What started as the dullest electioneering in the history of Madhya Pradesh a month ago has become a nail-biting contest for majority in the 230-seat House at the last moment.
A staunch believer in the two-party system since 1977, the 3.60 crore-strong electorate has been returning to power either the Congress or the BJP — or its various avatars. The last election had seen the BJP winning a thumping three-fourths majority after 10 years in the wilderness.
Their public postures notwithstanding, both parties are keeping their fingers crossed. A plethora of smaller parties, rebellions by regional satraps, a tilt in the tribal areas and emerging local factors, including brazen caste politics — have thrown the major political parties’ calculations out of gear.
BJP strategists are unnerved by the whirlwind tours of the one-woman army of Uma Bharti. Despite the lack of strong organisational support, the saffron-clad sadhvi, credited with bringing the BJP to power in 2003, has taken her native Bundelkhand region by storm. Working like a person possessed, campaigning for 18 hours a day, often spending nights in moving cars, she is attracting big crowds in the rural and suburban areas. And her main aim: to punish the BJP for “betraying” her and stop it from coming back to power.
In the neighbouring Vindhya and Gwalior-Chambal regions, both bordering Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party is trying its hands at its peculiar brand of social engineering. It had once captured 11 seats in MP. The new Brahmin-Dalit caste combination has become an unpredictable factor and no one knows whose votes the party, contesting as many as 228 seats, will eat into this time.
Another factor muddying the waters is the carving out of 26 new seats in the delimitation, which mainly affects BJP MLAs.
The good news for the Congress comes from the tribal areas. Even as the Congress hopes to stage a comeback in the Bhil land of Dhar and Jhabua, in other tribal areas, notably Mahakoshal, the Gondwana Gantantra Party, which upset the Congress applecart the last time, seems to have become a spent force after its split two years ago. Hence, the Congress hopes to make inroads in the tribal areas once again.
Also, probably for the first time in Madhya Pradesh, only one leader, state Congress chief Suresh Pachouri is getting a larger than life projection at the cost of other charismatic leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh and Arjun Singh. Many Congressmen, used to working under a collective leadership at election time, find this hard to swallow. They have by and large been confined to their own areas.
The BJP, taking a leaf out of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat election book, has changed more than one-third of its sitting MLAs to neutralise anti-incumbency. But it did not have the courage to drop ministers whose images have been dented by serious allegations of corruption. It should not come as a surprise if some of these stalwarts lose.
Even as the BJP is seeking votes for the performance of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government — focussing on the work done for the women, farmers and the poor — the main plank poll of the Congress is the brazen corruption, misrule and anti-poor policies of the state government. “What can you expect from the rulers who keep shopping around for machines to count currency notes,” said Sonia Gandhi at an election rally in the state.
Although political parties tried to bring national issues on their poll agendas, at the ground level the electorate was more interested in discussing the local MLA’s performance. And probably therein lies the key to the elections in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday.