DOWN TO THE WIRE

AS RA­JASTHAN, MAD­HYA PRADESH AND CH­HAT­TIS­GARH HOLD ELEC­TIONS IN DE­CEM­BER, AN IN­DIA TO­DAY-AXIS PRE-POLL SUR­VEY READS THE STRAWS IN THE PO­LIT­I­CAL WIND OF THE THREE STATES

India Today - - INSIDE - By Ajit Ku­mar Jha

Ra­jasthan wants change, MP could go ei­ther way while Ch­hat­tis­garh will be a close call, finds the In­dia To­day-Axis sur­vey

Barely a fort­night ago, the po­lit­i­cal trends emerg­ing from the three heart­land states—Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh—sched­uled for as­sem­bly elec­tions in De­cem­ber re­flected fierce anti­in­cum­bency. Two pre­poll sur­veys, con­ducted in May and Au­gust by CSDS (the Cen­tre for Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties) and C­Voter re­spec­tively, had pre­dicted a clean sweep for the Congress party in all three states.

But as elec­tions get closer and the cam­paign hots up, the tide seems to be turn­ing. The sim­ple one­way anti­in­cum­bency against the BJP no­ticed in early sur­veys has be­gun to ap­pear messier. With the ex­cep­tion of Ra­jasthan, which seems bent on bring­ing down the Va­sund­hara Raje­led BJP govern­ment, the in­dia to­day­Axis Po­lit­i­cal Stock Ex­change (PSE) pre­poll sur­vey in Septem­ber recorded a slight ad­van­tage for the Ra­man Singh­led BJP govern­ment in Ch­hat­tis­garh and a tight race in MP with higher pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings for the Shivraj Singh Chouhan led­BJP govern­ment. Since the poll was con­ducted be­fore the Mayawati (BSP)­Ajit Jogi (JCC) al­liance an­nounced on Septem­ber 20, the Ch­hat­tis­garh pic­ture in what will now be a three­cor­nered con­test re­mains dif­fi­cult to pre­dict.

The Congress’s op­ti­mism in the state stemmed from the as­sump­tion that the BSP would tie up with it after the al­liance ham­mered out in Bengaluru fol­low­ing the Kar­nataka polls. Re­mem­ber the bon­homie be­tween BSP pres­i­dent Mayawati and former Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi right after the po­lit­i­cal drama in the Gar­den City?

That’s hit a road­block al­ready in Ch­hat­tis­garh. At a joint press con­fer­ence on Septem­ber 20 in Luc­know, Mayawati an­nounced a tie­up with the Jogi­led Janta Congress Ch­hat­tis­garh (JCC), with the lat­ter as its chief min­is­te­rial face. With 13 per cent sched­uled caste and 31 per cent tribal votes, the BSP­JCC com­bine will be a for­mi­da­ble one in the state. In­deed, in a tri­an­gu­lar con­test, some ob­servers be­lieve, the al­liance will be the king­maker. Axis poll­ster Pradeep Gupta, who has trav­elled widely in the state, how­ever, says “the Ra­man Singh­led BJP will be the big­gest gainer given its main voter base is among the OBCs and trib­als not aligned to the JCC”. There is no con­fu­sion about the loser in all this—the Congress with its tra­di­tional vote banks among the SCs. What has fur­ther come as a bolt from the blue for the party is that Mayawati, in a pre­emp­tive strike, has an­nounced 22 can­di­dates in MP too. If the Congress doesn’t wake up even now and stitch up a pre­poll al­liance, and if the BSP an­nounces can­di­dates for all 230 seats in MP, the party could lose out in that state too. A sim­i­lar pic­ture could be­gin emerg­ing in Ra­jasthan which has 17.2 per cent SC votes, say some ob­servers.

Since as­sem­bly polls are not pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, con­sider what the PSE re­veals be­yond who is win­ning. Let us look at the why and how.

Are vot­ers sat­is­fied with the in­cum­bent govern­ment’s per­for­mance? In MP, while 41 per cent of vot­ers are sat­is­fied, 40 per cent are so dis­sat­is­fied that they want it re­placed. The high level of voter dis­sat­is­fac­tion, iron­i­cally, con­trasts with CM Chouhan’s pop­u­lar­ity at 46 per cent, com­pared to the Congress’s Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia (32 per cent) and Ka­mal Nath (8 per cent). The anti­in­cum­bency in MP is di­rected much more to­wards sit­ting MLAs, given the mas­sive cor­rup­tion at the lower lev­els of govern­ment and lit­tle work for con­stituency de­vel­op­ment. “It’s the fierce anti­in­cum­bency against sit­ting MLAs that prompted party pres­i­dent Amit Shah’s de­ci­sion to deny tick­ets to at least 100 of the 165 party MLAs at the state elec­tion man­age­ment com­mit­tee meet­ing in Bhedaghat, near Ja­balpur,” ad­mits a se­nior party leader who at­tended the meet­ing.

So, with such high dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the govern­ment per­for­mance in MP, why are Congress lead­ers un­able to beat Chouhan’s pop­u­lar­ity? Se­nior Congress

lead­ers ad­mit that “in­ter­nal fac­tion­al­ism at all lev­els de­spite at­tempts to stream­line the cam­paign process is the big­gest li­a­bil­ity for the party”. Former Congress chief min­is­ter Digvi­jaya Singh has been de­puted to head the co­or­di­na­tion com­mit­tee whose main task is to fix the fac­tion­al­ism prob­lem by talk­ing to the 125,000 Congress work­ers in the state. He has al­ready trav­elled to 43 out of the state’s 51 dis­tricts and spo­ken to over a 100,000 work­ers. The only dis­tricts left are Gwalior, Morena and six oth­ers un­der Scin­dia’s in­flu­ence. “I’m op­ti­mistic... we’ll fight as one party and win,” he says.

Ra­jasthan pro­vides a sharp con­trast to MP. The PSE sur­vey shows mas­sive voter anger with the Raje govern­ment with the mood for change as high as 48 per cent. The CM’s pop­u­lar­ity rat­ing is trail­ing at 35 per cent, the same as former Congress CM Ashok Gehlot. Sachin Pi­lot, at 11 per cent, is the third most pop­u­lar can­di­date for CM, and could deal a com­bined dou­ble blow to Raje. Here again, “fac­tion­al­ism within the party” is the main rea­son for Raje’s dwin­dling pop­u­lar­ity, say se­nior BJP lead­ers. A di­rect re­sult of such in­ter­nal squab­bling was the re­cent exit of Jaswant Singh’s son, Man­ven­dra Singh, who rep­re­sents the Sheo as­sem­bly seat un­der the Barmer Lok Sabha con­stituency.

In Ch­hat­tis­garh, CM Ra­man Singh’s pop­u­lar­ity at 41 per cent is 2 per­cent­age points higher than the vot­ers’ sat­is­fac­tion with his govern­ment; 35 per cent want it

re­placed. An­other 11 per cent rate the govern­ment’s per­for­mance as ‘av­er­age’ while 16 per cent have no opin­ion at all, in­di­cat­ing float­ing vot­ers who could tip the scale.

Un­em­ploy­ment (47 per cent), agri­cul­ture (45 per cent), lack of drink­ing wa­ter (42 per cent), prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with drainage and clean­li­ness (40 per cent) and price rise (31 per cent) are the top is­sues among vot­ers in MP as they are in the other two states. Iron­i­cally, de­spite record­ing the high­est agri­cul­tural growth rate among all the states, MP has faced farmer ag­i­ta­tion since June 2017.

In Ra­jasthan, de­spite tall Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan claims, prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with drainage and clean­li­ness have 57 per cent of the vot­ers con­cerned. Un­less Raje cleans up her act, the PSE sur­vey pre­dicts a se­ri­ous prob­lem on her hands. The sur­vey also shows that is­sues like agri­cul­ture (47 per cent), un­em­ploy­ment (43 per cent) and price rise (42 per cent) con­cern the voter more than iden­tity or Mandir or anti-na­tion­al­ism. Ditto in Ch­hat­tis­garh. Drainage and clean­li­ness is the top is­sue here (52 per cent), along with un­em­ploy­ment (41 per cent), agri­cul­ture (40 per cent) and price rise (38 per cent).

Is the pic­ture in the heart­land likely to change as elec­tions draw closer? “Yes, of course, we have won most elec­tions be­cause of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s charisma and pop­u­lar­ity among vot­ers and the in­ten­sive cam­paign in the last 15 days led by party pres­i­dent Amit Shah,” says Union rail­ways min­is­ter Piyush Goyal. “And we’ll have hun­dreds of ral­lies be­fore that which will turn the cam­paign in our favour.” The Karyakarta Ma­hakumbh or­gan­ised in Bhopal on Septem­ber 25 with Modi and Shah as well as CM Chouhan ad­dress­ing lakhs of work­ers of­fi­cially launched the BJP cam­paign in MP.

Cam­paigns by the cen­tral lead­er­ship do sway as­sem­bly elec­tions. And with its blitzkrieg-style cam­paign cou­pled with its for­mi­da­ble elec­tion ma­chine and army of booth-level man­agers, the BJP has of­ten turned the tide in as­sem­bly polls in the past four years. How­ever, fac­tion­al­ism at the state level is of­ten a re­sult of too much in­ter­fer­ence by the high com­mand, both for the BJP and the Congress. It is this fac­tion­al­ism that’s weak­en­ing the BJP in Ra­jasthan and the Congress in MP. Who will be suc­cess­ful in De­cem­ber 2018 will de­pend as much on cam­paigns and the abil­ity to stitch suc­cess­ful pre-poll al­liances as on the re­spec­tive par­ties’ abil­i­ties to quell the en­emy within.

IN POLL GEAR Shivraj Singh Chouhan, PM Modi and Amit Shah at the BJP’s Karyakarta Ma­hakumbh in Bhopal on Septem­ber 25

Graph­ics by ASIT ROY

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