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Overconfidence, lacklustre campaigning causes Congress doom in MP

– Pervez Bari

Bhopal, Dec. 4: In Madhya Pradesh, where it has always been principally a two-horse race viz. Congress and BJP, the overconfidence, lacklustre campaigning, playing Hindutva card, sidelining of minorities along with aging leadership caused Congress’ doom in the State’s Legislative Assembly elections 2023, the results of which were announced yesterday. Congress could muster only 66 seats of the 230 available as compared to 114 in 2018 elections.

Overconfidence was to such a level that Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath’s son Nakul Nath, a Member of Parliament from Chhindwara, on whose face the party fought the elections, announced in the midst of campaigning on October 31 that his father would take oath as Chief Minister on December 7 after the results are declared on December 3 and invited all party cadres and sundry to witness the grand spectacle.

While Kamal Nath’s alleged ‘chalo, chalo’ response to workers may have affected the grand old party’s poll performance, leading it to ‘chalo, chalo’ in the assembly elections results. The communication gap between the top leaders and the party workers added fuel to the fire. The Congress has failed to assess the strength of the BJP’s ground level workers’ commitment towards their party. The party’s top leaders’ ‘unavailability’ at the PCC cost the party dear.

It was also said that the PCC president did not give much weightage to other Congress leaders. The regional satraps of the party like Ajay Singh, Arun Yadav and Suresh Pachauri did not get much importance in the party’s ticket distribution and they were sidelined during the ticket distributions. In whole elections, these satraps remained resting in their dens and few of the leaders of the party were seen campaigning for the party. Since these leaders were not given importance in the election, so they didn’t join the ‘aggressive’ campaigning for the party’s choice.

Congress’ Defeat Sign of aging Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh’s Waning Influence
The BJP’s landslide victory in Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections is a major setback for two veteran Congress leaders and former Chief Ministers Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. Both these leaders had actively led the campaign – Kamal Nath from the front, while Digvijaya Singh led the cadre from behind the curtain.

It may be recalled here that the Congress had lost Madhya Pradesh to the BJP in 2003, after two terms of Digvijaya Singh, and had then managed to come back to power after a gap of 15 years in 2018. Despite being two-three seats short of a majority, it had managed to form the government, headed by Kamal Nath.

However, the defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalist MLAs led to the Congress government’s fall and the BJP came back to power again in March 2020. After this setback in 2020, these two senior Congress politicians had energised the shattered party cadre again by winning mayoral election last year, and they were confident to win the assembly election too, but their hopes were dashed, spelling a virtual end to their long political career.

By the next Assembly election, both these Congress veterans will be above 80 years old. This massive defeat will also lower the confidence of the Congress workers on ground, who fought hard against the BJP’s multi-layer cadre in Madhya Pradesh. For the last couple of years, the Congress state unit has witnessed tremendous changes, especially on the grassroots level and this was the reason it had high expectations of winning this election.

Minorities sidelined

Meanwhile, there was no silver lining for minorities especially the Muslims this time too to get much needed political space and remained confided to two assembly seats. Congress allotted just two seats to Muslims with over six percent presence in the state. Sitting MLA Arif Masood and Atif Aqueel, son of sitting MLA and former minister Arif Aqueel, who stepped down due to his illness, retained their seats in Bhopal.

It may be pointed out here that prior to demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Congress in the state assembly elections used to give tickets to more than a dozen Muslim candidates out of which 6-8 emerged victorious. However, after this Congress withdrew its hand, fearing reprisal of right-wing forces and sidelined Muslims, giving them just 3-4 tickets, out of which only two in 2003, one in 2008, one in 2013 and two in 2018 won. In 1993 assembly polls no Muslim candidate could become MLA while in 1998 there were four MLAs from the Congress party who won.

Kamal Nath, following in the footsteps of BJP, also pursued the hardcore Hindutva card while taking Muslims for granted in his course of approach to the polls. He organised a three-day narration of Ramkatha in Simaria of Chhindwara district, his home turf, by Peethadhishwar of Bageshwar Dham Pandit Dhirendra Krishna Shastri who reiterated for establishing a “Hindu Rashtra”.

In fact, on Shastri’s demands for a Hindu Rashtra, Nath had responded saying: “If 82 per cent of the country is made up of Hindus, then what nation is this?” Prior to this, BJP had also held such events in different parts of the state using this young Hindu saint who had given a call for making India a “Hindu Rashtra”.

Congress leader Acharya Pramod Krishnam had tweeted, “…performing aarti of BJP’s star campaigner doesn’t suit senior Congress leaders.” His indication was to the incident when Kamal Nath welcomed Pandit Dhirendra Krishna Shastri by performing an “Aarti”. Acharya Pramod also targeted Shastri by posting that Asaram Bapu too went to Chhindwara by plane. Asaram Bapu was convicted in a rape case.

Meanwhile, veteran Congress leader Aziz Qureshi, who has been Governor of three states, Lok Sabha member and earlier a minister in the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh had castrated Kamal Nath, who had portrayed himself as a Hanuman bhakt (devotee) by holding religious events centred around Hanuman, setting up a massive Hanuman idol at Chhindwara and even welcomed the merger of the right-wing Bajrang Sena, which espoused the cause of the far right, into the Congress.

Poll results not only defied ground reports but also exit polls

Meanwhile, overcoming a 20-year anti-incumbency, voter fatigue, rising unemployment, and elevated inflation, the BJP government’s strategy to turn the lens on women voters with sharply focussed welfare programmes seem to have paid off well. There are 5.6 crore voters in Madhya Pradesh. Of this 2.7 crore are women and, in more than 12 percent, or 29, of the 230 Assembly constituencies, women outnumber men voters.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP swept Madhya Pradesh, bagging 163 seats of 230-seat assembly. The election results not only defied the ground reports which predicted edge to Congress, but also were in contrary to most of the exit polls that anticipated a tough fight between the two parties.

Apart from Modi magic, there were five main reasons for BJP’s grand triumph:

  1. Ladli Behna Yojana: The flagship scheme of the Shivraj-government proved to be a game changer. Barely six months before elections, had Shivraj announced to provide Rs 1000 per month to eligible women between 21 years to 60 years. Not only this, he later increased the money to Rs.1250 a month and further promised to hike the amount up to Rs. 3000 monthly.
  2. Mama’s Emotional Connect: Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has successfully established his image as a brother to ‘Ladli behnas’ and as Mama to ‘dear bhanjas & bhanjis’ (nephews & nieces). His emotional speeches, addressing women to “meri pyari behna” (my dear sisters), has instilled a trust within the females that the chief minister is not unreachable person, but their own brother.

It is worth noting that Shivraj addressed 53 all-women rallies in 53 districts. He not only announced benefits to women, but also for students ranging from laptops to cycles. Kids fondly cheering ‘Mama, Mama’ during his campaigns had become a frequent site, reiterating the testimony of Shivraj’s popularity.

  1. Ground-level Work: BJP is a specialist when it comes to on-field work. Powered by RSS, the BJP had organised several booth-level programmes to strengthen the reach of the party, especially in the remote areas.

The impressive part was all senior leaders ranging from CM Chouhan to BJP National chief JP Nadda, state chief VD Sharma and cabinet ministers attended the booth-level events, presenting them as more reachable for the field workers. In fact, PM Modi, several times, interacted with booth presidents. The direct contact with the top-brass boosted the confidence of booth-level workers, defying any gap.

  1. Combo of Modi & Shivraj’s Scheme: Since the BJP is also is in centre, the state had more power and advantage of announcing direct benefits. For instance, Centre had announced Rs 6000 a year to farmers under Kisan Samman Nidhi. Shivraj expanded the scheme and announced Rs 4000 a year to farmers. He further raised the amount to 6000 a year. As a result, farmers in Madhya Pradesh ended up getting Rs 12000 a year, i.e. Rs 1000 a month.

Similarly, Chief Minister announced Ladli Behna Awas Yojana in line with PM Awas Yojana, promising free house to eligible women.

  1. Public Reach of Chouhan Versus Kamal Nath: Women in Madhya Pradesh are fond of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Well, there is a reason to it. He held 166 rallies in roughly 37 days after the model code of conduct was implemented – 3 times more than Kamal Nath, who just held 50 rallies due to his age factor. The constant presence of Shivraj in the voters’ minds is one of the major reasons public did not forget to press the lotus button as they entered the polling booths.

Nearly eight months before the elections, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made known the approach to the election strategy. On March 1, 2023, state finance minister Jadgish Devda began his budget speech by chanting ‘shlokas’ (hymns) praying to lord Mahakaleshwar, one of the 12 ‘jyotirlingas’ in the country located in Ujjain.

The budget, the last in the incumbent government’s current term, however, stood out for the Rs.8,000-crore “Mukhyamantri Ladly Behna Yojna”. Soon after, Chouhan launched the scheme with a single click and called it a milestone towards women’s empowerment. Some 12 million women will receive Rs. 1,000 every month, which will be progressively raised to Rs. 3,000, under the welfare scheme. This was seen as a smart counter-attack against the Congress’s poll guarantee of providing Rs. 1,500 a month to women if voted to power.

Chouhan also reduced the minimum age required for availing of benefits under the Ladli Bahna scheme from 23 to 21.

The total number of beneficiaries has now touched 13.2 million across the state, as Chouhan drew a link between his efforts and the Women’s Reservation Bill of the Centre. Madhya Pradesh was also among the first states to introduce 50 per cent reservation for women in elections to panchayats and urban bodies. It also has 30 percent reservations for women in the police force. The state also offers concessional tariffs for the registry of property in case it is in a woman’s name.


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