PM Modi may not be decisive factor for Madhya Pradesh assembly election

Madhya Pradesh assembly elections 2018: The Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, due on November 28, could well be the first where either Prime Minister Modi is not a prominent factor, or at best, delivers mixed results. The focus is primarily on state leaders.

madhya pradesh elections Updated: Nov 27, 2018 14:28 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Shahdol/Jabalpur/Sagar/Morena/Gwalior
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi being garlanded during a public meeting for Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections campaign, in Vidisha, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (PTI)

“Yeh Modi ji ka chunav nahin hai [this is not Narendra Modi’s election],” says a government official in Madhya Pradesh’s Morena district five days before the region goes to the polls on November 28.

In almost every state election since 2014 where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been an important player, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come out either as the opener who has set the stage for a successful innings, or as a late-order batsman who has swung the match for his team. His strike rate has been high.

The Madhya Pradesh elections could well be the first where either Modi is not a prominent factor, or at best, delivers mixed results. The focus is primarily on state leaders, but even here there is a puzzle. The BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan — with his carefully cultivated image of Mamaji (uncle), bestowing welfare on the population — enjoys goodwill. But it is not clear whether this will translate to support for local candidates battling anti-incumbency.

On the other side of the fence, the Congress has three leaders. Anecdotal evidence from travels across all major regions in the state — Malwa-Nimar, Vindhya, Mahakoshal, and Gwalior-Chambal — suggests that most popular within the party fold is Jyotiraditya Scindia. This is true for both, the wider public as well as the younger voter who may have earlier been with the BJP. The state president, Kamal Nath, is less widely known in the public sphere since his politics has largely revolved around Delhi and his seat, Chhindwara, rather than Bhopal. And the least popular but most experienced in state politics, Digvijay Singh, has been kept in the deep background because his term in office is associated with poor governance.

But most striking from the perspective of 2019 are the kinds of responses that Modi evokes — indifference, support and criticism. There is one thing in common in all three: the PM is now being judged for his performance, not his intent and announcements.

Read: Madhya Pradesh assembly elections: BJP banks on welfare schemes to retain core voters

Local versus general

At Modi’s Shahdol rally on November 16, two men came on their motorcycle from a neighbouring constituency to hear him speak. They were not particularly interested in CM Chouhan’s speech and appeared to have made up their mind to vote for the Congress. But they were keen to hear what Modi had to say.

One of them, Dileep, a 45-year-old farmer, said: “Modi ji offers something new each time. He is the country’s PM and so we wanted to come.” Was his speech enough to convince them to vote for BJP in the state polls? “No. He will not run the government in Bhopal. This is not his election.”

Back in the Morena government office, the local official offered an explanation for this phenomena. “Voters are very aware now. They know the distinction between a local and general election, an election for Bhopal and an election for Delhi,” he said. And that is why what happens on December 11 cannot easily be extrapolated into what will eventually happen in 2019.

Click here to find out 2013 vote share of various parties

Performance assessment

It is inevitable in a political battle that the work of the central government, which is often implemented through state government agencies, is discussed. This is particularly true when both the state and Centre are ruled by the same party.

Those who support Modi credit him for his attempt at rural transformation. Across villages, even his most strident critics admit that the government has worked on four key schemes — rural housing, rural roads, toilets and distribution of gas cylinders.

Bijay Chaudhary in Nauroli village in Sagar district tells fellow Dalits that this shows the BJP has worked for the poor. Dharmendra Thakur, a local BJP councillor in the district’s Khurai constituency, claims that welfare delivery is Modi’s biggest contribution. Narayan Singh Yadav, a contractor in Morena, says that Modi has changed life in rural areas. In Boyera and Gopalpura villages in Jhabua, tribals acknowledge that money has come into their accounts for housing.

Also Read: Madhya Pradesh assembly elections 2018: BJP did nothing for farmers, says Rahul Gandhi

But there are also robust voices critiquing Modi from across communities.

When asked about the rural welfare delivery, Satyendra Pariyar of Narsinghpur’s Kathgodiya village says, “A gas cylinder is now more than ₹1,000 and so people are returning to their old ways of cooking. For houses, even though the government has promised ₹150,000, not all the money comes into the account. There is still corruption. And can you really make toilets for ₹12,000 now?”

Amit, a driver in Bhopal, says the PM is actually taking away votes from the BJP this time around. “He did demonetisation. He did GST [Goods and Services Tax]. Chouhan has to carry the baggage of his unpopular policies. The Centre has done little for us who belong to the lower middle class.”

In Shivpuri’s Kolaras assembly, a group of Yadav men concur. “He [Modi] now says the same thing again and again. But look at the delivery. Where are the jobs? Across MP, people are migrating for jobs,” says one of them.

It is in these diverse voices that a pattern can be discerned, both for the current election and the Lok Sabha election. Modi is not the decisive factor in Madhya Pradesh as voters make up their mind this time around. For 2019, his four key flagship projects — housing, toilets, gas, roads — have expanded support. But the perception that jobs have not been created and economic environment is not bright has eroded support.

For complete coverage of Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election 2018, click here

First Published: Nov 27, 2018 13:26 IST