Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan campaigns in support of BJP candidate Rameshwar Sharma, in Bhopal, Monday, Nov 26, 2018. (PTI Photo) (PTI11_26_2018_000213B)
By most accounts, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) best bet among the five states where elections are being held is Madhya Pradesh. This is due to two factors — the popularity of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the BJP's existing lead over the Congress in the state.
However in the past few years, the state has seen the mobilisation of various sections — the farmers' agitation in Mandsaur and Harda, protests by upper caste outfits such as SAPAKS and Karni Sena against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and counter protests by Dalit organisations, and the Adivasi Mahasabha in Kukshi to name a few. Such agitations have the potential of bringing about a massive political upheaval. It remains to be seen if these movements have neutralised the BJP's dominance in Madhya Pradesh.
What's working for BJP?
Chouhan took over as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2005 at a time when the state had seen two BJP chief ministers in two years. Despite being a five-time MP from Vidisha, Chouhan was seen as a political lightweight compared to his predecessors. Gradually, he consolidated his hold, helped in no small part by the Congress' ineptitude.
The regime became famous for its sops, which it advertised as 'taking care of citizens from birth to death'. Chouhan provided money for everything — from childbirth to the marriage of girls and a pilgrimage grant for the elderly. Even now, many people are willing to overlook the lack of jobs, price rise and agrarian distress for fear of losing these sops in case Chouhan gets voted out.
Chouhan's government has the highest approval rating among the three BJP-ruled states where elections are being held. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey conducted in October, 45 percent respondents in Madhya Pradesh wanted the state government to get another chance, compared to 34 percent in Rajasthan and 39 percent in Chhattisgarh. Twenty-five percent respondents in Madhya Pradesh said they are "fully satisfied" with the state government, compared to 22 percent in Rajasthan and 17 percent in Chhattisgarh.
The BJP had a substantial lead in Madhya Pradesh in 2013 as it won 165 out of the state's 230 seats, with the Congress winning just 58. Compared to Chhattisgarh, where BJP won 40 percent of its seats by a margin of 5 percent or less, in Madhya Pradesh, one in four BJP seats were won by such a small margin. So even if the BJP ends up losing all these seats, it will still be above the majority mark.
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More than Chhattisgarh, the BJP's situation in Madhya Pradesh is comparable to Gujarat, where it enjoyed a significant lead in a number of seats, especially in urban centres. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 93 out of 165 seats by a margin of over 10 percent. In 24 seats, the margins were higher than 20 percent and 19 of these were urban seats.
There's likely to be an urban-rural divide in these elections as well. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, the BJP has a 9 percent lead in urban areas but in rural areas, the Congress has a slender lead of 1 percent.
What is troubling for the BJP is that Madhya Pradesh is a far less urban state than Gujarat, with 28 percent of its population residing in urban areas compared to 43 percent in the latter.
What isn't working for BJP?
Pre-election surveys predict a close fight. While the Lokniti-CSDS survey has given a 1 percent lead to the BJP, C-Voter has given an identical lead to the Congress. Both surveys, however, testify to the fact that the 8 percent lead the BJP had in the 2013 elections has reduced substantially.
The other aspect that is going against the BJP is the relatively low popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, 39 percent respondents in Madhya Pradesh said they "highly like" Modi, compared to 52 percent in Rajasthan and 48 percent in Chhattisgarh. Conversely, the gap between the popularity of Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi is lowest in Madhya Pradesh at 6 percent, compared to 34 percent in Rajasthan and 20 percent in Chhattisgarh.
Even the Congress' allegations of corruption against Modi have found more resonance in Madhya Pradesh. Here 29 percent respondents feel the Modi government is corrupt compared to 13 percent in Rajasthan and 17 percent in Chhattisgarh.
Most issues harming the BJP in the state pertain more to the Union government than the state government, from the low minimum support price for crops to the row surrounding the SC/ST Act. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, 62 percent Adivasis, 53 percent Dalits and 50 percent upper castes said that the Act is an important factor in the elections. It seems that all the three sections blame the Modi government.
While the Dalits and the Adivasis accuse the government of trying to dilute the Act, many upper castes say it hasn't done enough to stop misuse of the Act. According to the National Crime Records Bureau data this year, Madhya Pradesh ranks the highest in terms of cases of atrocities against the Dalits.
With the BJP's trump card — the Modi factor — not working, it isn't surprising that the Prime Minister made an emotional pitch in Madhya Pradesh in the last week before polling, by accusing the Congress of targeting his family. It is ironic that the state where the BJP has the best chance of returning to power is one where the Prime Minister's popularity is the lowest.
(Aditya Menon is a Delhi-based political journalist and commentator. Views are personal)For more Opinion pieces, click here.Assembly Elections 2018: Read the latest news, views and analysis here