MP: Country Road

With BJP led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan set to win, for the Congress it is a do or die battle in Madhya Pradesh

Girish Nikam Bhopal 

For the 54-year-old, mild mannered Shivraj Singh Chouhan, already in the chief minister’s saddle for eight years, it’s a challenge to prove that he is no less than any other BJP leader or chief minister. For him, a victory in this round of assembly elections would mean joining the ranks of the elevated in his party where one man from Gujarat seems to be calling the shots.

It is on his carefully cultivated image of a “clean and efficient” chief minister that his party is banking to win for a third time in a row. Having won over 60 per cent of the seats in 2008, the BJP with 143 seats had left the Congress gasping far behind with only 71 seats. In his three years between 2005 and 2008, Chouhan has managed to win the imagination of the voters in MP with his low profile and mild mannered ways, and some effective schemes he has implemented on the ground.

He goes into these elections riding on the back of these schemes, like the Laadli Lakshmi Yojana, Janani Suraksha Yojana and Kanyadhan Yojana which have captured the imagination of the people. Interestingly, both he and his neighbouring state’s chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, seem to be on the same footing when it comes to popularity and the image of do-gooders, especially among the poorer sections.

It is this image and popularity which had resulted in analysts concluding a few months back that in Madhya Pradesh it would be a run-away victory for the BJP once again. The state of the highly fractured and faction-ridden Congress also helped in coming to this conclusion.

In the past several weeks, the conscious attempts to unite the warring factions of the Congress, with generous doses of some tough-talking while driving sense into the faction leaders, seem to have brought about a modicum of unity in the party. However, every worker and leader in the party would rather be sceptical than jump in to blow the bugle of unity. “Let the final list of candidates come out. That will indicate how unified these leaders are,” says a cynical local Congress leader in Gwalior who has spent 40 years in the party.

Ironically, this scepticism is not confined to the Congress. Even BJP workers are anxiously waiting for the final list of candidates. “The final list will indicate how the party will perform,” says a BJP worker in Bhopal. It betrays anxiety despite the clear projections of a massive victory by the pollsters. This anxiety is understandable, as the party MLAs and ministers face massive anti-incumbency, with many almost sure of getting defeated if they secure tickets again. The anger and disappointment of the ordinary voter is transparent, as complaints of corruption, mismanagement and ineffectiveness of the MLAs pour in from across the state.

Despite the image of the state having progressed from being a ‘bimaru’ state, the gloss vanishes when one travels on the roads of Madhya Pradesh

Despite the good marks scored by Chouhan from even the Congress supporters for his personal performance and image, corruption is a major issue in the minds of voters right down to the village level. Despite the image of the state having progressed from being a ‘bimaru’ state, the gloss vanishes when one travels on the roads of Madhya Pradesh. Except the Bhopal-Indore road, most other roads in the state are in an unbelievable state of disrepair. It took us almost eight hours to cover a stretch of 200 km between Shivpuri and Biaora. Even in the worst days of Bihar, the roads were better. 

The story of the roads of Madhya Pradesh, however, seems to have been buried under the gloss and glitter of a progressing state created by high- pitched publicity campaigns with the active connivance of the state’s pampered media. It is surprising that the Congress party has also glossed over it, after having been badly bruised and defeated in 2003 by an effective campaign against the state of roads by a charming Uma Bharati. And what was her slogan? Bijli, Sadak, Paani. (electricity, roads, water).

Stories of massive corruption abound, mostly around the building, or, rather, not building of roads, involving the MLAs and their chosen contractors. Obviously, it doesn’t make it to the media; more shockingly, neither has the Congress raised it effectively, giving room to the nexus theory.

Meanwhile, even some of the gloss about the schemes mentioned above, which has been the trump card of Chouhan, seems to be wearing off. When it was implemented before the last elections, the Laadli scheme captured people imagination with the promise of over Rs 1 lakh for a girl child on turning 18. However, a political analyst in Bhopal points out that, in the last five years, the girl child ratio has fallen, indicating people may have lost interest. “Then Rs 1 lakh sounded like big money, now it doesn’t anymore,” says a political observer in Vidisha.

It is for these reasons, and the fact that Congress has managed to subtly project Jyotiraditya Scindia as the possible chief ministerial candidate, that the party has recovered from what seemed like a hopeless situation a few months back. The waning support for the BSP, which had managed nearly 10 per cent of the votes the last time, and the absence of Uma Bharati’s Bharatiya Janshakti Party this time around, have given a ray of hope to the Congress.

It’s still an uphill climb for the Congress, though the scenario is not as bad as it was some months back. If it loses for the third time in a row, it will have none but itself to blame for having been caught up in internecine battles all these years, and neglecting its role as an effective opposition. “If we lose this time also, these big leaders at the Centre will have no one to even receive them at the airports and railway stations,” a cynical Congress worker in Bhopal remarked. For the Congress, indeed, it is a do or die battle in Madhya Pradesh.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2013