Kundan Yerwar, 43-year-old taxi driver in Vidisha town of Madhya Pradesh, migrated to the central Indian state from Rajasthan around 30 years back with his parents. He was 28 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trounced the Congress in Madhya Pradesh assembly elections in 2003 on the campaign theme of ‘bijli, sadak, paani’ (electricity, roads, water). Pointing at the main road in Vidisha and drainages, Kundan said it the BJP rule, in particular chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had delivered on the electoral promise of development. “Congress ka waqt yaad hain. Bahut pareshaani thi har cheej ki. Shivraj ne kaam bahut kiya hain," (I remember the Congress rule. We had problems in almost everything. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has done a lot of work) he said. But Kundan added he had decided to vote for the Congress in the 2018 Madhya Pradesh assembly election which took place on November 28. “Badlaav jaroori hain yahan. Ab Congress ko bhi kaam karna padega aur jyada kaam karna padega. Ek hi party ki Sarkar chali toh manmarji kaam karegi (Change is necessary here. Congress also will have to work this time and work more. If there is one party-rule for a long time, it will act according to its own whims and fancies," he explained when asked why he preferred the Congress when the BJP had performed to his satisfaction in Madhya Pradesh. Kundan, who left school after his matriculation, also made a subtle point about ant-incumbency. He said the Shivraj Singh government had done a good job but it is the Narendra Modi government at the Centre that “deserved to punished for its misdeeds of demonetisation and inflation".
Farmers’ leader Rajkumar Gupta in another BJP-ruled state of Chhattisgarh that went to polls on November 12 and 20 makes a similar argument. He says it is the Modi government’s anti-farmer decisions which could cost the Raman Singh regime dearly. “There has not been a wave of anti-incumbency against Raman Singh who has failed to deliver on his 2013 promise of Rs2,100 per quintal minimum support price for paddy but who tried to make up for it by announcing bonus. Farmers are angry with Modi for not delivering on the MSP promise of 2014," Gupta said predicting that “Raman Singh will sink because of Modi" in Chhattisgarh.
The state assembly elections in 2018 have been shaped by different shades of anti-incumbency. Most opinion polls on Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, both ruled by the BJP since 2003, have shown Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh as the most preferred chief ministerial candidates even as the surveys projected a tight finish in both the states. In these two states, much of the anti-incumbency sentiment seems directed at the Modi government. Modi in Rajasthan has been drawing huge crowds and the slogan—Modi tujhse bair nahi par Rani teri khair nahi (we have no problem with Modi but we will not spare Raje)—has become the common refrain in Rajasthan. Bhopal-based political commentator Girija Shankar, who for a long time studied elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, calls the state assembly elections “totally chief minister-driven". “It is the chief minister in each of these states who wields the maximum influence on the outcome. If the chief minister is popular, it is very difficult to dislodge him. And vice versa, if the anti-incumbency is against the chief minister only, it is very difficult for him or her to survive," he tells Mint.
While in Rajasthan, BJP has an anti-incumbency of only one term yet there is unpopular sentiment in a section of voters particularly in rural areas over the issue of farm distress and irregularity in distribution of welfare scheme benefits. “BJP government in Rajasthan has focused more on urban areas and very less attention has been paid to villages and farmers. Rajasthan has history of voting out sitting governments and so a little anti-incumbency could also be a problem" said Kishan Lal Kalasna, a cook running a food cart in state’s Dungarpur town.
In Mizoram, incumbent Congress chief minister Lal Thanhawla has been in office for two consecutive terms since 2008. According to the chief minister, “anti-incumbency emanates from the opposition only. There is no anti-incumbency in Mizoram against the Congress government."
But the feeling in the streets of Aizawl is different. “We have seen Lal Thanhawla in office for 10 years, I think it’s time for change," said 35- year-old Chuani, a teacher. This is the feeling that Lal Thanhawla’s main rival, Zoramthanga of the Mizo National front seems to sense. “The people are tired of 10 years of Congress misrule and corruption and they want change. And we are ready to serve the people," he said. But some voters feel that since the Congress and the MNF have been tested in office, it is time to give a new group like the Zoram People’s Movement ( an amalgam of regional parties) a chance.
“We have seen 10 years of Congress and 10 years before that of the MNF and Zoramthanga. Its time we gave someone else a chance," said 40 year-old Lalfakzuala, a resident of Muthi village some seven kilometres from Aizawl.
Analysts however say that the anti-incumbency against the Congress may not work against it completely, given that the vote against the Congress is split three ways -- MNF, ZPM and the BJP. “This split may in fact help the Congress," said KV Reddy, head of the political science department of Mizoram University. “This is because there are people who suspect that the MNF and the BJP may join hands after the polls are over. People here are wary of the BJP given that most of the population here is Christian," Reddy said.
In Telangana, while Telangana Rashtra Samithi supremo and caretaker chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao is popular in his constituency of Gajwel, sitting MLAs from the TRS are facing flak in various constituencies for either not being available to the public or for non-performance. Voters across constituencies are also miffed at the TRS government for not fulfilling some of its promises like the construction of two-bedroom houses for the poor. Though the TRS government introduced a host of farmer-centric schemes, many farmers are unhappy with the TRS as the ₹ 1 lakh loan waiver undertaken by it failed to clear their debts as the waiver was done in instalments.
(With inputs by Elizabeth Roche, Anuja, and Yunus Lasania)