Congress has failed to build narrative against Madhya Pradesh CM in run-up to Vidhan Sabha polls, say analysts

As the curtain comes down on the high-voltage electoral campaigning by the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress in Madhya Pradesh for the votes to be cast on 28 November, both parties are keeping their fingers crossed. Who will win Madhya Pradesh? The betting market is swinging on both sides: sometimes in favour of Congress and sometimes for the BJP. Uncertainty looms on whether the BJP under Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will return to power for a fourth consecutive term or if fortune will smile on the Congress after its long electoral drought.

Political analysts think Congress hasn’t succeeded in building a narrative against Chouhan. People do not complain against Chouhan, but against the lower bureaucracy and uncaring BJP MLAs, some of whom are also corrupt, they add. In fact, Chouhan has, over the years, emerged as a brand not only of the party, but also the state. “Congress couldn’t build a strong issue-based narrative against Shivraj Singh government, except announcing debt waiver for farmers and tackling unemployment. It’s not necessary that those who’re unhappy (and not angry) with the BJP government will vote for the Congress,” Bhopal-based political commentator Girija Shankar said.

File image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

File image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

The high-decibel campaigning in Madhya Pradesh witnessed 10 rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 27 of BJP president Amit Shah, 178 of Chouhan along with his Jan Aashirwad Yatra criss-crossing the state. Unlike the BJP, Congress didn’t have many star campaigners. While Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed 15 rallies, Jyotiraditya Scindia held the highest rallies for the party (103). MPCC president Kamal Nath addressed a few rallies, with a focus on organisational support, while courting a controversy on a video allegedly slamming the RSS over minority issue.

The issues raised by the BJP and the Congress leaders were more national than state-level: Ram Mandir, Rafale deal. The Opposition Congress couldn’t make ‘Vyapam scam’ a big issue. One may recall, five years ago the ‘Vyapam scam’—the biggest one till date in Madhya Pradesh—relating to irregularities in medical admissions and other recruitment examinations conducted by the state government was unearthed. It had almost dislodged Chouhan, but the BJP salvaged the crisis by handing the case to the CBI.

The state population is nearly 90 percent Hindu, which prompted Congress to toe a soft-Hindutva line. It is in the battlefield of Madhya Pradesh where Congress president Rahul Gandhi visited Jyotirlinga shrines Omkareshwar and Mahakaleshwar, and was projected as a ‘Shiv-bhakt’, and ‘pandit Rahul Gandhi’. But Rahul's new avatar has drawn criticism.

Congress has successfully raked up the farmer distress that erupted in Mandsaur in 2017. Despite the state government’s quick measures to quell farmers' anger, election results will show if the Congress succeeded in swinging the issue in its favour. “The pro-poor schemes of Shivraj Singh government will help the BJP to get support from the poor and economically-weaker sections of the society, especially the urban poor,” former Hindustan Times resident editor NK Singh told Firstpost.

“However, on the issue of farmers, the house is evenly divided. A section of rich farmers who gained from the government would support the BJP. There’s no doubt that the state government has done a lot for farmers in comparison to the Congress government in the past, but it’s not enough. What has been offered to the farmers is less than their input cost. The government scheme ‘Bhaavantar Yojna’ is a big racket and plunder of the State exchequer, as traders (also middlemen) and a few rich farmers have got benefit, whereas the small and marginal farmers haven’t,” he added.

Factors in favour of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the BJP

· Unlike in the case of the former chief minister Digvijay Singh, there’s no anger directly against Chouhan.

· No large-scale complaint against Chouhan on basic amenities like electricity, road and water, as against the Congress between 2000 and 2003.

· Strong organisational base.

· Active role of frontal organisations of RSS-BJP and their grassroots reach.

· Chouhan’s image as a son of the soil. He brought in the ‘insider-outsider’ narrative into play during the last 15 years.

· Strong support from those living in slums and economically-weaker sections (EWS) due to state government schemes, especially housing scheme (Awas Yojna).

Against the BJP

· Large-scale rebellion in the form of Independent candidates, who failed to get either a BJP ticket, a post or favour from the party.

· Upper castes and a section of middle-class voters are disturbed over SC/ST Atrocities Act, high fuel prices.

· Mid-level businessmen, small and medium level farmers who are politically influential are vocal against the BJP.

· High-voltage campaigning in the form of rallies and roadshows with star campaigners like Modi, Shah and Chouhan.

Factors in favour of Congress

· Anti-incumbency factor against the BJP.

· A section of voters wants a change in government.

· Farmer distress that erupted in Mandsaur district and the anger among small and marginal farmers may help Congress, especially due to ‘Bhaavantar Yojna’.

· People’s anger against bureaucracy and BJP MLAs

Against the Congress

· Long absence of senior leaders of Congress in the state. They are being considered more as ‘outsiders’, who have spent less time in state politics.

· Weak frontal organisations of Congress that lack grassroots connectivity.

· A large section of voters still unable to forget Digvijay Singh’s disastrous second term (1998 to 2003) and poor infrastructure that earned the state the infamous ‘Bimaru’ tag.

· Lack of cohesive leadership in the state over the last 15 years, which has weakened the party at organisational level.

· Factionalism within party’s state leadership.

· Soft-Hindutva line adopted by the Congress won’t make much dent in BJP, rather it has attracted more criticism.

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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2018 19:46:19 IST

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