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MP Elections: Why did Modi Take Lead in Campaign, Sidelining Shivraj Chouhan?

What impact will state politics have on BJP’s strategy for 2024? With inflation and unemployment as key concerns, will Ram Temple resonate with voters?
What impact will state politics have on BJP’s strategy for 2024? With inflation and unemployment as key concerns, will Ram Temple resonate with voters?

As elections to the five state Assemblies are taking place in the country, political developments in Madhya Pradesh are making these elections very special. For, as far as the people are concerned, inflation and unemployment are bigger issues than the Ram Temple.

In Mizoram, the incumbent government was led by the Mizo National Front (MNF), a party that is in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the rest of the states i.e., Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have a Congress government, while Madhya Pradesh is ruled by BJP, and Telangana has a Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

This means that a ‘double-engine’ government exists only in Madhya Pradesh, which has completed four terms in power under the leadership of the same Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

But surprisingly, the BJP is not campaigning on the 'achievements' made by its government in the state. Chouhan remains a ‘negative’ factor for BJP's campaign machinery. Be it Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, or cities like Indore, Ujjain, Raisen – everywhere BJP is using Prime Minister Narendra Modi's face to win the election. He (Modi) even gave a slogan – ‘MP ke dil mein Modi hai, Modi ki guarantee’ (MP’s heart is with Modi, he will give jobs, education... etc.) . Bhopal is full of such banners and posters that depict Modi as a key challenge to the Congress.

In this scenario, whatever be the outcome of these elections, the fact is that at present the electoral politics of the state is dominated by PM Modi, and Chouhan seems clearly sidelined.

Along with Chouhan, this election is also indicating the loss of political stature of another state leader -- Jyotiraditya Scindia. Scindia, who is Union Civil Aviation Minister in the Modi Cabinet, was among the powerful Congress leaders in the 2018 Assembly elections who had made himself a contender for the post of Chief Minister, challenging another party stalwart Kamal Nath.

After failing in his crusade to capture power as CM, Scindia manipulated some Congress MLAs and was instrumental in bringing down the Kamal Nath government of Madhya Pradesh, helping BJP's Chouhan to form the government. He also switched over to the BJP.

The irony is that Scindia has nobody who could vouch for him in the 2023 Assembly elections. Neither, he is a BJP star campaigner nor does he get along well with Congress MLAs whom he brought over to the BJP government.

This is what is called ‘the politics of Modi-Amit Shah’ that the duo has established as the ‘new normal’ across the country. From Maharashtra to Goa to Karnataka, there is a long list of leaders who have been left politically battered by such political defeats.

Even before the election outcome is known, these two side effects of the politics of defection have emerged in the politics of Madhya Pradesh. Although Chief Minister Chouhan is an experienced player, he remains and will remain important for Prime Minister Modi because a leader like him will be needed in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

In this case, Chouhan, while batting on a very safe pitch, has cornered his rival in state politics. Just a few days before the election campaign and voting, a video related to alleged corruption of Devendra Pratap Singh, son of Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, went viral, puncturing his political plans. The person who released this video has come out openly and has alleged that the entire matter (of alleged kickbacks) is related to a transaction of RS 10,000 crore.

We all know, and it is an unspoken rule in politics after 2014, that all the central investigating agencies, including ED (Enforcement Directorate) have been targeting only Opposition leaders. Therefore, no one has as yet taken any cognizance of such an “explosive” revelation.

Prime Minister Modi has been campaigning in Madhya Pradesh for over 10 days, but why is there no mention of these allegations against Tomar’s son? One can clearly see that corruption is not an issue, as it can affect the politics of Madhya Pradesh. Be it the Vyapam scam that crippled the medical education system, the dumper scam in which the name of Chouhan's wife Sadhna Singh was allegedly linked, or the alleged nursing college scam just before these elections –nobody is talking about these big political issues that concern the state.

The allegations against Tomar's son have, however, clearly ruined his plan to take charge of the state. Kailash Vijayvargiya, another ambitious BJP leader, is also facing various controversies and it is difficult for him to make any big move.

However, all these speculations will be of use only if BJP succeeds in forming the government. If this happens, then definitely the Modi-Shah leadership will decide on whether to bet on a leader like ML Khattar of Haryana in Madhya Pradesh, too.

At present, the atmosphere in the state is changing. Let us try to understand the urge for this change in the words of people associated with different professions and sections:

“I am a farmer and this time I will vote against Modiji. Till now we had voted for him, but he has ruined us. They have created so much inflation and distributed money to lure people before the elections. This is not Kisan Samman Nidhi, which they deposited in our accounts before the elections – this is a fund that is disgraceful. We demand a rightful price for our fruits and they try to silence us by giving just Rs 6,000. If we get the proper price for our produce, we can get thousands of rupees for our hard work. The price of LPG was increased from Rs 400 to Rs 1,100-1,200 and now money is being given away in Ladli Yojana – all this is a deception. It is necessary to remove the Shivraj government from the state and the Modi government from the country. To date, Congress has won here only twice, but this time BJP will be defeated.”

Mansingh Meena, farmer (grows paddy, wheat, and gram) (we met him at a petrol pump on the way to Raisen outside Bhopal city)

Mansingh Meena, farmer (grows paddy, wheat, and gram) (we met him at a petrol pump on the way to Raisen outside Bhopal city)

“Survival of people has become very difficult. Inflation is so high that it is difficult to raise children and feed them good food. I work in homes, and my income hardly increases by Rs 50-100, but cooking gas, oil, vegetables, clothes, everything keeps becoming expensive. How will we survive on such a meagre income? Whenever there are elections, Shivraj ji comes to give us Rs 1,250. Where is he the rest of the time? They (BJP) are against the poor; they must be defeated in the election. They are full of lies – from Shivraj ji to Modi ji, all speak lies. Till now we voted for them, but not this time. We believe that change is necessary. If a man in the house drinks, then it is my responsibility to run the house. In such a situation, it is very difficult as inflation is very high. “

Usha Narwade, Meera Nagar, No. 12 Pit, Bhopal (Domestic Worker)

“This government does nothing for dalits and tribals. Everything for the upper caste. No job has been created for us, no work. Their community understanding is that we are filth. Only brooms and low-pay hard work are in our destiny. We have voted for BJP the last three times but what happened after that? Now they say that they will take us to Ram temple. We say, keep the temple with you, we need employment, a permanent one. My husband died, I have to feed eight people, I work from morning to 2 o'clock and I get Rs 5,000 only. Is this the development? Therefore, change will have to be made this time.”

Rekha, (Private Cleaning Worker, Bhopal)

Rekha, (Private Cleaning Worker, Bhopal)

These are all those voices that often get lost in the noise of election campaigns. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party have a very old and strong network in Madhya Pradesh. Their reach extends to the streets and localities. Through this, propaganda is spread to the bottom very quickly. For example, a large number of BJP supporters were seen saying that ‘BJP will come to power, but not Shivraj but Modiji’. And then he will put someone new on the throne.

Under the Laadli scheme, for the past six months, there has been a move to deposit Rs 1,000 in the bank accounts of women and then Rs 1,250 in August (after Rakhi), which has curbed anti-incumbency to some extent. Along with this, propaganda is being carried out in full swing that if BJP does not come to power, then all the schemes will be stopped.

How effective all these campaigns are, will be known only after the election results on December 3. But clearly, Ram Temple could not become a major election issue here. BJP and Prime Minister Modi tried hard, but it did not resonate with a large number of voters. Perhaps, this was the reason why pictures of the Ram Temple did not get any space in the banners, posters and other publicity of the party.

A big question is whether BJP, which is making big election preparations after the opening of the doors of the Ram Temple in January, will change its strategy for 2024 due to the cold response of the people on this issue in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan?

(Translated from Hindi)

The writer is an independent journalist. The views are personal.

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