar Pradesh (4 per cent-6 per cent vote share in 2013 state elections).

  • BSP is truly a national party after BJP and Congress having support in many states outside its home state of UP.
  • It’s the only regional party, which gets decent votes, 31 per cent of its total votes in Lok Sabha 2014, from outside UP. The corresponding number for other regional parties is 95 per cent plus.
  • BSP is still the third most successful party by vote share after only the BJP and Congress.
  • Mayawati is still the tallest SC leader of the country with others like Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramdas Athavale, despite being ministers, having a lesser stature.
  • BSP has time and again displayed its ability to transfer votes to the alliance partner.
Votes of big regional parties (Lok Sabha 2014) Source: www.indiavotes.comVotes of big regional parties (Lok Sabha 2014) Source:

Three Key Reasons Why Congress Didn’t Forge An Alliance With BSP

1. Upper caste agitation in three states

Sawarn andolan has taken the political parties by surprise in the three states. Forward caste communities in the states are angry with central government’s decision to amend the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act after Supreme Court diluted the arrest provisions under the act. Upper caste forms a considerable chunk (15 per cent-20 per cent) of voters in these states. They are up in arms against both the BJP and Congress. SAPAKS, the body representing the upper caste government officers, formed its own party in Madhya Pradesh on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary declaring it will contest all 230 seats. Congress didn’t want to take the risk as any alliance with BSP would have been seen by the upper caste as party siding with the SC-ST. Congress wants to milk the upper caste disenchantment in these states. Therefore, it is talking of cows, making Rahul Gandhi Shiv-bhakt, Ram-bhakt and woo the upper caste voters.

2. BSP Has Lost Considerable Clout Since 2013

While BSP was demanding seats based on its 2013 performance, it has lost significant vote share in most states going to polls after that including a drubbing in UP. The non- Jatav voters are disillusioned with the party leadership as key positions in the party and benefits of reservations have eluded them. BSP is not the same force as it was in 2013. The two parties approached the seat distribution talks differently resulting in the talks failing.

BSP Vote Share in Key Vidhan Sabha Elections (Source: Vote Share in Key Vidhan Sabha Elections (Source:

3. BSP Not A Significant Player In The Three States

The vote share of BSP in Madhya Pradesh was 6.4 per cent, Chhattisgarh 4.4 per cent and Rajasthan 3.4 per cent in 2013 elections. In Rajasthan, the government changes every five years and Congress is hopeful of victory on that factor alone without needing the support of Mayawati. In Chhattisgarh, the elections have always been close with Congress in with a chance even without the BSP. Madhya Pradesh is a state where she has the highest support among the three states and allying with her could have helped Congress put up a tough fight. A combination of factors like fear of loss of upper caste votes (sawarn agitation is strongest in MP), differences over BSP’s strength and exit of few leaders derailed the process.

Big Jolt To Mayawati

Mayawati’s BSP has been out of power for more than six years now. After a rout in UP and with no chance until 2022, she has changed her strategy. Her focus is now on regional level alliances like in Karnataka with Janata Dal (Secular), with Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana to rebuild the party in states outside UP, piggybacking on the bigger partner’s vote bank. BSP won one seat in Karnataka and got inducted in the ministry. She was hoping she could get a good chunk of seats, win a few, and get included in ministry, if alliance won riding on anti-incumbency. However, her hopes are shattered as of now. That’s why she came out strongly against Congress in the 3 October press conference.

Trading Charges At Each Other; Sending A Message To Their Vote Banks

While Digvijay Singh accused Mayawati of parting with alliance talks because of Central Bureau of Investigation/Enforcement Directorate pressure from BJP, Mayawati called Digvijay Singh a BJP agent. This is nothing but posturing from both sides to keep their vote bank intact. She knows it will be difficult to hold on to her SC vote bank in these states now after failure of alliance talks. Why would Dalits vote for BSP, which has no hope of winning? A section might be tempted to return to Congress or even vote for BJP which is wooing them following the amendment to SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. She might witness a further plunge in her fortunes nationally, and in other states.

Both sides have kept the option open for the 2019 Lok Sabha alliance either separately or as part of the mahagathbandhan. Mayawati feels in case of a hung Parliament, she needs a good number of MPs to back her as prime minister, but for that she needs a helping hand. It is worth noting that BSP gained vote share in UP at the expense of all parties BJP, Congress and Samajwadi Party, with which it formed an alliance at some point.

This article was first published in The Swarajya.


Battleground M.P. (12) : Digvijay Singh May Still Change the Game – But How?

This is part 2 of a two-part series on MP elections. For Part 1 click here. 

Congress hopes the trio of Kamalnath, Scindia, Digvijay and the learnings from Gujarat will help it sail through. On the other hand, BJP hopes to romp home on the back of social welfare schemes of Shivraj, development and his popularity among the masses. In Part 1, we analyzed 5 factors which could have a bearing on results of Madhya Pradesh elections, in this part we analyze some other factors.

Farmer Factor

Farmers account for 70% of population and 83% of working population of the state. While it is true that MP records the highest agriculture growth in the country and Shivraj, the kisanputra, is credited with the turnaround in agriculture, it’s also noteworthy that more than 10,000 farmers have committed suicide in the state since 2003. The Mandsaur incident last year has not gone down well with the farming community.

The Congress is trying to exploit the anger and has announced complete farm-loan waiver if voted to power.

However, the ruling BJP claims that as the only state that provides zero-percent crop loans MP does not need such waiver. According to the BJP, more than Rs 33,000 crores have been provided to farmers through various schemes in the last one year. The party hopes it will be able to hold onto its support among the farmers through newly announced schemes like Krishi Utpadak Protsahan Yojana (₹ 265/quintal on wheat, ₹ 800 / quintal on Moong) and the MSP hike announced by central government which claims to provide 50% profit over cost of production. Ultimately, it all boils down to the pre-poll mood of the farmer.

Also Read: ADB approves loan to improve Madhya Pradesh’s irrigation system

Impact of JAYS & SAPAKS

An upper-caste community body SAPAKS, which has mostly government employees as members, has announced its intent to contest all 230 seats. It hopes to exploit the anger among the forward caste. It remains to be seen how much impact they can make.

JAYS, on the other hand, is an organisation which has been fighting for the protection of rights of Dalits and Adivasis. It recently presented a charter of demands to CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Earlier it was speculated that they would align with the Congress but they have announced that they will contest 80 seats, mostly reserved, on the symbol of Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP).

These organisations contesting separately could benefit the BJP as it would split the anti-BJP vote.

Sambal Yojana

Shivraj Singh Chouhan has recently launched an ambitious outstanding power bill waiver scheme and subsidised power scheme ‘Sambal’ for labourers and poor families. More than 2 crore people have registered under this scheme, out of the 5-crore-strong voting population. Under the scheme, ₹ 2800 crores of electricity bills have already been waived off.

The other recent welfare scheme ‘Mukhya Mantri Jan Kalyan Yojana’ takes care of the needs of poor from birth to death. Pregnant women get ₹ 16,000 worth of benefits pre and post delivery. ₹ 4 lakh compensation to family in case of death of bread earner, fees of students from standard 1 to PhD, and host of other benefits of this scheme are enough to lure voters. Shivraj is banking on this scheme to sail him through. 45% poor and lower-class people voted for the BJP in 2013 elections. The party aims to further consolidate this vote bank through ‘Sambal’.

Also Read: Promise of 1 Lakh Jobs: Why Shivraj’s Plan Isn’t Convincing 

Field Strategy of the Parties

It is widely acknowledged that while the BJP has a sizeable and strong organisation in the state, the Congress is bereft of such cadre presence. Kamalnath is trying to revive the party structure at the block and mandallevels. Emulating the BJP’s panna pramukh, the Congress is also creating its army of booth managers. To match the BJP’s IT Cell, the Congress has created a team of 65,000 cyber warriors.

Both parties have created hundreds of Whatsapp groups to disseminate their political messaging.

An election is all about the D-day management— getting your voter to the booth and slowing the pace of vote in weak booths. The BJP has mastered this art over the last few years and the Congress, too, is gearing up to give it a run for its money this time around.

Millennial Voter

While the BJP’s strategy is to highlight its significant achievements of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government, it faces challenge from millennial voters / young voters who have not seen the much-publicized dark era of Digvijay Singh. It is estimated that the state has around 50 lakh voters between 18-25 years. The BJP has started campaigns like Sarkar Sarkar Mein Fark Hai and Daave Nahin Pranam comparing state’s condition under Digvijay rule and under Shivraj rule to reinforce its message. It remains to be seen what the impact of this strategy is.

Also Read: 5 Points Digvijay Singh Made Seeking CBI Probe in Vyapam Scam 

Local Anti-Incumbency at MLA Level

As per a recent Dainik Bhaskar survey, 46% respondents are unhappy with their MLAs. This tends to negatively impact the performance of the party which has higher number of members in the assembly as evidenced in Gujarat and Karnataka. The BJP’s strategy elsewhere has been of denying tickets to large number of current MLAs to negate the impact of anti-incumbency.

In MP as well, there are reports of 70 – 100 MLAs being denied tickets, including some cabinet ministers. This may lead to rebellion and some of the denied MLAs may end up contesting as independents or on other party symbols. The BJP is likely to announce tickets very late to tackle rebellion. It is noteworthy that many MPs also want to contest the MLA elections.

The Digvijay Factor

Digvijay Singh is the only Congress leader who has a pan-state appeal. Kamalnath’s influence is limited to Mahakoshal while that of Scindia to Gwalior-Chambal. Digvijay enjoys the pulse of the state organisation and party cadre. He undertook a non-political Narmada parikrama, for 6 months, hoping that he would be made the CM candidate. However, his party has denied him a shot at the CM’s post. His support for Kamalnath clinched the deal in the latter’s favour.

Digvijay is a synonym for the dark ages in MP, when there was no electricity, no roads in the state. He is considered as the man responsible for making the state BIMARU. That’s why the Congress chose to sideline him.

Shivraj, the astute politician, has realised that it is important to bring Digvijay into the forefront. He attacked Digvijay in late July and called him anti-national for his remarks on Hindu terror. Digvijay retorted and dared Shivraj to arrest him. He led a procession to court arrest in Bhopal. All this has brought the limelight back on Digvijay. The BJP believes that Digvijay could have his own Mani Shankar Aiyyar moment and score a self-goal for the Congress just before the election.

To sum up, a complex interplay of a host of factors will determine who ultimately wins Madhya Pradesh. A cracker of an election is in the offing.

Battleground M.P. (11) : Factors which will determine who wins state elections

A complex interplay of caste, anti-incumbency, popularity ratings of leaders and the Mahagathbandhan will determine who will win Madhya Pradesh (Part 1)

A fascinating contest is on in Madhya Pradesh. While the Congress party is aiming to cash in on anti-incumbency and end its 15-year vanvaas (exile), the BJP is hoping to consolidate its position further and make the state its fortress. MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is embarking on a state-wide Jan Ashirwad Yatra covering all constituencies, to seek the blessings of the voters for a fourth consecutive term.

The Congress is trailing his route with its Poll Khol Yatra, in an attempt to expose the BJP government’s shortcomings.

No election is won because of a single factor, but rather, due to myriad factors. Likewise, who will win Madhya Pradesh is dependent upon several key factors which I have tried to capture, though this is not an exhaustive list.

Also Read: With Cong Win in MP Bypolls, BJP Will Be Wary of Anti-Incumbency

Social Engineering

Caste is king in MP, just like other Hindi-speaking states and many other parts of India. As per a recent CSDS study, 65 percent in MP vote on the basis of caste, which is the highest in the country. The BJP has traditionally received the backing of the upper caste and OBCs, who make up about 55 percent of the population.

The fact that tall leaders like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, ex-CM Uma Bharti, current State President Rakesh Singh all belong to the OBC community, has helped this cause.

SC-STs who make up 37 percent, and minorities who account for 8 percent of the population, have traditionally supported the Congress. In 2013, the BJP managed to gain traction among the SC-ST community and garnered higher support than the Congress.

(Source: CSDS Reports)
OBC Voting Preference Graph 

In 2018, these caste dynamics could change. The upper-caste of the state is unhappy with the BJP, as power positions have been taken over by OBCs; both the CM and state president belong to this community. Further, the chief minister’s stand that nobody can undo the reservation policy, reservation in promotions and the central government’s amendment in the SC-ST Act, overturning the Supreme Court order has not gone down well with a section of the upper-caste. Even if a section of disgruntled upper-caste voters abstains from voting, it could prove to be troublesome for the party.

On the other hand, the trio of Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Digvijaya Singh all belong to the upper caste (22 percent of the population). However, the Congress party has not yet come up with a strategy to exploit the anger amongst upper caste, possibly fearing the erosion of its Dalit vote bank if it woos upper castes.

Building the perfect coalition of caste in any seat is a tough task for both parties, especially given the contradictions and animosity among caste blocks.

Voter Turnout & NOTA

Turnout has been a key determinant of results of assembly elections. Normally, a higher turnout denotes anti-incumbency and the desire of voters to overthrow the government. Madhya Pradesh, however, doesn’t follow this trend. BJP came back to power in 2003, with a turnout (67.3 percent) higher than 1998 (60.2 percent). However, in subsequent elections, the turnout has witnessed an increase to 69.8 percent in 2008 and 70.8 percent in 2013. Despite this, the BJP has emerged victorious.

(Source: Election Commission of India)

The other factor which is increasingly playing a role is NOTA. Higher NOTA benefits the incumbent, as it denotes that the people are unhappy with the current government, but not confident about the Opposition being able to resolve their problems. In 2013 in MP, the NOTA vote share was 1.9 percent, which is quite high, and the BJP returned to power. NOTA polled more votes than the margin of victory in 24 seats.

It all boils down to voter mobilization, booth management and effective use of the get-out-to-vote strategy on polling day.

Factionalism in the Congress

It is an open secret that the state Congress unit is ridden with factionalism. There are not one or two, but seven to eight prominent groups led by Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Suresh Pachauri, Ajai Singh, Arun Yadav, Kantilal Bhuria etc. Most of them have pockets of influence in a specific region, but none of them statewide, except for Digvijay.

A Twitter war followed by a poster war broke out between the supporters of Kamal Nath and Scindia, as to who will be CM if the party wins. The state in-charge Deepak Babariya has been heckled in many meetings by supporters of various groups. In a recent Dainik Bhaskar survey, 55 percent opined that factionalism is the biggest challenge for the Congress. 30 percent feel the Congress is not able to provide a viable alternative due to in-fighting. After Kamal Nath’s appointment as PCC Chief, in the initial days, the various factions did put up a united show.

However, in-fighting has once again come to the fore front.

Popularity of Chief Minister Chouhan and the ‘Modi factor’

Elections in India are increasingly becoming Presidential-style. Chouhan is very popular among the masses in the state. Even the recent ABP-C Voter survey which predicted a Congress victory shows that Shivraj is leading the pack in the most-preferred CM candidate race. Even on a combined basis, Congress leaders are lagging behind Shivraj. Due to Chouhan’s women-oriented schemes like Ladli Laxmi, Janani Suraksha, Kanya Vivah / Nikah, his popularity among women is higher than men.

In recent polls, it has been seen that the party whose CM candidate leads the popularity ratings, normally goes on to win the elections.

The Congress needs to be wary of this and re-think its strategy of not declaring a CM candidate. Modi’s popularity in the Hindi heartland is accepted even by the Opposition. Though Rahul Gandhi is closing the gap with Modi, the latter can swing 2-3 percent votes in BJP’s favor in the last 2 weeks before polls, as evidenced in Karnataka.

(Source: ABP-C Voter survey)
Who is the most preferred CM candidate?

Congress + BSP Alliance

The Congress is trying to form an alliance with Mayawati’s BSP in the state to take on the BJP. The BSP has, on an average, recorded 7 percent vote share in the last 5 elections in the state. The party enjoys 15 percent support among the Dalits in the state. Had the Congress and the BSP contested together in 2013, the contest would have been close, with the grand alliance bagging 102, and BJP 124 seats, down by 41 from their tally of 165.

In the past, the BSP has proved its ability to transfer its votes to an alliance partner. However, the challenge lies in whether the Congress voter would vote for the BSP candidate in seats allotted to Mayawati. Till date, there is no clarity on the alliance. Contradictory statements from both sides have added to the confusion. The alliance will make the contest interesting.

In Part 2, we will have a look at more such factors.

Battleground MP (10):Apart From Turnout On Voting Day, Keep An Eye On NOTA

Turnout plays a key role in determining results of assembly elections. Normally, higher turnout denotes anti-incumbency and desire of voters to overthrow the government. Lower turnout normally denotes voters are not enthused about overthrowing government and some disillusioned supporters prefer sitting at home. At the same time, NOTA has emerged as a powerful tool in the hands of the people to show their displeasure with any political dispensation.

Increase In Turnout Leads To Change In Government

An analysis of 17 big states which went to polls along with/after Lok Sabha elections in 2014 confirms this trend. Out of the 12 states, which witnessed an increase in turnout, 11 voted out the state governments/witnessed change of government. Out of the five states, which witnessed a decline in turnout, three incumbents retained the state.

MP And Chhattisgarh Don’t Follow This Trend

The two states, however, don’t follow the trend. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came back to power in MP in 2003 with an increase in turnout of 67.3 per cent versus 60.2 per cent registered in 1998. However, in subsequent elections despite an increase in turnout from 67.3 per cent (in 2003) to 69.8 per cent (in 2008) to 70.8 per cent (in 2013), the incumbent BJP has managed to retain power. Not only this, its vote share has also witnessed an increase from 42.5 per cent in 2003 to 44.9 per cent in 2013.

BJP stormed back to power in Chhattisgarh in 2003 with an increase in turnout of 71.3 per cent versus 60.2 per cent registered in 1998. In 2008, in line with the normal trend, BJP retained power when the turnout declined by 0.7 per cent. However, in 2013, despite an increase in turnout from 70.6 per cent to 75.3 per cent, the incumbent BJP managed to score a hat trick. Not only this, its vote share has also witnessed an increase from 39.3 per cent in 2003 to 42.3 per cent in 2013.

BJP Did Well In Regions Which Witnessed Higher Turnout In MP

BJP fares better in regions like Malwa North, Malwa Tribal and Mahakoshal where turnout was higher than the state average of 70.9 per cent in 2013. In Mahakoshal, BJP’s recorded vote share of 45.7 per cent, Malwa Tribal 45.8 per cent and Malwa North 51.8 per cent against a state average of 44.9 per cent. In regions such as Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh, where turnout was lower than state average in 2013, the party recorded a vote share of 37.9 per cent and 39.1 per cent respectively.

NOTA Is Increasingly Playing A Role As Well

The other factor which is increasingly playing a role is NOTA. Higher NOTA benefits the incumbent as it denotes that people are unhappy with it, but not confident whether the opposition will be able to solve their problems. Top four NOTA voting states since Lok Sabha elections have been Bihar (2.4 per cent), Gujarat (1.8 per cent), West Bengal (1.5 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (1.3 per cent). The common thread is that all returned incumbent governments to power.

In the 2013 elections in MP, the NOTA vote share was 1.9 per cent which is very high, and BJP returned to power.

In the 2013 elections for 24 seats, NOTA polled more votes than the margin of victory. Congress lost 13 seats out of the 24. Both parties are gearing up to convert the NOTA votes in their favour, specially the Congress. People of Bundelkhand have been demanding a separate state since long and denial of their demands may lead to boycott of polls or increase in the NOTA percentage.

Chhattisgarh holds the record for the highest NOTA score till date. In 2013 elections, 3.1 per cent NOTA votes were polled in the state affected by naxalism and BJP returned to power. On 12 seats, NOTA polled more votes than the margin of victory. Congress lost seven seats out of these 12. The southern region of Chhattisgarh, which has 13 seats, and is most affected by Maoist activities, polled 5.5 per cent NOTA votes. Considering the situation remains the same, we could see NOTA playing a crucial role again.

Turnout Has Increased Due To Close Nature Of Contest And Increase In Literacy Levels

According to the “rational‐voter model”, turnout tends to be higher where elections are closely fought, and literacy is higher. Elections in Chhattisgarh have been super close with less than 1 per cent vote share gap between the two parties in 2013. MP too has witnessed acrimonious contest between the BJP and Congress for almost four decades now. Literacy levels in Chhattisgarh have increased from 64.6 per cent in 2001 to 70.3 per cent in 2011, while that in MP from 63.7 per cent to 69.3 per cent during the same period.

Despite an increase in turnout, why has the BJP been able to retain MP and Chhattisgarh.

There are primarily two reasons I can think of:

Significant Erosion Of Congress Organisation

The BJP has a sizeable and strong organisation in both the states. The Congress party’s organisation is in shambles. The party is bereft of cadres. On the D-Day, you need volunteers at each booth to get out your supporters to vote. The Congress is clearly lacking the strength. The BJP is credited with having one of the best organisation structures in MP after Gujarat. It was among the first states where a BJP government was installed.

High Popularity Of The Government

MP became a BIMARU state under Congress rule with poor infrastructure, bad roads, erratic power supply, negative agricultural growth, etc. The BJP government’s single-minded development drive nursed the state back to health. Today, both MP and Chhattisgarh are amongst the fastest growing states in India. The social sector schemes have improved quality of life of the poor and the downtrodden. Generally, people are happy with performance of the governments and hence will come out in large numbers to vote for the BJP.

To sum up, as the BJP has mastered the art of booth management over the last few years, voter turnout and NOTA are likely to play a crucial role this time too in 2018. Can the Congress turn NOTA in its favour?

Battleground MP (9): Why Congress needs an elephant ride to reach destination

Note: BSP has gone ahead and announced 22 seats for MP, putting pressure on Congress. 


The Congress party is in talks with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to form an alliance in Madhya Pradesh to unseat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power. BSP has decent influence among the Dalit community specially in areas bordering Uttar Pradesh and has on an average 10,000 votes per seat. This is significant considering the average margin per seat was 17,000 odd votes in 2013. Congress hopes a swing of 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent in its favour, and seamless transfer of votes from the BSP will help the party end its ‘vanvaas’ in the state.

BSP Has Tried To Make inroads in BJP-Congress territory with little success

BSP won 11 seats and cornered 7 per cent vote share in 1993 elections held for undivided Madhya Pradesh. It has recorded an average vote share of 7 per cent in the last five elections in the state. The party enjoys 15 per cent support among the Dalit community, which account for 16 per cent population of the state. There are 35 seats reserved for Dalits. Scheduled Castes or SC high population districts are Ujjain, Sehore, Chhatrapur, Datia, Tikamgarh, Bhind, Sagar and Dewas (>25 per cent). Chamars and Bahalis are the prominent sub castes among the Dalits accounting for 60 per cent of SC population.

BSP’s vote share is still in the 7 per cent range, but its seat tally has drastically reduced to half – currently, four in MP and one in Chhattisgarh. It has not been able to challenge the dominance of BJP-Congress in the state. Lack of tall state level leaders and party’s leadership (both Kanshiram and Mayawati) focus on Uttar Pradesh has negatively impacted its prospects in the state. Many leaders of BSP have left the party and joined the Congress or the BJP.

BSP Has Pockets Of Influence In Areas Bordering UP And Among Dalits In The State


BSP has pockets of influence in the Vindhya and Chambal regions bordering UP. These regions have 90 seats. The premise of the alliance efforts is that whatever votes BSP receives is anti-BJP and if Congress and BSP join hands, these votes can be seamlessly transferred. The party has won unique 13 seats, finished runner up in 34 seats and secured third position with more than 10 per cent vote share in 69 seats in the last three elections. Almost half of BSP votes are of party cadre and half due to influence of candidate.


In Chambal and Vindhya regions, BJP won 61 out of 90 seats in 2013. Had the alliance fructified, its tally in these regions would have reduced to 29 (-32). Dalits account for one-sixth of the population and Congress aims to consolidate its position among this vote bank in an alliance with the BSP. In Vindhya and Chambal regions, the alliance would have been significantly ahead of BJP in 2013 in term of vote share.



Congress + BSP Would Have Won In 2008 And Made BJP Sweat In 2013

Had the Congress and the BSP contested together in 2008, the alliance would have won the elections assuming both partners would have been able to transfer their votes without leakages. The fact that Uma Bharti was contesting separately would have helped the alliance. In 2013, the contest would have been close with mahagathbandhan bagging 102 (+40) and BJP 124 seats (-41). They would have succeeded in preventing a more than two-thirds BJP sweep.



BSP Has Proven Its Ability To Transfer Votes, But Reverse Transfer Is Key

In the past, BSP has proved its ability to transfer its votes to alliance partners. However, the challenge lies in whether the Congress voter would vote for the BSP candidate in seats allotted to Mayawati. In 1996, when the party allied with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, while its seat tally remained the same, Congress improved its tally by five seats. In the recent by-polls in UP in Gorakhpur, Kairana and Phulpur, though there wasn’t a formal alliance, BSP cadre and supporters voted for the SP and Rashtriya Lok Dal candidates on her one call.

BSP Has Weakened Nationally Since 2013 MP Elections While Opposition Has Branded BJP As Anti-Dalit

While the party has decent support among the SC community, it has failed to garner support among Scheduled Tribe (ST) community, which is its big weakness. Even in 2013, its vote share in ST seats reduced to almost half.



Post 2013, its support among Dalits declined further. BSP failed to open its account in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. All India Dalit support for the party reduced from 20 per cent in 2009 to 14 per cent in 2014. BJP has been able to make inroads, specially, among the youth and non Jatav sub castes among the SCs on the plank that Jatavs (Mayawati sub-caste) has received the majority benefits of reservation. Post 2014 victory of the BJP, the opposition has been trying to spread the propaganda that BJP is anti-Dalit based on some cow vigilante incidents and a Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of the SC-ST Act.

Contradictory Statements From Both Sides Have Created Confusion Among Cadre

BSP as per reports is demanding a package deal, alliance in all three states, which go to polls in November and a pan India level alliance for 2019. The alliance for sure will increase the headache of the BJP and the party has formulated a strategy of weaning away influential BSP leaders and bringing them into the party fold. However, till date there is no clarity on the alliance. There are various numbers floating around, however, in my opinion 30 seats for BSP is a win-win deal for both parties.

It Is in BJP’s Interest That Alliance Doesn’t Fructify

BJP would hope that the alliance talks fail, BSP contests separately and maintains its historical performance. Whatever vote BSP garners is essentially anti-BJP. If BSP weakens, then these votes could go to Congress and harm BJP’s prospects.

To sum up, a Congress-BSP alliance will make the contest interesting in MP. The key for success of this alliance is seamless transferability without leakages. How much BSP can hold onto its previous support among Dalits and how much BJP has been able to soothe the nerves of the community through SC-ST Amendment Act will decide the course of the elections. Stay tuned.

Battleground MP (7): SC-ST Voters could play the role of kingmaker

Madhya Pradesh has one of the highest SC-ST population in India.  It is evident that, this large section plays an important role in state politics too. This community has the power to make or break any government.

  • The share of these communities in the total population of the state is 37%, in which is SC 16% and ST 21%.

  • Out of the total 51 districts, 19 districts have a tribal majority.

  • The tribal community has high population in Jhabua, Barwani, Dindewari, Mandla and Dhar districts, whereas Ujjain, Sehore, Chhatarpur, Datia, Tikamgarh are high population SC districts.

  • In 137 assembly constituencies of MP, the number of SC-ST voters is more than 20 per cent. This number is more than half of the total number of seats (230) in the assembly.

SC-ST the traditional Congress voter has shifted to the BJP in recent polls

The state’s electoral politics has revolved around the BJP and Congress. Caste based political parties such as Kanshiram’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Gondwana Ganatpantra Party (GGP) have entered the fray and tried to make the contest multi-party. However, both the parties have not been able to extend their influence beyond their caste groups. BSP has decent support among SC voters, specially “Jatavs“ which comprise of 47% of SC population, Mayawati herself belongs to this sub-caste. But the party has failed to make traction among ST voters. Among ST’s, Bhil comprise of 40% and Gond 32%. GGP support is confined to the Gond sub-caste.

SC-ST community can play the role of King Maker in this election

The consolidation of votes of this community in favor of a party, propels it to form the government in the state. If we talk about history, there has been a tough competition between Congress and BJP for this vote bank. In 2003 and 2008 while Congress received higher support of SC-STs, in 2013 state elections as well as 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP has taken the lead among these voters.

However, as the vote share of BJP has registered an increase from the community, its share of seats in the reserved seats has declined.

The magic figure of the majority in the assembly is 116. Total 82 seats are reserved, 35 seats for SC candidates and 47 for ST. This figure is only 34 seats less than the majority. In such a scenario, for both the BJP and the Congress, the performance of the party in these reserved seats is of great significance.

In 2003 BJP won 30 SC reserved seats, 25 in 2008 and 28 seats in 2013. In 2013, BSP won 3 seats. BJP won 40 seats out of ST reserved seats in 2003, 29 in 2008 and 31 in 2013. 

Parties formulating strategy to woo the SC-ST community

Along with the ruling BJP, opposition Congress is also involved in formulating an electoral strategy around SC-ST community. BJP is trying to woo the SC-ST voters through its ambitious Mukhyamantri Jan Kalyan Yojana (Sambal). Central government’s decision to nullify the Supreme Court judgement by amending the SC-ST Act is also expected to earn it some brownie points. Congress is also trying to restore its traditional vote bank. Its efforts to form an alliance with the BSP and GGP is part of the strategy.

If Congress and BSP had contested together as alliance partners in 2013 elections, they would have won 14 out of 35 seats reserved for the SCs, twice their current combined tally. (BJP won 28 seats, whereas Congress 4 and BSP 3 seats in 2013).  

In Madhya Pradesh, whoever gets 45% vote share is assured of victory. It would not be wrong to say that SC-ST voters who have a 37% population are in a situation to determine who forms the government in the state. Who will win this battleground, largely depends on which way the SC-ST voters swing. Along with the political parties, everyone is watching their step!




Battleground MP (6): Social Engineering to play an important role

The scenario in the state is heating up as we approach the elections date. While Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has embarked on a state-wide Jan Ashirwad Yatra, Congress is trailing the route with its Poll Khol Yatra. Allegations and counter allegations are flying thick and fast. Two recent surveys have given contradictory predictions. While Dainik Bhaskar survey has predicted BJP will retain power, ABP-C Voter poll has predicted a Congress win.

Caste plays a key role in elections in India

Caste is an important factor across states in elections in India. The general perception is that caste rules the roost in Hindi speaking states. However, an ADR survey in Karnataka revealed that 67% people are likely to vote on the basis of caste. 55% of Indians prefer a political leader from their own caste and religion, found the study, ‘Politics And Society Between Elections 2018’, carried out by the Azim Premji University (APU) and Lokniti. Madhya Pradesh leads the pack with 65% in the survey.

After the Mandal movement, caste politics has dominated elections in many states.  However, MP was untouched. Digvijay Singh’s term from 1993 to 2003 confirms this. It came to the centre stage in MP in 2003 when BJP anointed OBC leader Uma Bharti as it’s CM candidate. Madhya Pradesh has 33 percent OBCs, 22 percent upper caste, 21 percent STs, 16 percent SCs, 6 percent Muslims and 2 percent others. BJP has traditionally received the support of upper caste and OBCs, while Congress SC-ST and minorities.

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OBCs support the BJP

In Madhya Pradesh, after Digvijay Singh, the three Chief Ministers, Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan all come from the OBC community. BJP State head Rakesh Singh and ex PCC President Arun Yadav also hail from the OBC community. This class is unhappy with the Congress for removing Arun Yadav unceremoniously from the post. In such a situation, if the Congress does not manage to convince the community, it may suffer losses in the elections.

Congress is trying to activate the OBC face of Gujarat, Alpesh Thakur and Patidar leader Hardik Patel. If we take a look at the previous elections, BJP has on an average received 45% and Congress 29% OBC votes. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, OBC support for BJP increased to 66% on the back of consolidation as the PM hails from the community. One-third of BJP votes in 2013 are accounted for by the OBCs.

OBC Voting Preference Graph (Source: CSDS Reports)

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BJP’s traditional voters are angry

The traditional voter of the BJP, the upper castes are unhappy with the party because of the reasons listed below:

  • Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s statement that nobody can undo reservations.

  • Both top posts in BJP, Chief Minister as well as BJP President, are held by OBCs.

  • Modi government’s amendment to SC/ST Act nullifying the Supreme Court judgement.

52% Brahmins and 53% Rajputs have supported the party in the last three elections. Congress is trying to exploit the disenchantment among the upper castes by projecting Kamalnath and Scindia. 23% Brahmins and 25% Rajputs have supported Congress in last three polls. If any of the two leaders are made the Chief Ministerial candidate, the graph of support for the Congress among the upper caste could witness an increase. With an eye on upper caste vote bank, SAPAKS Samaj Society, an anti-reservation front is threatening to field candidates in all 230 seats across the state and spoil the chances of BJP.

SC-ST voters could play the role of kingmaker

SC-ST votes have traditionally been with the Congress. In 2003 and 2008 Congress received higher support, however, in 2013, BJP outscored Congress and received higher support. 82 seats are reserved for the SC-ST. There are 137 seats where SC-ST population in more than 20%. BSP enjoys 14%-15% support among SCs but has negligible traction among STs.

BJP has tried to allay the fears of the SC-ST community by nulling the Supreme Court judgement and trying to compensate for the loss of some upper caste votes. However, OBCs and SCs as well as Upper Caste and SCs have a history of antagonism and are unlikely to vote together.  With a section of upper caste unhappy with BJP, SC-ST voters could play the role of kingmaker this time around. To win while BJP has to target minimum 40% support from SC-ST, the number would be much higher at 60% for Congress.

SC Voting Preference

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ST Voting Preference

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Muslims in large numbers vote for Shivraj  

Madhya Pradesh is one of the states where BJP gets the highest Muslim support. 14 percent of Muslim voters in the state vote for BJP. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has a secular image which helps.

45 percent vote share generally assures victory

Who wins Madhya Pradesh, has generally been decided by 45 percent of the votes? In such a situation, BJP must keep its flock of traditional voters the upper caste and OBCs together. If alliance of Congress with BSP materializes, then BJP will have to look at 48% vote share to ensure victory.  On the other hand, Congress is trying to create cracks in the core vote bank of BJP. Like Gujarat, both main parties could gain vote share at the expense of other smaller parties.

How BJP & INC could get to the magic figure

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Whoever gets the caste combination right on each seat is likely to win

In the end, it all boils down to caste combinations in each seat and which party gets it right. The social engineering formula of BJP nationally is targeted towards unifying the Hindu vote, but this could face challenges in MP as it is very difficult to keep all sections of the society happy.


Battleground MP (5): BJP swept the state in Presidential style elections in 2014

For the first time after Indira Gandhi, elections in India held in Presidential style

Continuing with its good show in the state assembly elections, BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls held in 2014 bagging 27 out of 29 seats in the state. For the first time ever, BJP crossed 50% vote share in general elections. At the same time, the Congress, who was occupying power in the country, was reduced to just two seats. The Modi wave gripped the entire nation and he travelled more than three lakh kilometre holding 437 rallies across the country.  Modi’s aggressive attack on the corruption hit Congress created an atmosphere in BJP’s favor across the country.

Shivraj factor played a key role

The number of BJP supporters who voted for the party because Modi was the Prime Ministerial candidate was 27 per cent across the country. In Madhya Pradesh, this figure was only 15 per cent. Even if Modi was not the PM candidate, 48 per cent BJP supporters would have voted for BJP across the country.  In Madhya Pradesh, this number was 14 per cent higher at 62 per cent. The figures reveal that Modi wave was lesser in MP and Shivraj factor also played a key role in BJP’s thumping victory.

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Congress could retain only traditional seats of Chhindwara and Guna

Kamalnath and Scindia prevented humiliation of Congress and a BJP clean sweep by holding onto their stronghold seats of Chhindwara and Guna. Chhindwara is the same seat, which Congress won even in the 1977 general elections held in the anti-Emergency wave, when even Congress lost the Lok Sabha polls and the first non-Congress government was installed in the country. In 1977, Congress candidate Gargi Shankar  Mishra won from Chhindwara. Following Mishra’s death,  in 1980 Congress for the first time fielded Kamal Nath who was Sanjay Gandhi’s classmate. Since then he has held onto this seat.

Big victory for BJP, margin in 24 out of 27 seats more than one lakh votes

The victory of BJP was so huge, that it can be gauged by difference of one lakh plus votes in almost all seats won by the party. BJP was leading in 192 of the 230 assembly segments while Congress in 36 only.

All sections supported BJP whereas Congress suffered from infighting

BJP got support from all sections of the society, upper, middle and lower classes, where the party left the Congress far behind. At the same time, the poor class provided some relief to the Congress. 49% voted for BJP whereas 47% for Congress. More women than men (+6%) voted for the BJP mainly because of the popularity of woman centric schemes of Shivraj Singh Chouhan like Ladli Laxmi, Kanydaan / Nikah and Gaon Ki Beti.

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Together with Modi – Shivraj jodi’s charisma, the infighting among Congress factions  also damaged its prospects. According to CSDS survey 38% people considered infighting as the key reason behind poor performance of Congress.

To sum up, the assembly elections at the end of this year will be challenging for both the parties. While BJP is striving to repeat its 2014 performance, Congress is trying to do a gharwapis after 15 years of vanvaas.

Battleground MP (4): Shivraj + Modi Factor Leads BJP to 3rd Consecutive Victory in 2013

BJP stages third consecutive win in 2013

The beginning of the second decade of 21st century changed the direction of Indian politics forever. This was the time when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was at its peak. Massive crowds from all walks of life and in various parts of the country were protesting against the corrupt Congress government at the centre. Madhya Pradesh assembly elections were held in the middle of all this and just before the 2014 Parliamentary elections along with Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram.

The overwhelming mandate in the elections in favour of BJP and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan broke all records. For the third consecutive time, BJP stormed to power.

In this election, BJP’s vote share increased to 45.7 percent (+8.1%). Its tally increased to 165 (+22). On the other hand, Congress party recorded 37.6 percent vote share (+4.7%), however its tally reduced to 58 (-23). BSP tally also declined to 4 seats (-3) and vote share to 6.4% (-2.6%).


BJP benefited from return of Uma Bharti

BJP got the benefit of return of fire brand leader Uma Bharti who had demolished Digvijay Singh’s fort in the 2003 election.  Uma did many public meetings for the BJP and helped to garner support especially among the OBCs. Community support for BJP increased from 41% in 2008 to 44% in 2013. In 2008, Uma Bharti had contested separately by forming Janshakti Party. Uma’s party had won 5 seats with 4.7 percent vote share, and spoiled the game of BJP candidates in many seats (17-18).  

 BJP gets votes from every section of society

With the support of traditional voters – upper caste, OBCs, upper and middle class voters, BJP left Congress 8 to 10 per cent behind in the race. Congress gave tough fight to BJP for the votes of poor section.

Both BJP and Congress received 44 percent of the poor class votes. Amongst the males, 44 percent voted for the BJP while 36 percent for the Congress. 46 percent of the women voted for the BJP and 37 percent for the Congress. BJP got the most support from the rural, OBC, upper castes, young & middle age (26 to 45 years) and the matric pass voters.

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SC-ST slips from Congress hands, BJP gained trust of Muslims 

For the first time in the last three elections, Congress party’s traditional vote bank of SC-STs shifted to BJP. According to CSDS post poll survey, the BJP’s vote share among STs increased by 15% and SCs by 8%. While support of Congress from STs along witnessed an increase of 6%, its tally among ST reserved seats declined by 2. The gain of vote share did not turn translate into seats. BJP also succeeded in increasing its support among Muslims from 15% to 17% thanks to the secular image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

ST Voting Preference

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Shivraj the first choice of public for Chief Minister

In 2013, Shivraj Singh Chauhan was the public’s first choice for the post of chief minister. According to the post poll survey of CSDS, about 44% of voters wanted to see Shivraj as CM. Even 20 percent of Congress voters wanted Shivraj as CM. Congress party made young Jyotiraditya Scindia head of its election campaign committee. However, Scindia could not even stand before Shivraj and remained behind in the popularity race by a gap of almost 20 percent.

To sum up, 2018 elections is all about how Congress effectively exploits the anti-incumbency against Shivraj and whether it can put up a united fight. Without unity Congress doesn’t stand a chance as Shivraj leads the popularity charts even in surveys which predict a Congress win.

Battleground MP (3): Janata Party halted Congress winning streak, BJP made Madhya Pradesh its citadel

The political scenario in the state of Madhya Pradesh, which is known as the Heart of Incredible India has remained steady. In the Legislative Assembly that came into existence on November 1, 1956, after Independence, the Congress party maintained its dominance till 1967 like in the rest of India. In 1967 Samyukta Vidhayak Dal a coalition of Jan Sangh (parent body of BJP), Praja Socialist Party, Samyukta Socialist Party, Bhartiya Kranti Dal, defectors from Congress and smaller local parties came together to form the first non Congress government in the state. The government lasted for around 20 months, post which Congress cane to power due to inherent contradictions in the alliance.

After the Emergency in 1977, the Janata Party shook the roots of the Congress in the state elections held in an anti-Congress atmosphere which had gripped the entire nation. This was the second jolt to Congress in the state. Jan Sangh leaders Kailash Joshi, Virendra Saklecha and Sunderlal Patwa were Chief Ministers during this 3 year tenor till 1980.

In the aftermath of the Ram mandir movement, BJP formed the first ever government in 1990. Madhya Pradesh became one of the first BJP ruled states along with Rajasthan in the country. Although Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa’s government could run only three years, was dismissed under the pretext of threat on secular fabric of the country, this government laid the foundation of BJP era in Madhya Pradesh.

After the Emergency, the Janata Party demolished Congress supremacy by winning 320 seats in the 1977’s assembly elections. The government was formed under the leadership of Kailash Joshi. After the dissolution of the Janata Party, elections were held in 1980 and the newly formed BJP won 60 seats with 30.3% votes, while the Janata Party got reduced by to 2 seats with just 2.9% votes. Congress won by 246 seats and returned to power.

After 1980, Congress won again in the 1985 elections. After the Palampur Adhiveshan in 1989, the BJP aggresively pursued the Ram mandir movement. During the peak of the movement, elections were held in some states in 1990, in which the BJP surprised everyone with unexpected results. BJP government was formed in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. On March 4, 1990, Bhairav Singh Shekhawat in Rajasthan and on 5 March 1990, Sunderlal Patwa took oath as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

After the Babri demolition in 1992, the Patwa government was dismissed on 15 December 1992. Elections were held in 1993 and the Congress won 174 seats in MP under the leadership of Digvijay Singh. BJP could win only 117 seats, despite 38.3% vote share, compared to 40.7% of the Congress.

In the elections held in 1998, the public once again showed faith in the leadership of Digvijay Singh. Congress formed the government with 172 seats and the BJP reached 119 seats with marginal gain of 2 seats. In both the partie’s vote share, there was a close difference of just 1.3%.

Elections in 2003 were held when significant anti incumbency had developed against the 10 year long reign of the Digvijay Singh government. BJP made OBC leader and Ram Lalla movement’s fire brand leader Uma Bharati as CM candidate. Under Uma’s leadership, BJP demolished Diggie’s fort and destroyed the stronghold of Congress.

Congress candidate won 173 seats and Congress just 38 seats. But Uma Bharti could remain as Chief Minister only for 252 days and resigned from the post after warrant was issued against her in the 1994 Hubli riots. BJP made Babulal Gaur as CM, but he could remain CM only for 15 months.

BJP entrusted the responsibility of Chief Ministership to Shivraj Singh Chouhan on November 29, 2005 after Babulal Gaur. After that whatever happened, is in front of everyone. In the 2008 and 2013 elections held during the UPA regime, the BJP managed to retain power in the state under the leadership of Chouhan. In 2008, with the loss of 30 seats, the BJP could muster 143 seats. Uma Bharti formed the Bharatiya Janashakti Party and contested separately which resulted in a loss of some seats to the BJP. Uma Bharati’s party won 5 seats and recorded 4.7% vote share. Uma Bharti returned to BJP fold in 2013. With Uma back and Shivraj-Modi factor, BJP registered a 8.1% increase in vote share and won the 165 Assembly seats (+22).

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Except two non-Congress governments before 1990, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress was in the pole position in the 20th century, the 21st century in Madhya Pradesh belongs to BJP and it has emerged as its stronghold second only to Gujarat under the leadership of Shivraj Singh Chauhan. While In Gujarat, BJP won its sixth consecutive term in 2017, in Madhya Pradesh it is on the way to win for the fourth consecutive time. Interesting battle on the cards…

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Battleground MP (2): Its Mama vs Rajas

With Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh will have assembly elections by the end of the year. A few months later, the Lok Sabha elections will also be held, that is why these elections are being touted as the semi-finals for the Delhi throne. Nearly 10 per cent of the BJP strength in Lok Sabha (26/282), comes from Madhya Pradesh and the party is in power in the state for three consecutive terms.

While Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been successful in creating an image of  ‘Vikas Purush’ the challenge this time is of saving the chair. The defeat in Karnataka has dented the invincibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah. Congress smells a chance and is pushing its limit to come back to power after 15 years of vanvas. Madhya Pradesh is important for the BJP’s scheme of things as the voters of the state contributed in the huge victory of 2014 general elections by giving almost 90% seats (27 of 29) to the BJP.

With less than a year left for the general elections, BJP does not want to take any kind of risk. Similarly Congress is not in the mood to slow down after taking lessons from 2013 defeat. The BJP believes that the rule of Mama (Shivraj) will continue, while the Congress hopes that Kamal Nath’s experience and Jyotiraditya Scindia’s youthful zeal will create  magic.

Both groups are trying hard to create a positive atmosphere 

Congress President Rahul Gandhi, on the anniversary of the Mandsaur shootout this year sharpened the attack on Shivraj for farmer suicides in the state and declared that the party will waive the debts of farmers if Congress is voted to power. This has put the BJP government on the back foot.

Shivraj has been opposing farm loan waivers on the plank that it is not the solution for agri distress and his government has done a lot for the farmers (-10% crop loans, bonus on crops, price insurance scheme etc.). Since BJP governments in Maharashtra and UP have implemented farm loan waiver scheme, this has put the Shivraj government in a quandary.

At the same time, after intense speculations BJP has decided to contest under Shivraj Singh Chouhan, while at the same time organization is likely to have a greater say in strategy formulation and ticket distribution. As per some reports, BJP is planning to deny tickets to several MLAs and ministers to reduce the impact of the anti-incumbency. BJP is trying to cash in on the popularity of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the developmental work done by his government, whereas Congress is harping on farmer suicides, incidents of rape, vyapam and illegal mining. Despite efforts by both groups there is no hawa in favour of any party, probably because its too early in the game.

Congress is wooing Mayawati and other smaller parties to sail through

Congress (37%) is trying to form a mahagathbandhan (MGB) and talking to BSP (7%), SP and GGP (2%). In 2013, if this alliance was in place, MGB would have received 46% vote share compared to 45% of BJP and it would have been a tight contest.

The talks have not yet been frozen as there is a disagreement on the number of seats BSP should contest. There are also talks that the alliance could be limited to Vindhya and Chambal where BSP has good presence. Even if the alliance is formed, it will be a big challenge for these parties to transfer their base votes to each other. In the absence of alliance BSP could spoil the game of congress in as many as 50-60 seats.

Confused strategy of Congress

Congress is jumping from one issue to another and there is still confusion about its electoral strategy. First Congress called for a farmer protest from June 1 to 10, Rahul came on 6th, in between party carried a bullock cart protest against rising prices of fuel and raked up the issue of fake voters. Different groups are driving their own agenda and co-ordination is seen lacking. Infighting is rampant and BJP is reaping its benefits. “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) factor provides strength to BJP’s bid to power.

Its Raja vs Mama in MP

BJP is trying to make the contest a Mama (Shivraj) versus Raja (Diggi, Nath, Scindia) contest. BJP is projecting Mama as son of the soil, kisanputra, person with a humble background, messiah of the poor and downtrodden and claiming Congress is as a party of Rajas and Maharajs, its leaders born with a silver spoon having no clue about the plight of the people of the state.

Its also trying to make the contest apna versus paraya, claiming Kamal Nath is an outsider, with no real base in the state, outside his fiefdom (parliamentary constituency of Chhindwara).  Its also trying to make the contest naamdar (Scindia) versus kaamdaar (Shivraj).

The elections for the 15th Assembly will be the most interesting for the Madhya Pradesh assembly that came into existence on November 1, 1956.

Battleground MP (1): While Congress is hoping for a gharwapsi, BJP hopes to make it another Gujarat

The state election in Madhya Pradesh is due in November 2018, alongside elections in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. While the Indian National Congress (INC) is hoping for a ghar wapsi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is aiming for a fourth consecutive victory under the leadership of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

It’s a must-win election for the BJP after the setback in Karnataka. The elections lined up towards the end of the year are touted as the semi-finals to the Lok Sabha election in 2019. Madhya Pradesh sends 29 members to Parliament and is key to the scheme of things in 2019, as the party won 27 of the 29 seats in the 2014 general election. Any loss here would send out a wrong signal just before the Lok Sabha polls.

Bipolar contest

Madhya Pradesh has essentially witnessed a bipolar contest with a battle between the Congress and the BJP. Unlike in many neighbouring states, small or regional parties have not had much success here in state elections. The first BJP government in the state was formed in 1990 in the aftermath of the Ram Mandir movement, under the leadership of Sunder Lal Patwa. However, it lasted only till 1993 as the government was dismissed. From 1993 to 2003, the Congress governed the state under the leadership of Digvijaya Singh. In 2000, the state was bifurcated and Chhattisgarh was carved out, honouring a long-standing demand.

In 2003, the first elections held after the bifurcation, the BJP romped home under the leadership of firebrand leader Uma Bharti. In 2005, leadership changes were effected and Chouhan became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Under his leadership, the BJP won elections in 2008 and 2013.

Regional parties trying to make a mark, with little success

Since the early 1990s, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has emerged as the third largest player in the state, with influence only in areas bordering Uttar Pradesh and with an average vote share of 6-7 per cent. The Samajwadi Party (SP) has also displayed good presence with an average vote share of 2-3 per cent. However, its influence has reduced substantially in the last two elections. While the SP bagged seven seats in 2003, the BSP bagged a similar number in 2008 but was reduced to four seats in 2013.

The Congress is exploring options of forming a Mahagathbandhan (MGB) to take on the BJP and is in talks with the BSP and SP. In the 2013 assembly election, the BJP recorded 44.9 per cent vote share and Congress, 36.4 per cent. Had the Congress, BSP, and SP contested together, the gap between the BJP and MGB would have reduced to just 1 per cent.

Congress hopes to benefit from anti-incumbency

The Congress is hoping to make a comeback by exploiting any anti-incumbency sentiment, which is natural to arise against a 15-year-old government, Gujarat being an apt and recent example. It is targeting the BJP government on agricultural distress, farmer suicides, crimes against women and below-national-average health indicators of the state. Congress strategists are buoyed by a Centre for the Study of Developing Societies survey, which says that the Congress would win in 2018. However, the sample size is only 980, and so, the results are not to be taken seriously in my opinion.

BJP expects to win on Chouhan + Modi factor

The BJP expects to win on the back of the development track record of Chouhan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Madhya Pradesh, under Chouhan, has excelled, especially on the economic and social fronts. It is the second-fastest growing state (8.1 per cent compounded annual growth rate against national average of 6.9 per cent) after Gujarat (2012-2017), according to CRISIL, and has recorded the highest agricultural growth rate in the country apart from successfully shedding the infamous BIMARU tag. Madhya Pradesh received 16.4 per cent of the total investment in 2017, second only to Maharashtra.

BJP benefits from factionalism in Congress

While the BJP is banking on Chouhan’s popularity and remarkable mass connect with the people, the Congress has made their old warhorse, Kamal Nath, the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, youth icon Jyotiraditya Scindia the campaign committee chief and ex-chief minister Digvijaya Singh the chief of coordination in a bid to put up a united fight under a combined leadership.

After Nath became PCC chief earlier this year, he was able to generate media hype and it appeared that the party could pose a tough challenge to the BJP this time around. The leaders also initially did put up a united show, but years of factionalism have deep roots within the party and organisational structure. Social media and poster wars have begun between the supporters of Nath and Scindia as to who would be the chief minister. Arun Yadav, an ex-PCC chief, also seems to be sulking. All of this points to the fact that tall Congress leaders in the state are following their own agenda.

Suspense over chief minister candidate

As elections in India turn presidential in style, not having a chief minister face may hurt the Congress party’s chances. In a CSDS pre-poll survey for 2013, 44 per cent of respondents said that the Congress would gain if it declares the name of its chief minister candidate in Madhya Pradesh.

In the end, it’s all about one of BJP against many of Congress. Chouhan is a proletarian leader and is arguably second only to Prime Minister Modi in terms of popularity. He has the image of a kisanputra, and of being a humble, down-to-earth person. The troika of Nath, Scindia, and Singh have an image of corporate royalty. In a way, the contest is between mitti se juda kisanputra and air-conditioned-room leaders born with a silver spoon. It is in many ways similar to a Modi-Gandhi contest of kaamdaar versus naamdar. An interesting battle on the cards indeed!

(This article was first published in Swarajya.)

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