It is the first time that a non-Congress party has returned to power for a second consecutive term in Madhya Pradesh. True, its majority has been reduced; in 2003 it had secured three-fourth seats after spending 10 years out of power. But an even more spectacular factor for the BJP is that verdict 2008 is a positive vote for the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Government unlike the last time when it had come to power riding a massive anti-incumbency factor.
To the credit of the BJP, it put saffron agenda on the backburner. Its election plank was development. It sought votes on performance of the government. The campaign focussed on the work done for women, farmers and the poor. With his many schemes aimed at the girl child, Chouhan has actually become quite popular among women, whom he specially tried to woo in his election rallies.
With a large number of ministers and legislators suffering from image problem due to serious complaints of corruption, the BJP took a leaf out of Narendra Modi's Gujarat election book and changed more than one-third of its sitting MLAs.
But Chouhan, already projected by the BJP as its choice for a second term, was aware that it was probably not enough to buck the anti-incumbency factor. So he demanded votes for himself. "If you want to make me chief minister again, please do vote for the BJP candidate."
Actually, it was Chouhan who became one of the factors behind the BJP's convincing victory. A low profile politician by his own admission, Chouhan was able to connect to the masses due to his down-to-earth, man-next-door image among the rural and semi urban voters. "People felt that he was one of their own," says a political analyst.
Another factor behind the BJP victory was the Congress party itself. It looked as if the party was determined to lose. And the person most responsible for it was probably the state unit chief himself, Suresh Pachouri, a former union minister, who was sent to Madhya Pradesh last February. He proved to be a disastrous choice. Pachouri has never won a single general election in his life; in fact, he lost the only election he ever contested. He runs his politics, Rajya Sabha style, whose member he has been for the last quarter century.
Till February the general atmosphere in MP was that the Congress was coming back to power. That started changing almost immediately. The Congress remained a divided house till the time it went to polls. In fact it could never put its act together. Probably for the first time in Madhya Pradesh, only one leader, Pachouri, got a larger than life projection in the official campaign of the State Congress. This was, of course, done at the cost of other charismatic regional leaders such as Jyotriditya Scindia, Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh and Arjun Singh. Many Congressmen, used to working under a collective leadership at election time, found it hard to swallow.
The acute groupism resulted in complaints of favouritism in ticket distribution, leading to large-scale revolt, including that of regional satraps like Mukesh Nayak, Mahavir Prasad Vashishth and Balendu Shukla. It cost the party a number of seats.
Perhaps the Congress, like everyone else, was banking too much upon the Uma Bharati factor. During her whirlwind tours the saffron-clad sadhvi, credited with bringing the BJP to power in 2003, drew massive crowds. But she not only failed to translate that into votes but also met with a humiliating defeat at the hustings herself.