The electoral juggernaut is set to move up north to two key states, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Coming off the massive Karnataka win, the gong will not be easy for BJP this time.
Coming off the massive victory in Karnataka and basking in the afterglow of Rahul Gandhi’s successful Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Indian National Congress now gears up for two major fights in the coming months. One will be its struggle to regain control of Madhya Pradesh, while the other will be to retain control over Rajasthan. Assembly elections to these two important states will virtually pave the path to next year’s general elections and will indicate how much weight Congress has before it can take on the heavyweight Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2024.
True, the Congress is on a comeback path on the power of its development and anti-corruption agenda, but undermining the organisational strength of the BJP will be the Congress’ biggest mistake. One such incident almost happened in Karnataka when aspiring chief minister Siddharamaiah declared that he would be banning the Bajrang Dal when he comes to power. It was a sane claim, but the narrative was quickly changed by the BJP from Bajrang Dal, an outlier outfit, to Bajrang Bali, a god. Congress was lucky that the people realised the difference. Karnataka has a knowledgeable population. In the backward states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, however, such mistakes could prove very costly. One cannot discount the insistent social media campaigning of the BJP IT cell.
To be fair, the Congress IT cell seems to have gained enough momentum to counter the BJP IT cell trolls with enough sober, yet intelligent firepower. More than public speeches, people these days seem to be relying on social media forwards.
Let us take a look at the key states going to the polls.
Madhya Pradesh is slated to go to polls by the end of this year. On May 22, five promises were made to the people of Madhya Pradesh. These promises are almost the same as what was made in Karnataka. The Congress’ official Twitter handle said: “Congress’s promise to the people of Madhya Pradesh. We fulfilled our promises in Karnataka, now we will fulfil them in MP too.”
While the state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has publicly pooh-poohed Congress publicity campaigns, there is no doubt that the BJP has been shaken by the massive loss in Karnataka. At the same time, that victory has boosted the morale of the Congress no end.
Chouhan said: “Who cares about Karnataka results? This is Madhya Pradesh. Here, we will register a record victory with great fanfare. What do they (Congress) have? We have Narendra Modi. We have party workers who toil night and day. Congress comes nowhere close. I still have many cards up my sleeve.”
Maybe so, but Chouhan faces attacks from all sides, including former ministers Ajay Bishnoi and Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat. Also, Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti Sangathan (JAYS) is trying to make an impact in Malwa. This will definitely have an impact on some seats.
There has been subdued infighting in the BJP and that is now coming out in the open. There seems to be growing discontent in the BJP’s Vindhya unit, because despite winning many seats in the region, it was not given proper representation in the cabinet. For all these reasons, there is a slight disarray and disunity in the BJP. While the party was already reeling under it, the Karnataka results have added fuel to the fire and the Congress’s increased enthusiasm has posed a new challenge for the BJP.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) seems to have reached further into desperate lands than the ruling BJP had in Karnataka. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJY and Rahul travelled around 382 km, especially across ancient tribal areas such as the Malwa plateau. People he had come in contact during the BJY, would have been influenced to an extent, and if the Karnataka experience sees a repetition, then the influence of the BJY would be substantial. In Karnataka, out of 15 tribal seats, BJP could not win even a single one.
In the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, 20%, or 47 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (ST). According to experts, about 70 to 80 seats in the state are dominated by tribal voters.
Not that the Congress will have it easy, though. In 2003, the tribal community contributed significantly to the BJP’s return to power in the state. In the next two elections, the BJP continued to get support from the tribal community and remained in power. But in 2018 the tables turned and the BJP, which had won 31 ST seats in 2013, was limited to 16 seats in 2018 and the Congress’s seat share increased from 15 to 30, allowing it to form the government.
The BJP had won a total of 109 seats and Congress won 114 seats in the polls. The margin of victory was so narrow that the BJP was bound to form the government had the tribal voters sided with it.
Rahul has predicted that the Congress will win 150 out of 230 seats in the upcoming assembly election later this year. “Karnataka election result will be repeated in Madhya Pradesh,” Rahul told reporters after the party’s meeting on election preparedness.
“We had a detailed meeting just now, and our internal assessment indicates that after securing 136 seats in Karnataka, we are now projected to win 150 seats in Madhya Pradesh,” Rahul was quoted as saying by news agencies.
In a video shared by a news agency, when asked about the Congress party’s chief ministerial candidate for Madhya Pradesh, Gandhi chose not to provide a direct answer but emphasised the party’s goal of winning 150 seats.
One key person for Congress here will be Kamal Nath, who served as the state chief minister during Congress’ short-lived government in the state between 2018 and 2020. He said: “We discussed the strategy and the issues on which the party should contest these polls. We are all of the opinion that we will enter the poll fray unitedly.”
Besides Rahul Gandhi, Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh, and AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, met party chief Mallikarjun Kharge to discuss the upcoming assembly election in the state.
Fifth most populous
Madhya Pradesh is the fifth most populous state of India and has a diverse population of many religions & communities. At the census 2011, out of 7.26 crore population, around 6.6 crores (90.89%) have returned themselves as followers of Hindu religion, 4.77 crores (6.57%) as Muslims or the followers of Islam, 5.67 lakhs (0.78%) as Jain, 2.16 lakhs (0.30%) as Buddhists, 2.13 lakhs (0.29%) are Christians, and in addition 0.12% stated as no religion & 1.04% are other religions.
As per the Census India 2011, Madhya Pradesh has 15093256 households, population of 72626809 of which 37612306 are males and 35014503 are females. The population of children between the ages 0-6 is 10809395 which is 14.88% of the total population.
Currently, Rajasthan is under the governance of the Congress party, led by Ashok Gehlot.
Rajasthan sees a good Congress stronghold, the big chink in the armour, so to say, being the infighting in the party, with deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, son of veteran Congress leader, the Late Rajesh Pilot, having gone head-on against Gehlot on many occasions. Even recently, Pilot had started a campaign against Gehlot, till intervention from the Gandhis and Kharge settled the matter. This may blow up to be a similar situation as had been seen in Karnataka after victory, with both Siddharamaiah and DK Shivaklumar claiming the Chief Ministerial seat.
One does not believe any trouble will erupt during the election process, but post election there could be some problems and the Congress will, again, have use its fire-fighting skills.
Gehlot’s administrative acumen, especially with the party, has been well known. This is something the Congress will be depending on. The dependence has been so much that initial ideas of Gehlot emerging as the Congress presidential candidate had also to be shelved.
While the BJP is banking on its campaigner-in-chief Narendra Modi and anti-incumbency to snatch power, it has a weak representation in former chief minister Vasundhara Raje. She did not pick up too many accolades during her stint as CM and those memories still rankle.
Recently, Gehlot announced a slew of freebies, such as free electricity (till 100 units), and the BJP will, obviously match these. However, the BJP’s organisational prowess, under Vasundhara Raje, maybe a bit weak. Of course, the presence of Modi and Amit Shah, and truckloads of money, may turn the tides in certain places, though the Karnataka victory has really rejuvenated the Congress party and its voters, and the going will be tough for the BJP.
Raje is currently holding her own public events in the run-up to assembly polls. The BJP in Rajasthan has no woman mass leader of Raje’s stature. She has proven her might in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
BJP insiders claim their party’s internal assessments have indicated that should assembly elections be held in Rajasthan today, it would barely manage to get a simple majority. As the BJP hunts for a winning formula against the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress in the state, can it risk overreliance on potential defectors from the ruling party?
Several BJP leaders in Rajasthan, including those with an RSS background, say that while pursuing the aim of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, “we are becoming a Congress-yukt BJP”. They question how election tickets can be denied to the traditional political families in the BJP at the cost of losing seats and how it is justifiable to give tickets, and even ministerial berths, to defectors from traditional Congress families just to win seats.
Observers argue that the BJP has a near-saturated base in Rajasthan, where it had won 163 of the 200 assembly seats while coming to power in 2013. So, the party cannot hope to expand its electoral footprint beyond a point and finish off the Congress altogether.
We will have to wait for the final outcome, but how the two major parties behave in the run up to the polls will determine a lot many smaller issues in each state.