Photo: Arun Mondhe/Mint
Photo: Arun Mondhe/Mint

In MP, it is a straight fight between Congress and BJP

  • Voter perception in MP could be reflected in six other states witnessing a direct fight between the two parties
  • Voters say the two parties have equally high stakes, but the outcome will be influenced by how the results of the assembly polls held last Dec. have played out on the ground

DEWAS : The entire focus is on UP and Bihar. But there are only two parties. Whoever does well in a straight fight will win," says Dileep Chauhan, who works at a furniture repair shop in Ujjain. Chauhan adds that the main contest in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections will be in states such as Madhya Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a direct contest with the Congress.

The two national parties are in a straight fight in at least seven states, which account for one-fifth of the Lok Sabha seats. The importance of a direct contest gains significance because the BJP had trounced the Congress in these states in the 2014 general elections.

Voters in constituencies such as Indore, Ujjain, Dhar and Dewas of Madhya Pradesh, which go to polls on 19 May, say the two parties have equally high stakes, but the outcome will be influenced by how the results of the assembly elections held last December have played out on the ground. While the electorate is split over whom to support, they say that the Modi factor continues to boost the BJP’s prospects, while the Congress faces the challenge of consolidating its assembly win.

“The BJP was facing 15 years of anti-incumbency and people wanted change. Yet, the Congress won with a narrow margin. We think it will improve its tally this time simply because it hardly won anything in 2014. However, it will only win seats where it has very strong candidates, unlike the BJP which has the Modi factor still working for them," says Shaligram Patel, a retired government official from Dewas.

In 2014, the Congress won just two out of the 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh. A year later, it added one more to its tally after a bypoll. With populist pledges such as farm loan waivers and a minimum income guarantee scheme, the Congress is hopeful of making gains in rural areas.

For the BJP, the larger narrative is about showcasing the work done by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre and “double engine growth"—a reference to the period when the party was also in power in the state. It is also banking on the image of Modi, who is leading the party’s campaign in these elections.

A section of voters says that Modi is still the preferred choice for prime minister. “The Congress made unrealistic promises in its assembly campaign. It took over only in December but people have already started missing former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan," said Jagdish Tak, who runs an auto parts store in Dhar. He was referring to the promise of farm loan waivers by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the run-up to the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“This election, however, is about choosing the next prime minister and Prime Minister Modi is ahead in that contest," said Tak. He added that in a direct contest, “Modi is the popular candidate". Congress could face similar challenges in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as well.

In 2014, the BJP won 104 out of the 110 seats across Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana, while the Congress won just four seats, drawing a blank in four states. After 2014, it lost Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana to the BJP, but managed to give a tough fight in Gujarat where the BJP was down to its lowest tally in two decades.

(Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint)

There are at least seven states in North India where the BJP and Congress are in a direct contest. This does not include states in the North-East where they are pitted against each other and states like Maharashtra and Bihar where they are in an alliance with other parties and their candidates could be taking on each other in some seats.

Senior Congress leaders say that the party will improve its tally in the Lok Sabha elections, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“People were not happy with the BJP governments in the three states but that ‘anger’ found a vent in December. Now, we are the incumbent in the state, but we had just a little under three months to showcase our work. Unlike other states where we are out of power, the public in these states will no longer judge us only as an opposition and a challenger. We have a harder task at hand to convince people that our candidates are good and they should be elected," a senior Congress strategist from Madhya Pradesh said, requesting anonymity.

Hence, the voter perception in Madhya Pradesh, which sends 29 legislatures to the Lok Sabha, could be reflected in the six other states—Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana— witnessing a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP. The Lok Sabha results could also influence the outcome of the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Delhi, which are to be held subsequently.

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