Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a roadshow in Indore, November 14 (Photo: Sanjeev Gupta)
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s massive win in Madhya Pradesh is confirmation that the party is well and truly back in a state it lost briefly in 2018. Congress’s charge lost any momentum it sought to generate on the back of grouses over inflation or gaps in governance by the time polling took place. The result will be a bitter pill for Congress, but the party will have to reckon with the fact that it was not seen as a credible or trustworthy alternative.
Despite the sweeping mandate it has achieved, BJP did not have an easy task at hand. The party was seeking a mandate for a fifth term, had clawed back to office 15 months after losing the election in 2018 and had to accommodate Congress rebel Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalists. Then there was Covid and its aftermath and a certain dilution in chief minister Shivraj Chouhan’s appeal in comparison with his heydays.
In a hard fought election, BJP scored on the basis of its record of delivering a wide range of welfare and developmental services ranging from good roads, reliable ambulance services in rural areas, availability of seeds and fertilisers and efficient cooperative societies. The urban mood backed BJP over the party’s ability to project itself as having a map for the state’s future. Inflation was an issue with the poor and the less privileged but the BJP manifesto promised cheaper cooking oil, sugar and dals along with the free foodgrains offered by the Centre under the PDS (Public Distribution System).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is always a factor for BJP in any election and his announcement about the continuation of the free rations scheme was an important moment in the campaign. He has helped the party even in a losing cause as in Karnataka where his road shows in Bengaluru at the end of electioneering might have helped the BJP tally cross 60 seats, enough to send one Rajya Sabha MP. The slogan the PM offered – “Modi ki guarantee” – has begun to resonate strongly with voters, and holds an ominous signal for the INDIA alliance, most particularly the Congress, in the context of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Chouhan has proved an astute and energetic campaigner and his decision to announce the Ladli Behena scheme in advance of the election was a crucial contributor to BJP’s big win. The regular delivery of Rs 1,250 in the accounts of women on the 7th of every month brought smiles to their faces and received the approval of male members of households. The chief minister also pointed out that Ladli Behena was preceded by Ladli Lakshmi. He repeatedly told women at election rallies – addressing as many as 9-10 a day – that their “brother” to raise the amount further and ensure any exclusions are corrected.
The large and numerous class of small farmers who are also often enough OBCs (other backward castes) backed BJP, expressing their satisfaction over support offered by the state government by way of prices for crops and additional measures to encourage dairy farming. Indeed, there is not much sign of distress in rural Madhya Pradesh and if at all, BJP will need to respond to rising expectations that now go beyond satisfaction with the basics being catered to.
Congress has much to ponder. To begin with the party was not united and the frictions between former chief ministers Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh ran deep in the party right down to the districts. Though it promised much on the lines of the “Karnataka model”, it did not receive the trust of the voters. There was no sympathy for having been ousted from office and their short stint after winning the 2018 election was underwhelming. Voters feared that the gains under BJP would be reversed if Congress won. And helped BJP overcome any ennui with Chouhan or a desire for change. In the end “Badlav” remained still born.