Madhya Pradesh

Saffron euphoria

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (left) at a rally in Satna. Photo: PTI

Madhya Pradesh

Advantage Shivraj

“OUR tiranga has three colours—saffron, green and white. We have already seen a Green Revolution, we have also seen a White Revolution. Now it is the time for a saffron revolution,” thundered the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, while inaugurating the first solar power plant of Madhya Pradesh at Neemuch near Indore on February 26. While he was referring to the saffron revolution metaphorically, associating the colour saffron with energy, he might as well have been talking of the political colour of the State. Madhya Pradesh, which saw a saffron wave in November 2013 taking the BJP to power for a third successive time, might see a repeat of the wave that could help the BJP fulfil its dream of capturing power at the Centre.

The State leaders of the party did not call it a day after the conclusion of the Assembly elections. The political process was carried forward, Delhi being the destination this time. “We intend to better our 2004 performance,” Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan happily declared at Neemuch. In 2004, the BJP won 25 out of 29 seats and captured 48.13 per cent of the votes. This, however, dipped to 16 in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and the vote share also went down to 43.45 per cent. The Congress, on the other hand, improved upon its 2004 performance, winning 12 seats with 40.14 per cent of the votes. In 2004 it had won only four seats with 34.07 per cent of the votes. What worked in favour of the Congress in 2009 was not any exceptional leadership charisma but the scare among minorities of having a BJP government at the Centre and State simultaneously. This polarised the situation in favour of the Congress. “We don’t want a Gujarat to be repeated in Madhya Pradesh,” said a minority community leader.

Though the BJP hopes to improve upon its 2009 performance, the fear factor among the minorities is even greater this time. “Muslims are having nightmares about Modi, waking up from their sleep with a start,” a Muslim cleric told Frontline recently. This fear, he said, might force them to vote en bloc for the Congress, though complaints against the Congress, too, are many. “At least it is the lesser evil,” he said.

And it is this realisation that makes the Congress smug. “Muslims will vote for us lock, stock and barrel. We will do even better than in 2009,” said a senior Congress leader from Bhopal. Another thing that may go in favour of the Congress is the resentment brewing within the BJP. “The party’s senior leaders are being ignored and some candidates are not known figures. All this will go in our favour,” said a Congress leader.

But given the respective parties’ performance in the last election, the balance appears heavily tilted in favour of the BJP, which improved upon its performance considerably in the previous Assembly elections. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is extremely popular and people may well vote in order to see him as the next Prime Minister.

His low-profile, humble image and his easy accessibility and his pro-people schemes such as the Ladli Laxmi Yojana (under which financial assistance is given to a family at the birth of a girl child) and Kanyadaan Yojana (mass marriages) for girls from poor families have made him popular across castes and religions. The fact that his Kanyadaan initiative benefits Hindu and Muslim girls has won him many supporters.

Though Madhya Pradesh lags behind in various key indices of development, people still view him as one who has at least tried and delivered to the best of his ability. In cases where he has not been able to fulfil his promises, he has cleverly shifted the blame to the Centre, claiming that there has not been enough cooperation from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The popular perception is that a BJP government at the Centre will help the State government perform better. This feeling runs across castes and communities.

“There has never been a Chief Minister like him. He has shared our joys and sorrows and has not discriminated between Hindus and Muslims. He has helped many poor families marry off their daughters. What more can we ask?” said Shaukat Khan of Salamatpur village in the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency. Chouhan’s overwhelming influence on the State’s politics is something which even his rivals grudgingly admit. “His own image, his style of working and his comparatively good performance is something which gives the BJP a certain advantage,” said a senior Congress leader in Bhopal.

What may make the results in Madhya Pradesh crucial is the probability of the BJP falling short of a majority in the next Parliament and Chouhan, who has always been viewed as a rival of Modi, emerging as a consensus candidate for prime ministership. L.K. Advani’s preference for him has been well known. Recently, Advani expressed a wish to contest from Bhopal instead of Gandhinagar.

Advani’s preference for Chouhan was also evident again at a ceremony to inaugurate the linking of the Kshipra river with the Narmada, which was held in Ujjayani near Ujjain on February 25. Praising Chouhan’s success in getting the project completed in time and in rejuvenating the Kshipra with Narmada waters, Advani spoke of a similar work having been done in “Ahmedabad by another Chief Minister who had similarly revived the Sabarmati river there with Narmada waters”. The reference to Modi was clear, yet Advani did not pronounce Modi’s name even once. He went on to say that Chouhan had achieved a miracle.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has so far not made its presence felt in the State. Madhya Pradesh, on the whole, has mostly seen a bipolar contest and that is likely to remain unchanged this time.

By Purnima S. Tripathi