The five-state elections ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are being pegged as a litmus test for the Modi-led NDA government. Of the five states, Madhya Pradesh holds significance as the state has 29 Lok Sabha constituencies and has been Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) stronghold for the last 15 years.
The BJP came to power in the state in 2003 – in the first elections that were held after the bifurcation of the state – winning 173 of the 230 assembly seats and dethroning a decade-old Congress government.
Since then, the BJP has retained power in Madhya Pradesh with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the helm of affairs for 13 years. However, Chouhan is now fighting a tide of anti-incumbency and corruption allegations.
So, as the state prepares to vote on 28 November, let’s take a look at who the key players for these elections are, what the mood of the people is in Madhya Pradesh, what the election issues are, and whether the third front be able to make a mark.
The contest in Madhya Pradesh has been fairly binary between the BJP and the Congress. And with 15 years of power resting at the hands of BJP, the anti-incumbency factor looms large. Though Chouhan has maintained his “pro-development”and “pro-farmer” image, significant fatigue against the government has crept in.
Data from the past suggests that a large swing of voters is possible in the state, as happened earlier in 2003.
Madhya Pradesh is primarily an agrarian state, and agriculture employs nearly 70 percent of the workforce, according to the census. Thus, farm distress in the state is likely to play a major role in the upcoming polls given the agrarian crisis, which includes issues like loan waivers and better prices to the farmers for their produce.
Moreover, according to a report in Hindustan Times, about one-tenth of farmer suicides in the past 16 years took place in a year (between February 2016 and 2017).
Further, the 2017 Mandsaur farmer agitation, in which at least six protesters were killed in police firing, is still fresh in the minds of the voters.
While the government launched the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana, under which registered farmers were promised the difference between MSP and modal price, and gave compensation of Rs 1 crore to the families of deceased protesters, the issue continues to dominate MP politics.
The issue of unemployment continues to plague the Chouhan government. The government has come under attack for lack of job creation and the increasing number of unemployed youths in the state.
CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS: VYAPAM SCAM
The opposition parties have been raking up the Vyapam scam, which pertains to forging answer sheets by bribing officials for competitive exams.
The scam was unearthed in 2013, and since then, at least 25 whistle-blowers and witnesses have died. Though cases of malpractices were first reported in 1995, the opposition leaders have been alleging that corruption is “at its peak” in the state.
In 2009, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan first set up a committee headed by the state joint director of medical education to look into the allegations. The committee submitted its report in 2011 to the government but the massive scale of corruption came to light only in 2013.
Opposition leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh even recorded a statement in a special court in Bhopal against Chouhan, earlier in September this year. These allegations have dented the chief minister’s image.
In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India amended the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act to avoid “false implications” under the Act. However, the Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Modi brought new legislation in the Parliament, overturning the SC order.
In September, there were widespread protests in various districts of Madhya Pradesh by privileged-caste outfits such as Samanya Pichra Alpsankhyak Kalyan Samaj (SAPAKS) and Rajput Karni Sena against the amendment done by the government.
Though to pacify the protesters, Chouhan later said that he will ensure the act isn’t “misused” and no arrests are made without police investigation.
However, Chouhan’s stance in favour of reservation drew the ire of outfits like SAPAKS, which slammed the chief minister for making statements like “Koi mai ka laal aarakshan khatam nahi kar sakta (No one can stop reservation)” alleging that it was done to garner votes.
Reports suggest that there is anger among the privileged-caste voters, which might see them drift them away from the BJP’s fold.