Bhopal: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hard selling its development and welfare initiatives in Madhya Pradesh to beat the anti-incumbency factor, fend off corruption charges levelled by the Congress party and deflect the challenge posed by smaller parties in state elections on 27 November.
Former chief minister Uma Bharti’s Bharatiya Jana Shakti Party (BJSP) and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are for the first time posing an electoral challenge to both the BJP and the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh, causing concern among the main contenders that their vote would be eroded.
For the people? Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan being welcomed by supporters while campaigning in Bhopal on Sunday for the coming state assembly elections. Chouhan is hoping that the development and welfare programmes his government has launched will overwhelm all other factors, including anti-incumbency, on the day that voters troop out to cast their votes. PTI
“It is for the first time that a deep uncertainty about the poll results worries both camps. Both are worried about the division (of votes) that would happen due to the presence of other forces,” said a BJP leader who did not want to be named.
Besides the BJSP and the BSP, other parties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the small Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) have also joined the fray, forcing the two main political forces in the state to calculate how the caste factor would influence the poll outcome, this politician said.
The BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh in 2003 with an overwhelming majority of 173 in the 231-member assembly. The party is highlighting infrastructure projects, which its government started in sectors such as power, roads and irrigation, along with welfare measures targeted at women and children, as it campaigns for re-election.
“Public welfare and all-round development of the state are the basic issues for us in these elections,” chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said in an interview.
The BJP government claims that Madhya Pradesh’s power generation capacity had increased by 2,742MW since December 2003. In the last four years, work on around 28,000km of roads has been completed and 32,925 villages have been provided drinking water, the state government said.
Welfare sops include the Ladli Lakshmi Yojana and the Kanyadan Yojana, targeted at women. Under the Ladli Laxmi Yojana, National Savings Certificates worth Rs6,000 are purchased in the name of a new-born girl and a further Rs24,000 in equal amounts over the next five years. A sum of Rs1.18 lakh would be paid to each beneficiary on reaching 21 years of age.
Under the Kanyadan Yojana, financial aid is provided for solemnizing the marriages of underprivileged women. Such programmes “directly connect them (women) with the government,” said Govind Maloo, a BJP spokesman in Madhya Pradesh.
The Congress party is contesting the polls largely on an anti-corruption plank. It has released a 100-page booklet listing corruption charges against several ministers in the Chouhan government. “There are corruption charges against at least 18 ministers. Even the chief minister is not an exception,” said Madhya Pradesh Congress committee president Suresh Pachauri.
Pachauri cited figures purported to be from the National Crime Records Bureau of India showing that Madhya Pradesh is No.1 for atrocities against scheduled tribes and women, and No.2 in violence against scheduled castes.
“We are going to focus on the incompetence and bad governance of this government,” he said.
The BJP refutes these charges. “Can they prove at least one of these charges?” asked Maloo.
According to the office of the Lokayukt, the state-level anti-corruption watchdog, corruption cases have been registered against chief minister Chouhan, former health minister Ajay Bishnoi—who stepped down after he and his relatives were named in a health scam —public works department minister Kailash Vijayvargiya, revenue minister Kamal Patel and housing and environment minister Jayant Mallayya, among others.
In order to check the anti-incumbency factor, the BJP has denied election tickets to 61 legislators, said a BJP leader from the state, who did not want to be identified.
“But none of the ministers have been denied tickets,” said V. Narayan Sami, Congress general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh.
Shyam Awasti, editor of Bhopal-based weekly Sputnik, said the mudslinging between the two major parties won’t likely have any impact on voters. “Election here is turning to be candidate-based...the issues are different from place to place,” he said.
Awasti also said that the presence of parties such as the BSP, which is contesting all 231 seats, will be crucial in determining the outcome. “However, it is difficult to gauge the damage these parties will make for both parties. As the electorates here feel that there is not much difference between the Congress and the BJP, the smaller parties are likely to influence them,” he said. The BSP won 7% of the vote in the 2003 assembly elections. While the BSP has two legislators in the outgoing assembly, the SP has eight and the GGP has three.
Awasti also said that expelled BJP leader Bharti’s BJSP could also take away a chunk of the ruling party’s vote from the so-called other backward classes in the state, which has seen three chief ministers since 2003—Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Chouhan. Four BJP legislators denied tickets by the party have joined Bharti’s group. The BJSP is contesting 215 seats.
Tribal communities (47 seats are reserved for the scheduled tribes in the state) and the scheduled castes (with 35 reserved seats) have always played a significant role in Madhya Pradesh’s electoral politics.
The Congress, which had a solid support base among these two communities, has been losing ground in constituencies dominated by both tribals and Dalits, or backward classes.
In the 1998 polls, before the state was divided to form Chhattisgarh, the Congress won 21 of the total 34 seats then reserved for tribals. In the 2003 state elections, the BJP won 37 of 41 seats (before delimitation). In 1993, the BJP had only four of them.
With the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, a tribal welfare organization affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—the BJP’s ideological parent—active in the tribal regions of both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP has managed to consolidate its base among tribal communities. The Congress has lost its influence among tribals because its politicians had sidelined tribal leaders, said Awasti. Congress’ Pachauri said the party is confident that tribals and Dalits would return to its fold this time.
Chief minister Chouhan is hoping that the development and welfare programmes his government has launched will overwhelm all other factors, including anti-incumbency, on the day that voters troop out to cast their votes.
“In fact opposition parties, including the Congress, have not been able to raise any issue against us,” Chouhan said. “They are naturally seeking solace in an imaginary and non-existent anti-incumbency wave...”