The epicentre of the farmers’ protest in Madhya Pradesh and a fortress of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Malwa region – registered a record high voting percentage of 84.19 percent in the Assembly election held on 28 November.
After the death of six farmers in police firing in Mandsaur on 6 June, 2017, farmers' protests had erupted in several districts, including Mandsaur, Ratlam, Neemuch, Ujjain, Shajapur, Agar Malwa, Sehore and rural areas of Indore.
Malwa is the biggest region in the state, and the road to electoral power here goes through this region. No party can form a government if it is defeated in this region. which has around 66 Assembly seats, which account for nearly 30 percent of the total strength of the Assembly.
The highest jump in the voting percentage as compared to the previous election (4.2 percent) has been recorded in Neemuch district, which is adjacent to Mandsaur. Sehore reported the second highest increase of 4 percent, while Shajapur recorded the lowest increase of 1.8 percent, according to data provided by the state election commission.
A total 74.85 percent voters cast their ballots from a total voting population 5.4 crore.
Decoding the reason for the high turnout
According to political experts and journalists, a four percent jump in farmer-dominated areas and other rural areas of the state indicates voters’ anger against the government.
Farmers have been protesting over the failure of the Bhawantar Bhugtan Scheme, glitches in crop insurance, not getting the actual minimum support price, problems they faced at mandis, and the killing of six farmers in Mandsaur. They have also sought the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations.
“The high turnout in the farmer-dominated districts, including Bundelkhand, indicates voters’ anger against the government, and that the BJP government failed to please the farmers,” said senior journalist SA Pateriya.
He further said “If we look at the voting percentage of rural and urban areas, there is a major difference. For example, people in rural areas of Indore district have voted in large numbers, in comparison to the urban areas, and there is a difference of almost 4 to 5 percent between the two.”
Ahead of the 2013 Assembly elections, Narendra Modi (then chief minister of Gujarat) addressed 11 rallies in the Malwa region. The BJP had secured a stunning victory in 56 out of 66 Assembly seats in the region. The Congress was left with only nine seats, while one seat went to an Independent.
Another political expert Girja Shankar sees this jump in a different way. He said that if there had been anger against the government coupled with a rise in the voting percentage, then the ruling party would have borne the brunt. This had happened in 2003, when voters were angry with the Congress, and the voting percentage rose by 2 percent.
“But in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress failed to convert voters’ disappointment into anger. Indeed, the voting percentage has risen in the Malwa region, but since the Congress failed to cash in on the opportunity, the ruling party may retain power despite all odds and a high turnout.”
The reason for the anger
Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Sharma, along with 500 farmers, had visited more than 300 blocks of the Malwa region after the Mandsaur shooting, and had appealed to voters to come out in large numbers to cast their ballots.
“Such a rise in the voter turnout is an indication of a change in the government. The farmers have expressed their anger against the government. It is clear that the BJP will be thrown out, and Congress will form the government with a clear majority.”
Amritlal Patidar, another farmer leader, and the main accused in the Mandsaur protests case, said, "After the killing of our fellow farmers last year, the farmers of the Malwa region have pledged to vote out this anti-farmer government in the upcoming election...The high turnout is an indication of voters’ anger.”
When asked for the reason behind the anger, Patidar mentioned a slew of reasons. He said that the Bhawantar Bhugtan Scheme, which was launched after the Mandsaur farmers' protest, has been benefiting businessmen and not farmers. "Since then, the prices of major crops have crashed to a record low. Instead of punishing the police officers who opened fire on farmers, the state government has given a clean chit to them. Besides, the government has booked thousands of innocent farmers on allegations of creating unrest in the area, and they are running from pillar to post to end this case."
Speaking on the issue, senior journalist Ashutosh Shukla said, “The voter turnout was high in drought-hit Bundelkhand. In many places, BJP leaders were shouted away because people are unhappy with the current regime. In this context, the high voting percentage may not hold positive news for the BJP."
State Congress chief Kamal Nath said, “The high turnout shows the anger of voters against the current government. The people want to overthrow the BJP and bring the Congress to power.”
Hitting back at the Congress, BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted, “The record turnout shows voters' trust in the BJP, and their willingness to give us another chance.”
The counting of votes is on 11 December.
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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2018 18:46:40 IST