The Congress wins 114 seats against the BJP’S 109 in Madhya Pradesh, but the victory does not guarantee it a smooth ride in power given the absence of an alternative economic programme
in its manifesto.
THE CONGRESS ELBOWED OUT THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was in power for three terms from 2008, in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, but the victory was not emphatic. Despite having enough ammunition such as an agrarian distress, the spectre of a scam and high unemployment to pulverise the incumbent, on counting day, the Congress was limping to reach the magic number of 116 seats in the 230-member Assembly, often staring at defeat as the BJP appeared to surge ahead. It ended its run at 114 seats, needing the support of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to form the government.
No doubt the electoral outcome was significant in that it lifted the flagging spirit of Congress cadres, but it calls for introspection rather than celebration. The Congress leadership needs to address its persisting inability to be a fierce attacker, especially in a State like Madhya Pradesh where a thumping byelection victory in Jhabuaratlam Lok Sabha seat in 2015 ensured that it did not have to start from scratch.
Throughout the election season, the Congress highlighted the failures of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. Now the party has to take into account the fact that it was a negative vote for the BJP that propelled it to power. Success in power will come about with a coherent narrative based on an achievable economic model.
Although Kamal Nath, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s successor as Chief Minister of the State, tweeted 40 questions to him on the ills plaguing health, infrastructure and other sectors, and Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the party’s Member of Parliament Jyotiraditya Scindia raised the pitch on farmers’ woes and the lack of jobs, none of them enunciated how the Congress, given a chance to rule, would resolve these complex issues.
EMULATING DOLE OUT POLITICS
At best, the Congress emulated the “dole out” politics of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, which accorded primacy to incentives. It committed itself to raising the upper ceiling of existing sops. Its manifesto promised that the assistance given to below poverty line (BPL) families to build houses would be upped from Rs.1.5-2.5 lakh to Rs.3 lakh while students who scored above 70 per cent would be given free laptops in addition to the free college education they are currently entitled to. While this sort of politics could act as a magnet for the disadvantaged, as the loan-ridden farmers proved by voting decisively for the Congress, it cannot serve as an inspiration to those disillusioned with the political class. That may well be the reason why the 5.42 lakh voters, disillusioned as they were with the BJP government, and seemingly also with the Centre, preferred NOTA (none of the above) on their ballot paper, but not the Congress.
Another factor that averted the BJP’S total collapse was the personal goodwill enjoyed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who had cultivated the image of a “farmer’s son” for himself, relatable in a State where agriculture is the main source of income for 70 per cent of the population. While 13 of his Cabinet Ministers lost at the hustings, he was re-elected from Budhni with a comfortable