The highest ever turnout of voters in Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections held on Wednesday, November 28, is going to keep both political parties and pollsters guessing about the outcome of the polls until results are out on December 11. The main rivals the Congress and the BJP also are going to keep their fingers crossed until the verdict of the people of the Central Indian State decides not only the fate of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan but also possibly sets the tone and likely trends for the next year’s Lok Sabha polls. This time, the difference is of only about six months or so between the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh besides four other states and the next year’s countrywide elections for Parliament which are expected to be held in April-May 2019. And similar has also been the time gap between the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2013 polls for the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. Thus, the past tallies and poll percentage of both Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha polls assume quite a bit of importance.
In terms of seat, the BJP had won 166 seats out of a total of 230 in the Assembly or the Vidhan Sabha in 2013 while the Congress remained at 57 only. And as for the 2013 poll percentage, it was 72.66 per cent throughout the state. This went up to 74.61 per cent until 6 pm on November 28 when voters’ attendance or count from about 250 booths were yet to be added.
So, this time the poll percentage is likely to touch 75 per cent at the final count which is nearly three per cent higher than the poll percentage recorded in 2013 besides also being the highest turnout of voters thus far in the state.
So, the Congress is trying to see some hope for the party with the marginal rise in poll percentage in Madhya Pradesh, attributing this to anti-incumbency against Chauhan. The BJP, however, attributes higher turnout of voters to its organisational capability to marshal support right from the State Capital Bhopal and other important urban centres like Indore to the remotest booths around the rural boondocks of the state.
Yet, this time’s poll percentage at 75 is significantly higher than the last Lok Sabha polls held in the state in midsummer of 2014 alongside the rest of the country. Only 61.60 per cent votes were cast in Madhya Pradesh when it elected its 29 MPs in 2014. The BJP had won handsomely gaining 27 Lok Sabha seats while the Congress was reduced to a precious two seats in the state in 2014. The reason for this is said to be obvious demoralisation in the Congress ranks at that point of time though the party had had a bunch of tall leaders as is the case even now.
In the last Lok Sabha polls, the Congress was said to be crestfallen after the crushing defeat suffered by it in the 2013 Assembly polls in the state. It had virtually given up in the BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh as the Congress’ main campaigner Rahul Gandhi had focused more in states like Uttar Pradesh where the party also had nearly wiped out like BJP’s other or main rivals like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
So, both the Congress and its leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, have ever since been struggling to checkmate the forays made by the BJP in states. Yet, success has only been rare for the Congress though it could pose a stiff fight against the BJP in states like Karnataka and Gujarat and win last year’s Assembly polls in Punjab.
The difference between Madhya Pradesh and other states where Assembly polls were held earlier is that the rural share as compared to urban pockets in Madhya Pradesh is higher than other provinces. This is more so when MP is compared with states like Gujarat and Karnataka. The BJP has the reputation of having its grip more on urban areas than the rural parts of the country though the party has over the years been trying hard to plant its feet in rural areas more firmly.
Faced with this new challenge in rural areas, the Congress has been trying to renew its appeal among voters in the countryside by wooing farmers through waiving off farm loans in states like Karnataka and Punjab on the one hand and forcing the BJP to follow suit in states ruled by it.
Thus, it is yet to be seen how the rural-centric initiatives undertaken by both the Congress and the BJP are going to be reflected in December 11 results of the Madhya Pradesh polls as also from four other states that have either gone or going to polls in the current spell of the Vidhan Sabha elections.
But the latest round of polling in Madhya Pradesh has registered a good 13 per cent increase in voters’ turnout when compared to the last Lok Sabha polls held in 2014. Hence, the stakes are high. And the BJP’s battle to retain the Madhya Pradesh Assembly and Congress’ attempt to stage a comeback in Bhopal are going to be intimately linked to the prospects of the two parties in the next Lok Sabha polls which are going to have even higher stakes.