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Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections 2018: Rural voters hold the key

Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections 2018: Rural voters hold the key

Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections 2018: Rural voters hold the keyShivraj Singh Chouhan faces his biggest test yet as discontent with the State government rises among farmers

Livelihood and opportunity: these are the buzz words of the Madhya Pradeshelections this time.

There is a palpable anti-incumbency mood among farmers across large swathes of the State, which makes this election more challenging for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan than the previous ones.

As much as 72% of the State’s population live in villages, meaning rural voters can be a decisive influence on the polls.

“Farming has become a losing proposition now. In this election, we want change,” Manoj Patidar, a Mandsaur farmer, says.

Issues of employment also resonate in urban areas, though political preferences are mixed here and the BJP seems to be doing better here than in villages. However, one does come across traders who are complaining about the GST, including upper caste ones.

While an anti-BJP sentiment is on the rise, there is no positive wave for the Congress. It is largely a default beneficiary of the churn.

Dominant refrain

While in villages one hears of a “mood for change (parivartan)”, the dominant refrain in cities is that this election will be keenly fought (Kaante Ki Takkar).

For the first time since he came to power, there are signs of weariness with Mr. Chouhan, even if most people acknowledge his past work.

People talk of corruption at lower levels now. Some say that the Centre’s decisions on the GST and a strong move towards Aadhaar in recent times have hurt people, as the access of the poor to services, payments and subsidies has got procedurally complicated.

Past patterns

The BJP was ahead of the Congress by nine percentage points in 2013, which may offer the former some solace. However, the massive vote swings in recent polls in Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi suggest that each election is a fresh test.

Another factor that may give the BJP some hope is that it has a stronger organisation than the Congress. However, its leaders like Sartaj Singh, Sanjay Sharma and Kamlapat Arya — apart from the Chief Minister’s own brother-in-law — have shifted to the Congress this time.

While the Congress has tried to show a more united face this time, party workers on the ground still have strong loyalties to one or other of the three State leaders: Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. The Scindia-centricism of the party around Morena and Gwalior suddenly shifts into a Digvijaya-loyalty in Raghogarh.

Cultural nuances

This election also seems to be throwing some cultural nuances: a subterranean presence of competing upper caste and Dalit concerns over the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and a nebulous sense of a tribal identity among educated Bhils and Bhilalas. The latter current may now benefit the Congress in Malwa, with the young leader of JAYS (Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti) Hiralal Alawa becoming a Congress candidate. Farm discontent and tribal realignments make the 65-seat Malwa region, the BJP’s stronghold, an interesting contest this time.

While more upper castes are still with the BJP, one comes across those among them who are critical of the State government. The reasons vary from complaints about employment to a hint of unease over the restoration of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Act), which has led to general discontent over reservation also surfacing. And there is already the SAPAKS Party looking to wean away a section of the upper castes from the BJP.

There is a palpable anti-government sentiment among Dalits this time. The complaints range from rural unrest to a feeling of bitterness over police action against those who protested the Supreme Court’s introduction of procedural safeguards to the SC/ST Act. This, however, is likely to complicate Dalit voting patterns in the Chambal region, where the BSP has been a player in the past.

“Yes, the BSP is also our party but we want the Congress to come to power replacing the BJP,” says Shripad Jatav of Morena.

He admits the BSP will take away the Congress’ votes, but insists Dalits will vote tactically to defeat the BJP.

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