When results of Madhya Pradesh’s civic body polls are announced on Wednesday, the focus will be on the bigger political picture in a state that embraced saffron long before Narendra Modi arrived on the scene.
And the usual official one-line announcements heralding a winning mayor or a corporator will be read with a magnifying glass for the fine print – is it a continuation of the ruling BJP’s dominance or the beginning of the Congress’ return to relevance?
Either way, the story is big and the stakes high for both parties.
Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan himself led the party’s campaigning in Bhopal, turning the polls into a high-profile, high-octane battle for controlling the capital.
Polling was held on January 31 to elect 4 mayors, 7 presidents and 372 corporators in 11 municipal corporations and municipal councils.
The BJP appeared confident on the eve of counting, hoping that its mayoral candidate Alok Sharma will have the better of Congress’ Kailash Mishra.
The BJP is relying mainly on a trickle-down effect of the popularity of Chouhan and Prime Minister Modi and the fact that Bhopal has been a BJP bastion for a long time with a traditional vote bank.
In Indore, the state’s commercial capital, the mayoral contest is between the BJP’s Malini Gaud and Congress’s Archana Jaiswal while in the 85 wards it is a multi-cornered contest.
In Bhopal, the Congress is banking on low voting besides support from the minority community in the old city area and also on votes from disgruntled sections within the BJP who were denied tickets for corporators.
“We will get a majority in the corporations and the BJP mayoral candidates will win, not only in Bhopal but in Chhindwara, Jabalpur and Indore as well. The low voting percentage claimed by Congress as a sign of their victory is in fact due to problems in the voters’ list,” said BJP spokesperson Vishwas Sarang, who is also an MLA.
The BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh – literally in the heart of the country – since 2003 and has won all elections since then.
The party almost made a clean sweep in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, winning 27 seats out of 29. Earlier in 2013, it had retained power by winning 165 seats against the Congress’ 58.
Amidst the poll drama, an RTI activist filed a petition in the MP High Court on Monday, seeking quashing of the elections as they were allegedly conducted through faulty EVMs.
The petition also sought a probe through an independent agency into the alleged use of a large number of faulty EVMs. The court is yet to take up the petition.
And another small but not inconsequential side story to the entire process is that polling in Chhanera and Harda was held with the option of right to recall the heads of their respective civic bodies.
After the results are out, either of the two main parties will also recall what went wrong.
Day of reckoning
# Counting starts: 9 am
# Number of wards in Bhopal and Indore: 85 each
# Counting in Bhopal at old jail premises; in Indore at Nehru Stadium
# Results the same day.