High turnout in Madhya Pradesh polls doesn't indicate anti-incumbency or pro-Opposition trend, other factors matter
The record voter turnout in this election in Madhya Pradesh could be the result of various other factors such as the anti-incumbency factor, introduction of new voters, mobilisation of voters, high-decibel campaigning, the role of the Election Commission and a renewed strategy of the Congress.
The voter turnout or voting percentage in an election is an inadequate indicator of the electorate's choice. Trends in earlier elections reveal that a change in voter turnout — either an increase or decrease — in comparison to previous elections does not necessarily reflect an anti-incumbency or pro-incumbency mood.
However, this has not stopped both the Congress and the BJP from counting positives from the 75 percent turnout in Madhya Pradesh, the highest in an Assembly election in the state, so far.
After the polling on Wednesday, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, "I'm very confident that the BJP will return to power with full majority... There is no close fight, and the BJP will get full majority."
Similarly, Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath exuded confidence when he said: "I had said we will win more than 140 seats, but after today's voting, and with all the information coming in, there is a possibility of a very surprising result."
Despite claims and counter-claims, nothing can be said with certainty till the results are announced on 11 December.
There is no fixed pattern to the increase in voter turnout and its outcome as the two are entirely different. An increase in voting percentage — say by 3 percent as in Madhya Pradesh this time — does not mean that people have voted against the ruling party due to anti-incumbency sentiments or they have voted against the Opposition party.
In the 1998 Assembly election in undivided Madhya Pradesh, the voter turnout was 60.72 percent, and the Congress had its second consecutive term. In 2003, the turnout was 67.25 percent, with a clear 6.53 percent jump in polling percentage, but the BJP won this time with a big majority. Similarly, in the 2008 and 2013 Assembly polls, the turnout was 69.28 percent and 72.07 percent, and the BJP won two more terms. In all these polls, there was a consistent increase in voting percentage.
However, the record turnout in this election could be the result of various other factors. Political analysts believe that besides the anti-incumbency factor, the introduction of new voters, mobilisation of voters, high-decibel campaigning, the role of the Election Commission of India and a renewed strategy of the Congress could have led to a higher turnout.
"An increase in voter turnout necessarily does not mean that the people voted against the establishment," Chandrakant Naidu, political commentator and former senior resident editor of the Hindustan Times, told Firstpost. "Besides anti-incumbency sentiments, there are a large number of first-time voters who participated in the polls with enthusiasm."
He pointed out that a 3 percent increase in voter participation means there was an increase of nearly 15 lakh voters in Madhya Pradesh this time.
Mobilisation of voters
The organisational strength of the ruling BJP has been instrumental in large-scale mobilisation of voters at the booth level. The Opposition Congress, too, was not far behind this time.
"The BJP is better organised and ensured mobilisation of voters. However, the Congress, unlike in the past, also meticulously worked on the polling process," Naidu said. "Instead of backbiting or criticising its own party members, this time, Congress candidates and workers remained focussed in their respective constituencies and areas. This helped them influence voters in their favour."
The anti-incumbency factor against the 15-year rule of the BJP cannot be ignored. There's a visible anger against the government, if not against the chief minister, due to various reasons.
"In the given situation, the Congress winning the election won't be surprising," said Abhilash Khandekar, political commentator and author of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Rise of Madhya Pradesh. "An increase in voting percentage doesn't always mean that people voted against the government. But the strong anti-incumbency sentiments were fully utilised by the Congress. Along with issues such as farmer distress, 64 BJP rebels contesting, etc, and the economic policies of the Narendra Modi government, such as demonetisation and the GST, added to the dislike for the ruling BJP."
Aggressive and high-decibel campaigning by the BJP — and the Congress to some extent — ensured active participation of voters in Madhya Pradesh. Besides star campaigners like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the large number of rallies addressed by Chouhan and Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia enthused voters to participate in the polling process.
"Marathon rallies by Jyotiraditya Scindia (112) attracted youth in the state who have been looking for a change. Moreover, by effectively sidelining Digvijay Singh, who had proved to be a spoiler in last two elections, the Congress effectively won over its constituency," Khandekar added.
Naidu said the Congress wasn't as aggressive as the BJP, but it became a beneficiary by default by remaining silent against the BJP's fallouts".
Role of Election Commission
The experts opined that the measures undertaken by the Election Commission of India, such as conducting safe and fair polling, creating awareness among voters through regular advertisements, ensuring easy accessibility to polling booths and also increasing the number of women voters over the years, pushed the voter turnout.
While the last three Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh — 2003, 2008 and 2013 — had witnessed an increase in voter participation, and the BJP emerged as the winner each time, the same can't be predicted about this election, as the undercurrent can't be assessed. Despite winning in 2008, the BJP's numbers in the Assembly had dropped down from 173 in 2003 to 143 five years later, which was a gain for the Congress.
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