People have voted out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Madhya Pradesh after giving it three consecutive terms. However, the verdict also shows that the Congress has not got a majority and could have to depend on smaller parties and independents for a stable government. The return of the Congress is also an acceptance of Rahul Gandhi as a leader and BJP leaders would have to take note of the rise of the Congress president.
The personal loyalty of voters for Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not save the day for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, as the ruling party remained the second largest party in the state, missing the halfway mark. The results are a warning for the BJP as it is for the first time that the party was not able to get a comfortable majority in the assembly and was struggling for every seat.
Apart from the fact that the BJP failed to cross the halfway mark in the state, the loss of vote share was also visible this time. The BJP used to be comfortably ahead of the Congress in terms of vote share. In 2013, it had got nearly 45% votes, while the Congress had 36%. The divide of 9 percentage points between the two has ended with both parties getting equal vote share in the state.
The decline in voter base is a warning sign for the BJP. This shows that issues such as anti-incumbency against both the centre and state BJP governments is real. People are annoyed because of demonetization and the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST). However, the real worry for the BJP is growing rural distress. Madhya Pradesh is largely an agrarian state with nearly three-fourth seats in rural areas.
While it is true that people, especially the youth, have benefitted from schemes such as distribution of cell phones and cycles to schoolgoing girls, government organizing marriages of young girls and pilgrimages being organized for people by the state government, the problems for the BJP are increasing. The anger of the upper caste voters because of the SC/ST Act and reservation in education and jobs was one of the big reasons for the BJP to lose considerable vote share. GST and demonetization also dissuaded small and marginal traders from backing the party once again.
The Congress, on its part, should remember that the collective leadership of four parties had to come together to defeat the BJP. The biggest mistake of the Congress was that ticket distribution was undemocratic. Election tickets are not piece of chocolates that can be distributed on the basis of personal loyalty of a leader. While the ability to win should have been the criteria for giving election tickets, it is sad that the Congress had to give tickets on the basis of demands made by regional party leaders who hold the key in different regions of the state.
A.P.S. Chouhan is political science professor and head of department at Jiwaji University, Gwalior.