Last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) registered a majestic victory in the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections.
The Dharmic vote was finally activated in the state, and a massive supra-caste consolidation led to the BJP winning 163 of 230 seats and 49 per cent of the vote share.
The party swiftly used the verdict to institute a generational leadership change. Shivraj Singh Chauhan, chief minister for a remarkable 16 years, made way for Mohan Yadav, a three-time Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Ujjain.
While the BJP made strong gains, it is interesting to note that the Congress vote has remained largely intact. The BJP secured significant vote swings from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others.
As a result, elections in Madhya Pradesh have become largely bipolar, with the two national parties now commanding nearly 90 per cent of the vote. This is a major shift from the past. In 2008, ‘Others’ constituted 30 per cent; this figure declined only to 18 per cent in the two succeeding assembly elections of 2013 and 2018.
Overall, the BJP made 74 gains, while the Congress managed 23. However, the data shows that the Congress continues to be successful in purveying identity politics.
Of the 35 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC), the BJP may have won the bulk with 26 seats, but the Congress won nine, gaining one.
Interestingly, as the map below shows, the Congress held its ground in the northern Chambal region around Gwalior, where there is a larger concentration of the SC vote.
Similarly, of the 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST), the two national parties shared the spoils almost equally, with the BJP winning 24 and the Congress 22.
Readers may note the heavy preponderance of Congress wins in the tribal belt, which includes four gains (shaded dark blue). This is not to say that the BJP fared poorly in ST seats; it merely means that more grassroots work is necessary for the BJP. If they are successful, and there is every indication that they will succeed, this belt will become a new growth area for the party in the future.
The other big factor in the run-up to the assembly elections was the impact of Congress rebels. Readers may recollect how the Kamal Nath government fell in March 2020 when Jyotiraditya Scindia got 25 Congress MLAs to defect to the BJP (20 in the first batch and the rest later during that epidemic-ridden summer).
This is what the data says: of the 25 by-polls held in 2020, the BJP won 18 and the Congress won seven. In 2023, the BJP won only 11 of these 18. The inference is that the impact of the rebels has been diluted by more than half and that the Congress has been successful in recovering its vote base in these seats.
It is a lesson for the BJP. Engineering defections is a valid political tool that must be used only tactically for sizeable short-term gains, but it is not a factor which a party must ever depend upon strategically, as the impact invariably fritters away with time.
Perhaps, this has something to do with the Indian concepts of namak and izzat, by which a defector is perceived as inherently untrustworthy.
Be that as it may, the BJP has now achieved a historic predominance in Madhya Pradesh, independent of Congress rebels. And the data says that this was a win that was waiting to happen because of the BJP’s incipient resilience in the state. The best way to demonstrate this is by looking at firewall seats.
In Madhya Pradesh, we have defined a firewall seat as one which a party has consistently won in the four assembly elections of 2008, 2013, 2018, and 2023.
The BJP has 53 firewall seats, while the Congress has six. In addition, the BJP has breached two seats which the Congress won consecutively between 2008 and 2018. In contrast, the Congress managed to breach five such BJP seats in 2023. (Two of these are general seats, but they lie in the tribal belt.)
Also, pertinently, of the six Congress firewall seats, three are ST-reserved seats and one is reserved for SC. This again shows that the Congress is still successful to some extent in using identity politics to win.
The map below shows the geographical distribution of firewall seats in the state. The BJP is the strongest in the central belt, and this is also where they have made the most gains.
In conclusion, it is heartening to see that the heart of India has surmounted the old divides of caste and class in such a grand style that it has rendered the politics of vote banking that much more irrelevant.
Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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