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
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