Modi-Shivraj factor drives BJP win in M.P.; Congress caste census plank falls flat

Watch | The Hindu’s Mehul Malpani on the factors behind BJP’s massive win

BJP has bettered the Congress in all regions of the State; Modi’s direct connect with the voters, and reminding the electorate of the Centre’s schemes seem to have boosted the party’s fortunes; Shivraj brushed aside questions over his role and hit the ground running ahead of the polls

December 04, 2023 01:16 am | Updated 06:37 pm IST - Bhopal

By 12 p.m. on Sunday, the BJP’s campaign song “M.P. ke mann me Modi hai, Modi ke mann me M.P.” was played near the lawns of the party’s State headquarters in Bhopal with leaders and workers dancing to it. The scent of a massive win was in the air and in contrast, the State Congress office wore a deserted look with mediapersons outnumbering party workers.

Out of the 230 Assembly seats of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 164, restricting the Congress to 65 seats. One seat went to the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP). The BJP’s performance not only stunned the Congress but also many political observers who had predicted a closer fight between the two parties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during an election meeting in Ratlam district on November 4, 2023.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during an election meeting in Ratlam district on November 4, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The BJP’s success in the State can be gauged from the fact that it trumped the Congress in all six regions of Madhya Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh Election Results 2023 | Updates

Of the 66 seats in Malwa-Nimar region which has a significant tribal population, the BJP won 45 as opposed to 20 by Congress. The BAP bagged the other lone seat. The BJP nearly swept the Bundelkhand region winning 21 of 26 seats and left the Congress with just five.

Thirty-seat-strong Vindhya region threw up a similar result with BJP winning 25 and the Congress five. The BJP decimated the Congress in Madhya Bharat too, winning 33 of 36 seats and the Congress bagging three.

The only two regions where the battle appeared slightly balanced were Gwalior-Chambal and Mahakoshal. In the crucial and fiercely fought Gwalior-Chambal region with 34 seats, the BJP got 18 and the Congress 16. In the 38-seat strong Mahakoshal region, which also has a significant tribal population, the BJP got 21 while the Congress managed 17.

Various factors seem to have driven the results in the BJP’s favour even though the party was seen fighting a “lost election” and the Congress was appearing to find more traction among voters.

Modi magic

For the first time since 2008, the BJP did not project incumbent Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as its face in the election and went ahead under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr. Modi held several rallies across the State, highlighting various schemes of the Central government such as free food grains to the poor under PM Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana and the PM Awas Yojana (housing). The Prime Minister, while campaigning for the State election, also kept reminding voters of the Lok Sabha election of 2024.

The results also made it clear that his direct connect with the voters is still intact and has given a boost to the BJP’s prospects in 2024.

‘Phoenix’ Shivraj

Until early October, speculations were rife in the State that Mr. Chouhan, the longest serving CM of the State, was not preferred by the BJP high-command to lead the party in M.P.

He himself made several emotional statements in rallies asking people if he should become the CM again. However, soon after his name featured in the BJP’s candidate list, Mr. Chouhan seemed to have found new confidence and himself stated that he like was the “phoenix bird which rises from its own ashes”.

Despite questions over his future role, Mr. Chouhan carried out aggressive campaigning in the State holding at least 10 rallies a day towards the fag end. Fondly called “Mama” by his supporters and referring to himself as a “brother” of the State’s women, Mr. Chouhan made this “bond with his sisters” the core message of his campaigning.

His schemes like Ladli Behna (monthly allowance of ₹1,250 to women) also appear to have consolidated the votes of women in rural areas in his favour. The State has 2.78 crore women voters and the turnout of women in rural areas increased during the polling and even surpassed that of men in many seats.

Even though the BJP is yet to decide on the next CM of the State, the results have made it difficult for the party to ignore his claim.

Collective leadership

While the Congress ridiculed it as a “desperate move” of the BJP, the ‘collective leadership’ plank, under which it fielded three Union Ministers, four MPs, and one party national general secretary, has worked in the party’s favour with two Ministers, three MPs and general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya not only winning their seats but also impacting neighbouring seats in their areas.

With this, however, the BJP has various CM probables, including Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Singh Patel and Jyotiraditya Scindia (who did not contest the election), and Mr. Vijayvargiya.

Time to introspect

State Congress chief and party’s CM candidate Kamal Nath, speaking to reporters along with former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh and Congress national general secretary in-charge for M.P. Randeep Singh Surjewala, said that the party will introspect on the results.

“We will introspect on our shortcomings and why we could not convince the voters. We will speak with all our candidates, irrespective of whether they have won or lost, and will reach a conclusion after that,” he said.

While the party’s top leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, promised a caste survey and presented it as a tool to address social backwardness, the message failed to resonate with the ground workers of the party in most parts let alone the voters. The Congress had also aggressively tried to dent the BJP’s OBC consolidation in the State, which has nearly 50% OBC population, but in vain.

Madhya Pradesh election results 2023 | Key winners and losers

While Congress leaders like Mr. Nath claimed throughout that there was “massive anger” among the job scam-hit youth and the farmers, the party failed to capitalise on the sentiment, despite the the saffron party having been in power for 18 years.

Choice of candidates

Voices of discontent had begun to emerge in both the BJP and Congress as the two parties released their candidate lists, but the Congress was hit by several protests across the State. The party was forced to change its candidates on seven seats and lost six of them. Even though the party presented a united front throughout, Mr. Nath’s “tear Digvijaya’s clothes” remark to some disgruntled party workers derailed some of the Congress’s momentum.

Mr. Nath, who had been declared as the party’s face in the State, had been given almost a free hand by the Congress’s central leadership. His face was also more prominent on party’s campaign materials such as hoardings and slogans. Mr. Nath was seen taking several decisions and managing most aspects of the party’s strategy in coordination with Mr. Surjewala. The former M.P. Chief Minister had also seemed least interested in an alliance with the Samajwadi Party despite it being a member of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

Party leaders claimed that Mr. Nath, during his 15-month tenure as CM between 2018 and 2020, had become a trusted face in the State. However, results show that Mr. Nath, and his party, failed to inspire confidence of the voters as much as the party had hoped. Several voters The Hindu had interacted with had praised the elements of the Congress’s manifesto but mentioned that they did not “trust” the Congress to fulfil them.

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