The aftermath of the recent Assembly elections in four States, including three of the Hindi heartland, has set the stage for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Declared in early December, the results were of paramount importance for both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and the Congress. This report delves into the unexpected outcomes of these elections, focusing on the pivotal State of Madhya Pradesh. Contrary to predictions favouring Congress, the BJP secured a landslide victory in three out of the four States. The Hindi heartland States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh witnessed a decisive win for the saffron party. On December 3, when the results were announced, the BJP surpassed the majority mark of 116 seats in Madhya Pradesh by securing a whopping 163 constituencies. In stark contrast, Congress faced a significant setback, clinching only 66 seats.
The elections in Madhya Pradesh were characterised by intense competition between the BJP and Congress. While Congress emphasised individual campaigns, the BJP relied on the party symbol and the charismatic appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, encapsulated in the slogan Modi ki Guarantee. The results saw the BJP emerging victorious not only in Madhya Pradesh but also in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Congress, however, secured a win in Telangana, offering a diverse electoral landscape.
Retaining Power in MP
The elections for the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly took place on November 17, witnessing a commendable 76.22 per cent voter turnout. Despite minor incidents of violence in Dimani, the polling process unfolded peacefully. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s Government successfully retained power by leveraging PM Modi’s name, electoral promises and welfare schemes.
The Exit polls presented a diverse outlook on the electoral landscape ahead of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election results. Among six surveys conducted, three foresaw a dominant performance by the saffron party, while the remaining three projected a narrow advantage for the Congress. Two polls position Congress in the lead, while one favoured the BJP.
Before delving into the factors favouring the BJP and exploring the reasons behind the Congress’s perceived struggles with voter resonance, here is a concise overview of the BJP’s journey in this election.
- The BJP, reigning over Madhya Pradesh for 18 years, skilfully navigated anti-incumbency, delivering a significant boost to four-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Securing a two-thirds majority in the 230-member House was a testament to their entrenched position
- The BJP garnered 48.55 per cent of the votes, marking a substantial increase of over seven percentage points from 2018 when it received 41.02 per cent. In contrast, the Congress maintained a nearly identical vote share at 40.40 per cent, compared to 40.89 per cent in 2018, even as its seat tally dropped from 114 to 66
- Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan clinched victory in his Budhni constituency, defeating Congress rival and TV actor Vikram Mastal Sharma by an impressive margin of 1,04,974 votes
- Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath retained his stronghold in Chhindwara, despite the BJP’s emphatic win in the State, defeating the BJP’s Vivek Bunty Sahu by 36,594 votes
- Union Minister Prahlad Patel secured victory in his inaugural Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls from Narsinghpur, triumphing over the Congress’ Lakhan Singh Patel by a substantial margin of 31,310 votes
- Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar emerged victorious in the Dimani constituency, defeating Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Balveer Singh Dandotiya by 24,461 votes
- In 2013, the BJP secured 165 seats compared to the Congress’ 58. During those elections, the BJP received 44.88 per cent of the votes, while the Congress garnered 36.38 per cent. In 2018, the Congress claimed victory in 114 seats with a 40.89 per cent vote share, while the BJP won 109 seats with 41.02 per cent of the votes
Factors Attributed to BJP’s Success
- Prime Minister Modi’s Popularity: The credit for the BJP’s success in the MP polls was widely attributed to Prime Minister Modi, who extensively campaigned in the State. From Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to Cabinet Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, the impact of PM Modi’s rallies resonated across the State. His appeals and focus on Government’s accomplishments during numerous rallies contributed significantly to the BJP’s landslide victory.
- Ladli Behna Scheme: Chief Minister Chouhan strategically relied on initiatives like the Ladli Behna Yojana, a scheme that monthly transfers Rs 1250 to eligible women from economically disadvantaged families.
- Welfare Schemes: The success of the BJP was attributed to the effective implementation of welfare schemes by both the Central and State governments. CM Chouhan emphasised schemes such as Garib Kalyan Yojana, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, PM Awas Yojana, Ladli Behna Yojana, and Ladli Laxmi Yojana, connecting with voters who appreciated the impact of these initiatives on their lives.
- Scindia Factor: The strong performance of the BJP in the Chambal-Gwalior region was attributed to the Scindia factor. Union Cabinet Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s influence, especially after his transition to the BJP in 2020, significantly impacted the region’s political landscape. The defection of Scindia and 22 Congress MLAs led to the BJP’s ascent to power, causing a notable shift in the 2023 MP elections.
- Focus on Farmers: The BJP maintained a dedicated focus on addressing the concerns of the significant farmer demographic. The party’s manifesto included promises such as an increased MSP on paddy and wheat, as well as the implementation of the direct cash transfer scheme under Kisan Samman Nidhi. PM Modi’s repeated emphasis on farmer-centric schemes resonated with the agricultural community.
- Surge in SC/ST Votes: In Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP released its candidate lists for “vulnerable” seats, including eight SC seats, weeks ahead of the Election Commission’s official poll announcement, the party’s preparations appear to have borne fruit. Of the State’s 35 SC seats, the BJP won 26 this time, up from 18 in 2018. Its gains came at the cost of the Congress, which dropped to nine SC seats from 17 in 2018. The BJP won comfortably in its 26 seats – it secured more than 50 per cent of the vote share in 20 seats and won by margins greater than 10,000 votes in 22 seats. Its highest vote share was 66.6 per cent in Guna and its highest margin was 68,884 votes in Alot. Its average winning margin in these seats was just under 30,000 votes.
- Ineffectiveness of Congress’s Guarantee: Despite Congress’s efforts to capitalise on anti-incumbency sentiments, the party’s promises, encapsulated in the “nine guarantees,” failed to sway the public. Criticism regarding unfulfilled previous promises, especially the farm loan waiver, contributed to the public’s skepticism towards Congress’ commitments.
The BJP’s recent triumph in key States is largely credited to the enduring popularity of Prime Minister Modi and the resonance of Hindutva sentiments. The party’s dominance in Madhya Pradesh (29 seats), Rajasthan (25), and Chhattisgarh (11) during the recent State elections consolidates its strength with a collective contribution of 65 seats to the Lok Sabha. With governance in a total of 12 States currently, the BJP appears well-positioned for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Cong Shrinking in Hindi Heartland
Conversely, the Congress is experiencing a wane in popularity, particularly in the Hindi heartland. The party’s hold in North India is limited to Himachal Pradesh, while Karnataka and, more recently, Telangana constitute its presence in the South. The recent electoral setback for the Congress may potentially reshape dynamics within the opposition alliance in the INDI alliance.
During the BJP wave, a notable setback for the BJP was the defeat of 12 Ministers from Chouhan’s Cabinet. Among them were Narottam Mishra, who lost to Congress candidate Rajendra Bharti in Datia, and other Ministers like Arvind Bhadoria, Kamal Patel, Gaurishankar Bisen, Prem Singh Patel, Mahendra Singh Sisodiya, Rajvardhan Singh Dattigaon, Bharat Singh Kushwaha, Ramkhelawan Patel, Suresh Dhakad, Rahul Singh Lodhi, and Ram Kishor Kawre. BJP candidate Imarti Devi, a Scindia loyalist, faced defeat in Dabra, losing by 2,267 votes to Congress’ Suresh Raje. Additionally, sitting BJP MP Ganesh Singh from Satna lost by 4,041 votes to Congress’ Dabbu Siddharth Sukhlal Kushwaha.
The election witnessed close contests on various seats, with narrow margins defining victories. Notable examples include Arun Bhimawad (Congress, Shajapur, margin-28 votes), Pradeep Amratlal Jaiswal (Gudda) (Congress, Waraseoni, margin-46 votes), Dinesh Jain Boss (BJP, Mahidpur, margin-290 votes), Kalusingh Thakur (Congress, Iharampuri, margin-356 votes), and Sanjay Uikey (BJP, Baihar, margin-551 votes). On the other hand, some BJP candidates secured significant victories, with notable margins, including Ramesh Mendola (Indore-2, margin-107,047 votes), Krishna Gaur (Govindpura, margin-106,668 votes), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Budhni, margin-104,974 votes), Rameshwar Sharma (Huzur, margin-97,910 votes), and Gopal Bhargava (Rehli, margin-72,800 votes).
While the BJP’s lotus blossomed in the electoral clash, the Congress faced setbacks, with the party’s guarantees failing to resonate with the electorate. The results also witnessed both notable victories and surprising defeats, reshaping the political landscape for key figures in Madhya Pradesh. As the BJP solidifies its position in States crucial for the Lok Sabha, the Congress finds itself grappling with a decline in popularity, particularly in the Hindi heartland. The recent electoral dynamics have set the stage for a transformative period in Indian politics, with implications that extend beyond State borders, paving the way for a gripping political narrative leading up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.