Politics in Madhya Pradesh is going through a phase of transition as voting in the forthcoming assembly elections will be impacted by the policies of not just the state government but also the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the centre.

Normally, the state polls in the past have been mainly around the leadership of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan but the case may not be the same this time. The debate and discussion among people is more about the policy decisions and performance of the government. Madhya Pradesh has a total of assembly 230 seats and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) so far had a comfortable lead over its immediate rival Congress. The BJP’s voter share in the 2013 assembly elections was 44% with 165 seats, while the Congress got 36% with 58 seats.

The problem for the BJP this time is that the vote share difference of eight percentage points between the two rivals is getting narrow and it is possible that the BJP could face problems keeping its voters enthused. Madhya Pradesh is largely a rural state, as nearly 180 assembly segments are in rural areas and the remaining 50 seats in urban centres scattered across the state.

The biggest challenge for the BJP in the cities is that traders who are considered to be the core voter base of the party are annoyed with both the state government and the centre over demonetization and the goods and services tax (GST). The anger of the small and marginal traders’ community would be witnessed on the day of voting and the ruling party may not be comfortable with the way its core voters could vote in this assembly polls. A shift in the BJP’s core voter base not only creates problems for the party in winning seats but is also a comment on the decisions taken by state and Union governments who claim that demonetization and GST were revolutionary economic measures to curb black money and corruption.

Even as the BJP is facing difficulties in urban areas, rural distress could play a decisive role in villages. Madhya Pradesh is the only state where farmers died during a protest in Mandsaur in June last year. The problem of rural distress, especially farmers not getting remunerative prices for their produce, wheat, sopyabean, peanuts, bajra and mustard could further lead to problems in the voter base of BJP in rural areas. The rising prices of diesel and fertilizers have further increased the cost of production for farmers but the prices being offered to farmers are not helping them recover costs.

Another problem for the BJP started after the Union government decided to restore the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. This move which was aimed to protect the rights of the marginalized sections ended up irking the upper castes, primarily Brahmins, Rajputs, Banias and some section of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The four communities have solidly backed the BJP for 15 years and would prove to be a deciding force. Lesser known organizations like SAPAKS (Samanya Pichda Alpsankhyak Karamchari Sansthan) have gradually become popular with the people and could dent the BJP in both urban and rural areas.

The BJP has to protect its eight percentage point lead over the Congress in Madhya Pradesh if it wants to return to power in a state which has been a success story for the party for 15 years.

A.P.S, Chouhan is political science professor and head of department at Jiwaji University, Gwalior.

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