As Madhya Pradesh and Delhi voters go to the polls this week, based on surveys and mood of the electorate, The Bottom Line is predicting the outcomes in both states as well as providing an analysis of what is contributing to these likely results.
First, let us look at Madhya Pradesh, which goes to the polls on 27 November. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first captured power there in the 2003 assembly elections by winning a massive three-fourths majority and ending the Digvijay Singh-led Congress party’s uninterrupted 10-year reign at the state’s helm.
Today, it appears the BJP is all set to retain power with a comfortable, albeit reduced, majority. If this assessment holds, it would be the first time that the BJP would be posting back-to-back wins in this state.
According to my assessment, the BJP is likely to win between 125 and 140 seats in the 230-member assembly, down from the 173 seats it won in 2003. The Congress party, the principal challenger, is likely to increase its tally to 60-75 seats, up sharply from the 38 seats it won in 2003. Based on current trends, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is likely to pick up between 10 and 15 seats, while the Uma Bharati-led Bharatiya Janashakti Party should end up with perhaps four-six seats.
The biggest reason behind the BJP’s likely return to power is the personal popularity of its chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
In under three years as CM, Chouhan appears to have transformed into a people’s chief minister. So much so that even a large section of Congress and non-BJP supporters in the state seem impressed with him and say that the state has never had a chief minister like Chouhan.
Also Read G.V.L. Narasimha Rao’s earlier columns
If the Chouhan factor was not there, I can pretty much say that the BJP would have won no more than 35 seats and would have been ejected. In other words, Chouhan seems to be delivering as many as 100 seats for the BJP as voters in those constituencies want to give him another term in office. As I wrote in my 17 November column, the leadership issue has now become critical in winning elections with many voters no longer voting for parties alone.
Thanks to Chouhan’s popularity and appeal, voters in a number of BJP-held constituencies across the state are willing to ignore their vociferous complaints against the BJP in general, their local MLA or party leaders and ministers who, during the last five years, have been in many instances largely inaccessible, seemingly unresponsive and, in many cases, are seen as blatantly corrupt.
Another factor helping the BJP in Madhya Pradesh is the near-complete unanimity in the party. Meanwhile, the Congress party has remained a badly divided house with various factions pulling in different directions.
Partly because of this, Congress has failed to take advantage of voters’ anger against many individual BJP MLAs. It ended up adopting a quota system, whereby every faction in the party was allotted a certain number of seats. As a result, party leaders choose a number of weak candidates and outsiders as nominees, ignoring the much trumpeted A.K. Antony committee recommendations that party nominations be given only to candidates with winning potential. Margaret Alva’s recent allegation that party nominations are being sold is resonating in Madhya Pradesh.
A third major factor that has gone against the Congress in the state is the voters’ memory and disenchantment with the previous Congress administration. As a result, initiatives such as cheap credit for farmers, cheaper foodgrains and assistance for girls have looked even more attractive than they are, adding to Chouhan’s popularity. Visible improvements to infrastructure, such as roads and water for irrigation have helped overcome the impact of chronic electricity shortages.
Because of such populist initiatives, corruption, which most voters say has touched new highs in the BJP rule, hasn’t become a significant poll issue with many voters seemingly willing to be tolerant of personal greed in face of public good.
Now, to the more interesting in Delhi.
A couple of months ago, a BJP victory in Delhi assembly elections appeared to be within reach. But, as I write this, the Delhi assembly election appears to be rather evenly poised with both the BJP and the Congress finding themselves within striking distance of power but not quite there. Right now, both can win between 28 and 38 seats in the 70-member assembly.
The BJP had gained some ground by focusing on the Congress party’s negatives, such as higher prices for food, a badly handled sealing of illegal commercial establishments and issues about how electricity usage is measured.
Yet, with days to go, the gains do not seem to be substantial enough for the BJP to secure a comfortable win.
Projecting Vijay Kumar Malhotra as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate hasn’t enthused the electorate, especially the large educated and higher income groups, which are typically the BJP’s mainstay. Malhotra may be an old warhorse, having even defeated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls. But Delhi’s voters seem to believe that they are better off with incumbent Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit. Going with experience than with youthful or urbane alternatives, perhaps an Arun Jaitley, might have been a more even personality contest though not necessarily the deciding factor. I also find that the Congress has fielded strong candidates in most constituencies, even in comparison to the BJP.
Mayawati’s BSP has indeed emerged as a spoiler for the Congress in a number of constituencies. If the BSP and other smaller parties win five seats or so, as I suspect they will, they could end up holding the balance of power if the actual voting ends up the way it is looking a few days before election day.
So, as The Bottom Line goes to press, the Delhi assembly election looks likely to produce a nail-biting photo finish unless there is a huge shift in one direction before election day. Stay closely tuned.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.