After two consecutive terms in office, the BJP is faced with the anti-incumbency factor in the state that has 46.4 million voters.
It has to deal with the resentment of a section of people and party workers against some entrenched legislators who have corruption charges against them.
The saffron party has denied tickets to 43 sitting MLAs this time. However, it is giving another chance to 32 of the 35 ministers in the state cabinet.
The Congress, on the other hand, suffered a setback in the state after a cash-for-ticket controversy cropped up.
Congress leader Suresh Pachouri was at the receiving end when party MP Rao Uday Pratap Singh and former media-in-charge Manak Agarwal accused him of distributing party tickets in exchange of cash.
State Congress spokesperson Noori Khan also brought similar charges against MP Premchand Guddu. Both Pachouri and Guddu, however, trashed the allegations.
Out of power for 10 years, the party banks on the anti-incumbency factor and the BJP infighting, especially in the Malwa region, to return to power.
The saffron party has showcased chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s leadership, his welfare schemes, OBC tag, and pro-poor and clean image in the run-up to the polling day.
It hopes that the Congress-led UPA’s troubles at the Centre with corruption charges and price rise will help its hat-trick bid.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) role in quelling discontent among party leaders has also helped the BJP.
“The Congress is not in the race. The BJP’s tally will increase this time. There may be surprising results even in Congress strongholds,” said Ananth Kumar, BJP affairs-in-charge for Madhya Pradesh.
Congress’ leadership pangs
Two years ago, the Congress high command nominated the then Union minister, Kantilal Bhuria, as the state president to bail out the Congress after the second successive loss in 2008 to the BJP in assembly polls.
The Congress’ performance had plunged to a historic low of 38 seats in the 2003 assembly elections under then state president Radhakishan Malviya.
Central minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s selection as the state Congress campaign committee chairman three months ago ended the confusion in the party over who will lead the party’s charge.
“BJP rallies were a flop show. A frustrated Shivraj Singh Chouhan was addressing meetings for 5 minutes on the last day of campaigning. The people’s message is clear,” said state Congress vice-president Rameshwar Neekhra.
However, senior leaders such as Digvijay Singh, Scindia, Kantilal Bhuria, Kamal Nath and Sajjan Singh Verma are not contesting the elections this year.
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has held rallies across the state, as has Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Both have spoken of generating employment opportunities, addressing the prime concern of youngsters.
However, Modi and Gandhi have taken different approaches. While Modi has attacked the Centre for lack of job opportunities in MP, Gandhi has trained his guns on the state government.
Both the Congress and the BJP have made tall promises, with special attention lavished on young voters. The state has 16.2 million voters in the 18-29 age group. This is the first time when such a large number of young voters will cast their ballots in the state.
The Congress has promised free laptops, tablets and two-wheelers to meritorious students. The party has also pledged 35 kilograms of free food grains every month to each of the families below the poverty line.
The BJP’s youth-centric offering is a smart phone each for those who get admission in government colleges.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is a force to reckon with in the Vindhya, Bundelkhand and Gwalior-Chambal regions. A good BSP show may help the BJP by denting the Congress vote bank. The BSP has been getting 6% to 8% of the votes in assembly polls since 1993.
The Samajwadi Party’s (SP’s) performance in the state has traditionally depended on its choice of candidates and their image.
In 2003 assembly polls, the BJP and the Congress got 42.50% and 31.61% votes, respectively.
The BJP’s vote share came down to 37.70% in 2008 assembly elections while the Congress’ share marginally rose to 32.40%.
it was attributed to BJP leader Uma Bharti deserting the party and forming a new outfit, the Bharatiya Janshakti Party.
Bharti’s party won just 5 seats, but its vote share was almost 5%. She returned to the BJP in 2011.