New Delhi: The Congress on Tuesday bested the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Madhya Pradesh but fell tantalizingly short of the halfway-mark by only four seats, in a fight that went down to the wire. At the last count, the Congress had won 67 seats and was leading in 47, while the BJP was a close second, winning 65 and leading in 44 in the 230-seat Madhya Pradesh assembly as of 10pm. The parties were equally close in vote share, with the BJP enjoying a slight edge with a little over 41% against the Congress’s 41%.

With the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) winning 2 and 1 seats respectively, the Congress is eying a return to power in the heartland state after 15 years. The Congress is optimistic about forming the government as the BSP and SP declared that they would not support the BJP. The verdict also means that the Congress would be dependent on smaller parties and independents to form a stable government in the state. Senior leaders of the Congress have started talking to the BSP and SP to form the government in the state that the Congress last ruled in 2003.

The result shows the Congress staging a comeback in the state, but the BJP stayed in the hunt throughout a long counting day in the state where victory for the saffron party became paramount after the Congress emerged a clear winner in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Rural distress and anti-incumbency were the main factors against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in parts of Madhya Pradesh though the Congress could not fully exploit these grievances especially in the Malwa and central regions where farm unrest in 2017 had led to five farmers dying in police firing.

Rural distress and anti-incumbency were the main factors against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government-

The Congress tried to put its house in order by bringing together all factions of the party. The BJP’s refusal to announce populist measures like farm loan waiver also played a decisive role in the fall of the BJP. Madhya Pradesh being a largely a rural state with a majority of seats in villages, the distress of farmers at not getting higher prices for their farm produce created a sense of anger against the ruling party. The Congress said it will announce a farm loan waiver within 10 days of coming to power.

More than 64 BJP leaders contested as independents on being denied a ticket, bringing down the vote share of party as the cadre and voters got distracted.

The decision of the Modi-government to reinstate the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act also led to anger among the upper castes over the alleged misuse of the Act. Many members of the upper castes, especially Brahmins and Rajputs, were annoyed with the decision of the BJP both at the centre and in the state.

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