Electoral politics in Madhya Pradesh has remained by and large confined to a two-party system. Unlike the three previous elections in the state, the political metaphor and narrative created in 2018 is very different. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) centred its campaign around chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, highlighting the achievements of his government in the last 15 years, the Congress took up issues of farmers, women, youth, inflation, and corruption with vigour.

Voting took place in Madhya Pradesh on 28 November, with a record 75.05% turnout, an increase of 2.53% from the previous election. This polling percentage is showing a trend and this increase is not uniform across the state. Fifteen districts have witnessed more than 80% polling, mostly in the Malwa, Nimar, Madhya Bharat and Mahakoshal regions.

The Malwa region has traditionally been a stronghold for the BJP and it has contributed hugely to the party’s tally in all three previous elections. The farmers’ issues in this election, however, have mostly been discussed in the context of the Malwa region, where farmers’ unrest and dissenting voices have surfaced very vehemently in the last one year. The whopping voter turnout has also happened in this region.

Madhya Pradesh has recorded double-digit growth in agriculture continuously because of the state government’s initiatives. However, bonus on minimum support price (MSP), reduced interest rates on farm loans, the Bhawantar scheme and other similar efforts, which have resulted in extraordinary burden on the exchequer, have not been in tune with fiscal prudence. This, however, does not appear to have really made a huge positive impact on the agriculturist community, which is the largest in terms of voters. Ground reports suggest that the poor delivery mechanism, weak procurement process and benefits mostly confined to big farmers and traders have kept the small and marginal farmers out of this.

The BJP’s campaign strategy has been to showcase the achievements of the state government under the leadership of Shivraj Singh, particularly in providing electricity, road, irrigation and other major welfare achievements, which were crucial issues for the Congress’ 2003 debacle.

Shivraj Singh’s government has stressed on a patron-clientele model, where individual beneficiary oriented schemes have been a special focus to strengthen the voter base, particularly among the vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society. It is to be seen how this will impact on election results.

Nevertheless, the Congress has led the campaign with issues of farmers’ unrest, unemployment among youth, insecurity among women, poor state of industries, corruption, inflation, demonetization and goods and services tax (GST), on which the small trading community, which has been traditional voters of the BJP, has been raising eyebrows. Congress’s announcement of 2 lakh agricultural loan waiver can lure the farming society.

This election is also being held against the backdrop of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and reservation, on which the stand of the BJP became a tug of war among castes and classes, which gave birth to a new political outfit called the Samanya Pichda Alpsankhyak Karamchari Sansthan. Although it could not get much momentum, the candidates from this political party are fighting elections particularly in urban areas where they can dent the prospects of any candidate in close fights.

Defectors can spoil the party for both the Congress and the BJP. This election is going to be one of the closest fought elections and vote share difference between the two major political parties is likely to be around 2%, compared to 8.5% in the previous election. The farmers, youth, and women are going to be decisive in this election. However, the mood of the electorate after voting is beyond exact comprehension. When results are announced on 11 December, it can come as a surprise.

Yatindra Singh Sisodia is professor and director, Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain.

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