Madhya Pradesh

Divided Parivar

Print edition : May 16, 2014

Sushma Swaraj, BJP candidate in the Vidisha constituency, with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his wife, Sadhna Singh, on the last day of her election campaign in Vidisha on April 22. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

Sushma Swaraj's campaign hoarding in Raisen. It shows a picture of Shivraj Singh Chouhan instead of Narendra Modi. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh addressing an election meeting in support of his younger brother and party candidate in Vidisha, Laxman Singh (not in picture), at Mandideep, on April 22. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

AS electioneering progresses in Madhya Pradesh, what is visible in the State is a clear polarisation of voters along pro- and anti-Modi lines. While the pro-Modi chorus is about development, the anti-Modi voices focus on his image (derived mainly from the 2002 riots in Gujarat). For the latter, only ideology matters; other issues, even development for that matter, take a back seat.

This sharp polarisation can play havoc with the BJP’s scheme of things, especially because Madhya Pradesh has a substantial Muslim population which can influence the election results in 10 to 12 Lok Sabha seats. This polarisation is clearly visible in places where Muslim voters play a decisive role. In Bhopal, for example, which has an over-30 per cent Muslim population, all the talk about development disappears once one enters Muslim-majority areas. Surprisingly, even issues like corruption in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and price rise do not figure in election discussions. “Corruption and price rise are no longer issues. These problems are present everywhere. What is at stake today is the battle over ideology. If they [the BJP] come to power in New Delhi, their ideology will take the country towards disintegration,” says Nafees Qureshi, a meat seller in Bhopal. Qureshi is the district Congress vice-president as well. As he speaks, several Muslims gather to listen to the conversation and shout in agreement. According to them, all the talk about the Gujarat model is more hype than reality, which has been exposed by Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. “His [Modi’s] dream of becoming Prime Minister will turn out to be like Mungerilal ke haseen sapne [a pipe dream]. It is rubbish to say that there has been no development under the Congress. But they have not been able to talk about it properly,” says Jamaluddin. He is a member of the local masjid committee. According to him, Modi should not be blamed for the 2002 Gujarat riots because riots can happen anywhere. “But what is disturbing is the fact that their handling of the situation is discriminatory towards Muslims. Why are they partial in taking action against those responsible for the riots?” he asks, with many seconding him loudly. According to these people, 80 per cent of Muslims do not believe in this talk of development and governance and believe it is a ruse for coming to power.

Distrust of Modi

Congress ko vote karna majboori hai nahi to mahol kharab hoga. Jab jafri ko mara to Modi kahan the?” (To vote for the Congress is a compulsion this time, otherwise communal harmony will go for a toss. Where was Modi when [Ehsan] Jafri was killed?) asks Jamaluddin. According to him, and many others like him, had the BJP projected Shivraj Singh as the prime ministerial candidate, some Muslims would have voted for the BJP’s development plank because he has a different image and has proved his secular credentials over the years. Modi is a different game altogether. “Five to six per cent of the Muslims voted for the BJP in the Assembly elections but they will not vote for the BJP now,” says Shahab, a property dealer in the old city area of Bhopal.

This sort of polarisation, incidentally, is widely visible in places that have been BJP strongholds for years. In Vidisha and Raisen too, for example, which are BJP bastions, this feeling is expressed openly. “The BJP will not get a majority on its own, there will be a khichdi government,” said Afsar Sayeed, a farmer in Raisen. Salim Miya, a labourer in Vidisha, was emphatic that “Modi PM nahi benenge kyonki chhavi kharab hai” (Modi will not become Prime Minister because his image is not good).

Surprisingly, some in the BJP too, and they include those who are staunch Modi supporters, are of the opinion that the elections are not going to be a cakewalk for the BJP, as it was believed in the beginning. “It is a tough contest. We are fighting a 50:50 battle. Consolidation of minority votes is happening on a much larger scale,” says Babulal Gaur, senior BJP leader and Home Minister. Interestingly, Gaur, a former Chief Minister, also asserts that the Modi wave will submerge everything else and that the BJP will form the government with 200-plus seats, because the stock of the UPA government is at a record low. “Their market is down, they do not have a leader of Modi’s stature to project. But, it will not be a one-sided election. They too will win six or seven seats,” he says, trying to sound generous towards the Congress. The Congress had won 12 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

State Congress leaders have gauged this anti-Modi mood and are confident of repeating their 2009 performance. One of the bases for this optimism is that the party has fielded some good candidates this time, on the insistence of Rahul Gandhi. In Bhopal, for example, P.C. Sharma is taking on the BJP’s Alok Sanjar. Sharma, who has been an active Congress worker despite the party not winning the Bhopal seat for the past 30 years, is upbeat. “We will win 16-20 seats this time. Wherever I have gone, I have got a massive response. Now is our time,” he says confidently. According to him, Modi’s development talk has no takers in Madhya Pradesh because here development is identified with Shivraj Singh and even the most naive BJP supporters are able to see that the party had sidelined Shivraj Singh for Modi and this has not gone down well with the masses.

In fact, senior BJP leaders, requesting anonymity, told this correspondent that the Chief Minister was upset with the way the Modi one-man show was being run and had become distant of late. “Only Modi posters are visible everywhere; can they win the election on their own if we did not cooperate?” asked a BJP State leader known to be close to Shivraj Singh. This simmering discontent, insiders say, could cost the party dearly. In Vidisha, for example, after Sushma Swaraj filed her nomination papers, she was to jointly address a meeting with the Chief Minister. But he did not turn up and the meeting turned into a disaster, with more than half the seats in an already small enclosure remaining empty. “If the Modi magic works here, she will win, otherwise she will have a tough time,” said Santosh Ahirwar, a member of the BJP’s Scheduled Caste cell. Interestingly, a few days later, an angry Sushma Swaraj cancelled her meeting in a neighbouring constituency as there were no BJP workers to receive her when she landed there. She waited for a while and then left without addressing the gathering.

Advantage Congress

This vertical split in the BJP, and the consolidation in the opposite camp is working to the benefit of the Congress. A senior State Congress leader told this correspondent that in at least 10 to 12 seats, the Congress had a very good chance of winning because of this split in the BJP. In constituencies like Bhopal, Mandsaur, Ratlam, Shajapur Dewas, Ujjain, Jabalpur, Sagar, Gwalior, Guna, Sidhi and Vidisha, the consolidation of those opposed to the BJP was helping the Congress and they were hopeful of winning these seats, said the leader. “We are not concerned about development. For us, the most important issue is in whose regime we will be safe. We will vote keeping in view the VHP’s hate campaign and also to avenge the riots,” said a prominent Muslim leader in Bhopal, not wanting to be identified.

Rameshwar Neekhra, State Congress vice–president, agrees. “There is no Modi wave in the State. Madhya Pradesh will give surprising results. I can tell you that UPA III is on its way,” he said.

According to Anand Muthungal, a prominent Christian leader in Madhya Pradesh, people will vote for a government which believes in the ethos of “live and let live”, because people want communal harmony and peace. In that context, Modi is viewed with a great deal of suspicion. “I see a UPA-type of government with the Congress either participating in it or supporting it from outside,” he says with conviction.

Interestingly, issues like the corruption charges against the UPA government and inflation have fallen by the wayside as the debate has become Modi-centric in the media. “This has actually turned into a presidential form of election which has not gone down well with the people,” says Muthungal, adding that even the middle classes, which is considered to be a staunch Modi vote bank, is not so enamoured of him in Madhya Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh has surprisingly remained impervious to any Modi wave, despite having voted in a BJP government recently. This, interestingly, has its genesis in the now-proverbial Modi versus Shivraj rivalry. In the initial days senior BJP leader L.K. Advani had rooted strongly for projecting Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the prime ministerial nominee. But since that did not happen, there has been a lot of heartburning and this may cost the party dear. Though BJP leaders officially insist that they will better their tally of the 25 seats they won in 2004, in private they admit that it is not going to be easy and that they will be happy if they can reach their 2009 tally of 16. The moderate turnout of voters in the first two rounds of voting perhaps confirms their fears.

Purnima S. Tripathi

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