Assembly polls 2008 in Madhya Pradesh is markedly different from the last one in 2003 when the state was awash in a wave of anti-incumbency against the Congress government led by Digvijay Singh.
The wave had given the BJP an unprecedented 173 seats in the 230-seat assembly, with the Congress tally plummeting to 38. Lack of development was a crucial factor behind the ouster of the Digvijay Singh government.
Though there are some signs of anti-incumbency against the BJP government headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan this time as well, they are by no means as strong as those seen against the 10-year Congress long regime last time.
Unfortunately for the Congress, it has no charismatic leader to convert the simmering discontent against the government into a poll-winning thrust.
When Uma Bharti — then still with the BJP — took charge of the MP election campaign a few months ahead of the polls in 2003, the epitaph of Digvijay’s government had almost been written. This time round, the picture is still hazy even though there is barely a week left for polling.
A combination of factors have muddied the picture. Firstly, the extent to which Uma Bharti’s breakaway Bharatiya Janshakti Party will cut into the BJP’s votes and thereby help the Congress, is not clear.
Two, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s low-key but sustained campaign across the state over the past year, specially among the upper castes, has upset caste equations. Which parties will the votes the BSP takes away adversely affect, and to what extent? No one knows.
Three, the rebellion in the BJP after ticket distribution continues to simmer. But the Congress is too engaged in intra-party squabbles over candidates which will damage its own chances as well.
Of course, the intensity and expanse of the rebellion is stronger and wider in the BJP than in the Congress. The BJP announced candidates in four lists and each one ignited a revolt.Party workers gave vent to their pent-up anger in every region of the state.
In any case, the BJP has changed 61 MLAs, one of them a minister. However, all the ministers considered tainted have been given party tickets. Surprisingly, maverick minister Akhand Pratap Singh, who took on his own chief minister for allotting land to an agency run by state BJP vice president Anil Madhav Dave, has been retained. He is pitted against Uma Bharti for the Tikamgarh seat.
The Congress too is facing dissension but on a relatively lower scale. Four former ministers have resigned from the party to contest on various other party symbols. State Congress chief Suresh Pachauri however is confident that dissension in the party will not make any impact.