The assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh come against the backdrop of two political developments that had several intersection points.
One is BJP patriarch LK Advani’s stiff opposition to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s nomination as the party’s PM candidate because the former wanted the assembly elections in five states to be over first.
And the second is Advani’s patronage of Shivraj Singh Chouhan right from the time the latter became MP chief minister in November 2005 but more in a pronounced manner when talk of projecting Modi for PMship started.
The assembly elections are interesting for some other reasons also. Even after 10 years of its rule, the BJP wants the memory of the previous 10 years of the Congress government, good or bad, to survive.
Hence, the theme of the BJP’s election campaign this time is 2003 vs 2013.
The BJP relies heavily on the charisma of Chouhan. Chouhan, like his mentor Advani, had been opposed to the party declaring Modi’s name ahead of the assembly elections because he apprehended it might affect his poll prospects.
Trying to maintain a calculated distance from Modi, Chouhan has been rebranding his image for years as a secular leader while keeping the RSS in good humour.
This is because the Chouhan camp feared with Modi being there, the Muslims and Christians in particular as well as a section of Hindu voters opposed to Modi’s politics would keep away from the BJP and rush to the Congress fold now.
Anti-incumbencyThe BJP’s campaign, being led by Chouhan himself with his Jan Ashirvad Yatra, has met with fierce opposition from the Congress.
The Congress campaign, headed by Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, is aimed at exposing the “misrule” of the BJP government in 10 years (2003-2013) and massive corruption in the government machinery.
The Congress somewhat stood vindicated on the corruption issue when income-tax sleuths raided the residences of Dilip Suryavanshi, a builder, and Sudhir Sharma, a miner, last year.
While Suryavanshi is close to the state BJP leadership, Sharma is a BJP leader himself.
And also there are complaints with the lokayukta against at least 12 ministers. To make matters worse, lokayukta PP Naolekar reportedly said the government was not providing papers to him regarding the complaints against the ministers.
The anti-incumbency factor has been strengthened by the fact that there is resentment among voters against a number of MLAs whose prosperity grew tremendously during the period.
Senior BJP leaders are saying the party will have to deny the ticket to 55-60 MLAs to counter anti-incumbency.
“The Congress decentralised power but they (BJP government in state) decentralised corruption. Rs 5 crore was recovered from the drivers of the ministers and their family members,” said Scindia recently during a ‘meet the press’ programme.
Chouhan is never tired of harping on his government’s achievements on roads (95,000 km in the past one decade against 50,000 km during the Congress regime), power generation (more than 10,000 MW against 2,900 MW during the Congress years), etc.
However, the Congress debunks the claims.
“The state government is telling lies. Roads in each city are full of potholes. Hence, the situation in rural areas can be gauged. In the name of 24 hours’ power supply under the Atal Jyoti Abhiyan they are again misleading people. In the past 10 years not a single scheme for potable water has been launched,” said state Congress spokesperson JP Dhanopia.
As the political and electoral history of Madhya Pradesh suggests, the third front or third force is hardly anything to reckon it.
‘Third force’ parties like the Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party can think of playing the kingmaker only when there is a close contest between the two major parties.
In the 2008 elections the BSP could win seven seats because Mayawati was chief minister then in the neighbouring state of UP. The SP had to be content with just one.