Psephologist and Managing Director of Axis My India Pradeep Gupta claimed in a recent interview that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has "an edge" in the upcoming Madhya Pradesh assembly elections.
“Usually, anti-incumbency is seen as a major reason for any government’s ouster, and this was the reason why people voted the Congress to power in 2018. However, this time there is not much anti-incumbency," Gupta explained his claim.
One wonders what changed between 2018 and now and despite being in power for four terms (except a 15-month period from December 2018 to March 2020) how there is a lesser degree of anti-incumbency against the BJP.
The biggest reason is in the brackets of the above sentence. By coming to power for a short period, the Congress lost its surprise factor.
In 2018, there was curiosity about Congress rule, and what it would be like. But then, the Kamal Nath-led government disappointed everyone.
When power cuts began to haunt the state in the summer of 2019, people feared the return of the Digvijaya Singh era. Due to poor governance, the citizens soon began to miss Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The by-election of November 2020 is a testimony to this fact where the BJP won 19 of the 28 seats, while the Congress had to satiate with nine seats, losing hold over 18 seats it previously held.
"People vote for leadership, who is there in Congress?", asked a political observer from Jabalpur suggesting that if Kamal Nath is the face of the Congress, the party is not going to win.
Another factor that led to BJP's defeat in 2018 was youth voting in favour of the Congress. The first-time voters didn't have a memory of the Congress rule and hence they wanted to give it a chance.
However, the Kamal Nath regime gave them a quick recall. Now, the votes of the youth are more divided than what was in 2018.
While the Congress, lost a chance to prove itself, the Shivraj government became more proactive than ever. The writer listed BJP's efforts to combat anti-incumbency in a previous article, read here.
Meanwhile, Congress is making freebie promises to woo voters. It wants to repeat its Karnataka feat with the same strategy.
Recently, it promised 'Krishak Nyay Yojana' (farmers' justice scheme) to provide loan waivers, free electricity, and other benefits to farmers.
In 2018 too, Congress had promised a waiver of Rs 2 lakh loans to farmers within 10 days of coming to power, however, the benefit could not reach all beneficiaries even in months.
Notably, in May, the BJP government launched a farm loan interest waiver scheme, which is expected to benefit over 11 lakh farmers in the state.
Similarly, while the Congress has promised Rs 1,500 to every woman per month, Shivraj's Ladli Behna Yojana has already started doling out Rs 1,000 every month to women in the state since June.
Moreover, to include more women in it, the BJP government has reduced the age criteria from 23 to 21 and is expected to increase the amount Rs 1,250 per month from October onwards.
Not only this, the Madhya Pradesh CM has also promised to scale up the dole to Rs 3,000 per month if he retains power in the assembly elections.
The other guarantee of Congress is to give gas cylinders at Rs 500 and the buzz is that BJP can give a match to this promise too.
The other two promises of the Congress are the implementation of the old pension scheme and 100 units of free electricity.
In such a scenario, people believe that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Shivraj's schemes have started benefitting people, while Congress' schemes are just a promise for now, and with its past record, a lesser reliable promise.
Now we come to another point that works in BJP's favour- its core vote bank. After Madhya Pradesh's division (into current MP and Chhattisgarh), BJP's vote share was minimum at 37.6 per cent in 2008.
While the Congress' worst performance was in 2003 with a vote share of 31.6 per cent. That makes it a 6 per cent difference in the core voter base of both parties.
That's why the BJP has always maintained a three-digit tally, while the Congress managed to get seats in three digits only in the 2018 elections.
Notably, the BJP's vote share was 0.1 per cent point higher than Congress even in the 2018 elections, where it got lesser seats than the grand old party.
This shows the BJP's resilience in the state. This resilience has its roots in a better party organisation, structure, cadre and agenda clarity than Congress.
And finally, the Modi factor has not gone anywhere. Madhya Pradesh has a lot of beneficiaries of the Centre's schemes which makes them BJP voters.
While the above factors tilt in BJP's favour, the party's internal survey found a couple of months ago that the BJP might get just 92 of the 230 assembly seats.
However, party insiders say that the situation is much better now than it was three months ago and now they expect a tally of 120 in the polls.
The situation improved because the party leadership pulled their socks up and various changes were made in poll preparations which includes controlling the infighting among leaders. More such efforts are expected in the coming months.
Congress too would be working hard to make it a not-so-easy election for the BJP.
A lot of factors will come into play in the coming months but for now, we can say that Pradeep Gupta is not wrong when he says BJP has "an edge".
Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.
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