“The party is fighting the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time with a wrong enemy and is led by a wrong general”
– A recent quote attributed to Ahmed Patel by a senior Congress leader
If Chhattisgarh saw a battle of nerves between the two national parties, Madhya Pradesh certainly seems to be a wrong war at the wrong time for the Congress party. It is ill-prepared to fight an ill-timed battle with a deeply entrenched enemy in the state. Had it worked for at least a year in the ground with a declared commanding general, maybe, just maybe, it could have waged a much stronger attack against the ruling BJP.
The lack of homework by the Congress was visible in the way tickets were distributed arbitrarily and then withdrawn only to re-nominate newer candidates, leaving many leaders red-faced. In all this shenanigans, Congress managed to give a walkover to the opposition in at least 2 seats. Rahul Gandhi-Madhusudhan Mistry team on one side and Sonia Gandhi-Ahmed Patel team on the other side seemed to have bungled up the entire ticket distribution drama in a big way.
It is not as if the BJP was in any great position itself, for it had to drop dozens of sitting legislators due to anti-incumbency and face strong rebellions in various seats. But the problem is that the huge lead that BJP enjoys in the state ensures that despite losing 20 odd seats, it can still win the state in balance whereas Congress can ill afford to lose even a single seat.
The real gap between BJP and Congress is roughly around 10%, which is also borne out by the fact that Uma Bharati’s BJSH took away almost 5% of exclusive BJP votes in the last election. It is also true that in the overall scenario some 6 to 9% of the BSP vote-share affects Congress far more than the BJP. Such big gaps in any state assembly election are difficult to breach in a single election cycle without strong waves. Whatever is the scenario of Madhya Pradesh this time in 2013, what is absent is a wave for the Congress to ride on.
The 51 districts of Madhya Pradesh are variously divided into different administrative and political zones by various classifications, ranging from 4 to 10. With electoral-politics as the central theme we divide MP into 8 zones, namely; 1) Bhopal Division, 2) Gwalior-Chambal Division, 3) Bundelkhand, 4) Narmada Zone, 5) Baghelkhand, 6) Mahakaushal, 7) Malwa and 8) Nimad. In Battlezone Part 1, we will be analyzing the first four divisions.
Whenever one talks of BJP and its core strength, Gujarat is mentioned in the same breath variously as the “laboratory of the Sangh” or as “saffron territory” etc. Curiously though, it is here that we see the real roots of the party. Quite a few seats in this division have been electing BJP candidates ever since its birth in the mid-80s, in fact the umbilical cord goes further back in time to the erstwhile Jan Sangh days.
Two districts in particular, Sehore and Vidisha are considered as pocket-boroughs of the Sangh and BJP, the former is Chief Minister Chouhan’s home district (he contests from Budhni) and the later has been chosen as the second seat from where the CM would contest this time. It would be a herculean task for the Congress to prevent a clean sweep in both these districts even in this election, which is why it is even more baffling that Shivraj Singh was forced by the party to contest from Vidisha at the behest of Sushma Swaraj who represents the constituency in the parliament.
One interesting move by the BJP this time was to nominate a Muslim, Arif Beg, for the Bhopal North constituency, which was an island for the Congress where the party continued to win despite a BJP sweep in the neighbouring areas. Apart from North, Bhopal Central is also once again witnessing a keen contest in what is known in the local parlance as a fight between Samata Chowk (BJP’s Surendranath Singh) and Shahjahanabad (Arif Masood of Congress). Although BJP is well placed to win this region, there seems to be some amount of complacency and fatigue among the local Karyakartas as evidenced by the thin gathering for Modi Rally last week.
This zone is comprised of 5 districts and 25 seats; Bhopal – 7 seats, Rajgarh – 5 seats, Vidisha – 5 seats, Sehore – 4 seats and Raysen – 4 seats. Of these, BJP holds 17 and Congress the remaining 8 currently. This time, at Five Forty Three, we have analyzed each seat through our robust system of ground reports combined with mathematical modelling to conclude that BJP is set to win 13 seats outright and Congress 3 seats. The remaining 9 seats are battleground seats, but again, 3 of those 9 are leaning towards Congress and 1 towards BJP. Thus we are left with 5 true battleground seats – Bhopal North, Bhopal Central, Narela, Narsingharh and Udaipura. In 2008, Bhopal North and Udaipura had gone to the Congress and the remaining were with the BJP.
What the Opinion Polls say about Bhopal Division?
The problem with many opinion polls is that they have these black-box systems wherein we do not get to see either the sub-regional numbers of respondents or projected vote-shares. The one rule that we follow at Five Forty Three is to discard such surveys which have a black-box approach (c-fore being the prime example) and instead concentrate on surveys which give out full details and also have a robust track record when back-tested. Frankly, only two organizations withstood our back-testing – Nielsen and CSDS – so we are going to only use the projections from these two opinion polls.
The other problem with co-relating these surveys is that they tend to have different classification from ours in terms of dividing the states. CSDS clubs together Bhopal Division along with 7 northern districts of Malwa and terms it as Malwa North in its surveys. CSDS hasn’t given either seat share or vote share for any of the sub-regions, instead it only measures the “mood quotient” of the voters. In Bhopal Division, as per CSDS survey the mood of the people indicates that “BJP is way ahead of Congress”, which is similar to our own assessment.
AC-Nielsen also clubs Bhopal Division with Narmada Zone, but although no vote-share details are divulged, it does give sub-regional seat shares. As per AC Nielsen poll, BJP is possibly winning 20 seats in this division, while Congress is winning 5 seats. Once again these findings are similar to our own assessments
This is the area where caste plays a major role and partially replicates the politics of the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. Yadavs, Lodhs, Jatavs and Tomars play a major role here in deciding the outcomes. This is also the region where BSP has some presence and the party had won as many as 4 seats in this region. This is also Scindhia territory and Congress is hoping to do a lot better here because Jyotiraditya is leading the campaign, but its performance depends on how badly BSP vote-bank is dented after Mayawati’s UP defeat.
The one problem for the Congress is its internal strife which is out in the open here in the beehads of Chambal. Although party workers are trying hard, the top leaders of the state, namely Jyotiraditya Scindhia and Digvijay Singh are in a race to cut each other to size. Scindhia junior has flatly refused to campaign for Digvijay Singh’s protégées. For instance, despite campaigning in the neighborhood, he deliberately skipped public meetings in Chachoura and Lahar where Singh’s followers have been given tickets. On the other hand, when Jyotiraditya Scindhia travelled to Morena for electioneering, thousands of Congress workers showed black flags and shouted him down. It was speculated widely that this was done at the instance of Digvijay Singh.
For the BJP, the real worry is the rebellion by many local party leaders and workers who are contesting from other parties and as independents. At least 3 ministers from this division are facing massive anti-incumbency and local rebellions. There are half a dozen BJP rebels in fray here. In fact, the rebel factor in BJP is so strong that at least two Rajnath Singh public meetings had to be cancelled at the last moment and even during the Modi rally in Guna, there was some sloganeering by party workers. The entire weight of carrying the party’s fortunes in this division is on Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s able shoulders. He is still immensely popular and has addressed some very successful public meetings here in the last fortnight.
This division is made up of 8 districts and 34 seats; Gwalior – 6 seats, Morena – 6 seats, Bhind – 5 seats, Shivpuri – 5 seats, Guna – 4 seats, Ashok Nagar – 3 seats, Datia – 3 seats and Sheopur – 2 seats. Of these 34, BJP is ahead in 11 seats and Congress also in 11 seats, while BSP seems to be holding forte in 2 seats. The remaining 10 seats are where the battle is being fought. In the 2008 election, BJP had won 7 of these 10 battleground seats, while Congress had won only 3. This time, Jyotiraditya Scindhia is trying hard to win as many of these seats as possible.
CSDS opinion poll survey’s “Mood Quotient” of this region also indicates that there is a “Close race between BJP and Cong, while BSP also in the fight”. Interestingly, AC-Nielsen is projecting status quo vis-à-vis 2008, by giving 17 seats to the BJP, 13 to Congress and 4 to the BSP. What is pertinent from both these surveys is that BSP is not dead in this region, despite losing in the neighboring UP. This finding by polls should be a cause for worry for the Congress party which was trying to improve its performance here by bulldozing Mayawati’s elephant.
This is the Uma Bharati region which is shared partially by the neighboring Uttar Pradesh. It was here that Ms. Bharati’s regional outfit had got the maximum votes in the 2008 elections. This time too, it would be her campaigning that would make the big difference for the party. Although she was a reluctant campaigner at the start of the election, she did go on a whirlwind tour of this region which has reinvigorated BJP workers once again. Her caste Lodh votes also play an important role in this region, especially in Tikamgarh district. Her nephew, the little known Rahul Singh, is contesting from her home town and pocket borough, Kharagpur, which has always stood by her through thick and thin since 1984.
Once again the feature of micro-anti-incumbency against BJP leaders is seen here too, but what is far more worrying is that many internal surveys of the party had shown that the people of Bundelkhand were unhappy with the state government over basic development issues which is not the case in other regions. Uma Bharati’s aggressive campaigning towards the end and the TINA factor due to Congress’s inability to convert the anger into votes for itself is probably helping BJP.
Yet many BJP sitting MLAs are staring at defeat no matter what the opinion polls say. For instance, both the ministers of Shivraj Singh’s cabinet from Damoh, Jayant Maleya and Dasharath Lodhi, are on a sticky wicket this time and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both lose their seats. The fact that Congress is quite weak in this region is the only solace for many sitting BJP legislators who would have otherwise lost this election handsomely. What has also helped the BJP in recent days is the entry of Raja Bundela, the actor turned politician, who has been fighting for a separate statehood for Bundelkhand and has some influence over the voters of this region through his Bundelkhand Mukti Morcha activism.
Due to its shared geography and demography with UP, the Samajwadis and BSP are also active in this region and in at least half a dozen seats they are the main rivals for the ruling BJP rather than the Congress party. The thrust of Congress campaign is missing in this region, which is surprising considering that there are definite undercurrents of anti-incumbency. With better leadership over a longer period of time and better imagination, maybe Congress could have defeated BJP with a big margin in this region were jobs are scarce, water supply is erratic at best and dilapidated roads welcome you to a land of the forgotten.
5 districts and 26 seats make up Bundelkhand; Sagar – 8 seats, Chhattarpur – 6 seats, Tikamgarh – 5 seats, Damoh – 4 seats and Pannah – 3 seats. BJP is definitely ahead in 13 seats out of 26, while Congress is winning only 3 as of now. The Smajwadis are set to retain Niwari. Thus there are 9 battleground seats, of which Congress had won 5 and BJP 4 in the 2008 elections. If the undercurrents of anti-incumbency work in favor of the opposition by default, then BJP may lose a large number of these battleground seats, but if Uma magic works then people may overlook local factors to repose faith in the redoubtable Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
CSDS opinion poll survey for Vindhya Pradesh on the whole (which includes the 5 districts of Bundelkhand) suggests that “the BJP leads Congress fairly comfortably”, although it is not clear if the undercurrents of dissatisfaction of this region have been accounted for. AC-Nielsen on the other hand actually projects that BJP is gaining 6 seats from the 2008 tally due to Uma Bharati’s return to the party fold and is winning 21 seats, whereas the Congress is only winning 5 seats. Thus both these surveys tend to suggest that Uma-Chouhan magic has worked for the BJP and that Congress is simply too weak to put a fight.
This is also referred to as Hoshangabad belt and was another distress zone for the BJP because of agricultural problems arising out of heavy rains. Soya is the lifeline of this region but the crop has failed almost totally this year which has led to a lot of hardship for the farming community and the BJP government has been slow in addressing this issue. Yet, the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh is adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of the victory. Strong farmer leader and the sitting MP of Hoshangabad resigned from the party last week and joined the BJP because of the ill treatment meted out to him and his followers by the Digvijay-Scindhia leadership. His joining the BJP along with half a dozen powerful local leaders has totally altered the situation in this region from an anti-BJP atmosphere to a pro-BJP wave.
This is a small zone with only 3 districts and 11 seats; Betul – 5 seats, Hoshangabad – 4 seats and Harda – 2 seats. Of these BJP is ahead in 6 seats and Congress in 2 seats, whereas the 3 battleground seats are all in Betul district – Betul, Ghoradongri and Multai. In 2008 Congress had won Multai and BJP the other two.
Interestingly, both the opinion poll surveys have contradictory findings from this region. While CSDS clubs this region with Mahakoshal and gives a general mood quotient of “Congress recovers and ahead of BJP” verdict, AC-Nielsen projects 8 seats for the BJP and 3 for the Congress. Crucial point to be noted here is that the CSDS poll was done before Rao Uday Pratap Singh’s (Hoshangabad MP) defection from Congress to the BJP, whereas the Nielsen survey was purported to be done after the event.
- Congress is organizationally weak and vertically divided into camps to take advantage of any anti-incumbency whereas BJP has its strong roots and the power backing of the Sangh along with the unfading charisma of Shivraj Singh Chouhan
- BJP’s rebellion is at the local level with many more rebels contesting against official candidates but are united at the top with all the leaders working together (even Uma Bharati is now working tirelessly). Congress on the other hand is united at the local level but is divided at the top with Scindhia and Digvijay working at cross purposes while Kamal Nath and Suresh Pachouri also contributing to the factional feud
- Midway through after analyzing 4 divisions, we can conclude that BJP is ahead in 44 seats while Congress is ahead in exactly half that number of 22 and others are ahead in about 3 seats. 27 seats are in the battleground zone.
[This is the Madhya Pradesh Election Trilogy, wherein the first two parts would be pre-poll and the concluding part would be a post-poll analysis.]