As Madhya Pradesh gears up for its upcoming elections, the political landscape is replete with intense competition and strategic manoeuvring reminiscent of the 2018 electoral battle. The ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress party are embroiled in internal rebellions, leading to the expulsion of dozens of leaders from both sides for anti-party activities. The expulsion list from the BJP includes 35 leaders, while the Congress has expelled 39, signaling significant internal strife within both camps.
The festive season of Diwali has somewhat subdued the election fervor, compelling parties to opt for smaller gatherings and neighborhood meetings (nukkad sabhas). In this context, the BJP confronts a formidable challenge in Madhya Pradesh, grappling with nearly two decades of anti-incumbency and criticisms for re-nominating familiar faces. The electoral battle has taken on a distinctive character, morphing into a face-off between the BJP High Command, represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, and the Congress, led by Kamal Nath and its national leadership.
October 2023 saw a notable absence of Modi and Shah in the state, attributed to the Navratri festivities. However, there is a palpable sense among BJP supporters that the duo’s active involvement in the final stages of campaigning could significantly influence the election’s outcome.
The BJP’s strategy in ticket distribution has witnessed a notable shift. While initial phases included seven MPs and three Union ministers, the latter stages have been more indicative of a “Shivraj stamp,” with the reintroduction of candidates previously denied tickets in 2018, such as Maya Singh, Archana Chitnis, and Lal Singh Arya.
Internal dissent poses a significant challenge for the BJP, with over 36 rebels, including Harshvardhan, son of former state president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan, a notable figure close to Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The expulsion of these rebels, including prominent names like Bihar Singh Solanki and Rustam Singh, reflects the party’s stern stance against dissidence.
In a strategic departure from 2018, the BJP has refrained from projecting a chief ministerial candidate against Kamal Nath, leading to a plethora of undeclared or self-declared contenders within its ranks. This contrasts starkly with the previous election, where the Congress faced similar dilemmas.
Public perception in Madhya Pradesh suggests that the BJP might secure fewer seats than in 2018, and Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s position as Chief Minister is not guaranteed, even if the BJP emerges victorious. Opinion polls and surveys from various media outlets, except the India TV-CNX survey, indicate a lean towards the Congress, with some predicting a simple majority for the party.
The BJP’s reliance on the Modi-Shah duo’s influence faces skepticism, given the importance of local candidates in Vidhan Sabha elections and the visible impact of weak state leadership. Senior ministers in Shivraj’s cabinet are confined to their constituencies, unable to campaign extensively, reflecting a certain dullness in the BJP’s campaign efforts.
The campaign strategies of both parties reflect their distinct focuses. The BJP is highlighting the central government’s achievements, while the Congress is aggressively targeting the Shivraj government’s shortcomings. Among BJP workers, there is concern that a victory would credit PM Modi, whereas a defeat would be attributed to the state leadership, particularly Shivraj Singh Chouhan and VD Sharma.
Additionally, dissatisfaction among family members of senior BJP leaders over candidature opportunities and the denial of tickets to the next generation of political heirs has added to the party’s internal challenges.
Campaign slogans from both parties reflect their distinct approaches. The BJP’s slogan, “Phir is baar BhaJaPa sarkar,” lacks novelty, in contrast to the Congress’s “Congress aayegi, khush-haali layegi,” aiming to connect with various societal segments. The Congress is also emphasizing the alleged failures and corruption of the Shivraj government, while the BJP’s campaign dynamics, especially during Modi and Shah’s visits, have overshadowed local leadership, creating a sense of confusion and chaos within its ranks.
In conclusion, the Madhya Pradesh elections of 2023 are characterized by internal party rebellions, strategic campaigning, and a high-stakes battle between national and state leaderships. The outcome of these elections is poised to be a crucial indicator of the political winds in one of India’s key states.
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