Voters in Madhya Pradesh will head for 53,946 polling stations on Monday to elect 230 MLAs to the 14th Vidhan Sabha.
After the BJP and the Congress declared all their candidates by November 7, the State has seen a fortnight of hectic and often acrimonious campaigning, including clever advertising campaigns and an intensive series of rallies by national leaders.
In the race is Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan, who replaced Babulal Gaur of his party in 2005. Mr. Chouhan was elected for a second term in 2008 despite the former Chief Minister, Uma Bharti, splitting from the BJP.
Ms. Bharti came back to the party with five MLAs of her Bharatiya Janshakti Party in 2011, but the tension between both leaders have persisted and has led to former Janshakti MLA Devendra Patel contesting this election on a Congress ticket from Silwani.
Mr. Chouhan has projected himself as a pro-development, secular, working-class hero. His government’s numerous populist schemes have borne the indelible mark of his personality, and the BJP is wooing voters with the slogan “ Phir Bhajpa, Phir Shivraj [BJP Again, Shivraj Again].” Mr. Chouhan, who refers to himself as ‘ Mamaji ’ or uncle, has made the welfare schemes the vanguard in his battle for a hat-trick.
As the campaign progressed, the propaganda revolving around development gave way to a clash between the Chief Minister and Jyotiraditya Scindia, the head of the Congress’s Campaign Committee. The contrast couldn’t be more stark with Mr. Chouhan presenting himself as an accessible son-of-a-peasant who was being threatened by Mr. Scindia — of the Gwalior royal family — who is referred to in the Congress as “ Maharaj .”
Mr. Scindia’s elevation provoked major dissent from satraps in the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), especially during the selection of candidates. It is said that Mr. Scindia, backed by Union Minister Kamal Nath, clashed head on with the former Chief Minister, Digvijaya Singh, and his supporters — Opposition leader Ajay Singh and MPCC president Kantilal Bhuria. But the Congress, which has been out of power for a decade, threw its weight behind Mr. Scindia and, under pressure from High Command, put up a united campaign involving all its top six leaders.
It has constantly attacked the State government on corruption and misgovernance issues. Eleven serving ministers are facing corruption charges, providing the Congress with ammo.
The Congress has built a hype around the issue of corruption of local BJP leaders in every constituency, compelling Mr. Chouhan to say in his rallies last week: “Vote for our MLA if you want me back as CM.”
Smaller parties such as the BSP and the Samajwadi Party are also in the race, hoping to play the kingmaker in the event of a hung Assembly. While the BSP has gained strength in the districts bordering U.P. by successfully attracting upper caste voters to supplement its core Dalit vote bank, the SP has lost its allies — the CPI, the CPI(M) and the Rashtriya Samanta Dal — over seat allotments. The semblance of unity put up by the principal tribal party, the Gondwana Ganatantra Party, has fallen apart with its former MLAs contesting on behalf of various splinter groups.
When voters stand before the EVM machines guarded by more security personnel than ever before, they will choose one among the various political equations laid on the electoral platter. In doing so, they will not only seal the fate of a few senior leaders but will also set the tone for Lok Sabha polls next year.