Hard­fought vic­tory

FrontLine - - COVER STORY - BY ANANDO BHAKTO

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

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