MP Elections: Digvijay Singh May Still Change the Game – But How?
This is part 2 of a two-part series on MP elections
Congress hopes the trio of Kamalnath, Scindia, Digvijay and the learnings from Gujarat will help it sail through. On the other hand, BJP hopes to romp home on the back of social welfare schemes of Shivraj, development and his popularity among the masses. In Part 1, we analyzed 5 factors which could have a bearing on results of Madhya Pradesh elections, in this part we analyze some other factors.
Farmers account for 70% of population and 83% of working population of the state. While it is true that MP records the highest agriculture growth in the country and Shivraj, the kisanputra, is credited with the turnaround in agriculture, it’s also noteworthy that more than 10,000 farmers have committed suicide in the state since 2003. The Mandsaur incident last year has not gone down well with the farming community.
However, the ruling BJP claims that as the only state that provides zero-percent crop loans MP does not need such waiver. According to the BJP, more than Rs 33,000 crores have been provided to farmers through various schemes in the last one year. The party hopes it will be able to hold onto its support among the farmers through newly announced schemes like Krishi Utpadak Protsahan Yojana (₹ 265/quintal on wheat, ₹ 800 / quintal on Moong) and the MSP hike announced by central government which claims to provide 50% profit over cost of production. Ultimately, it all boils down to the pre-poll mood of the farmer.
Impact of JAYS & SAPAKS
An upper-caste community body SAPAKS, which has mostly government employees as members, has announced its intent to contest all 230 seats. It hopes to exploit the anger among the forward caste. It remains to be seen how much impact they can make.
JAYS, on the other hand, is an organisation which has been fighting for the protection of rights of Dalits and Adivasis. It recently presented a charter of demands to CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Earlier it was speculated that they would align with the Congress but they have announced that they will contest 80 seats, mostly reserved, on the symbol of Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP).
Shivraj Singh Chouhan has recently launched an ambitious outstanding power bill waiver scheme and subsidised power scheme ‘Sambal’ for labourers and poor families. More than 2 crore people have registered under this scheme, out of the 5-crore-strong voting population. Under the scheme, ₹ 2800 crores of electricity bills have already been waived off.
The other recent welfare scheme ‘Mukhya Mantri Jan Kalyan Yojana’ takes care of the needs of poor from birth to death. Pregnant women get ₹ 16,000 worth of benefits pre and post delivery. ₹ 4 lakh compensation to family in case of death of bread earner, fees of students from standard 1 to PhD, and host of other benefits of this scheme are enough to lure voters. Shivraj is banking on this scheme to sail him through. 45% poor and lower-class people voted for the BJP in 2013 elections. The party aims to further consolidate this vote bank through ‘Sambal’.
Field Strategy of the Parties
It is widely acknowledged that while the BJP has a sizeable and strong organisation in the state, the Congress is bereft of such cadre presence. Kamalnath is trying to revive the party structure at the block and mandal levels. Emulating the BJP’s panna pramukh, the Congress is also creating its army of booth managers. To match the BJP’s IT Cell, the Congress has created a team of 65,000 cyber warriors.
An election is all about the D-day management— getting your voter to the booth and slowing the pace of vote in weak booths. The BJP has mastered this art over the last few years and the Congress, too, is gearing up to give it a run for its money this time around.
While the BJP’s strategy is to highlight its significant achievements of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government, it faces challenge from millennial voters / young voters who have not seen the much-publicized dark era of Digvijay Singh. It is estimated that the state has around 50 lakh voters between 18-25 years. The BJP has started campaigns like Sarkar Sarkar Mein Fark Hai and Daave Nahin Pranam comparing state’s condition under Digvijay rule and under Shivraj rule to reinforce its message. It remains to be seen what the impact of this strategy is.
Local Anti-Incumbency at MLA Level
As per a recent Dainik Bhaskar survey, 46% respondents are unhappy with their MLAs. This tends to negatively impact the performance of the party which has higher number of members in the assembly as evidenced in Gujarat and Karnataka. The BJP’s strategy elsewhere has been of denying tickets to large number of current MLAs to negate the impact of anti-incumbency.
In MP as well, there are reports of 70 - 100 MLAs being denied tickets, including some cabinet ministers. This may lead to rebellion and some of the denied MLAs may end up contesting as independents or on other party symbols. The BJP is likely to announce tickets very late to tackle rebellion. It is noteworthy that many MPs also want to contest the MLA elections.
The Digvijay Factor
Digvijay Singh is the only Congress leader who has a pan-state appeal. Kamalnath’s influence is limited to Mahakoshal while that of Scindia to Gwalior-Chambal. Digvijay enjoys the pulse of the state organisation and party cadre. He undertook a non-political Narmada parikrama, for 6 months, hoping that he would be made the CM candidate. However, his party has denied him a shot at the CM’s post. His support for Kamalnath clinched the deal in the latter’s favour.
Digvijay is a synonym for the dark ages in MP, when there was no electricity, no roads in the state. He is considered as the man responsible for making the state BIMARU. That’s why the Congress chose to sideline him.
Shivraj, the astute politician, has realised that it is important to bring Digvijay into the forefront. He attacked Digvijay in late July and called him anti-national for his remarks on Hindu terror. Digvijay retorted and dared Shivraj to arrest him. He led a procession to court arrest in Bhopal. All this has brought the limelight back on Digvijay. The BJP believes that Digvijay could have his own Mani Shankar Aiyyar moment and score a self-goal for the Congress just before the election.
To sum up, a complex interplay of a host of factors will determine who ultimately wins Madhya Pradesh. A cracker of an election is in the offing.
(Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate & investment banker, turned political commentator and consultant. He is co-author of ‘Battle of Bihar’ and can be reached @politicalbaaba. 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.)