After being out of power in Madhya Pradesh for 15 years, the Congress will have a slim majority over the incumbent BJP in the state assembly election which will be held on November 28, according to a pre-poll survey by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
This complements three other recent pre-election surveys—by C-Voter, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and CNX—which too predicted a simple majority for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh where the total number of assembly seats is 230.
These surveys come at a time when the BJP is fighting anti-incumbency in not just Madhya Pradesh but also Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan which, along with Telangana and Mizoram, are going to the polls through November and December. Of these, elections for 18 seats in Chhattisgarh (90-member assembly) were conducted on November 12, while the second phase will be held on November 20 (today). The elections to the five state assemblies are said to be crucial for they will certainly have an impact on how India’s voters will approach the “all important” parliamentary polls due in May next year. In other words, the assembly polls will be a major test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity before the 2019 general elections.
According to the ADR’s survey, the Congress will emerge as the single largest party with 115 seats while the BJP is slated to win 101 seats in Madhya Pradesh and other parties will bag the remining nine. Predicting the MP election as a “tough fight between the Congress and the BJP, which will be led by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the ADR survey claims that while the former will garner a vote share of 48 percent, the latter’s will be 43 percent. Much of the improvement in the Congress’ fortunes in Madhya Pradesh will be on account of a degree of unity between three distinct camps within the party as represented by veteran MP Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijay Singh.
The state BJP’s defeat in MP, as predicted by the ADR, will be on account of the crop failure in 2017, which “exacerbated” the crisis involving farmers whose protest in Mandsaur last year turned violent, resulting in the death of six persons. Like their counterparts in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the farmers of Madhya Pradesh are faced with the problem of low prices for crops and the “interference of commission agents”. While one-tenth of farmers’ suicides in the state took place between 2016 and 2017, the BJP’s rural vote bank might desert the party since the loan waiver the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government promised has not been fulfilled. The farm crisis deepened as a result of drought in 2016 and 2018. Even as poor rainfall in recent years caused water scarcity, as many as 31 districts in MP were hit by deficient rains in 2017, forcing the BJP-ruled state government to declare 13 districts as drought affected.
Anti-incumbency has also been fueled by raging unemployment, the ADR report, which the South Asian Monitor has accessed, suggests. Citing last year’s national economic survey, the ADR report claims that 14.1 lakh youth in Madhya Pradesh are unemployed. Of these, 12.9 lakh belong to the educated unemployed category. According to another report cited by the ADR, the percentage of educated unemployed in the state rose from 79.60 percent in 2016 to 85.74 percent by December 2017.
It’s not just Madhya Pradesh that the BJP must be worried about. The three poll survey projections referred to earlier strongly indicate that the party will suffer a defeat at the hands of the Congress in Rajasthan. According to the exhaustive C-Voter survey, the Congress might sweep Rajasthan where the popular mood turned against the incumbent BJP chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia several months ago. And even as Rajasthan—where 200 constituencies will go to the polls on December 7—has a long history of “changing” governments with every assembly elections, C-Voter’s prediction is that Congress’ vote share will be 47.9 percent against the BJP’s 39.7 percent. Poll projections indicated that the differential in vote shares of the two parties, which was 14 percent in August, reduced to 8 percent this month, but is not likely to reduce any further at this late juncture. The Congress’ net seats in Rajasthan will be 145 against only 55 for the BJP. In the previous assembly election in 2013, the Congress won only 21 and the BJP ended with a landslide 163 seats.
The CSDS poll for Rajasthan has given the Congress a 45 percent and the BJP 41 percent vote shares, respectively, which would translate to 110 seats to the Congress and 84 to the BJP. The CNX poll too predicts a similar outcome with the BJP winning 75 and the Congress bagging 115 seats.
The Chhattisgarh elections will, however, be a cliffhanger, according to most of the poll surveys conducted before the first phase of polling took place on November 12. The poll surveys have projected a BJP win by a wafer-thin margin with the Congress expected to put up a tough fight in the state which has, historically, been in the news more for the depredations of the ultra-leftwing Maoists in the Bastar region in south Chhattisgarh than the BJP’s claims of development. In Chhattisgarh, the Congress suffers from a lack of leadership and the hit the party might take as a result of the alliance between Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress, which is pejoratively referred to as the BJP’s B Team, and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In the last assembly election, the Janata Congress, which was founded after Jogi quit the Congress, ensured a win for the BJP by garnering a small but committed following in some parts of the state.
The electoral scene in Telangana, where chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, who heads the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), dissolved the assembly a couple of months ago, could also swing in favour of the Congress which has allied itself with N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which was till recently a constituent of the BJP-led NDA. Most polls, but especially the survey conducted by C-Voter, have predicted the Congress-TDP alliance has a better opportunity to wrest political control of the state with a 33.9 percent projected vote share as against 29.4 percent for the TRS and 13.5 percent for the BJP. However, the equation could change in the event of a pre-poll alliance between the TRS and he BJP.
The results of the poll surveys so far should be cause for alarm for the BJP not only in the Hindi heartland states of MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh but also nationally in 2019 when the Indian general elections will be held. The run-up to the Lok Sabha elections next year will be the first occasion when most Indian voters are expected to take a view on some of the Modi government’s controversial decisions such as demonetisation, the poor implementation of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) regime, a seeming reticence to fight corruption, especially bringing to book some big-time bank loan defaulters, the murky Rafale fighter aircraft deal and sundry other anti-Muslim and pro-Hindutva actions and rhetoric of the BJP.
What is still not clear, however, is how far the opposition will go to deepen unity. The six months left before the Lok Sabha polls will be a testing time for not only Congress president Rahul Gandhi but also how adroitly the party is able to stitch together electoral alliances across various states, particularly in north India, with other key parties such the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, the BSP and the Akhilesh Yadav-headed Samajwadi Party.