The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nearly obliterated the Congress in Madhya Pradesh (MP) in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Of the 29 seats, all but one was won by the BJP, an increase of one seat as compared to 2014. The BJP vote share rose by 5% compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The victory margin in most of the seats was in the range of 1 to 5.5 lakh votes. This assumes even more significance in the light of the BJP having been voted out of power just six months ago in the state.
Issues in the Election Campaign
The election was scheduled in the state between the fourth and the seventh phase, when the campaign was already in full swing in the rest of the country. The BJP’s campaign strategy was to showcase the achievements of the central government under the leadership of Narendra Modi, particularly focusing on national security and the performance of major welfare schemes along with the issues of cultural nationalism and majoritarianism. The election campaign took a clear presidential form with the slogan “phir ek baar, Modi sarkar.” Simultaneously, in MP, the BJP’s election machinery was able to project to the rural electorate that the Congress could not fulfil the promise of loan waiver to farmers. This had been a major factor that contributed to the Congress victory in the assembly elections .The BJP also very adroitly raised the issue of un-scheduled power cut and drew comparisons to the acute power shortage when the Congress was earlier in power in the state. These local issues in MP helped the BJP broaden its vote share and register an impressive victory in the state.
In the assembly elections of 2018 the two key rivals were in a neck to neck race: Congress (40.85%) and BJP (40.91%). The final seat tally was also close: Congress–114, BJP–109, Bahujan Samaj Party–two, Samajwadi Party–one, and independents–four. Interestingly, all the four independents were Congress rebels and the arithmetic thus went in favour of the Congress helping it to form the government in the state.
The Congress led the campaign with issues of farmers’ unrest, unemployment among youth, corruption (Rafale) with a direct attack on Prime Minister, inflation, demonetisation and the imposition of the goods and services tax. The Congress also came out with a proposal of the NYAY (minimum income guarantee) scheme to win support among the marginalised sections of the society. However, the corruption issue did not seem to resonate with the voters. The idea of NYAY could not reach and appeal to the potential group of electorate as was envisioned. The Congress’s inability to project its achievements proved to be a stumbling block for it (Bhakto 2019).
Of the 26 sitting members of Parliament of the BJP, 14 were denied party tickets due to internal adverse reports and other considerations. The Congress too fielded many new faces. The voter turnout was comparatively higher than the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, in all the phases and in many areas the rise was by over 10 percentage points.
MP has come to be identified as a stronghold of the BJP. Yet, the role of the Congress in the state has never been fully on the back-burner. The fortunes of one party almost proportionately reflect in the performance of the other major competitor in the state. The BJP got a landslide victory in MP winning 28 of the 29 seats, registering its best ever performance (Table 1). The difference between the vote share of the BJP and the Congress, rose to close to 24% this time.
Response on Parameters
The strategy of the political parties to consolidate their presence in MP has focused on gaining support among important socio-economic groups. The gap between the Congress and the BJP is the highest when it comes to those with college and above education (51 percentage points). The support for the BJP has also risen among the illiterates. It is important to record that past election studies in MP have also pointed out to this trend which has become more pronounced in this election (Table 2)
MP is predominantly a rural state (the urban population in MP was less than 28% as per 2011 Census). Traditional wisdom believed that the support for Congress lies in rural areas and the BJP is largely an urban phenomenon. However, this trend is clearly changing with the BJP doing exceptionally well in the rural constituencies even as it retains its grip over urban areas. The BJP managed to wrest a 24% lead in rural areas (Table 3) and also retained a complete control in the urban areas.
It is noticed that the gap between the Congress and the BJP was relatively lesser among the older age groups. However, among the first-time voters and those below 35, the support for the BJP was more pronounced (Table 4).
There is also a class dimension to the Congress’s defeat. While the BJP was able to retain much of its support among the economically well-off sections, it was also able to win back the support of the weaker sections of society, which had fallen drastically in the assembly elections held a few months earlier. Similarly, as Table 5 indicates, support for the BJP was more or less uniform across different economic classes. Congress had traditionally much higher support among the poor as compared to the economically more affluent . This time around the BJP has won higher support among all segments of society, though the gap is much wider among the more affluent.
Changing Caste/Social Base
The social character of the support base of the two major contenders in the state shows the emergence of a clear social alliance in support of the parties.
Two aspects are striking when one looks at the pattern of caste/social base of the two parties in MP: (i) there is no clear social divide along the caste hierarchy—both the parties managed to get substantial support from most social groups, and (ii) in each caste group, there seems to be a divide. Among the upper castes/Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the support for the BJP is more (Table 6). The Scheduled Castes (SCs) are more with the Congress and the tribal groups are more inclined towards the BJP. The BJP’s support base among upper castes has sharply increased. In this election, it has consolidated its support among the upper castes, OBCs and Scheduled Tribes (STs).
MP being one of the largest agriculturist states, the politics of the state has always revolved around the issues of farmers. The previous BJP state governments offered a bonus on minimum support prices and reduced interest rates on farm loans. This, however, did not appear to have really made a huge positive impact on the agriculturist community, which is the largest in terms of voters (Sisodia 2018).
The BJP’s victory in MP can be seen as an expression of disappointment with the new state government’s performance which has contributed a great deal to the Congress rout. It is not seen very often that voters’ satisfaction with a newly elected government evaporates so quickly . The survey found that only 29% of the respondents were completely satisfied with the state government’s performance (Table 7). This satisfaction is at a level lower than the one that the survey recorded with respect to the Modi government’s performance (38% said they were fully satisfied with it) (Table 8).
One of the main reasons for the poor satisfaction level with the state seems to be resentment among farmers on account of not having received their promised loan waiver amounts on time and the inability of the state government to convince them that the amount would reach their accounts once the model code of conduct was lifted.
Apart from this, the voters’ choice appeared to have been shaped by their perception about the functioning of the central government. Close to four of every 10 respondents were fully satisfied with the performance of the government and more than one-third were somewhat satisfied (Table 8). Only one-fourth stated that they were either somewhat dissatisfied or fully dissatisfied with the performance of the BJP-led government at the centre. The positive response to the performance of the central government also explains the BJP’s creditable performance in the state.
Data from the survey indicates that there was a strong desire among voters to see Modi back as Prime Minister and this seems to have been among the chief reasons for the BJP’s success (Table 9). Close to six of every 10 of the respondents said that they would like to see Modi back as Prime Minister.
Election outcomes in the state have traditionally followed the national trend and the Lok Sabha elections 2019 was no exception. This election was clearly about the central government and its leadership. This also explains the rout of the Congress in three important states where it was voted to power last December—MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The vote last year was for a change of guard at the state level. The vote this time is an unequivocal endorsement of the claims of the BJP for another term in office under the leadership of Modi . This sweep of the BJP was so widespread and intense that stalwarts among the Congress like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Digvijay Singh lost the elections.
Journal » Vol. 54, Issue No. 34, 24 Aug, 2019 » Explaining the BJP’s Comprehensive Victory in MP . the above article is a reprint since the article could not be shared )