Will better organisation deliver Madhya Pradesh for the BJP?
While the Congress has a comfortable lead over the BJP among both rural voters and farmers in Rajasthan, this does not seem to be the case in MP and Chhattisgarh.Updated: Nov 11, 2018 10:15 IST
The results of the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram will set the tone for the national contest in 2019. Of particular interest will be the outcomes in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, where the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are locked in a direct contest.
This author had argued in an earlier article that agrarian distress is likely to play a big role in the elections in these three states. However, the results of pre-poll surveys conducted by Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) — Lokniti have thrown up some counter-intuitive findings.
While the Congress has a comfortable lead over the BJP among both rural voters and farmers in Rajasthan, this does not seem to be the case in MP and Chhattisgarh. These patterns also find a reflection in overall levels of support for the two parties in the states.
The Congress has a lead of four percentage points over the BJP in Rajasthan, the two are locked in a tight contest in MP and the BJP seems to be comfortably ahead in Chhattisgarh.
To be sure, there is no guarantee that pre-poll surveys capture the actual mood of the electorate. However, the CSDS surveys are seen to be slightly more credible because they are transparent about methodology and sample size. It is extremely unlikely that rural distress in MP is significantly less than that in Rajasthan. Anecdotal evidence of a large number of farmers’ protests in Madhya Pradesh supports this argument. So, what is happening in the state?
There is reason to believe that an asymmetry in organisational strength of the Congress and the BJP might be playing a role in the ability of the two parties in canvassing voter support on the ground. There is some evidence of this in the Lokniti survey itself.
Overall support levels for the two parties are in keeping with the popularity of their potential chief ministerial candidates. Thirty-seven percent of respondents in MP wanted to see BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan back as the chief minister of the state.
This is equal to the combined support for Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijay Singh, the three main leaders of the Congress in the state. In Chhattisgarh, 40% of the respondents wanted to see Raman Singh of the BJP back as the chief minister. Singh is far ahead of his potential competitors.
Estranged Congress leader Ajit Jogi, who is contesting in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, is ranked second with 20% support, while Congress’s Bhupesh Baghel is third with 14% backing. The Congress is doing much better in Rajasthan.
Forty percent of the respondents in Rajasthan wanted to see either Ashok Gehlot or Sachin Pilot of the Congress as the next chief minister, which is eight percentage points more than the figure for Vasundhara Raje, the current BJP chief minister.
It is to be expected that popular leaders also galvanise a party’s organisation. An analysis of the latest assembly elections in Punjab, Gujarat and Karnataka — three big states which went to polls since January 2017, and where the Congress is an important player — proves this point.
HT classified assembly constituencies (ACs) by victory margins in these three states. Closely contested seats can swing either way in an election. Therefore, it helps if a party has existing areas of dominance with a significant lead over others.
The Congress did well in winning the closely contested seats in these three states. It won more than half the seats where the victory margin was up to 5% of the total votes polled. However, it did badly in winning seats where the victory margin was more than 5% in Gujarat (37.6%) and Karnataka (28.8%). In Punjab, it won 70% of these seats. This had an impact on the party’s total tally in the assembly too.
In Punjab, 78% of the Congress’s seats came from ACs where the victory margin was more than 5% of the total votes polled. This figure was 61% and 59% in Gujarat and Karnataka.
The Congress did not have a popular state-level leader in Gujarat. Siddaramaiah, who was Congress’ incumbent chief minister in Karnataka, erred in social engineering during the Karnataka campaign. Amarinder Singh, in contrast, proved to be an astute leader in Punjab.
He pretty much won the state on his own in 2017. To be sure, there is nothing surprising in these findings. One reason for the Congress’ political decline has been its inability to develop or retain influential regional-level leaders, who have strong support bases of their own.
This has adversely affected the party’s electoral performance in the recent past. Breaking this vicious cycle is a key long-term challenge for Rahul Gandhi, who took over as the Congress president last year.
The more pertinent question in the short term is whether the BJP will eventually surge ahead of the Congress in MP, which at the moment seems to be a close contest. We will know the answer on 11 December.
First Published: Nov 11, 2018 07:50 IST