THE JURY IS STILL OUT

The Asian Age - - 360o - AS­SEM­BLY POLLS ELEC­TORAL VOTES Shekhar Iyer

By any reck­on­ing, Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Mr Ra­man Singh or Ms Va­sund­hara Raje are not un­der­achiev­ers as Chief Min­is­ters of Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Ra­jasthan re­spec­tively. Mr Chouhan and Mr Singh have com­pleted three terms in of­fice and can boast of sev­eral achieve­ments. Com­pared to Ms Raje, they have faced lesser dis­sent and got their party’s full back­ing for their gov­er­nance record. Yet, they are not sure of a hand­some voter en­dorse­ment.

In con­trast, Mr K. Chan­drashekar Rao in Te­lan­gana state looks a lot more sure of re­turn­ing to power for a sec­ond term though his per­for­mance is a mixed bag.

That raises sev­eral ques­tions. Why are all these states go­ing down to the wire? Is it be­cause the lead­ers in their re­spec­tive states have built a mass base and de­liv­ered on the ground?

Do vot­ers pun­ish un­der­per­for­mance? Do they re­ward good per­form­ers? The an­swer is not nec­es­sar­ily a big yes or no.

Sev­eral fac­tors in­clud­ing the de­sire for change cou­pled with fa­tigue with the present, abuse of power by the min­ions un­der a pow­er­ful leader could al­ter voter pref­er­ence. Ad­ding to this, non­per­for­mance of a leg­is­la­tor or the lure of promised doles and waivers could tilt the bal­ance.

Also, if noth­ing is per­ma­nent in political life, so are the charisma of top- notch leader and the man­age­rial skills of a party’s cam­paign or­gan­is­ers.

It is in these cir­cum­stances that one tends to treat the exit polls more se­ri­ously than they should be — be­fore the ac­tual re­sults are de­clared. The “exit polls” for five states have pre­dicted a wor­ry­ing out­come for the BJP in Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Ra­jasthan.

An ag­gre­gate of these exit polls ( vot­ers stated pref­er­ence af­ter cast­ing their bal­lot) shows the BJP’s win­ning streak is set to end in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh, both head­ing for hung ver­dict.

The Congress is tipped to win a clear ma­jor­ity in Ra­jasthan. The party is likely to lose Mi­zo­ram where it has been in power for a decade.

In Te­lan­gana state, the exit polls show Mr Chan­drashekar Rao’s gam­ble of dis­solv­ing the State As­sem­bly eight months ahead of its life giv­ing him an ad­van­tage.

But it is the churn­ing in the heart­land states of Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Ra­jasthan that should make the rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion at the Cen­tre sit up and won­der.

Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi may have pulled the BJP chest­nut out of the fire many times. But it is not granted that he can do so ev­ery time by fiery cam­paigns. The RSS cadres may have won some elec­tions for the BJP, but they are no guar­an­tee ev­ery time.

On the other hand, the Rahul Gandhi- led Congress may re­sem­ble an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is still in the works. The Gandhi fam­ily scion may not seem to be rated as a se­ri­ous con­tender. Yet, a voter gripped by thirst for a change can be the saviour, help­ing in the trans­for­ma­tion — from a lag­gard un­der- per­former to be­ing a se­ri­ous player.

In­deed, the pow­er­ful and not- so pow­er­ful politi­cians con­tinue to be re­minded that the voter re­mains the king and can­not be eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated as he ma­tures along with our democ­racy.

Nei­ther Mr Chouhan nor his de­trac­tors in his party would deny that he sweated out the most for this year’s elec­tion.

Once he was seen as the leader who could rise to the top and even chal­lenge Mr Modi. Just be­fore Mr Modi got into the role of be­ing BJP’s cam­paign face in 2013, se­nior leader L. K. Ad­vani had al­most pro­jected Mr Chouhan as one of his favourite picks. Even to this day, Mr Chouhan is the BJP’s mass leader who has un­der­stood the farm­ers be­cause he is one of them.

Yet the di­min­ish­ing re­turns of his long stay in of­fice ( 13 years) is pal­pa­ble. The BJP has not read­ied a sec­ond line in MP just as it did not do in Gu­jarat where the post- Modi era has seen sev­eral con­vul­sions within the party.

Mr Chouhan con­sid­ers as his proud legacy the most suc­cess­ful schemes for women — the Ladli Laxmi Yo­jana, distri­bu­tion of cy­cles to girls, and the Kanya Vi­vah scheme, and the pro­grammes that im­proved ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture like elec­tric­ity, roads and wa­ter sup­ply.

But the Congress’ prom­ise of a huge loan waiver threw a huge span­ner in the BJP game- plan. Af­ter all, Mr Chouhan’s woes are said to have be­gun af­ter a farm­ers’ protest in Mand­saur in June 2017, de­mand­ing higher crop prices and debt re­lief. The Modi gov­ern­ment’s de­mon­eti­sa­tion and small traders’ tryst with the Goods and Ser­vices Tax ( GST) did not ac­tu­ally help mat­ters.

For first time in 15 years, Mr Ra­man Singh found his foe- turned- friend- turned­foe Ajit Jogi throw­ing a se­ri­ous chal­lenge fol­low­ing his al­liance with BSP leader Mayawati. By Mr Singh’s own can­did ad­mis­sion, it is not easy for him and the BJP.

Un­like his col­leagues, Mr Singh re­fused to treat Mr Jogi’s threat to play king­maker lightly. Mr Jogi did not con­test the elec­tions him­self, pre­fer­ring to cam­paign for his third front. Ear­lier, he had an­nounced that he would con­test against Mr Singh in the lat­ter’s home con­stituency of Ra­j­nandgaon but backed out.

The pat­tern of vote share in Ch­hat­tis­garh leaves room for all pos­si­bil­i­ties, Mr Singh ar­gued. In the 2013 polls, the mar­gin of votes be­tween the BJP and the Congress was less than one per cent.

While the BJP got 41.04 per cent of the total vote, the Congress polled 40.29 per cent. The Congress could secure only 39 As­sem­bly seats out of 90. The BJP got 49 seats and the BSP and in­de­pen­dent one each.

Given this past, Mr Jogi thinks his front can take away the votes of the BJP as well as the Congress for a de­cent num­ber of seats — for a key role in the post- poll set- up. Backed by ground re­ports, the Congress re­alised early that Mr Singh's magic as ‘ Chawal Baba’ ( the mir­a­cle maker who en­sured rice to the poor un­der a suc­cess­ful Pub­lic Distri­bu­tion Sys­tem) was not a per­ma­nent en­tity.

As for Ms Raje, she has al­ways run the gov­ern­ment on her terms. She had got a man­date in 2013 that even BJP stal­wart Bha­iron Singh Shekhawat could not achieve. As a pow­er­ful leader in the male­dom­i­nated Ra­jasthan, Ms Raje emerged as the sin­gle big­gest fac­tor for the BJP in vic­to­ries and de­feats. But she has re­mained a poor learner.

Not­with­stand­ing her de­feat in 2008 for be­ing seen as ar­ro­gant and in­ac­ces­si­ble, Ms Raje re­mained im­mune to change as her in­dis­pens­abil­ity re­mained in tact. She be­lieved in giv­ing her best and did not think that she needed to im­prove in­tra- per­sonal skills. Con­se­quently, all through the last five years, Ms Raje earned more en­e­mies within her fold. She had many par­ty­men wish­ing that she was re­placed by a friend­lier face. It was these lead­ers who re­fused to speak about her gov­ern­ment’s good work and stumped the BJP’s cam­paign.

Ms Raje showed no re­gret or re­morse for things go­ing aw­fully dif­fi­cult for the BJP.

Fi­nally, when the dam­age was as­sessed, Mr Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah did what could be done to sal­vage the sit­u­a­tion and en­er­gise the rank and file.

On the other hand, a fresh- look­ing Congress has found it easy to shore up its im­age by deput­ing young Sachin Pilot at first, and later the vet­eran Ashok Gehlot to be the face though he was not for­mally de­clared as the Chief Minister can­di­date. Of course, the con­flict­ing as­pi­ra­tions of both the lead­ers and many aspi­rants could not have added to the Congress’ winnabil­ity in some seats.

It is against this back­drop, that one waits the re­sults on De­cem­ber 11.

( The writer is a vet­eran jour­nal­ist)

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