In a neck-and-neck battle, the Congress had the last laugh as it managed to get 114 seats, just two short of majority, to form the government in Madhya Pradesh after 15 years. It was a fight between a very popular chief minister with an active cadre base, ancillary organizations, paraphernalia, machinery and ample resources, vis-à-vis the experienced leadership and formidable combination of Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijay Singh, with distinct responsibilities. The most popular slogan “Waqt hai badlaav ka" (Time for change) worked for the Congress and the most used slogan “Maaf karo Maharaj, hamare neta to Shivraj" [Please forgive us Maharaj (Scindia ), our leader is Shivraj (Singh Chouhan )] did not work, or rather backfired for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The close proximity in vote share between the two major political parties—Congress 40.9% and BJP 41%—is a first in the history of Madhya Pradesh. The gap in vote share was a huge 8.5 percentage points in 2013. Congress won 114 seats, BJP 109, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 2, Samajwadi Party (SP) 1, and independents won 4. Interestingly, all 4 independents were Congress rebels. Therefore, the arithmetic favours the Congress while forming the government.

The BJP deliberately chose to concentrate its campaign only around Shivraj Singh Chouhan with a publicity drive on the achievements of the incumbent government in the last 15 years. Despite going into election mode for almost a year with different yatras and publicity—from BIMARU to a developed state, along with announcements and implementation of schemes for farmers and weaker sections of the society, including distribution of freebies—the victory slipped from the BJP by a whisker. The reasons that can be attributed to this defeat are: Not gauging the anti-incumbency against sitting MLAs/ministers; higher fuel prices, youth unemployment not adequately addressed, wrong selection of candidates, poor implementation of popular schemes due to weak local machinery and insufficient delivery mechanism, and, in certain places, defectors, spoilers, sabotage and infighting also worked against the winning prospect of some candidates.

It was a very silent election and, therefore, it was indeed difficult to gauge the mood of the electorate. However, there was a kind of fatigue among voters.

The Congress no doubt fought this election with its best efforts. The party led its campaign on the issues of agrarian distress, unemployment among youth, insecurity among women, poor industrial development, corruption, inflation particularly petroleum products, besides demonetization and goods and services tax (GST), which they were able to communicate to the electorate. The Congress’s announcement of a 2 lakh agricultural loan waiver proved to be a masterstroke.

On the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and reservation in promotion, the stand of the BJP government remained unproductive. Out of the 82 seats reserved for SCs/STs, BJP won 60 in 2013. This time, the BJP was decimated to 34 and the Congress got 47, which has significantly contributed to its tally.

Both political parties suffered a setback in terms of defectors. After denial of party tickets, a number of them remained in election fray and emerged as spoilers for the parties’ official candidates.

Madhya Pradesh can be seen from the prism of regions. The Congress excelled its tally in all regions, including Malwa-Nimar, Bundelkhand, Mahakaushal, Chambal-Gwalior and Madhya Kshetra. However, it performed the worst in Vindhya, which is a surprise element of this election, wherein out of 30 seats, 24 went to the BJP. Congress did exceptionally well in Malwa-Nimar, and won 33 out of the 66 seats, while independents, all Congress rebels, won 3. Usually, there is a saying in MP that the key to the election lies in Malwa and the latest results are a testimony to this. This reason was also the epicentre of farmers’ movements. The infamous firing took place in Mandsaur, but to everyone’s astonishment, six of the seven seats in Mandsaur and Neemuch districts went to the BJP. The reason is that in three of these seats Congress defectors who fought against the party’s official candidates secured votes many-fold compared to the victory margin.

This election, a jinx was also broken—that the BJP performs well in urban areas. Unlike 2013, when BJP got 34 out of the 37 seats, this time its tally was reduced to 21, while the Congress made its presence felt in urban areas.

This election will also be remembered for the immense anti-incumbency again sitting MLAs of both parties. From BJP, 58 sitting MLAs, including 13 ministers, and 17 sitting Congress MLAs lost the election. This is a reflection of not gauging the electorates’ disapproval of a particular candidate.

Considering that Madhya Pradesh was seen as a harbinger state for Lok Sabha polls, this result is crucial, and can be seen as an equal chance for the Congress and the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections next year. Currently BJP holds 27 out of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The results also showed the multiplicity of issues which voters responded to while making a choice.

Yatindra Singh Sisodia is director of MP Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain.