With Cong Win in MP Bypolls, BJP Will Be Wary of Anti-Incumbency
While Congress’ win in MP provides a boost to the party, its loss in Odisha shows its dwindling fortunes there.
The bypoll results of the three seats which went to polls on 24 February 2018 have been announced. The Congress has held onto the two seats in Madhya Pradesh (MP), losing the Odisha seat to ruling party Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
While the victory in Madhya Pradesh provides a boost to the party’s bid to reclaim the state from the BJP, the loss in Odisha is reflective of the Congress’ dwindling fortunes in the state.
The loss in MP is a blow to the BJP, considering Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had campaigned extensively for the two seats. It signals that the party could face significant anti-incumbency headwinds in the upcoming polls later this year.
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In Bijepur, the BJD’s Rita Sahu defeated the BJP’s Ashok Panigrahi by over 40,000 votes. Bijepur is a traditional Congress stronghold. The party’s Sabal Sahu had won the seat consecutively in the past three elections (2004, 2009 and 2014) despite the party’s base shrinking all over the state. The BJD gave a ticket to Sabal’s wife Rita Sahu, cashing in on the ‘sympathy wave’. The BJP gave a ticket to former MLA and BJD rebel Ashok Panigrahi.
In the 2014 Assembly Elections, Sabal had managed to sneak in with a margin of less than 500 votes. In the Lok Sabha elections, which were held simultaneously, the BJP led this Assembly segment by over 2,000 votes.
Big Win for Congress in MP
After trailing in the initial round of counting, the Congress retained the Mungaoli Assembly seat in Madhya Pradesh after a nail-biting finish with 68,129 votes and a margin of just 2,107 votes. Brijendra Singh Yadav of the Congress defeated his sister-in-law Bai Sahab Yadav of the BJP.
The party has also won the state’s Kolaras Assembly seat. Mahendra Singh Yadav (son of ex-legislator Ram Singh Yadav) of the Congress defeated 2008 winner Devendra Kumar Jain of the BJP by 8,086 votes.
Both Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly constituencies are part of Guna Lok Sabha seat held by Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. The seat has been held by the Scindia family since 1971, except for 1984-1989. The Congress had won these Assembly seats handsomely in 2013 with 20,000+ margins. These seats cannot be described as Congress strongholds though, as in 2008 both of them were held by the BJP.
Although the BJP managed to reduce the lead substantially in both the seats, in Kolaras, the Congress benefited from the ‘sympathy wave’.
BJP Slowly Becoming Odisha’s Main Opposition
The BJP is threatening to dislodge Naveen Patnaik in Odisha. The state goes to polls along with Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The BJP hopes to win in the state banking on the ‘Modi factor’, exploiting the anti-incumbency against 20 years of BJD rule and infighting within the party. The BJP, once an ally of the BJD, is establishing itself as the second most potent force in Odisha, overtaking the Congress.
The BJP recorded a stupendous performance in the panchayat elections held last year; its tally jumped 8 times from 36 to 306 seats and vote share nearly doubled from 18 percent to 33 percent. Extrapolating these results, the BJP could get 53 seats and the BJD 80, out of an Assembly strength of 147, on the basis of my calculations.
Ever since JB Patnaik left the Congress, the party’s graph has been steadily declining in the state. From 39 percent vote share in 1995 to 26 percent in 2014 state elections to a record low of 18 percent in panchayat polls in 2017 and now a paltry 6 percent in the by-elections.
The party has changed its state leadership seven times during 2000-2014 and looks completely out of sorts in the state. The BJD’s thumping win in Bijepur is partly due to a ‘sympathy wave’ in favour of Sabal’s wife Rita. The victory also establishes Naveen Patnaik as the undisputed leader of Odisha and protector of ‘Odia pride’. A fascinating contest between Patnaik and Modi awaits in 2019.
The BJP doesn’t have any state leader of Patnaik’s stature and this could act as a major roadblock in its “Mission 120” for Odisha.
Congress’ Boost in MP
The Congress is hoping to make a comeback in MP after 15 years, exploiting anti-incumbency against Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government. However, like in most states, the leadership decision is still open. There are three-four leaders both at the national level – Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamalnath, Digvijay Singh and Kantilal Bhuria – and at the state level – Arun Yadav, Ajai Singh and Jitu Patwari.
One section feels the party should contest under a combined leadership. The victory strengthens Jyotiraditya’s claims of being projected as a chief ministerial candidate in the state. In my opinion, the ‘high command’ could avoid naming a leader, as it may encourage in-fighting,
Shivraj Singh Chouhan in many ways is the ‘Modi’ of Madhya Pradesh. He has a larger-than-life image compared to his party and has single-handedly led the party to victory in the last two polls.
While he remains popular, there is significant anti-incumbency developing against the sitting MLAs. The party could deny tickets to one-third to half of its sitting MLAs to negate the anger amongst the public.
The Mandsaur incident in which 6 farmers lost their lives led to farmer protests all over the state. However, this has been doused somewhat by Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana, which compensates farmers for low output prices. A keen battle is on the anvil in the state, provided the Congress puts up a united fight.
A New Thorn in BJP’s Path
Rajasthan and MP, along with Chhattisgarh, will be going to polls just 3-4 months before the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Rajasthan has a history of throwing out incumbent governments every five years. While both Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh are popular, they will be battling anti-incumbency of 15 years.
A loss in even one of these two states would make it 2-1 in favour of the Congress, and give the party much-needed momentum just before the finals. Modi and Shah are aware of this risk and have tried to replace the three CMs with their own men by pulling them to the Centre, but haven’t managed to do so because of the grip they enjoy over the state units.
To negate the anti-incumbency against state units, Modi-Shah duo could prepone the national elections, in my opinion, and hold the elections with these 3 states together. This way they hope to sail through, banking on the ‘Modi factor’. Interesting times ahead!
(The writer is a freelance journalist who writes extensively on Indian politics. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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