Chouhan was credited with working hard while the Congress lost the plot to infighting.
Three months ago, no one would have imagined that the BJP would return to power in Madhya Pradesh. Even the party’s own central leadership was wary about reintroducing Shivraj Singh Chouhan as its chief ministerial candidate in the assembly elections – results of which gave the BJP 164 seats to the Congress’s 65 on December 3.
The Congress had been predicted to ride a wave of anti-incumbency to victory. It was high on confidence, with seemingly everything to its advantage. Yet a combination of factors – the Ladli Behna Yojana that launched just months before, Chouhan’s relentless campaign, winning over women voters, and an unexpected Modi factor – set the stage for the BJP to return.
So far, BJP leaders across the state, Chouhan included, have credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for scripting their victory in Madhya Pradesh.
So, how did the BJP pull off the seemingly impossible?
Secret of success
Political analysts across the board have one scheme on their lips – the BJP’s Ladli Behna Yojana, launched on March 5 this year and promising Rs 1,000 per month to every eligible woman in the state.
“It turned out to be a game-changer in this election,” said Rajendra Sharma, a journalist in Bhopal. “It’s one of the biggest factors that brought the BJP back to power in MP.”
Sharma has three reasons for why the BJP returned – the scheme, Chouhan “working really hard”, and “Modi’s magic”. He credits the latter for the BJP’s victory in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“Nobody could make it out, it couldn’t be felt, but it was there,” he said. “Otherwise, the BJP couldn’t have won three states. In MP, the Congress could sense the undercurrent and was busy fighting within the party. They lost a battle that they could have won.”
The vote share tells the story as well. In 2018, the Congress got 40.89 percent of the votes while the BJP got 41.02 percent. This year, the Congress got 40.39 percent and the BJP 48.76 percent – and this eight percent increase made a drastic difference.
Rajesh Badal, a journalist who’s been covering elections since 1977, said this is why the BJP scripted its “unexpected win”.
“There’s one common factor to the BJP’s win in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – that the central leadership in all three states sidelined state leaders like Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh. All three were humiliated by the central leadership,” he said. “In MP, there was strong anti-incumbency against Chouhan. When the central leadership sidelined him, it went down well with the public as they were against him too. It changed their entire outlook towards the BJP and they voted on Modi’s name.”
Badal said the party also replaced local issues with national issues, despite it being an assembly poll.
“The people in MP were angry with the BJP due to corruption, unemployment, ill-treatment of tribals, women atrocities, and other local issues,” he explained. “But Modi managed to sideline these issues by bringing national issues into the picture. This mellowed the anger towards the BJP.” These national issues included the cause of Sanatan Dharma, free rations given to the poor during Covid, India’s G20 presidency, appointing a tribal woman as president of India, the Chandrayaan mission, and economic prowess, among others.
On the Ladli Behna Yojna, Badal pointed out that 1.32 crore women enrolled as beneficiaries. “If you consider half of them as voters, that’s around 65 lakh. If we assume that 20 lakh of them would have voted for the Congress, that’s still 40-45 lakh voting for BJP. It is a huge number and increased the BJP’s voting percentage.”
Badal doesn’t think Chouhan will return as CM in MP. He went a step further and suggested that Modi will “introduce new faces” in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh too to lay the ground for the Lok Sabha polls next year.
“It may not even be an exaggeration to say the BJP will install women CMs, or Dalit-Adivasi CMs, in these three states,” he said.
Shams-ur-Rahman Alvi, a journalist in Bhopal, also said the “most important factors” that contributed to the BJP’s victory were the Ladli Behna Yojana and Chouhan’s performance.
“He worked really hard and returned to his soft manner,” he said of Chouhan. “All said and done, he is one of the most humble leaders in MP. He was seen as CM by an entire generation. People related to his humble image. He criss-crossed the entire state during his campaigns and tried to emotionally connect with the people. His continuous effort changed the entire game.”
As for Jyotiraditya Scindia and other BJP leaders who were “parachuted from Delhi”, Alvi said they made little impact. “It was only because of Chouhan’s hard work that the BJP won this election.”
The ‘irresponsibility’ of the Congress
Meanwhile, Badal said, the Congress was “irresponsible”.
“Two months ago, everything was in favour of the Congress, similar to Karnataka,” he said. “But in MP, two of the party’s tallest leaders – Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath – were fighting each other like novices on a public platform. This infighting sent a very wrong message at the ground level, that despite being in power for the last 20 years, the Congress is still not serious about winning elections.”
For example, Singh was “angry” with Nath during the polls and “sat at home for seven days”. “He didn’t even go for Priyanka Gandhi’s rally. Meanwhile Kamal Nath went overboard with arrogance and statements that affected the Congress,” Badal said.
The Congress’s second mistake was not to ally with smaller parties, Badal explained, such as the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Vindhya Janata Party, and Gondwana Gantantra Party.
“The leaders of all these parties were eager but the Congress paid no heed. It’s true they may not have helped win seats in a major way, but these parties have a total vote share of 10-13 percent,” said Badal. “This would have helped. But the Congress didn’t make any arrangements out of sheer arrogance.”
Alvi said the Congress “lost a winning game”.
“It didn’t take advantage of the strong anti-incumbency against the BJP and Chouhan. It stayed a silent observer and didn’t appeal to the public,” he said. “Kamal Nath did not work hard at all. He just thought things would work out for the Congress on their own. Meanwhile, Chouhan changed the entire election. The BJP avoided making any communal statements. In fact, its leaders who are infamous for doing so stayed silent.”
Hits and misses
As of publishing this story, here’s a run-down of the key wins and losses this election.
Narottam Misha, BJP leader and state home minister in Chouhan’s cabinet, lost by 7,742 votes from Datia constituency. He was defeated by Congress candidate Rajendra Bhartiya.
Union minister Faggan Singh Kulaste, one of seven candidates fielded by the BJP’s central leadership, lost by 9,723 votes.
Four-time MP Ganesh Singh, another candidate fielded by BJP’s central leadership, lost from Satna by 4,041 votes to Dabbu Sidharth Kushwah.
BJP senior leader and Scindia family aide Maya Singh lost from Gwalior East by 15,353 votes. She was defeated by Satish Singh Sikarwar of the Congress.
BJP leader and minister Kamal Patel lost to Congress’s Ramkishore Dogne by just 870 votes.
Scindia’s aide Mahendra Singh Sisodia, also rural development minister in MP, lost by 14,796 votes in Bamori to Congress’s Rishi Agrawal.
Rajvardhan Singh Dattigaon, who shifted with Scindia from the Congress to the BJP in 2020, lost by 2,976 votes to Congress’s Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat in Badnawar. He was previously a minister for industry policy and investment promotion in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan cabinet.
Animal husbandry minister Prem Singh Patel lost to Congress’s Rajan Mandloi by 11,172 votes from Barwani.
Public service management minister Arvind Singh Bhadoria lost by 20,228 votes in Ater to Hemant Katare, son of late Congress leader Satyadev Katare.
Congress leader Govind Singh, a seven-time MLA from Lahar constituency and the leader of the opposition in the assembly, lost by 12,397 votes from his stronghold to BJP’s Ambrish Sharma.
Jitu Patwari, a popular Congress leader and former minister in Kamal Nath’s cabinet, lost by 35,522 votes from his stronghold of Rau constituency in Indore. He was defeated by BJP leader Madhu Verma.
KP Singh Kakka Joo, considered a Congress strongman who’s close to Digvijaya Singh, lost from Shivpuri to BJP’s Devendra Kumar Jain by 43,000 votes.
Suresh Dhakad, state minister for public works department, lost to Congress’s Kailash Kushwaha by 49,481 votes from Pohari.
Gauri Shankar Bisen, a former cabinet minister and BJP stalwart from Balaghat, lost to Congress’s Anubha Munjare by 29,195 votes.
Rahul Singh Lodhi, a state minister and Uma Bharti’s nephew, lost by 8,117 votes from Khargapur to Congress’s Chanda Singh Gaur.
Bharat Singh Kushwah, the state’s horticulture and food processing minister, lost from Gwalior Rural by 3,282 votes to Congress’s Saheb Singh Gurjar.
Backward classes and minority welfare minister Ramkhelawan Patel lost by 6,490 votes from Amarpatan to Congress’s Rajendra Kumar Singh.
Ramkishore Nano Kaware, minister of state for AYUSH, lost from his constituency of Paraswada. He was defeated by Madhu Bhagat of the Congress by 25,948 votes.