Madhya Pradesh goes to polls: Stage set for BJP, Congress showdown

The stage is set for a big BJP vs Congress electoral battle ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections. Three states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh will witness a direct contest between the two parties again as they gear up for the 2024 challenge. While Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will vote in one phase on […]

The stage is set for a big BJP vs Congress electoral battle ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections. Three states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh will witness a direct contest between the two parties again as they gear up for the 2024 challenge. While Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will vote in one phase on 17 and 23 November respectively, elections in Chhattisgarh will be held in two rounds on 7 and 17 November.

For the BJP, victories in the three Hindi heartland states will add to the saffron party’s momentum. The Congress, on the other hand, will hope to win again. The grand old party knows from past experience that victories in these states may not mean much when it comes to the Lok Sabha elections. However, it may help the party consolidate its position in the Opposition space. Five years ago, the Congress had defeated the BJP in all three states in Assembly elections but still got decimated a few months later in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party will hope that its new weapons of poll guarantees, which helped it win Karnataka, and demand for caste census will help boost its poll prospects. Meanwhile, outfits like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will seek to make their presence felt in pockets of their influence and give some serious fight to the two giants of Indian politics.


STRENGTHS: The charismatic appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the down-to-earth image of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, an OBC leader. The ruling BJP is relying on its efforts to connect with female voters, introducing specific initiatives such as the “Ladli Bahna Yojana”. Qualified women receive a monthly stipend of `1,250 through this program, with a commitment from the government to raise this allowance to `3,000 per month.  An effective organisational structure that operates in a perpetual “election mode” year-round has been praised by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who considers the party set up in Madhya Pradesh among the nation’s finest. The BJP relies on the pillars of Hindutva, development, and the promise of “double engine” growth. Home Minister Shah, recognised as a master strategist, is overseeing the preparations. The ruling party wants to leverage the mass appeal after some of its MPs and some Union ministers hailing from the state are being fielded in the fray. The saffron party has also given the ticket to its national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, a key strategist and crowd-puller.

WEAKNESSES: Potential anti-incumbency as the saffron party has been at the helm in the state since 2003, barring a brief setback from December 2018 to March 2020. BJP is facing rumblings in the organisation as many leaders who had sided with Jyotiraditya Scindia, which caused the collapse of the Congress government, have returned to their parent party. A fatigue factor is setting in against CM Chouhan who has been at the helm for 18 years. Many contenders to the post of the Chief Minister. Congress has launched a strident campaign against alleged corruption, rise in the crime against women, atrocities against Dalits and tribals, rising inflation and unemployment among other issues.

OPPORTUNITIES: Being in power for nearly two decades, the BJP has implemented many promises it had made to women voters and other sections through welfare schemes. In the event of I.N.D.I.A. allies Congress, AAP and Samajwadi Party contesting separately such a development will favour the BJP. A controversy over “Sanatan Dharma” comes in handy to reinforce BJP’s image as the protector of Hindus. BJP raked up the comments of DMK leaders during the recent Jan Ashirwad Yatra. Traditionally, SP, BSP and other parties, except Congress, are marginal players in MP politics.

THREATS: In-fighting within the BJP has largely been kept under wraps due to strong central leadership, but a defeat may see the fissures come out in the open. In case of a hung Assembly, the BJP may find it difficult to find an ally to cobble a majority. Congress has gained most of the lost ground since 2003 when it won just 38 seats, but made a comeback by winning 114 constituencies in 2018. In 2003, the BJP won 173 seats but its tally dropped to 143 in 2008. In 2013, BJP bagged 165 seats but it lost the majority in 2018 when its score dropped to 109. Many leaders of the BJP, some dedicated to the Sangh ideology, have joined Congress. Some old Sangh faces formed a new party. The Congress has assured many “guarantees” like the waiver of farm loans, the revival of the old pension scheme and up to 100 units of free electricity.


STRENGTHS: Congress’ vote share rose to over 40% in 2018 from 30% two decades ago. State chief Kamal Nath trying hard to blunt BJP’s Hindutva moves by organising religious discourses on his home turf Chhindwara. He also got Opposition I.N.D.I.A. bloc’s Bhopal meet cancelled after DMK leaders’ controversial remarks on “Sanatan Dharma”. Expected support on 47 seats reserved for STs of which it had won 30 in 2018.

WEAKNESSES: Dearth of strong organisational set-up, unlike BJP’s robust structure. Scindia’s absence may hurt in Gwalior-Chambal region where Congress had won 26 of 34 seats last time. Its tally dipped to 16 after bypolls following defections by Scindia loyalists. There are 66 seats where Congress could not win in past two or more elections. BJP’s move to declare candidates even before announcement of poll dates and Congress’ wait-and-watch position strengthened the perception that it is wary of factionalism. BJP raking up ex-CM Digvijaya Singh’s tenure (1993-2003), claiming it was marred with appalling condition of roads, erratic power supply.

OPPORTUNITIES: Anti-incumbency is a concern for the BJP, which has completed 18 years in the government. Wranglings within BJP’s state unit. For the first time in two decades, many BJP leaders, including few Scindia loyalists, have joined opposition parties. Congress has managed to create noise around unemployment, VYAPAM (recruitment) scam and alleged irregularities in Patwari exams. AAP is not running a high-decibel campaign in MP like it did in Gujarat last year.

THREATS: BJP has maintained an over-40%vote share, except for a slight dip in 2008, since 2003. Multiple visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP’s master strategist and Union home minister Amit Shah to MP in the past two months could turbocharge the ruling party’s poll machinery. BJP has lined up stalwarts like Narendra Singh Tomar, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Prahlad Patel, which could counter anti-incumbency by reinforcing speculation that current Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is unlikely to be its CM face. New players like AAP, AIMIM could eat into Congress’ support base.