Will bet­ter or­gan­i­sa­tion de­liver Mad­hya Pradesh for the BJP?

ASSEM­BLY POLLS Only Dec 11 will tell if BJP will surge ahead of the Congress in MP, which ap­pears to be a close con­test

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION MYINDIAMYVOTE - Roshan Kishore roshan.k@htlive.com

NEW DELHI: The results of the up­com­ing assem­bly elec­tions in Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh, Te­lan­gana and Mi­zo­ram will set the tone for the na­tional con­test in 2019. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est will be the out­comes in the Hindi heart­land states of Ra­jasthan, MP and Ch­hat­tis­garh, where the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are locked in a direct con­test.

This au­thor had ar­gued in an ear­lier ar­ti­cle that agrar­ian dis­tress is likely to play a big role in the elec­tions in th­ese three states. How­ever, the results of pre-poll sur­veys con­ducted by Delhi-based Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties (CSDS) —Lokniti have thrown up some counter-in­tu­itive find­ings. While the Congress has a com­fort­able lead over the BJP among both ru­ral vot­ers and farm­ers in Ra­jasthan, this does not seem to be the case in MP and Ch­hat­tis­garh. Th­ese pat­terns also find a re­flec­tion in over­all lev­els of sup­port for the two par­ties in the states. The Congress has a lead of four per­cent­age points over the BJP in Ra­jasthan, the two are locked in a tight con­test in MP and the BJP seems to be com­fort­ably ahead in Ch­hat­tis­garh.

Chart 1 here: Congress-bjp sup­port among ru­ral vot­ers, farm­ers and all vot­ers

To be sure, there is no guar­an­tee that pre-poll sur­veys cap­ture the ac­tual mood of the elec­torate. How­ever, the CSDS sur­veys are seen to be slightly more cred­i­ble be­cause they are trans­par­ent about method­ol­ogy and sam­ple size. It is extremely un­likely that ru­ral dis­tress in MP is sig­nif­i­cantly less than that in Ra­jasthan. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of a large num­ber of farm­ers’ protests in Mad­hya Pradesh sup­ports this ar­gu­ment. So, what is hap­pen­ing in the state?

There is rea­son to be­lieve that an asym­me­try in or­gan­i­sa­tional strength of the Congress and the BJP might be play­ing a role in the abil­ity of the two par­ties in can­vass­ing voter sup­port on the ground. There is some ev­i­dence of this in the Lokniti sur­vey it­self. Over­all sup­port lev­els for the two par­ties are in keeping with the pop­u­lar­ity of their po­ten­tial chief min­is­te­rial can­di­dates. Thirty-seven per­cent of re­spon­dents in MP wanted to see BJP’S Shivraj Singh Chouhan back as the chief min­is­ter of the state. This is equal to the com­bined sup­port for Ka­mal Nath, Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia and Digvi­jay Singh, the three main lead­ers of the Congress in the state. In Ch­hat­tis­garh, 40% of the re­spon­dents wanted to see Ra­man Singh of the BJP back as the chief min­is­ter. Singh is far ahead of his po­ten­tial com­peti­tors. Es­tranged Congress leader Ajit Jogi, who is con­test­ing in al­liance with the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party, is ranked sec­ond with 20% sup­port, while Congress’s Bhu­pesh Baghel is third with 14% back­ing. The Congress is do­ing much bet­ter in Ra­jasthan.forty per­cent of the re­spon­dents in Ra­jasthan wanted to see ei­ther Ashok Gehlot or Sachin Pi­lot of the Congress as the next chief min­is­ter, which is eight per­cent­age points more than the fig­ure for Va­sund­hara Raje, the cur­rent BJP chief min­is­ter.

It is to be ex­pected that pop­u­lar lead­ers also gal­vanise a party’s or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Chart 2: Congress-bjp pop­u­lar­ity as next chief min­is­ter

An anal­y­sis of the lat­est assem­bly elec­tions in Pun­jab, Gu­jarat and Kar­nataka – three big states which went to polls since Jan­uary 2017, and where the Congress is an im­por­tant player – proves this point.

HT clas­si­fied assem­bly con­stituen­cies (ACS) by vic­tory mar­gins in th­ese three states. Closely con­tested seats can swing ei­ther way in an elec­tion. There­fore, it helps if a party has ex­ist­ing ar­eas of dom­i­nance with a sig­nif­i­cant lead over oth­ers.

The Congress did well in win­ning the closely con­tested seats in th­ese three states. It won more than half the seats where the vic­tory mar­gin was up to 5% of the

Vic­tory mar­gin 80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

Gu­jarat 2017 elec­tion ONE REA­SON FOR THE CONGRESS’S PO­LIT­I­CAL DE­CLINE HAS BEEN ITS IN­ABIL­ITY TO DE­VELOP OR RE­TAIN IN­FLU­EN­TIAL RE­GIONAL­LEVEL LEAD­ERS, WHO HAVE STRONG SUP­PORT BASES OF THEIR OWN

to­tal votes polled. How­ever, it did badly in win­ning seats where the vic­tory mar­gin was more than 5% in Gu­jarat (37.6%) and Kar­nataka (28.8%). In Pun­jab, it won 70% of th­ese seats. This had an im­pact on the party’s to­tal tally in the assem­bly too.

In Pun­jab, 78% of the Congress’s seats came from ACS where the vic­tory mar­gin was more than 5% of the to­tal votes polled. This fig­ure was 61% and 59% in Gu­jarat and Kar­nataka.

Chart 3A and 3B: Congress per­for­mance in closely con­tested seats

The Congress did not have a pop­u­lar state-level leader in Gu­jarat. Sid­dara­ma­iah, who was Congress’ in­cum­bent chief min­is­ter in Kar­nataka, erred in so­cial en­gi­neer­ing dur­ing the Kar­nataka cam­paign. Amarinder Singh, in con­trast, proved to be an as­tute leader in Pun­jab.

He pretty much won the state on his own in 2017. To be sure, there is noth­ing sur­pris­ing in th­ese find­ings. One rea­son for

Pun­jab 2017 elec­tion Kar­nataka 2018 elec­tion

the Congress’ po­lit­i­cal de­cline has been its in­abil­ity to de­velop or re­tain in­flu­en­tial re­gion­al­level lead­ers, who have strong sup­port bases of their own.

This has ad­versely af­fected the party’s elec­toral per­for­mance in the re­cent past.

Break­ing this vi­cious cy­cle is a key long-term chal­lenge for Rahul Gandhi, who took over as the Congress pres­i­dent last year.

The more per­ti­nent ques­tion in the short term is whether the BJP will even­tu­ally surge ahead of the Congress in MP, which at the mo­ment seems to be a close con­test. We will know the an­swer on 11 December.

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