Bhopal: The epicentre of farmers’ protest in Madhya Pradesh and the forte of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the Malwa region – registered a record high 84.19% voting in the Assembly elections held on November 28.
The region, where farmers’ protests erupted after six farmers fell prey to police bullets in Mandsaur on June 6, 2017, includes Mandsaur, Ratlam, Neemuch, Ujjain, Shajapur, Agar Malwa, Sehore and rural areas of Indore.
Malwa is the biggest region in the state and the road to electoral power in the state goes through this region. No party can form government if it is defeated in this region, which has around 66 Assembly seats, nearly 30% of the total 230 seats.
Compared with the Assembly election of 2013, the voting percentage in these areas this time has shot up between 1.5% and 4.5 %. Of these, the highest jump in voting percentage has been recorded in Neemuch district, (adjacent to Mandsaur) is 4.20%, while Sehore reported the second highest turnout, up 4% and Shajapur recorded a 1.8% jump, according to data provided by the State Election Commission (SEC).
Polling for the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Assembly was held on November 28, with 74.85%. This is the highest polling percentage in the history of the state’s Assembly polls, as per the SEC.
Decoding the Reason for High Turnout
According to political experts and journalists, the 4% jump in voter turnout in farmer-dominated areas and in other rural areas indicates anger against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government.
People are unhappy with the failure of the Bhawantar Bhugtan Scheme, glitches in crop insurance, not getting actual minimum support price for crops, problems being faced at the mandis and the killing of six farmers in Mandsaur. Farmers also want early implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on June 6, 2017.
“The high turnout in the farmer-dominated districts, including Bundelkhand, indicates voter anger against the government because the BJP government failed to please the farmers,” said senior journalist SA Pateriya.
He said “If we look at the voting percentage of rural and urban areas, there is major difference. For example, rural Indore has voted in large number in comparison to urban Indore, and there is almost a difference of 4-5%.”
Malwa is a BJP bastion and in 2013 Assembly elections, Narendra Modi (then Chief Minister of Gujarat) addressed 11 rallies here. The party secured a stunning victory in 56 Assembly seats, out of the total 66, with Congress left with just nine, while one seat went to an independent candidate.
Political expert Girja Shankar, however, sees this jump in turnout in a different way, pointing out certain weaknesses in Congress’s campaign. He said if there was strong anger against the ruling government which is why the voting percentage rose, then the ruling party would bear the brunt, as the same happened in 2003 Assembly polls when voters were angry with the Congress and voting percentage rose by 2 %.”
He felt that in Madhya Pradesh, Congress failed to convert voters’ disappointment into anger. “Indeed, the voting percentage has risen in Malwa region but, since the Congress failed to cash in the opportunity, the ruling party may retain power despite all odds and high turnout,” he added.
Reason Behind Voter Anger
Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Sharma, along with 500 farmers, had visited more than 300 blocks in the Malwa region after the Mandsaur shooting and had appealed to appealed to come out in large number to cast votes.
“Such a rise in voter turnout is an indication of change in the government. The farmers have expressed their anger against the government. It is clear that the BJP will be thrown out and Congress will form the government with a clear majority,” he said.
Another farmer leader who has been booked for being a key player in the Mandsaur protest, Amritlal Patidar, said after the killing of farmers last year, the farmers of Malwa region had pledged to vote out this anti-farmer government in the upcoming election during farmers' meet. “The high turnout in the voting percentage in those areas indicates this anger,” he added.
When asked about the reason of the anger, Patidar listed out many. He said the Bhawantar Bhugtan Scheme, launched after the Mandsaur farmers' protest, had been benefiting businessmen, not farmers. Since then, the price of major crops had crashed to a record low, he said, adding that instead of punishing the police officers who opened fire on farmers, the state government had given clean chit to them. Besides, thousands of innocent farmers have been booked in the name of creating unrest in the area, he added.
Senior journalist Ashutosh Shukla said, “It is true that farmers are unhappy and high turnout in farmer-dominated areas, including Bundelkhand, which is a drought-hit area, may go against the ruling government.”
He said, “In many places, the BJP leaders had been shouted away because of people are unhappy with the current regime and then the high voting percentage. Both go to show that the result may be not positive for BJP.”
State Congress Chief Kamal Nath said, “The high turnout shows the anger of voters against the current government.”
Hitting back at Congress, BJP’s National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted, “The record turnout shows voters trust on the BJP and they are willingness (sic) to give another chance to us.”
The counting of votes is on December 11, 2018.