This time, there is a marked difference in the strategy of the Congress and the BJP
A clear trend emerging in these Lok Sabha polls is the marked difference in the strategy of the two major national parties, the Congress and the BJP. The Congress in Madhya Pradesh, which is playing the ballot on the back foot due to corruption, price rise and a weak grassroots network, is banking on the individual appeal of its candidates.
Leaders from both parties admit that the Congress’ choice of candidates is the best they could come up with trying times such as these. Besides the satraps — Union Ministers Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath and former ministers Ajay Singh, Kantilal Bhuria and Arun Yadav — the party has fielded five former Ministers and personalities who can hold their own.
The BJP has pinned its hopes on its cadre base. Where cadres are not co-operating, the vacuum is filled by the personal appeal of the new ‘loh purush’ (iron man) and ‘vikas purush’ (development man) of the saffron milieu, respectively, Chief Ministers Narendra Modi and Shivraj Chouhan.
Congress candidates Mr. Kamal Nath in Chhindwara and former additional solicitor general Vivek Tankha in Jabalpur are seeking votes purely on the basis of work done or favours extended by them. Others such as Ajay Singh have brought in their own loyalists to campaign and be present at polling booths, without depending on District Congress Committees, which are prone to defection or inducement — a consequence of being out of power from a decade in the State.
“The BJP’s campaign has been to go on the offensive against the Congress. Neither is the Congress able to answer them at a national level nor can candidates depend on the weak cadre base. Hence, they are overwhelmingly relying on their own connections and projecting their own stature in their seats,” says columnist Girija Shankar.
Deepak Tiwari, journalist and author of ‘Rajnitinama Madhya Pradesh’— a seminal work on the State’s political history — traces the decay of the Congress grassroots to the regime of Digvijaya Singh in the 1990s.
“He became CM (in 1993) when there were many strong leaders such as the Shukla brothers, Subhash Yadav and Arjun Singh. In order to redeem himself from remaining a weak CM, he began to crush them by investing power in himself. There can never be two power centres and Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs during Digvijaya’s time were weak by design. The organisation could not recover as they have been out of power after Digvijaya’s time,” he told The Hindu.
The BJP, says Tiwari, is also in hot water as it is fighting on two fronts. The first is leveraging its cadre base and Modi’s persona over the individual clout of their Congress opponents. The second is motivating cadre disillusioned by several Congress leaders, such as Uday Pratap Singh and Bhagirath Prasad, defecting to the BJP and assuming positions of leadership. In the seats bordering Gujarat, BJP candidates are reportedly banking on recent defectors from the lower ranks of the Congress in anticipation of sabotage by their own cadre.
According to Girija Shankar, the influence of the BJP’s ideological guide Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is limited to building momentum in favour of Modi for PM and, maintaining discipline in the rank and file.
“Their (RSS) public outreach is limited, although it is academically exaggerated. Modi’s appeal is most valuable in States where the BJP is present, but does not have mass leaders, like U.P. and Bihar. In M.P., Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the campaign hinges upon the influence of the respective CMs on the cadre and their management of the poll process.”
Madhya Pradesh has 29 seats, nine of which voted on April 10. The BJP currently holds 16, the Congress 12 and the BSP holds a single seat. Ten constituencies each vote on April 17 and 24.