Assembly Elections - Madhya Pradesh

Battle royal

Print edition : December 13, 2013

Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia addressing an election meeting in in Bhojpur constituency near Bhopal on November 17. Photo: PTI

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a rally. Photo: a.m. faruqui

The Congress hopes to cash in on the general anger against the BJP’s governance, but Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan still remains as popular as ever.

ELECTION-BOUND Madhya Pradesh promises a tough contest for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as nothing seems to be going right for the party save its Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Rampant corruption, Bajrang Dal-Vishva Hindu Parishad cadre who go berserk at the smallest provocation, sulking party seniors and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) patrons of the party seething at the growing durbar culture of local leaders have together provided the right setting for the Congress to come back to power. Although the memory of the shoddy infrastructure during the 10-year rule of Digvijay Singh has not faded, the Congress is putting up an impressive fight. It is projecting Jyotiraditya Scindia, Union Minister of State for Power and Member of Parliament from Guna, who is leading the party’s campaign in the State, as the best alternative to Shivraj Singh Chouhan as there is a clamour for change in some quarters.



A cross section of people this correspondent met across the State said that voters might be willing to overlook many things that have gone wrong during the BJP’s five-year term for the sake of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. His clean image and painstaking efforts at providing bijli, sadak, paani (power, road and water) and improving the lot of farmers may stand the party in good stead. This was evident in Vidisha constituency, where the party has never lost an election. In this BJP stronghold, which is represented by Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha, people had turned so hostile towards the BJP that the party was left with no option but to field the Chief Minister himself from there even though he had already filed his nomination papers in Budhni. Vidisha has become a test case for the argument that despite all odds, Shivraj Singh Chouhan can still carry the party through in the State. It may be recalled that the sordid sex scandal involving senior BJP leader Raghavji, who was Finance Minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Cabinet, shook the party’s very foundation in Vidisha. “In Vidisha, people voted for the BJP even if it fielded a donkey. But not any more. There is so much anger among the people. Only if Shivraj Singh Chouhan contests from here, can the party hope to win. But even he will have to work very hard,” Ashok Virsingh Raghuvanshi, a farmer from Vidisha, who also owns a tyre shop, told this correspondent a few hours before Shivraj Singh Chouhan was nominated for Vidisha. Raghuvanshi added that people wanted change and that the Congress under Scindia was a good option.

“Being the son of Madhavrao Scindia, he will certainly deliver results. Besides, since he hails from a royal family, he will not be corrupt,” said Peeru Bhai, a local trader, giving an insight into the voter’s mind. He said although there was no denying that Shivraj Singh Chouhan was a good man, he had failed as a good administrator as the bureaucracy had run amok under him. “He has no control over his officers” is the general lament in Vidisha.

Interestingly, even in Vidisha, where the sentiment against the BJP runs deep, there are people who support Shivraj Singh Chouhan. These supporters maintain that he has done some real good work such as giving a good price to farmers, providing interest-free loans to them, ensuring 24-hour power supply with even villages getting seven-eight hours of power every day, holding community marriages for girls irrespective of their caste or religion, helping poor elders of all faiths to go on pilgrimage, and improving the condition of roads.

Significantly, it is not the apolitical common man alone who is voicing his anger against the BJP. Even those with a long association with the RSS have expressed their resentment for reasons such as promoting the durbar culture and neglecting genuine party workers to favour those with money power. Yet, they think Shivraj Singh Chouhan is still the best bet. “Shivraj has transformed the economic conditions of the farmers. He has done many other good work too. His only fault is that he has not been able to control his officers and party leaders,” Narayan Kaka, a septuagenarian RSS member from Dhangaon village in Khandwa district, said. His village comes under the Mandhata constituency. Narayan Kaka, who wields a lot of influence in the area, said he was so upset with the BJP that he would not campaign for any BJP candidate this time. But being an RSS member, he could not think of voting for any symbol other than the “Lotus”.

The same feelings were reflected by Sumitra Mahajan, Lok Sabha member from Indore. Tai, as she is fondly called by the BJP cadre, was critical of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s functioning but said she expected him to come back to power with a reduced seat share. Another factor that works in favour of the Congress is the fact that despite his best efforts, Shivraj Singh Chouhan could not create enough jobs for the youth. “There should be a change. There should be such a government that will give us work,” Kanhaiya Lal of Charol village in Mhow constituency said. Kanhaiya Lal, who was a driver in the State Road Transport Corporation, lost his job in 2005 when the government closed down the corporation. Several applications to the Chief Minister for alternative employment yielded no result. Kanhaiya had to support five children —three daughters and two sons—and all of them dropped out of school. “Madhavraoji did a lot for people in Madhya Pradesh. His son too will help us,” Kanhaiya said. It is this optimism that is fuelling the desire for change. Kanhaiya Lal, his wife, Godavari Mai, and his two sons had voted for the BJP in 2003 and 2008. This time they intend to vote for the Congress. A Congress flag flutters on top of his house.

Elsewhere in the State, too, the mood is similar. In Dhangaon village in Mandhata constituency, Devendra Patel, a Gujjar, said people were upset with the BJP because it did not care for non-Thakurs. “The durbar culture is so rampant that there is nothing for you if you are a non-Thakur. That is why people in this area have decided to teach the BJP a lesson,” he said. He feels the Congress is a good option. The same attitude was noticed at Sanawat village in Badwah constituency. Interestingly, in this constituency, the BJP and Congress contestants are brothers: Rajendra Singh Solanki is the Congress candidate and Hitendra Singh Solanki is the BJP candidate. They have hit upon an innovative tactic to save cost: they use the same pole to hang their posters. One side has the Congress poster while the other bears the “Lotus” symbol. An independent candidate, Sachin Birla, has emerged as a strong contender here.

Interestingly, the arrival of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the campaign scene has queered the pitch for Shivraj Singh Chouhan. While Modi’s aggression has added nothing to the Chief Minister’s appeal, his aggressive gestures and speeches have proved to be counter-productive because they acted as a catalyst for consolidating the Muslim vote. Indore, which falls in the Malwa region, accounts for 70 per cent of the State’s 52 lakh Muslims, who are in a position to influence the results in 66 Assembly constituencies. The prospect of having a BJP government in the State as well as a Modi-led government at the Centre in 2014 has galvanised Muslims into consolidating their votes. The Congress has become a beneficiary of this consolidation by default. “Muslims are waking up with a start from their sleep, thinking of having a BJP government here and a Modi government in New Delhi. We don’t want to become another Gujarat. Congress ko bewajah fayda ho gaya [let the Congress benefit],” Indore city’s qazi, Ishrat Ali, said.

In a contest that cries for some strong factor that can tilt the scales, constituencies such as these could prove decisive.

Sensing the undercurrent of displeasure, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is trying his best to keep his vote base intact. His electoral promises include providing self-employment skills for five lakh youth, giving smart phones to students who join government colleges and laptops to talented students, and providing houses to poor and landless workers and farmers.

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