How CMs of Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh strive to hold fort for BJP in 2019
With farmers’ protests in MP, rebellion within party’s Rajasthan unit and Maoist menace in Chhattisgarh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh grapple with crises ahead of the polls.Updated: Jun 14, 2017 10:07 IST
The chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh have gone into poll mode. All of them are Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, and they are all preparing for assembly elections next year that will set the tone for the national elections in 2019.
Each chief minister has faced significant challenges during their term: Farmers’ protests in Madhya Pradesh, fractious party politics in Rajasthan, and anti-incumbency and the threat of Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh. Charges of corruption have been directed at the governments in all three states.
Rumours abound that some of these leaders could be included in the next reshuffle of the council of ministers, much as Manohar Parrikar was in 2014.
The BJP has been in power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh since 2003. It wrested Rajasthan from the Congress in 2013.
All three chief ministers — Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh), and Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) — have been on statewide tours to get a ‘feedback session’. They believe their welfare schemes, the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a weak opposition will help them win them another election.
With a little over a year left before their states to go to the polls, the political fates of each of the three chief ministers hang in the balance.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan is facing the worst crisis of his tenure. Madhya Pradesh has a rural population of over 70%, and many farmers voted for the BJP in the last three elections. The performance of the state’s agricultural sector was, until recently, a source of pride, but this bout of unrest could prove a major liability. On Saturday, Chouhan fasted while hearing grievances.
It is not the first time he has been embroiled in a scandal. He was severely criticised for resisting the idea of an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the so-called ‘Vyapam scam’, which concerns reports of bribery and suspicious deaths in Madhya Pradesh related to the administering of medical entrance examinations. The inquiry is ongoing.
Chouhan, also known as ‘Mama’ for his many welfare schemes, is an effective populist. He is fond of political yatras, the latest one being a five-month-long effort, from last December until this past May, to support the cleaning of Narmada river.
Mama is expanding his government’s safety net. On April 7, he started Deendayal Kitchens, a programme to offer meals for Rs 5 across the state. He plans, by the end of the year, to provide some 50 lakh homeless people with l
and for building a house. His government is funding the higher studies of any student who scores above an 85% in Class 12 exams.
But Shivraj’s biggest strength is the absence of a strong opposition. “The state government doesn’t need to worry about anti-incumbency,” said Girija Shankar, a political analyst based in Bhopal, “as there is zero opposition in Madhya Pradesh.”
The BJP’s success here depends on two factors: Divisions within the opposition and Prime Minister Modi’s popularity. The BJP won 163 of 200 assembly seats in 2013 and all 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. “The increasing vote percentage shows people’s faith in BJP and its policies,” said state BJP chief Ashok Parnami. “People have voted BJP above caste, religion and region.”
Rajasthan BJP spokesperson Ashok Lahoti said the BJP has expanded its reach to rural areas. “Earlier people used to say the BJP is urban area based party,” he said, “but first time in state history, 75% of panchayat election results were in our favour.”
In recent decades, however, the Rajasthan ruling party has often been voted out, and Raje is dealing with rebellion from her own colleagues.
BJP leaders say that there is no mechanism for addressing the grievances of party workers and that there has been nepotism in appointments to political posts. A senior party MLA, Ghanshyam Tiwari, floated another organisation, Deen Dayal Vahini, which he described as an attempt to promote “clean politics”.
In 2015, Raje weathered a controversy over her close ties to Lalit Modi, the businessman who was expelled from the BCCI for making threats, failing to disclose conflicts of interests, and rigging bids. She received a shot in the arm this April from a by-election in Dholpur, a seat previously held by the BSP that the BJP won after Raje camped there for more than two weeks.
As in Madhya Pradesh, the Rajasthan state unit hopes it will be helped by feuding within the opposition, in this case between factions led by state Congress president Sachin Pilot and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
Raman Singh has won the last three elections by a whisker. The difference between the vote shares of the Congress and the BJP was 2.5% in 2003, 1.7% in 2008 and 0.7% in 2013. The gap in number of seats won by the two parties declined from 13 to 12 seats to 10 seats.
Anti-incumbency has seemed to make an impact in Chhattisgarh, but Singh has managed to pull off a victory every election. Some suspect a deal with Ajit Jogi, a former Congress chief minister, to defeat the grand old party.
Jogi is out of the Congress and has floated his own outfit. “Jogi has clout among satnami and tribal population,” said a BJP leader. “He will split the anti-incumbency votes to BJP’s advantage.”
Another worry for Singh is the persistence of Maoists in the state. In April, 25 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed in an ambush in the southern district of Sukma.
Singh is known as Chaur Wale Baba (a saint offering rice) for his government’s public distribution programme, which sends free rice to far-flung areas.
In 2015, Congress charged that as much as 1.5 lakh crore of funds for the scheme had been mishandled, but in the past Singh has found success announcing, every harvest season before polls, a ‘bonus’ above the minimum support price for paddy. Next year’s election likely will be no different.
Singh is currently on a statewide tour. “It is helping us understand issues and realise our shortcomings more than a year before the poll,” said a source close to him. Last week, Singh said as many as half his legislators will be declared ineffective and replaced in the election by new faces. In 2013, Singh successfully fought anti-incumbency in the same way.
First Published: Jun 14, 2017 10:00 IST