Madhya Pradesh assembly election 2018: Will corruption, rural anger hurt BJP in the state?
The 2013 Madhya Pradesh elections were part of the poll-cycle which marked the beginning of the Modi wave. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got two-thirds majority in the state. That is not the case anymore. Takkar (contest) has replaced hawa (wave) as the one-word descriptor for the November 28 election. However, most BJP workers we spoke to in Madhya Pradesh are confident that the party will be able to pull off a Gujarat-2017 like performance, where the BJP’s seats came down but the party retained its majority, in Madhya Pradesh 2018. There are good reasons, rooted in both arithmetic and chemistry, why this might or might not happen.
Arithmetic shows that the Congress has a lot of ground to make up vis-à-vis the BJP. The latter won 165 seats in the 2013 elections, with an extraordinary strike rate of 72%. The average vote share of the BJP was 45% compared to 36% for the Congress.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan is also relying on positive chemistry. Entrenched memories of poor provision of public goods such as electricity and roads under the Digvijaya Singh-led Congress government between 1998 and 2003 continue to haunt the opposition. Even Congress supporters across the states agreed that Singh’s tenure was a disaster for the party. That 15 years of BJP rule have led to development is a common view across the state.
These two factors not withstanding, the BJP will do well not to be complacent. There is a broad narrative among voters, Congress and BJP supporters alike, that the BJP government has been infiltrated by highly corrupt and non-performing local actors including MLAs. Shivraj agar jaroori hai to vidhayak majboori hai (The MLA is a compromise, if you want to see Shivraj as the chief minister) is the common narrative among BJP workers across the state. That the BJP has dropped 53 of its sitting MLAs (from a house of 230) this time corroborates this narrative. Widespread rural distress in the state, similar to what was seen in Gujarat, is likely to add to the headwinds from local level anti-incumbency for the ruling party.
In Gujarat, 2017, the Congress actually won a majority in rural areas, winning 67 out of the 126 rural seats in the state. It was urban seats which saved the BJP in the state. Even in MP, the BJP has had a better foothold in urban seats. Statistics provided by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) at Ashoka University, show that the BJP had a strike rate of 93% in urban seats in Madhya Pradesh compared to just 69% in rural seats in the 2013 elections. These figures were 7% and 28% for the Congress. Using data from the 2011 census, we classify an AC as urban if it has less than 100,000 rural voters. The rural distress factor could have a much bigger electoral impact in Madhya Pradesh than it had in Gujarat. According to the 2011 census, Madhya Pradesh had only 28% urban population. The figure is 43% for Gujarat. Only 27 out of the 230 ACs in MP fulfil the urban criterion described above.
See Chart: Rural Urban Seats Region-Wise
Another factor which should worry the BJP is the high level of electoral volatility in the state even in what was otherwise a wave election. The BJP lost one-third of the 143 ACs it had won in the 2008 elections in the 2013 polls. The pattern was not uniform across the state. The party did exceedingly well in the Malwa region, with a strike rate of 90%, while it suffered reverses in the Kymore Plateau region.
A region-wise analysis of swing in vote shares and seat shares shows that regions such as Malwa can see a disproportionate swing in seat shares for a given swing in vote share. If the twin grievances of corruption and rural distress align with such electoral volatility, the Congress may just pull off a victory in Madhya Pradesh.
See chart: region-wise change in seat share and vote share