Madhya Pradesh polls: Resurgent Congress, Vyapam scam and farmer distress may thwart BJP's fourth straight win
With three consecutive victories, the challenge before the ruling BJP is to maintain its winning streak. To make matters more complicated, a resurgent Congress under Rahul Gandhi may pose a stiff challenge to the Modi-Shah juggernaut.
It is being called the semi-final before the grand final that is the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2018, three major BJP-ruled states will go to the polls: Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.
With 230 Assembly seats and 29 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs, Madhya Pradesh, which usually goes to the polls in November-December, is perhaps the most important of all. With three consecutive victories, the challenge before the ruling BJP maintaining its winning streak while contending with the anti-incumbency factor both at the state (13 years of Shivraj Singh Chouhan rule) and the Centre (four years of Narendra Modi government).
Further complicating matters is the Congress, resurgent under its new chief Rahul Gandhi, which may pose a stiff challenge to the Narendra Modi - Amit Shah juggernaut.
Here is a rundown of the state politics ahead of the Assembly election:
With a population of 7.2 crore, Madhya Pradesh is India's fifth most populous state. It is divided into seven major regions: Malwa, Bundelkhand, Baghelkhand, Nimar, Mahakoshal, Chambal and Gird.
According to the 2011 census, only 28 percent of the population lived in the urban areas. In 2001, the state's sex ratio was 919, but improved 12 points by 2011 to reach 931.
The literacy rate in Madhya Pradesh stood at 70 percent, according to 2011 census, which was lower than the national average of 74 percent.
Around 91 percent of the population in the state were Hindus, while less than seven percent identified as Muslims.
With a population of over 15.31 million, Madhya Pradesh has the largest tribal population in India. At least 19 out of the 50 districts are tribal-dominated.
Schedule Castes constitute 21.6 percent of the total population, while Other Backward Castes (OBCs) form over 51 percent of the population.
Key issues in the run up to the polls
Madhya Pradesh is largely a rural state. Crop failure in 2017 only exacerbated the farmer crisis. The issue grabbed national headlines last June after farmers protest turned violent in Mandsaur.
According to this Firstpost article, Madhya Pradesh farmers — like their counterparts in Gujarat and Rajasthan — have been facing the problem of low prices for crops and interference of commission agents
According to a Hindustan Times report, about one-tenth of the farmer suicides in the past 16 years took place between 2016 and 2017.
With a farm loan waiver not in sight, a report in Hindustan Times stated that BJP’s failure to resolve the crisis may hit its rural vote bank.
The bureaucracy is plagued by corruption. The scam in Vyapam (a board which selects candidates for government posts through competitive exams), which was uncovered in 2013, exposed the bureaucratic rot. A scholarship scam (also unearthed in 2013) threatened to also drag the chief minister into a Lokayukta investigation.
The Congress has been alleging that corruption is at its "peak" in Madhya Pradesh. The Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Singh claimed that multi-crore scams surfaced during the Shivraj regime.
An article in DNA stated that corruption in Vyapam highlighted the deeper crisis in Madhya Pradesh’s education and medical sector.
As an article in The Sunday Guardian noted, “a section of the bureaucrats is protecting and promoting the corrupt”. The report quoted a senior journalist as saying that the issue of corruption may end up helping Congress win.
The number of educated unemployed youth is rising. As per the 2017 economic survey report, at least 14.1 lakh youth are unemployed, of which nearly 12.9 lakh are educated.
“The percentage of educated unemployed increased from 79.60 percent in 2015 to 85.74 percent by the end of December 2016," a senior official told The Times of India.
This despite the fact that there was a significant dip (10 per cent to 2.7 percent) in the overall unemployment numbers between 2016 and early 2017.
Drought and water scarcity
Drought in 2016 and 2017 may hurt BJP in rural areas. Poor rain in recent years led to water scarcity. According to The Times of India, water crisis reached severe levels in Jabalpur, Indore, Ujjain, and Sagar divisions in April 2017. Worse, deficient rains in 31 districts during the 2017 monsoon season forced the government to declare 13 districts as drought-hit.
Like in neighbouring Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, BJP and the Congress dominate. The BJP has been winning Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections since 2003. It also ruled the state between 1990 and 1992 with Sunderlal Patwa as chief minister.
Through Congress has been out of power since 2003, it has been a political force since the formation of Madhya Pradesh in 1956. Barring the period between 1967 and 1969, and the Janata Party interregnum, the party enjoyed uninterrupted power.
Several key leaders of the Congress on the national stage began their political careers in the state. These include Vidya Charan Shukla, Madhavrao Scindia, Arjun Singh, Motilal Vora, Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath.
Parties such as BSP and Samajwadi Party, which are strong in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, have a marginal presence.
Electoral arithmetic changed considerably in 2000, when Chhattisgarh was carved from Madhya Pradesh's tribal-dominated districts. Prior to the formation of the new state, Madhya Pradesh had 320 Assembly and 40 Lok Sabha seats.
The year 2003 saw the first Assembly election after the state's bifurcation. That year, the BJP came to power for the second time in the state's history.
While the BJP won 173 seats, the Congress won only 38. In the 2008 elections, Congress nearly doubled its seat tally from 38 to 71 seats. Nevertheless, BJP won the election with a reduced majority in the Assembly. In the last election, BJP continued its winning run, registering victories in 165 Assembly seats.
The 2013 election was also significant in the matter of vote share. Unlike 2003 and 2008 elections, when the difference in the vote share of the two parties did not exceed six percent, the last election saw the BJP pull away by nearly eight percent.
Key players in the fray this time
Shivraj Singh Chouhan
The three-time chief minister and the OBC face of the BJP is likely to fight for his fourth consecutive term. He is already the longest serving chief minister of the state. However, several reports of his imminent departure from state politics have been making the rounds after he did not attend the swearing-in ceremony of Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani.
A six-time MLA and former cabinet minister, Vijayvargiya is currently a national general secretary of the BJP. He is also reportedly a Shivraj rival and a favourite of BJP president Amit Shah. He is also tipped to take over as the party unit chief in the upcoming organisational restructuring.
The Lok Sabha MP from Guna and a former Union minister is being considered a prospective chief ministerial face of the Congress party. Congress recent win in the Chitrakoot Assembly by-election under his leadership has reportedly rejuvenated the party ahead of the Assembly elections. While he has the backing of senior leader Kamal Nath, infighting within the party may be major cause for worry.
The two-time chief minister is currently undertaking the 3,000-kilometre long Narmada Yatra. Though he maintains that it is a spiritual yatra, reports claim that his journey will cover at least 100 Assembly seats. According to India Today, Digvijaya is using the yatra as a platform to reconnect with his core electorate in the run-up to the November-December polls.
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