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Wake up call for BJP as Congress retains MP seats with thin margin

Saturday, March 03, 2018
By Prakash Bal Joshi

The Congress could retain its hold over two state legislative assembly constituencies in Madhya Pradesh in bye-elections held with great fanfare. With the state preparing for the next state legislative assembly elections in the fag end of 2018, no wonder every political party has tried their best to improve their performances as out come of these elections will certainly be responsible for setting a tone for the coming state assembly elections.

There has been long standing debate among politicians as well as academicians over the issue of whether a bye-election can be any barometer to guess prevailing political sentiments in a state. However, the ruling party will be in very precarious position if it perceives that the outcome of a bye-election for a state legislative assembly cannot be taken as a trend setter or overall sentiment of people in the state. It will prove disastrous if a section in the ruling circles take these election results as nothing more than retaining the seats by the Congress which falls in the Lok Sabha constituency of a Congress stalwart Madhavrao Scindia. It may not be a comprehensive indicator of popular sentiments in the state, but it will be foolhardy to ignore the resentment among farming sections.

Obviously, there is rejoicing in the Congress circles over the victory with thin margin in   Mungaoli and Kolaras by polls. It will do no good to the Congress if it is taken as a precursor to the final match — the state legislative assembly poll, scheduled by the end of 2018. With winning these two seats in bye-elections, the Congress has consecutively won four seats in the state. The two seats won in 2017 included Ater and Khajuraho.

More than number of losses, it is considered as a big set back for Madhya Pradesh chief   Shivraj Singh Chouhan who is leading the state for last 17 years. The result is a litmus test as it is considered as closer to the ground reality. Not that Chouhan had neglected the importance of the bye-elections but the ruling party failed to dislodge the Congress from these two seats. Chouhan had undertaken hectic campaigning and a battery of ministers played supportive role. The entire administrative machinery was at his beck and call but despite such favourable situation, he could not regain those seats.  Chouhan made promises to farmers during the Kisan Maha Sammelan, reshuffled the Cabinet and launched the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna. But the recent hailstorm in the state has hit the farmers so hard that all such measures had very little impact on farming community. It appears that Chouhan and his strategist failed to take note of resentment among farmers to multiple reasons hurting their interests in recent times. This appears to be mainly due to failure of the state government to respond to the issues faced by farming community, especially issues related with agrarian economy. Some of them have to be tackled at national level policy decisions while few remain to be resolved at state level.  

Situation is not very comfortable in Madhya Pradesh where last June some part of the state in Mandsaur district was affected by large-scale mob violence over failure. The government gave many assurances but the farming community remained disgruntled and angry resulting into negative votes.  Chouhan tried to appease farmers by  launching the much-publicised ‘Mukhya Mantri Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna’ — to compensate the farmer. The scheme envisaged a compensation to farmers by paying the 'difference' between the minimum support price (MSP) and the market price of crops. The scheme is good as it is, but benefits of the scheme have reached only 6.4 per cent of the farmers making others angrier. The government has realised that it is not merely the concept and ingenuity of the scheme, but its capacity to reach out to maximum number of affected people is more important.

In Madhya Pradesh, the main plank for election campaigning by the BJP had always remained    Bijli, Sadak, Pani (Electricity, Road, Water). The formula proved successful as Chouhan continued to depend on it for securing absolute majority. MP became a prime state for the BJP to showcase how development plank can help a party to win the elections and keep on winning. However, something is amiss and the party need to do some retrospection if it is committed to development plank.

The voice of dissent is low and sporadic but one can hear murmur of grumble   if one goes to grass roots. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had raised warning on the agrarian crisis in the state but those in charge of running the state seems to have ignored it. Two more RSS related bodies, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), have also tried to alert the government on the conditions at the ground level and need to take immediate remedial measures. They have also talked about agrarian crisis and depleting employment market and growing unemployment.

There seems to be total mismatch and disconnect between top state-level leadership and the ground reality. Over dependence on the bureaucracy is a double-edged weapon as it is too impersonal and imperfect. It tends to generalise and ignore major issues. While party cadre can detect fault lines and take immediate steps to stop the rot. Over dependence on the bureaucracy and lack of coordination between government and party cadre has led to such a disconnect. The recent results in Gujarat, Rajasthan have proved the disconnect making it easier for the opposition to stop the BJP from its winning streak. It was RSS network which really helped the party to take on challenge from the Congress and halt the disenchantment of common people.

Realising the threat from the angry farming community in the coming state assembly elections the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in its fifth and the last budget of its term  announced Rs 37,498 crore allocation for the agriculture sector and Rs 10,928 crore for irrigation, out of its biggest ever budget of Rs 2,04,642 crore. 
The Chouhan government has reiterated its   promise to double farmers' income in next five years, which may sound like an election slogan. The BJP can ill afford to ignore and lose its influence in one of the most significant state in the cow belt. As per the party’s basic calculations apart from state legislative assembly elections, the party needs to win as many seats as possible in the general elections for the LS in 2019 to take care of losses in other states.

The Congress leadership is convinced that the BJP is on losing wicket and as an opposition party, it can reap rich harvest based on anti-incumbency factor. The major issue before Shivraj Chouhan is to counter the anti-incumbency factor which is bound to affect its new strategies. The two assembly constituencies which the Congress candidates could retain are from the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia who spearheaded the Congress campaign for retaining assembly seats from his own constituency. He is bound to play a much more important role when the state will go for the final election to elect a new government for the next five years. The outcome of the MP election results will be anxiously awaited as it will set the stage for the final count down for general polls scheduled in 2019 for the Lok Sabha.

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