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Madhya Pradesh bypolls: Jyotiraditya Scindia emerges as Congress' hope, as Shivraj misreads farmers' anger

In Madhya Pradesh, Congress has won the semi-final by emerging victorious in Mungaoli and Kolaras bypolls on Wednesday, ahead of the final match — the Assembly election in the state to be held by the end of 2018.

By winning these two seats, Congress has registered four consecutive victories in the state — the other two were Ater and Khajuraho in 2017 — within a period of 10 months.

It's a big loss for the 14-year long Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Madhya Pradesh as the Kolaras and Mungaoli bypolls are being seen as the semi-final match between the ruling party and the Opposition. The result was a litmus test as it has exposed the ground reality for both the parties.

Is Shivraj Singh Chouhan losing his sheen?

File image of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

File image of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. AFP

Despite the hectic campaigning by Chouhan himself, and a battery of ministers and an entire administrative machinery at his disposal, the chief minister couldn't save the party from losing both the seats. Chouhan had even made promises to farmers after the recent hailstorm during the Kisan Maha Sammelan (grand farmers’ meet), reshuffled the Cabinet and launched the much-talked-about Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna.

In an impassioned speech at Bhopal's Jamboori Maidan during the 'Kisan Maha Sammelan' on 12 February, he said, "Sankat ki ghadi mein neta ki pehchan hoti hai. Main ronewala chief minister nahi hoon (the true character of a politician can be judged only in moments of crisis. I'm not a CM who cries). Don't be bothered by the hailstorm. I'm with you ‘kisan bhai’." This, however, failed to cut ice with the farmer community in Kolaras and Mungaoli.

Madhya Pradesh Congress president Arun Yadav told Firstpost after the announcement of the result: “Chouhan, despite using his clout, ministers, and an entire administrative machinery, manpower, money power, muscle power and forged voters’ list failed to win the voters. The people have now realised the ‘big lies’ of the chief minister in the name of development and rejected BJP. The voters of Madhya Pradesh are looking forward to a change and Congress party will provide it.”

In fact, Congress managed to retain both the seats as Brajendra Singh Yadav won by a margin of 2,123 votes against BJP’s Bai Sahab Yadav in Mungaoli, and Mahendra Yadav defeated BJP’s Devendra Jain by 8,086 votes in Kolaras.

In the 2013 Assembly elections, Congress’ Mahendra Singh Kalukheda had won Mungaoli seat with a record margin of 20,765 votes, whereas Ram Singh Yadav had won the Kolaras seat. However, the death of the two leaders necessitated the bypolls.

This defeat has again brought back the debate/spotlight on the agrarian crisis in Madhya Pradesh. The bye-election results revealed the stark reality of the level of farmers' distress existing in the state.

In June last year, the state's Mandsaur district was the epicentre of a large-scale mob violence. Despite assurances by the government, there remained a palpable anger among the farmers of Kolaras and Mungaoli, which got translated into negative votes for BJP.

Chouhan wanted to address the issue by launching the much-hyped ‘Mukhya Mantri Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna’ — a government scheme to compensate farmers by paying the 'difference' between the minimum support price (MSP) and the market price of crops. But, farmers are unhappy with the scheme as only 6.4 percent of them have benefited from it.

In a bid to pacify the anger among farmers and to redress their grievances ahead of the by-elections at Kolaras and Mungaoli, the state government had even hosted the grand farmers’ meet.

Since its implementation, the Bhavantar scheme, however, has received severe criticism from various quarters including farmers, agricultural experts and political opponents.

In an interview with Firstpost in February, Sompal Shastri, former Union minister of agriculture (in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government) and the first chairperson of the National Commission for Farmers, had predicted, "The promises made by the government to farmers are a bluff, but it will have a cascading effect in the forthcoming elections”.

The Madhya Pradesh BJP’s electoral plank of 2003 – Bijli, Sadak, Paani (Electricity, Road, Water) — that ensured complete routing of Congress from the state failed to impress voters this time. The voters of Mungaoli and Kolaras voted against BJP complaining that no development happened in the past one decade.

"Chouhan tried to woo farmers ahead of the by-elections through a large number of announcements. But it failed because farmers can't be taken for granted anymore. The truth is before us,” Badal Saroj, state secretary of CPM and joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha remarked.

Shivraj government ignored RSS alerts

Even, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the ideological mentor of BJP — had raised the red flag on the agrarian crisis in the state. The RSS affiliates, both the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), had cautioned the government in the past about the ground reality.

Before the bye-election, an RSS functionary had told Firstpost about the dissent amongst farmers in the state. "There is a disconnect between the top leadership and the masses. The space has been taken over by bureaucracy and they have failed to deliver many of the promises made by the chief minister. The ground-level workers in BJP are equally annoyed and maintaining a distance.... This will adversely impact the bypolls,” the Sangh functionary had remarked.

The Sangh is known for its grassroots connectivity and ear-to-the-ground, which helped BJP win the recent Gujarat election in the face of a tough challenge from Congress.

Desperate times, desperate measures

Both Congress and the ruling BJP were desperate to win the seats to gain a psychological advantage ahead of the Assembly election later this year.

With the writing on the wall clear, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government on Wednesday, in its fifth and the last budget of its term (while the counting of votes was still going on), announced Rs 37,498 crore allocation for the agriculture sector and Rs 10,928 crore for irrigation, out of its biggest ever budget of Rs 2,04,642 crore. With an eye on the election, the government has reiterated its ‘old promise’ to double farmers' income in next five years.

Despite the defeat, Madhya Pradesh BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chouhan said, "BJP accepts people’s verdict. We'll continue to strive hard and form the government for the fourth term under Chouhan’s leadership. Our electoral plank is development."

Optimistic Congress

In this fierce battle between the ruling BJP and Congress, the latter has found a young turk in its Lok Sabha member from Guna, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who spearheaded the party’s election campaign as both the bypoll seats are in his constituency. In days to come, Scindia is expected to play a vital role in party’s strategy to win the state Assembly election.

Congress general secretary and in-charge, Madhya Pradesh Dipak Babaria sums up, "I had told you that Congress would win with a thumping majority and it happened in this semi-final match. People have got frustrated with the tall and false promises of Chouhan. Congress will confidently win the final match — the Assembly election too.”

Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 09:43 AM

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