Will New Congress Chief Ministers Be Able to Deliver on Promises?

The road ahead for the Congress chief ministers is going to be bumpy, with many promises to keep.

5 min read
Image of new Congress CMs in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, used for representational purposes.

The newly-elected Congress party chief ministers for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were sworn in on Monday, 17 December, amid much fanfare. Rahul Gandhi hopped from one state capital to another along with tall leaders to attend the ceremonies, amid a show of opposition strength and unity.

There was also the buzz of top guns Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav skipping the mega event(s). But other top leaders of the Congress party were present at the dais in full strength, killing rumours of factionalism and unhappiness over the selection of chief ministers, within the Congress.

The manifesto of the party for the three states shared common promises of waiving off farm loans, providing unemployment allowances to youth, making the states safe for women – among others.

For the three chief ministers of the respective states, the road ahead is going to be bumpy, as they face significant challenges.

Promises to Keep

The Congress party has promised the moon to the electorate in the three states. Fufilling these in a time-bound manner will be challenging. Many people are criticizing the farm loan waiver / unemployment allowance to youth, saying that these are not long-term solutions but quick fixes. I agree, but everything is fair in love, war and politics. Even BJP used the same tricks to win elections in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

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Kamal Nath, within hours of taking oath, signed the order for the waiver of crop loans up to Rs 2 lakhs, taken till 31 March 2018. BJP and some farmer associations have already started criticising the waiver, as it excludes loans taken recently.

Even Bhupesh Baghel announced a waiver of short term agriculture loans up to Rs 6,100 crores, in his first cabinet meeting. Estimates for farm loan waivers in the three states vary from Rs 1.5 lakh crores to 1.8 lakh crores. There will also be comparisons; while Chhattisgarh has come up with the exact number of beneficiaries and aggregate amount of waiver, MP hasn’t made such a disclosure; Rajasthan is yet to decide on the matter.

All the three states are landlocked which has prohibited industrial growth, and in turn affected employment creation opportunities. Jobs cannot be created up in the air without industries setting up shop there. The Congress governments need to come up with innovative ideas to attract industries and give sops, which the budget of the states may not be in position to support.

Within three months, the party needs to deliver at least on some of the key promises. The chief ministers have to ensure modalities are completed and schemes rolled out before the MCC for Lok Sabha elections kick in.

Potential Impact of Farm Loan Waivers on State Finances

While Rajasthan has a debt of about 3 lakh crores, MP is reeling under a debt of 1.6 lakh crores. The Congress has inherited a relatively financially stable Chhattisgarh. The farm loan waiver amount in MP and Rajasthan could account for one-third to half of the state’s total expenditure, putting pressure on fiscal deficit numbers.

The monthly stipend to 10 lakh youth in Chhattisgarh is going to cost another 3,000 crores. This, along with farm loan waivers, is likely to double the debt of the state.

The MSP scheme also poses a challenge, as the previous Raman Singh government failed to deliver the same promise. The chief ministers will have to come up with creative ideas to compensate for these expenses; any additional tax burden on the middle-class could eliminate the gains the party has made in urban seats in these three states. The Congress has won more than half of the urban seats in these elections (47/84).

Keeping Factionalism at Bay

Both in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Congress has failed to secure even a simple majority on its own, falling marginally short. It had to depend on regional parties and independents for support. Even with their support, it will enjoy a wafer-thin majority; in MP it can go up to maximum 121 (+5 from the half-way mark).

While the BJP has refrained from adventures, especially in MP, the same cannot hold true forever. The BJP strategy might be to wait for the 2019 results and then strike.

The fact that the Congress has returned to power after 15 years in Chhattisgarh and MP raises expectations from leaders and cadre. The ministry formation is going to be a tough, with many aspirants. Managing expectations and keeping different factions happy will be the key test of Kamal Nath and Baghel. Congress will also face a strong opposition from 73 MLAs of BJP in Rajasthan where Congress had only 21 in the outgoing assembly, and from 109 MLAs of BJP in MP, where the Congress had only 58 MLAs in the outgoing assembly.

Keeping Up the Momentum till 2019

Lok Sabha elections will be held within 3-4 months now. These three states account for 65 Lok Sabha seats. BJP won 32 of these in 2013. A simple extrapolation of the results to Lok Sabha seats shows that BJP tally could reduce to half. Party could win 17 seats in MP, 1 in Chhattisgarh and 13 in Rajasthan. Since these states have bipolar contests, the natural beneficiary is going to be the Congress party. Its tally is likely to increase ten-fold from 3 currently to 34 as the states follow a trend of giving maximum seats in Lok Sabha to the party which wins in state elections.

Till the elections, all factions of the Congress party worked hard to ensure the party’s victory, in the hope they could be chief minister. Now with names announced, it is possible Scindia in MP and Singh Deo, Sahu, Mahant camps in Chhattisgarh, may not work with the same zeal for the Lok Sabha elections.

The challenge for Rahul will be to keep them motivated and compensate with plum posts in the central governing bodies so that ever famous factionalism of party doesn’t impact the prospects especially when it is in with a golden chance to defeat BJP in its own den.

Tussle With the Centre

We have seen how states with Opposition-led governments have accused the Centre of a bipartisan approach. Naidu of TDP walked out of NDA while ally Nitish Kumar’s demand to accord special status for Bihar fell on the deaf ears of Modi and Shah. Shah has not even held a press conference on the electoral defeats showing how big a setback it is for the BJP.

There are talks already that Congress could approach the Centre for farm loan waivers that have been availed from nationalized banks. Both the state and central governments could blame each other for the failure on the part of the Congress to deliver on its promises. BJP could also now get a chance to blame Congress for its failure to implement central schemes in these three states.

To sum up, while the Congress has received a big boost by defeating the BJP in the three states, the magnitude of victory, tall promises and shorter time frame to deliver before the grand finale, complicates matters for the grand old party.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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