Will the BJP's Karnataka Loss Have an Impact on Elections in Madhya Pradesh?

After the Karnataka results, it is being said that the BJP leadership is afraid of losing power in Madhya Pradesh. However, the caste, social and political equations of Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are very different.

Bhopal: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a major drubbing in the recent Karnataka assembly polls. Local issues overshadowed the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the headliner of a hardline Hindutva poll campaign, and the party’s pro-Hindu nationalistic policies failed to sway voters. The Congress returned to power comfortably, winning a majority of 135 seats in the 224-member assembly, while the BJP was reduced to just 66 seats.

The massive victory of the Congress in Karnataka has rekindled hopes of the party’s return to power in Madhya Pradesh too, as the state is slated to go to polls by the end of this year. On May 22, five promises were made to the people of Madhya Pradesh similar to those made in Karnataka in a tweet from the national Twitter handle of the party that read, “Congress’s promise to the people of Madhya Pradesh. We fulfilled our promises in Karnataka, now we will fulfil them in MP too.”

While the victory in Karnataka has boosted the Congress party’s morale, the poll result has caused unease among the BJP top leadership in Madhya Pradesh as well as the Centre. Meanwhile, MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan reportedly said, “Who cares about Karnataka results? This is Madhya Pradesh. Here, we will register a record victory with great fanfare. What do they (Congress) have? We have Narendra Modi. We have party workers who toil night and day. Congress comes nowhere close. I still have many cards up my sleeve.”

While the chief minister makes such claims, the bitter reality for the BJP is that Karnataka had Modi too – and the party lost despite riding a wave of fanatical Hindutva and pro-Hindu nationalism. Since the situation is more or less the same in Madhya Pradesh, the question is, are the Karnataka results a matter of concern for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and what impact can they have on the upcoming state polls?

Madhya Pradesh-based political commentator and academic Jayant Singh Tomar said, “Congress is excited and united in the state with these results. In the BJP, on the other hand, new developments are taking place every day, causing infighting. For instance, some BJP leaders joined the Congress, a few ministers and MLAs of Sagar district were disgruntled and went to meet the chief minister. Then there’s the Scindia factor; he is not only attacked by the Congress, but people within the BJP are also unhappy with him.”

“Shivraj is also trying to hold his grip as he is being attacked from all sides, including former ministers Ajay Bishnoi or Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat,” he added. “Meanwhile, Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti Sangathan (JAYS) is trying to make an impact in Malwa. It is not clear how much but it will definitely have an impact on some seats.”

He further said, ‘There is discontent in the BJP’s Vindhya unit because despite winning many seats in the region, it was not given proper representation in the cabinet. For all these reasons, there is a slight disarray and disunity in the BJP. While the party was already reeling under it, the Karnataka results have added fuel to the fire and the Congress’s increased enthusiasm has posed a new challenge for the BJP.”

MP-based senior journalist Prakash Hindustani agreed. “The Karnataka poll results do not directly affect the politics of Madhya Pradesh, but definitely affect the morale of both the chief contenders. This makes a difference. While the morale of the Congress has gone up, the morale of the BJP has slumped. Earlier the BJP used to believe that it is invincible, but now they [party members] have realised that they can also lose.”

“Rahul Gandhi reached out to tribal areas of the state during his Bharat Jodo Yatra, visiting tribal districts like Burhanpur, Khargone, Khandwa and Barwani. In Karnataka, out of 15 tribal seats, BJP could not win even a single one. That should be a cause for concern for the BJP.”

Madhya Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Photo: Twitter/@ChouhanShivraj

In the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, 20% i.e. 47 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (ST). According to experts, about 70 to 80 seats in the state are dominated by tribal voters.

In 2003, the tribal community contributed significantly to the BJP’s return to power in the state. In the next two elections, the BJP continued to get support from the tribal community and remained in power. But in 2018 the tables turned and the BJP, which had won 31 ST seats in 2013, was limited to 16 seats in 2018 and the Congress’s seat share increased from 15 to 30, allowing it to form the government.

The BJP had won a total of 109 seats and Congress won 114 seats in the polls. The margin of victory was so narrow that the BJP was bound to form the government had the tribal voters sided with it.

The BJP has now realised how crucial tribal voters are and over the last two years, the BJP’s politics in the state has become more tribal-centric. The three pivotal figures at the Centre – the prime minister, the home minister and the president – have participated in festivities organised by various tribal communities during this period.

Experts even speculate that the appointment of a tribal woman as the president was also a step taken to woo the different tribal communities across the country. The BJP’s defeat in all tribal seats in Karnataka despite all such efforts can naturally raise concerns in Madhya Pradesh, the state with the largest tribal population.

However, Prakash Hindustani claimed that if the BJP loses in the upcoming elections, it will be its own fault. The Congress no longer casts that sort of influence to defeat it.

Regarding the influence of the Congress, pro-RSS political analyst Lokendra Singh said, “The Congress no doubt has got a psychological edge. There has been a flow of energy and enthusiasm across the party and they will be able to work diligently. In this sense, the Congress has the upper hand.”

Lokendra said, “The top brass of the Congress is persuading and uniting the workers by reaching out to the grassroots level. Digvijay Singh is continuously holding meetings at mandal level and doing coordination work in the party, but the BJP has not started this exercise yet. The BJP needs to do it because there is more resentment amongst its leaders and workers. Considering that the party has a larger number of leaders and workers, and more ticket claimants, the BJP should have started the work of coordination on the ground. But the Congress has got the lead and now they have the example of Karnataka to infuse energy in the workers and give the workers the spirit to push for victory in Madhya Pradesh as well.”

Commenting on the anti-incumbency wave in MP, senior journalist Shams ur Rehman Alvi said that the BJP’s defeat in Karnataka has given hope to the opposition in Madhya Pradesh that the persona of Shivraj Singh, popularly known as mama ji among voters, might have lost its charm too.

“The results of Karnataka have brought a ray of hope among the Congress cadre while the BJP must have become aware that the public is miffed with the incumbent state government and might want to get rid of Mama ji in Madhya Pradesh.”

‘Karnataka results will have no visible impact on Madhya Pradesh’

However, a senior woman journalist of the state says that the election results of one state usually do not affect another state. She said on the condition of anonymity, “In the Lok Sabha elections, one narrative can run across the country, but it is not the same for the assembly elections. Karnataka is a south Indian state, where the condition, situation, economy, mood and problems of the people are different from the people in Madhya Pradesh. Although the basic problems are almost the same everywhere, such as unemployment and lack of infrastructure, the mood of the people is different. Like Rajasthan, the people of Karnataka want a change in the government every five years, while in Madhya Pradesh the same party usually remains in power for a long time. Earlier it was Congress, and now it is the BJP.”

“The elections in both the states are very different,” she added. “Madhya Pradesh is an integral part of north India or the Hindi belt. The thinking of the people here is different from south India. Here, the caste and religious equations and people’s attitude towards religion and nationalism are different. Therefore, I do not think that the Karnataka elections will have a direct impact on Madhya Pradesh.”

“The election results of Karnataka will naturally have little impact on Madhya Pradesh,” agreed Lokendra. “The issues and political and ethnic equations and circumstances of both places are different. There were three main political parties, out of which one party (JDS) was very weak and its vote bank completely shifted towards Congress, due to which the BJP suffered a defeat.”

Shams Alvi also believes that even though Karnataka has kicked out the BJP, the party retained its vote share. Instead, it is the Congress’s vote share which has increased. The contest in Karnataka was triangular, which is not the case in Madhya Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Photo: Twitter/@ChouhanShivraj

If we look at the statistics, the assembly elections in Karnataka are held a few months before the polls in Madhya Pradesh since 2008. But the poll outcome in Madhya Pradesh is completely different from Karnataka. For example, in 2008, the BJP fell short of a majority in Karnataka by winning 110 seats, while the Congress got 80 and the Janata Dal (Secular) 28, while a few months later in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won a thumping victory with 143 seats while the Congress got only 71 seats.

In 2013, the BJP got a mere 40 seats in Karnataka (partly due to B.S. Yeddyurappa breaking away from the party to float his own political party) and the Congress won 122 seats to form the government, but the Congress suffered a crushing defeat in Madhya Pradesh and managed to get only 58 seats. The BJP won 165 seats in a record-breaking performance that year. In 2018, while the BJP emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka, the Congress was the single largest party in Madhya Pradesh and formed the government.

In 2013, prominent issues like MPPEB scam, dumper scam, jal satyagraha in Narmada and the 2018 Mandsaur firing incident were the highlight against the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, yet the party formed the government without being affected by the results of Karnataka. This year, no such major scandal seems to be haunting the Shivraj Singh-led BJP government.

“The poll outcome in Karnataka will affect only the morale of the cadres of both the parties,” the senior woman journalist reiterated. “Congress will rejoice over a major victory in a politically significant state, due to which they are going to work harder. On the other hand, the morale of the BJP is down as they left no stone unturned in Karnataka and tried every political tactic from communalism, to PM Modi holding rallies, to nationalism, yet the party lost. This has caused panic in the BJP camp. Perhaps due to this increasing disquiet, internal conflicts in the BJP have started spilling out, which was never the case before.”

The soaring morale of the Congress is also apparent from the statement of former chief minister of the state and Rajya Sabha MP Digvijay Singh, who recently remarked, “Earlier we were expected to win 126-130 seats, now we will win 140-150 seats.”

Will chief minister Shivraj Singh be a decisive figure in Madhya Pradesh?

The BJP ruled in Karnataka for about three and a half years, with two chief ministers – B.S. Yeddyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai. It means there is no one there like Shivraj Singh in Madhya Pradesh, who is a permanent or popular face in the state. The presence of such a figure marks a huge difference between the two states. However, Prakash Hindustani has a different opinion. “There is no face either in Madhya Pradesh or in Karnataka; Modi is the only face everywhere.”

“Modi finds mention many times in every speech, announcement and plan of Shivraj Singh,” he added. “He seeks votes in the name of Modi, unlike before. Shivraj Singh seeks refuge in the persona of Modi and is trying to imitate him.”

Prakash Hindustani’s comment seems quite logical, because ever since the BJP formed the government led by Shivraj Singh after Jyotiraditya Scindia’s rebellion against the Congress, Singh has changed his tone. Shivraj, once a contender for the post of prime minister himself, now pretends to be indebted to Modi.

However, The Wire spoke to political analysts who unanimously believe that the Karnataka debacle may have caused a dent in the BJP’s morale but it has worked in favour of Shivraj Singh, as the party high command is no longer looking for an alternative chief ministerial face in the state.

Meanwhile, in the assembly elections of Gujarat and Karnataka, the BJP had experimented with a change in the power structure, denied tickets to many MLAs and ministers, introduced age-related rules and made other changes. The analysts have a divided opinions on whether the party will repeat these in the upcoming polls.

Jayant Singh, Shams Alvi and Prakash Hindustani believe that the BJP is going to be hesitant to try new experiments or make fresh changes in Madhya Pradesh. Lokendra, on the other hand, said, “If the performance of MLAs and ministers is poor, they will no doubt be denied tickets.” In this regard, the female journalist said, “The BJP will deny tickets to many of them. It needs to. After all it’s an 18-year-long anti-incumbency wave against the BJP. If the ground level survey suggests that there is anger against a certain MLA, how can he be given a ticket? No political party stops denying tickets if they lose an election.”

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.