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MP Assembly Elections 2018 Analysis: Caste cauldron may brew trouble for saffron camp

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Political parties in Madhya Pradesh have stepped on gas with the EC blowing the poll bugle. Candidates will starta filing nomination from November 2 and the Dday for the polls is November 28. The EVM will reveal the results on December 11. For several years, electoral politics in Madhya Pradesh has remained polarised mainly between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main Opposition Congress. After 10 years of Congress rule led by Digvijay Singh (1993–2003), BJP has remained in power continuously for 15 years.

This time, the Congress party is leaving no stone unturned to return to power after a prolonged exile. The Congress party is identified by its State level chieftains who have carved their own areas of influence that they view as their fiefdom. These leaders are known for their inner-party alliances and also bitter rivalry (for power). After the dismissal of BJP’s Sunderlal Patwa Government in the wake of the post-Ayodhya riots in December 1992 and one year of Governor’s rule, the Congress party that was struggling with massive infighting among the State party bigwigs, had chosen to enter the 1993 Assembly election by following the now-famous Dabra spirit.

It’s architect was none other than late Madhavrao Scindia, who had brought together all the warring state Congress leaders on one platform at Dabra near Gwalior to galvanise the State party unit and spread the message that the Congress was a united house in Madhya Pradesh. This had brought rich dividends and the BJP that had got a thumping majority in the previous election was routed in 1993. This time, the Congress party has once again chosen to follow the Dabra spirit that was missing 2008 onwards. Due to the anti-incumbency factor in 2003 and lack of the Dabra spirit since 2008, the BJP has managed to retain power in Madhya Pradesh for three consecutive terms.


This time, the scenario is different as the State Congress leaders, despite all the infighting, have adopted the strategy of sinking their differences and working concertedly to get maximum number of their supporters and nominees elected. Party strongman and former Union Minister Kamal Nath, who now heads the State party unit is deftly carrying forward the Congress election campaign with other leaders, including former Union Ministers Jyotiradtya Scindia, Arun Yadav, Suresh Pachouri, leader of Opposition in State Assembly Ajay Singh “Rahul” and former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh all going for the final dash in tandem. So far, the mood in the ruling BJP, especially the camp led by State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is aiming for himself a hat-trick of victories (2008, 2013 and now 2018) borders on complacency.

The chief minister has expressed confidence and told media-persons that the coming polls will deliver a mandate in his favour. He has come to this conclusion through what he describes as “direct eye contact” with the people who have been coming for his “Jan Ashirwad Yatra”. It is an entirely a different matter that the crowds for this Yatra have been managed mostly by the government functionaries. The recent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Bhopal, which was supposed to be attended by more than 10 lakh BJP workers fell much beyond target. Consequently, a cross-section of the media has started raising questions regarding BJP President Amit Shah’s earlier projection: “Abki baar 200 paar” (this time it will be more than 200 seats).

In the run for the elections, during the initial stage, all were looking forward to the possibility of the much hyped “Mahagathbandhan” leading to an electoral alliance or a seat sharing understanding between the Congress on the side and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) on the other. The speculations on this count have fallen by the wayside with both the BSP and SP declaring to go alone in this election. The two parties – BSP and SP- will be angling for about 25 to 30 seats each, bordering Uttar Pradesh. The stand of the BSP and SP has to be viewed in light of the vote bank politics characterised by the caste factor that has got precipitated to the extreme as the BJP has played the “Dalit” card to the hilt by siding with the violent protestors and the Narenda Modi Government even went ahead and amended the SC/ST Atrocities Act to suppress the Supreme Court order aimed at protecting the fundamental rights of the people and ensuring no one gets arrested without preliminary inquiry under the Atrocities Act.

After massive support to the Bandh call against the Atrocities Act on 6 September 18, the divide between the Dalits and the non-Dalits is total and obviously the BSP and SP have decided to stay away from Congress in this election to test their support base and also to retain their vote bank, particularly in terms of Dalits and OBCs respectively. In Madhya Pradesh, there is also anger and searing unrest across a vast population represented by those suffering from the quota system, reservation in promotion for SC/STs, reservation for the creamy layer and a plethora of benefits for the SCs/STs and the Atrocities Act. Two organisations – Samanya Pichda Alpsankhyak Adhikari Karmchari Sanstha (SAPAKS) and Samanya Pichda Alpsankhyak Kalyan Samaj Sanstha (SAPAKS Samaj) – have been working in close coordination since 2016.

(The writer is senior journalist)

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