Why Congress Has Reason to be Optimistic in Madhya Pradesh

Net satisfaction against BJP MPs in Madhya Pradesh is just 8%. Congress has a good chance in the state despite Modi.

Published
Elections
4 min read
Congress President Rahul Gandhi flanked by Madhya Pradesh Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia.
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One of the videos to have gone viral this election season is from Ashok Nagar in Madhya Pradesh featuring BJP leader Smriti Irani. In the video, Irani can be seen addressing a rally in which she asks a rhetorical question “Have your loans been waived?”. To her surprise, the people shouted back “Yes”, disproving the point she was trying to make.

While this could just be a stroke of bad luck for the BJP that Irani ended up with an audience that didn’t play along with her, it may also contain a message for the party: The situation in Madhya Pradesh isn’t as conducive for it as many are making it out to be.

After all, Madhya Pradesh was tipped to be one of the states where the BJP was hoping to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “popularity” to bounce back from its loss in the Assembly elections last year.

But data and inputs from the ground indicate that Madhya Pradesh isn’t heading for a BJP sweep like the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which the party won 27 out of 29 seats with only senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia surviving the wave. This time, the Congress seems all set to improve its tally due to a number of factors.

Discontent Against BJP

There’s no denying that the Modi factor does exist in Madhya Pradesh. But it is nowhere as strong as it was in 2014. And its ability to override local factors and caste calculations has reduced considerably. In particular, there is huge anti-incumbency against the 27 BJP MPs in Madhya Pradesh.

According to the Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll survey released in April this year before the first phase of polling, the Net Satisfaction Rating of BJP MPs is just eight percent, one of the lowest among all the states in the country.

The net satisfaction with the Modi government at the Centre is much better at 26 percent, but this is still lower than many other states.

More significantly, it is substantially lower than the Net Satisfaction Rating with the Congress government in the state: 45 percent.

Of course, this is not surprising as the Congress has barely been in power for six months. But if the Congress government still enjoys some goodwill with the people, it is not good news for the BJP.

Since 1999, Lok Sabha elections have been held barely six months after Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh. Except 1999, the state hasn’t voted differently in the two elections. In 1999, of course, the BJP staged a comeback due to the rising popularity of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the Kargil War. It remains to be seen if the Balakot strikes would have the same effect for Prime Minister Modi.

As of December 2018, not many Congress voters were willing to switch to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.

According to the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey in December, 91 percent of those who had voted for the Congress in the Assembly elections said that they will vote for the party in the Lok Sabha polls as well. Two thirds of them said that they wanted the Congress to be in power in both Centre and state.

This is not surprising. The BJP was in power in Madhya Pradesh for 15 years – from 2003 to 2018. There was a great deal of fatigue with the BJP at every level – the level of the state government, MLAs and MPs.

“I voted for BJP in every election but I felt there was a need for change that’s why I voted for the Congress in the (2018) Assembly polls. Why would I now go back to the BJP?” says Mukesh Prajapati, who stays in Khandwa.

However, for many voters it isn’t just a question of fatigue. Some are actively angry with the BJP.

Anger Among Dalits & Adivasis

The anger against the BJP is most pronounced among Dalits and Adivasis, who account for close to 16 percent and 21 percent of Madhya Pradesh’s population respectively. In the Assembly elections, these sections moved decisively away from the BJP and towards the Congress.

Compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s 1 percentage point lead over Congress among Dalits fell to 16 point deficit in the Assembly polls. The party’s 10 percentage point lead among Adivasis in 2014 changed to a 14 point lead for the Congress.

Dalits and Adivasis also happen to be sections who are said to be least likely to switch to the BJP due to Modi’s popularity or his national security pitch. In fact, according to India Today’s political exchange, Modi’s popularity among tribals and Dalits fell across India while that of Congress president Rahul Gandhi increased.

The first few phases of polling in Madhya Pradesh saw a heavy surge in turnout in the tribal pockets. Many see this as a sign of Adivasi anger against the BJP and a decisive move towards the Congress.

Predictions

While the various pre-poll predictions that were released between February and April have varying predictions for Madhya Pradesh, most of them say that the vote share of the BJP and the Congress won’t be like 2014.

Lokniti-CSDS’s pre-poll survey released in April gives BJP a six percentage point lead. On the other hand, a survey done by Poll Eyes in February says that the two parties might get around the same proportion of votes.

In terms of seats, Lokniti-CSDS predicts that the BJP could get 17-23 seats out of 29 in Madhya Pradesh while the Congress could get 6-12. The Poll Eyes survey, however, predicts 16 seats for BJP and 13 for Congress.

If one converts the performance of the two parties in the Assembly elections, then the BJP could get 17 seats and the Congress 12.

Ground reports suggest that besides its bastions like Guna and Chhindwara, the Congress’ best bets are seats like Ratlam, Rajgarh, Gwalior, Shahdol, Satna, Khargone and Dhar. Significantly, the party is also said to be giving the BJP a good fight in some of the party’s bastions like Morena, Bhind, Vidisha, Khajuraho and, of course, Bhopal where former chief minister Digvijaya Singh of the Congress is facing off against Malegaon blast accused Pragya Thakur of the BJP.

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