This is an important sub-region of Madhya Pradesh where Congress was slightly ahead at the start of the election due to local anti-incumbencies, rebel candidates of BJP and changed demographics. This is also Kamalnath territory and he has been campaigning for the Congress party with vigor this time around, whereas he was almost missing in action in 2008.
If Congress wants to dream of dislodging the decade long BJP government from Bhopal, then Mahakoshal is its one major hope. Realizing the importance of this region, Jyotiraditya Scindhia has also campaigned here along with Kamalnath by burying all internal differences. The only cause for worry for the Congress among their set of top leaders has been Suresh Pachouri whose followers have either stayed away from active campaigning or have been working for the BJP secretly.
On the other hand, in the recent days, BJP has recovered a lot of the lost ground due to three reasons
- The master strategist of the Sangh and the man who is widely credited with both the victories of 2003 as well as 2008, Anil Madhav Dave has devised a unique polling booth strategy which has rendered many rebels worthless. His ability to treat elections as essentially polling booth level victories or defeats is standing the BJP in good stead throughout the state and especially more so in this region
- The last moment exit of Hoshangabad MP, Rao Uday Pratap Singh from the Congress party and his entry into the BJP has helped the ruling party to a great extent to blunt the anti-incumbency in this region. For instance, in Narsinghpur district almost the entire Block Congress leadership has joined the BJP, thereby rendering the opposition impotent
- Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s aggressive targeted campaigning in this region has also helped the ruling party recover some of the lost ground
In Balaghat district Samajwadi Party has some presence and it could be the deciding factor as to who would emerge victorious. In Chhindwara, Kamalnath has put his prestige on the block, whereas Jabalpur is in the midst of a sympathy wave after the death of the speaker of current assembly, Ishwardas Rohani. Narsinghpur, Kathani and Dindori are reeling under the relentless attack of rebels and internal sabotage in both the parties.
Mahakoshal consists of 8 districts and 38 assembly seats; Jabalpur – 8 seats, Chhindwara – 7 seats, Balaghat – 6 seats Narsinghpur – 4 seats, Seoni – 4 seats, Katni – 4 seats, Mandala – 3 seats and Dindori – 2 seats. Of these, BJP is ahead in 16 seats and Congress in 12 seats right now, whereas 9 assembly constituencies can be classified as battleground seats. Of these 9 battleground seats, Congress had won 5 and BJP 4 in the 2008 election, which gives us an inkling as to how tight the race is in Mahakoshal.
CSDS poll survey has concluded that the Mood Quotient of this region is “Congress has recovered and is ahead of the BJP”, although it must be stressed that this survey was done before the late recovery of BJP and the big shift of Hoshangabad. Even the AC-Nielsen opinion poll survey predicts a marginal loss for the ruling BJP of about 2 seats to take the tally to 22 and gives Congress 14 seats (same as last time). In conclusion, we can safely presume that unlike many other zones where it is way ahead, BJP is losing some of its shine in Mahakoshal but it is not enough to make a big dent in terms of seats and therefore Congress may not gain much in reality.
This is the Thakur heartland of Madhya Pradesh which has large swaths of upper caste population of Thakurs, Brahmins and even Vaishyas. Consequently, this is also one of the strongholds of the ruling BJP and almost a fortress that Congress has been unable to breach. At the start of the electioneering, there were reports of some disenchantment in this region, but as the campaigning has progressed, there is hardly any sign of BJP’s decline. It is mostly business as usual for the BJP in Baghelkhand, while Congress is struggling to hold on to whatever little it has.
This is Arjun Singh territory and also what Ajay Singh, his son, has inherited, but he has almost totally failed to create grounds for the Congress party in this region despite being the leader of the opposition. The appointment of Jyotiraditya Scindhia has literally cut Ajay Singh’s wings and he along with Digvijay Singh has been reduced to a spectator of the unfolding scenarios.
Both BJP and Congress have given a large number of tickets to Thakurs and Brahmins, which has left Vaishyas disappointed and there are reports that the Vaishya voters are possibly looking towards third alternatives which is being exploited by the BSP. Although BSP has some strength in this region, it can at best act as a spoiler. Also a section of the OBCs were said to be developing disenchantment with the ruling party, which had deployed Uma Bharati to contain this rebellion successfully.
Although there are some undercurrents of disenchantment in Satna and Rewa against the ruling BJP, the TINA factor could eventually help the party. Congress on the other hand lacks other caste leaders to take any advantage of the situation and Ajay Singh’s leadership in this region is described as “lazy” at best.
Baghelkhand is made up of 7 districts and 30 seats; of these 30 assembly constituencies, BJP is ahead in 19, Congress in 3 and others in 1 seat. There are 7 battleground seats, of which BJP had won a whopping 6 and Congress merely 1 in 2008 – this gives us an idea of the total domination of the ruling BJP, which is unlikely to change much even this time around.
CSDS opinion poll describes the Mood Quotient of Baghelkhand as “BJP is comfortably ahead of the Congress”. AC-Nielsen poll gives BJP a tally of 23 seats, while giving Congress 5 seats and others 2 seats in Baghelhand. Both these findings are similar to our own assessments.
This is the decider region of Madhya Pradesh politics, for whoever wins Malwa usually has an upper hand in the government formation process. In fact this is a state within a state with big cities like Indore and tribal districts like Jhabua and Dhar all co-existing in this zone. Interestingly, in 2008, BJP and Congress were almost equal in this region with 25 and 24 seats respectively, while 1 seat had gone to an independent candidate.
Elections here are localized to a great extent and national issues do not make much of an impact apart from some urban pockets. The fight here is also totally direct between the two national parties and “others” almost have no impact. It is also in this region that mostly there are no strong rebels in fray from both the parties and the fight is along party lines. Traditionally, BJP derives its strength from big cities, towns and other urban areas, whereas Congress is strong in the villages and tribal regions.
Once again, there is a close contest between BJP and Congress, so a repeat of 2008 cannot be ruled out. Although some political pundits believe that Congress is winning Malwa and that this would pave the way for a change in government, such an outcome looks unlikely from what is visible from the ground reports. Yet, one must keep a close look at turnout figures to see if there are any drastic changes envisaged by the voters here. Although, since the development record of the Shivraj Singh government is much better in this region and voters do tend to compare that with the Digvijay Singh government of the past and the UPA government at the centre, BJP seems to enjoy a certain advantage over Congress. Also the fact that Congress bungled up ticket distribution in some key constituencies is also not helping the party, especially in Ratlam and surrounding regions.
Malwa is composed of 11 districts and 50 assembly constituencies; Indore – 9 seats, Ujjain – 7 seats, Dhar – 7 seats, Dewas – 5 seats, Ratlam – 5 seats, Shajahpur-Agar – 5 seats, Mandsour – 3 seats, Neemuch – 3 seats, Jhabua – 3 seats and Alirajpur – 2 seats. Of these 50 seats, BJP is ahead in 23 seats and Congress is ahead in 18 seats currently, while there are 9 battleground seats which will decide who wins Malwa. Whoever wins, Malwa would be a narrow victory with just 2-3 seats or even lesser separating both the parties. In 2008, BJP had won 6 out of those 9 battleground seats while Congress had won 3.
CSDS opinion poll survey clubs together Malwa region with Bhopal Division to term it as “Malwa North” and concludes that “BJP is way ahead of the Congress”, but we must remember that it is a combined ‘Mood Quotient’ which is probably getting affected by BJP’s lead in Bhopal zone. CSDS also has another division known as “Malwa Tribal”, wherein it includes the tribal areas of lower Malwa with those districts of Nimar Zone and concludes that “BJP is ahead but Congress is not far behind”. AC-Nielsen pre-poll survey also combines Malwa with Nimar and gives BJP a combined total of 43 seats, while Congress gets 22, which is similar to our own projection in both these regions.
It’s a small tribal region where BJP has very strong roots similar to northern Chhattisgarh. This is a region where Congress is again lagging far behind the ruling BJP and gives us an idea as to why the party is unlikely to be back in power any time soon in this central state of India, because it is unable to make any inroads into such bits and pieces tribal districts which had remained loyal to party long after independence. This inability of the Congress to regain lost ground is the systemic problem that the party has to address by building the organization and not just by invoking Indira Gandhi or Nehru.
Nimar is made up of 4 districts and 16 assembly constituencies; Khargone – 6 seats, Khandwa – 4 seats, Badwani – 4 seats and Burhanpur – 2 seats. Of these 16 seats, BJP is ahead in 10 seats and Congress only in 1 seat, while there are 5 battleground seats of which BJP had won 4 and Congress 1 in 2008. Both CSDS and AC-Nielsen poll surveys of this region tend to agree with our overall assessment.
- Strategically as well as popularity wise, BJP is way ahead of the Congress party in most regions of Madhya Pradesh, whereas Congress seems to be underprepared for this election.
- The only way Congress can challenge the BJP is by comprehensively winning at least 3 out of the 8 divisions – Mahakoshal, Malwa and Gwalior-Chambal – as of today Congress and BJP are on equal footing in all these 3 regions and far ahead in the other 5 regions.
- At the end of this pre-poll analysis, BJP is ahead in 112 seats, which is tantalizingly close to the halfway mark and Congress is ahead only in 56 seats, which is exactly half the tally of BJP. 57 seats are in the battleground category.
[If there are any major changes during the polls we would revisit the seat projections after assessing the turnout figures in our third and concluding part of the Madhya Pradesh election series]