The BJP is facing the heat during these state elections over massive unemployment and price rise allegedly resulting from its ‘misdirected’ economic policies and over simmering discontent among state employees and labour force against its welfare and social security policies, writes Mudit Mathur
The crucial upcoming assembly polls of five states next month, often described as the ‘semi-final’ before the General Election to be held in 2024, are going to be a litmus test for the BJP. It will be the first instance when the BJP, which sets store by its Hindutva and cultural nationalism planks, will face the united opposition armed with a counter narrative of alternative politics of social justice. The states where election will be held are Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram from where 83 members are sent to Lok Sabha which comprises 543 seats.
The BJP is facing a tough time this time over its economic policies allegedly resulting in massive unemployment and price rise besides simmering dissent among state employees and labour force over its welfare and social security policies. The Congress-led Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh governments have allowed “Old Pension Scheme” (OPS) to its employees but BJP leadership is still in dilemma to take a call on the growing national movement for the same. The employees of the biggest government establishment, the Indian Railways, have staged nation-wide demonstrations at national and state level in this connection and are getting mammoth support from government employees.
The debacle of the BJP government in the last assembly election in Himachal Pradesh was attributed to the demand of government employees for the recall of “New Pension Scheme” and restoration of OPS. Analysing the implications of OPS on poll prospects of the BJP, most of its prominent leaders keep a supportive view to go for OPS but no such decision could be taken before the announcement of elections in these states.
The five states combined send 83 members — Madhya Pradesh 29, Rajasthan 25, Chhattisgarh 11, Telangana 17, and Mizoram one — to the Lok Sabha. Out of these states, BJP has its government in Madhya Pradesh where it toppled Kamal Nath-led Congress government by engineering a defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia-led group of Congress MLAs.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on 26 October searched premises associated with Rajasthan Congress chief Govind Singh Dotasra and Independent MLA Om Prakash Hudla in connection with allegations of money laundering in the paper leak case connected with Competitive Examination of the Senior Teacher Grade II in 2022, apart from summoning Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav in a forex violation case. It had made multiple arrests in Chhattisgarh in two separate cases a few months ago.
The ED is also probing Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha for her alleged role in Delhi liquor scam case, while in Madhya Pradesh, it has revived an old bank fraud case against Congress leader Kamal Nath’s nephew Ratul Puri with a fresh arrest two months ago. It has also taken action against leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting the MP polls.
The Congress formed government last time by winning just five more seats than the BJP despite its campaign being driven by three prominent state leaders: Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Its government, however, collapsed within 15 months with Scindia’s rebellion and his subsequent defection to the BJP camp.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of the party’s campaign unlike the last election, and the party has been silent on its CM pick for Madhya Pradesh. An intense unease is visible within the BJP’s central leadership and its rank and file in the state about Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is now eyeing a fifth term in the state which will go to polls on November 17.
BJP fielded many heavyweight national BJP leaders to contest assembly polls in order to overcome and nullify deep anti-incumbency developed due to prolonged rule of BJP. In seven constituencies, the BJP has fielded national-level leaders, including union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel, Faggan Singh Kulaste, BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, Jabalpur MP and state BJP’s former president Rakesh Singh, Satna MP Ganesh Singh, and Sidhi MP Riti Pathak.
Tomar holds sway in the Gwalior–Chambal region, and Prahlad Patel in the Mahakaushal region. Kulaste will contest from the tribal region of Mandla where he has a support base. Kailash Vijayvargiya, a veteran from Indore, has been fielded from Malwa Nimar Anchal. Ganesh Singh and Riti Pathak will test their political prowess in Vindhya.
The discontent in sections of both the ruling BJP and the principal challenger, the Congress has increased over the lists of candidates. The BJP has now declared all candidates for the 230 seats in the state, while the Congress has declared names of 229 candidates for the elections scheduled for next month.
The stakes of BJP are very high in the Madhya Pradesh election because it will underline the trends for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Ground realities seem to be difficult for the party to win this election. That is why the reins of this election are not in the hands of state leadership but every move is being closely monitored from Delhi. Many central leaders are in the field under the command of Union Minister Bhupendra Yadav and Rail and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, who directly report to Modi–Shah duo.
Now, united opposition under the INDIA Alliance is contesting there but surprisingly, without any significant presence. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has fielded some of its own candidates that triggered a war of words between him and Congress leader Kamal Nath over his motivated overenthusiasm, but timely intervention of central leadership of Congress has saved the situation turning ugly for a while.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel promised to have a caste survey of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and loan waiver of farmers in the state if Congress returned to power. Besides these, the CM also promised 20 quintals per acre of rice procurement from farmers, an increase from the earlier 15 quintals.
The main thrust of the Congress government would be its welfare schemes, including direct cash transfer and loan waiver, and its regional identity card, against the BJP’s Hindutva plank and its allegations of corruption against Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.
The Congress has also won all the five by-polls held in Chhattisgarh since – including three seats where the sitting MLAs belonged to other parties – taking its tally to 71. The BJP goes in with only 13 sitting MLAs, having lost a seat in a by-poll while another constituency is vacant since an MLA’s death.
Chhattisgarh is going to poll in two phases. Of the 20 constituencies voting in the first phase on November 7, eight fall in the Durg division and 12 in Bastar. The Congress released its third list of seven candidates for the upcoming Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. With this, the party has announced its candidates for all the 90 assembly constituencies in the state, which will go to polls in two phases – on November 7 and 17. The list contained mostly big names and ministers.
Maoist infested 20 constituencies would go to poll in the first phase on November 7. Out of these, eight fall in the Durg division and 12 in Bastar. All these 20 seats are presently held by Congress except Rajnandgaon from where former CM Raman Singh had won last election.
BJP Lok Sabha MP Vijay Baghel has been named from Patan constituency in Durg district, a seat held by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. Hoping to retain its fort, the Congress is stressing on the Baghel government’s hike in MSP coverage to 67 forest produce from 60, apart from that for millets, as well as its funds for developing a religious site for tribals, Devgudi, and organisation of a ‘national tribal dance festival’.
Congress leaders promise other benefits, for tribals as well as villagers, such as haat bazar bus clinics, higher price for paddy, implementation of PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, release of tribals arrested in “fake” Maoist cases, and government-run English schools.
TheBJP is in a tight spot having ruled for 15 years. In the last elections in 2018 the party came crashing down to 15 seats out of 90. Its vote share shrunk to mere 32.9% from 40.04% when it won 49 seats in 2013. The Congress surged to 68 seats and its vote share rose to 43.04% from 40.29% when it could win only 39 seats in 2013.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot slammed BJP after ED summoned his son Vaibhav Gehlot in a foreign exchange violation case and raided the premises of state Cong chief Govind Singh Dotasara and MLA Om Prakash Hudla in connection with the Senior Teacher 2nd Grade Competitive Examination, 2022 Paper Leak case. The Congress criticised the Centre over the ED’s action against its leaders in Rajasthan and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of taking the help of probe agencies in fighting polls.
In the same rally in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced two “guarantees”–cooking gas cylinders at Rs 500 to 1.05 crore families and an annual honorarium of Rs 10,000 to the woman head of a family. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra slammed the BJP-led Centre, saying its schemes are ‘hollow’, whereas those framed by the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan are being implemented on the ground.
The BJP is quite hopeful to wrest power from the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government as it wants to capitalise on factionalism and bickering among Congress leaders who are already divided in Gehlot and Sachin Pilot camps. Earlier, the party foiled rebellion attempts of dissidents and later devised a compromising formula to placate warring factions. Now, the BJP is trying to reignite their inner contradictions over various issues of governance.
Perhaps due to such challenges, the Congress is finding it difficult to do the balancing act to finalise the list of its contestants.
The Congress released names of 76 candidates so far which cover mostly those seats where there is little scope of dispute over candidature including the seats of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Assembly Speaker C P Joshi and former Deputy CM Sachin Pilot.
Hoping to make inroads in Rajasthan, the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen(AIMIM) is taking a plunge into the state Assembly elections for the first time. AIMIMfielded its candidates in three seats so far, with Owaisi telling voters that both the ruling Congress and the principal Opposition BJP are “two sides of the same coin” and alleged that they do not want the minorities to become “powerful”.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is focusing on Telangana and mixing with the state’s people during his street marches. In view of welfare measures announced by Congress party, Rahul expressed his assessment in many public addresses that Congress tsunami will sweep the state, and deliver the dream of “Bangaru Telangana” – this is my guarantee.
He added that both the parties represent landlords and they have oppressed people. His remarks drew reactions from BRS MLC K Kavitha and BJP’s chief spokesperson K Krishna Sagar Rao.
Addressing a rally in Nizamabad, Telangana, Rahul said, “Congress is going to put an end to the injustices committed against the people of Telangana. Congress Tsunami will sweep the state, and deliver the dream of Bangaru Telangana – this is Rahul Gandhi’s Guarantee! Congress winning more than 75 seats in Telangana.”
Congress has made many important populist promises to the electorate. These include“Mahalakshmi” scheme that promises Rs. 2,500/month to women, free bus travel in public transport, gas cylinder for just for Rs.500 “Indiramma Indlu” scheme under which assistance of Rs.5 lakh would be given for building a house, 250 sq yards land to Telangana movement fighters, “Gruha Jyoti” scheme free electricity up to 200 units would be provided, “Yuva Vikasam” scheme is devised for giving assistance to college students amounting to Rs.5 lakh, “Cheyutha” scheme Rs 4,000 monthly pensions to senior citizens, widows, disabled and others, health insurance of Rs 10 lakh, under “Rajeev Aarogyasri Rythu Bharosa,” Rs 15,000/year will be given to farmers and Rs 12,000/year to agricultural labourers.
Speaking at various places in Jagtial and Armoor Assembly constituency, Rahul Gandhi’s asserted that the election fight is between ‘doralu’ (feudal landlords) and the ‘prajalu’ (common people) and revealed that the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) is a family’s party and it has teamed up with the BJP to defeat the Congress. He added that both the parties represent landlords and the Congress is with the oppressed people.
Reacting to Rahul Gandhi’s comments, BRS MLC and BRS chief KCR’s daughter, K Kavitha said, “The only relation that the Gandhi family has with Telangana is that of betrayal and lies.” “Gandhi was reading from a script written by local political leaders without understanding local politics,” Kavitha remarked.
BJP’s chief spokesperson K Krishna Sagar Rao reacted, “Rahul Gandhi is making childish statements in Telangana. Doralu (feudal landlords) are no more in Telangana, that’s a distant past. Rahul is stuck in history and not in the present or future.” “People of Telangana now need corruption-free, dynastic rule free, democracy driven good governance, which only the BJP can deliver,” Rao added.
Congress has a clear plan for Mizoram, to ensure it becomes a model state. Our initiatives include a Rs.2,500 monthly Old Age Pension, LPG cylinders at Rs.750, and the Tang Puihna Economic Development Initiatives. This was stated by Rahul Gandhi, who is extensively campaigning in the area and very optimistic about the party’s victory.
The Congress party has fielded 39 candidates for next month’s Assembly polls in Mizoram. Mizoram Congress Committee chief Lalsawta was fielded from Aizawl West-III (ST), while Lalnunmawia Chuaungo was nominated from Aizawl North-I (ST). Lalrindika Ralte was picked to contest from Hachhek (ST), while Lalhmingthanga Sailo was fielded from Dampa (ST) and Lalrinmawia from Aizawl North-II.