Bhopal: After BJP’s massive defeat in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, many believe that it would not be easy for the Hindutva-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in central India. During the winter, three major states of India—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will have elections. While Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have Congress governments, Madhya Pradesh which had witnessed Operation Lotus just before the Covid lockdown in 2020 has BJP rule.
Operation Lotus: Madhya Pradesh has a similar story to Karnataka
In contrast to the decisive victory of the Indian National Congress in the May 2023 assembly elections, the 2018 elections resulted in a hung assembly with no clear majority. The BJP’s failure to prove a majority in the floor test led to the formation of a coalition (preplanned) government by Congress and JD (S). However, this coalition was short-lived and collapsed within 14 months. The BJP formed the government after the by-poll elections in 2019.
The political crisis in Madhya Pradesh occurred just a year after the fall of the Karnataka government, when 22 MLAs of the Scindia camp submitted their resignations and joined the BJP, leading to the collapse of the Congress government. The BJP allegedly used horse trading aka the Operation Lotus technique to break the MLAs and formed the government just before the Covid lockdown.
Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, while congratulating the people of Karnataka also predicted that the BJP will face a similar fate in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. She added that the Karnataka verdict marks the beginning of the end for the BJP in 2024. The BJP’s loss in Karnataka has resulted in the South being BJP-free and also uniting the opposition.
Shabista Zaki, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation leader of opposition said that there is growing discontent among the public towards the BJP government because of a lack of focus on education, unemployment, and women’s safety. Price rise have made it difficult for women to manage households. “The BJP made false promises of development. Their aggressive actions, such as bulldozer politics have left hundreds of people homeless. Any opposition to the government is labelled as terrorism. Their politics resemble dictatorship. They did a criminal act by forming a government using unlawful means. The Congress party holds a strong presence on the ground. We are confident to form the government,” said Shabista.
How difficult will it be for the BJP in central India?
Many considered the state of Karnataka to be a significant laboratory for the BJP in South India, even referred to as the “Uttar Pradesh of South India.” The BJP and its allies aggressively pushed anti-Muslim issues, including Love Jihad, the Hijab ban, protests against Halal food and NRC among others BJP in Madhya Pradesh is pushing somewhat similar anti-Muslim rhetoric with several communal incidents in many districts including Khandwa, Khargone, Indore and Ujjain. Congress’ Bajrang Dal ban announcement in Karnataka also created chaos in Madhya Pradesh depicting the Hindutva influence in the Hindi belt.
State BJP spokesperson Rajpal Singh Sisodia said that the political dynamics in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka differ significantly due to factors such as livelihood, politics, education, and geography. “The resentment among the BJP workers on a local level has been successfully addressed. The BJP holds a strong ground presence. We are engaging with the public through various programs,” remarked Sisodia. He criticized Congress for using Muslims as a vote bank through fear-mongering and hindering their development, while the BJP aimed to build an inclusive and exploitation-free society. Sisodia concluded by highlighting that the BJP government is committed to implementing a Uniform Civil Code.
Will polarization politics not benefit BJP in MP?
Journalist and political analyst Deepak Tiwari told eNewsroom that the BJP relies on polarization and creates an illusion of development. However, Madhya Pradesh has a small minority population, where polarization is not effective as it is in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Although the BJP is strong in Madhya Pradesh, it faces anti-incumbency for eighteen years. According to Tiwari, the BJP will continue to employ communalism tactics, but there is a limit to how much they can polarize the electorate in Madhya Pradesh.
“Compared to 2018, the Congress party currently holds a stronger position in Madhya Pradesh, while the BJP is experiencing internal strife due to its inclusion of Congress MLAs and their subsequent promotion. The BJP is also losing the support of OBCs, who are unhappy with the reduction of the 27% reservation previously provided by Congress. The way BJP has opened offers for women and other sections, the Congress has very well countered them with their promises,” said Tiwari.
He added that though Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through a few districts of Madhya Pradesh it has boosted the morale of Congress workers.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra spent 12 days in Madhya Pradesh covering a distance of 383 km whereas the Yatra covered 511 km in Karnataka in 21 days. Congress won 15 out of 20 assemblies that the Bharat Jodo Yatra covered.
State Congress spokesperson Abbas Hafeez Khan mentioned that Madhya Pradesh, being a bipolar state, benefits the Congress party more than Karnataka. A similar situation of unity exists in Madhya Pradesh under the leadership of Kamal Nath. The faction led by Scindia was causing an internal disturbance in Congress. It has already joined the BJP and created problems for them. “The Congress party has effectively addressed the damage caused by Scindia in the by-poll elections. Madhya Pradesh has been experiencing anti-incumbency for two decades. Now, the Congress party has worked to show its achievements in governance,” said Khan.
He highlighted the distinction between the religious politics of Congress and the BJP. “Congress does not promote religious hatred or polarization, as its ideology is not based on such divisive principles. We are actively working on strengthening the lower-level organizational setup,” Khan added. He mentioned that the tribal voters have traditionally supported Congress, and the party possesses influential tribal leaders, making it difficult for the BJP to sway their support.
Madhya Pradesh has 47 constituencies reserved for Schedule Tribes and 35 constituencies for Scheduled Castes. As per the 2011 census, scheduled castes constitute 15.6% and scheduled tribes 21.1 % of the state’s 7.26 crore population.
An interesting election in the heartland of India
Veteran journalist LS Herdenia told eNewsroom, “Since the Hindutva politics failed in Karnataka, it may fail in Madhya Pradesh as well. Corruption and administration failures are common in both states. The BJP’s efforts of isolating Muslims did not work in Karnataka.”
He added, “They might change their strategy by moving away from hardcore Hindutva or increasing communalism as required, as communalism may be a successful tactic for the party in the Hindi belt. Besides, the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh is not as strong as it is in Karnataka, making the election a close one for both the parties.”
Political Analyst Girija Shankar too feels so. “Each state has its unique politics, strategies, and issues, and the results of one state do not have a major impact on another. The outcome of elections primarily affects the psychological state of party workers but it does not have significant implications beyond that. “The presence of factions within major parties like Congress or BJP is not a significant issue. The competition between the two parties will be interesting, and neither party can expect an easy victory.”