Forty-three wards of Madhya Pradesh witnessed local body elections this week, and the results have sounded warning bells for the BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Madhya Pradesh will have Assembly elections in 2018, and Chouhan will be seeking a fourth straight term as chief minister.
The farmers' agitation that rocked the state in June this year clearly seems to have had an impact, as Mandsaur, the epicentre of the protests, saw Congress wresting back a few seats from the BJP.
Though BJP still continued to easily outshine Congress, its tally has dropped by three seats. The saffron party had won 28 seats last time and this has come down to 25 now. Congress has improved its tally by six seats; winning 15 seats as against nine earlier. Three Independent candidates also clinched victories.
The violence in Mandsaur made it to national headlines in June, when the police fired on protesting farmers, killing six. The protests started in this one district of western Madhya Pradesh, but soon spread to adjoining towns as well. The mob violence resulted in a huge loss of public and private properties, and life came to a standstill for almost three weeks in several towns.
It was only after a personal assurance from Chouhan, who also went on a fast, that the protesters called off their stir.
Setback for Congress, Chouhan
Results of the municipal elections show the Congress has reasons to cheer. However, there was also a setback for the party at Dabra. Dabra in Gwalior, a Congress bastion due to the strong influence of the Scindia family, went to BJP for the first time. A Congress candidate backed by the Scindia royal family lost for the first time to a BJP candidate in 70 years.
In senior Congress leader Kamal Nath's pocket borough of Chhindwara, however, the Congress swept all five municipal wards, while BJP managed to retain two wards. The results suggest that Congress is staging a slow turnaround under Kamal Nath, who represents Chhindwara. There had been widespread rumours that Kamal Nath would be made the party's in-charge of Madhya Pradesh before the 2018 Assembly election, but state Congress leaders denied this.
Congress also managed to win Nasrullaganj panchayat seat in Sehore district, known as Chouhan's pocket borough, and also Shamshabad seat in Vidisha — a traditional BJP stronghold where the chief minister exercises a considerable influence.
Congress and non-BJP parties, including Independent candidates, identified the Mandsaur farmers' issue as something that could provide political dividends. Ahead of the polls, Congress raised the farmers' distress during campaigning and it clearly bore fruits for them in Mandsaur and Ratlam — the districts that witnessed widespread violence.
Though Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was prevented by the state government from entering Mandsaur when it was burning, his stormy visit did help the state Congress catapult itself ahead of the civic body polls. The party had been successful in fuelling the farmers' anger and convert it into votes in its favour.
"Farmers' distress was a burning issue in Mandsaur and adjoining districts. Ahead of the polls on 11 August, the Congress, during its campaign, highlighted various problems the farmers in Madhya Pradesh have been facing. Here in Mandsaur, they had been at the receiving end and there's much anger among them. This has helped Congress win three Nagar Palika seats," said Rameshwar Patidar, a farmer from Garoth in Mandsaur.
Garoth is one of three wards in Mandsaur where Congress emerged victorious. Though it is too early to jump to definite conclusions regarding any possible shift in the political wind in Madhya Pradesh, the fact remains that with just months left for the Assembly elections, the numbers do not augur well for the saffron party. It seems to have failed to quell the anger of the farming community, which had given vent to their farm problems through violent protests.
However, Chouhan did manage to sail through with infrastructure development across the state and some of his welfare schemes. His communication skills also keep him connected with the grassroot voters.
The Assembly election in 2018 will certainly be a contest to watch out for.
Updated Date: Aug 17, 2017 13:36 PM