Madhya Pradesh may go Gujarat way

Madhya Pradesh may go Gujarat way

INC’s failure to offer a credible alternative or a robust alliance may help the BJP beat strong anti-incumbency

The forthcoming Assembly election of Madhya Pradesh in many ways can be compared with the recent Assembly elections of Gujarat — the election that the INC lost, not the one that the BJP won.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the key States of the Hindi belt, which sees a direct contest between the BJP and the INC. It is yet another State that has seen a strong BJP government for three terms and the INC has been struggling to claim the State back.

Even after the Gujarat debacle, the INC has not learned the art of communication and its communication in MP is as confused as it was in Gujarat. The popular perception suggests that the theatrics of temple run will not help it in Madhya Pradesh just like in Gujarat. This is one of those dramas that voters enjoy but don’t consider while voting.

Just like Gujarat, the caste and communal equation in MP is beyond the politics of the Hindu-Muslim divide. It is about winning each caste separately, including SCs and STs. A majority of voters of Madhya Pradesh, in their 40s and 50s, still have fresh memories of bad governance of INC Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. Voters of MP may not like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP but they for sure still hate the INC. So, what is the mood in the State?

No clear alternative
It is widely believed that there is a strong anti-incumbency of three terms but the voters of the State are not in a position to find any clear alternative. Like in Gujarat, in MP too the INC has failed to identify one single face that can challenge Shivraj Singh Chouhan and build a credible narrative for the party.

A defined alternative will help the INC win more vote share than the state of ambiguity. It will not be wrong to say that in the absence of a clear choice, voters are still backing Chouhan as the preferred chief ministerial candidate. The problem with the INC is it has not yet declared its chief ministerial candidate despite having four candidates – Arjun Yadav, Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

At times, one gets a feeling that the INC is planning a decisive, focused and determined campaign, especially since there is some amount of anti-incumbency and an opportunity for the party to cash in.

‘Unhappy’ farmers
Farmers’ concerns are the biggest political pitch. The party that manages to win the trust of farmers and has answers to suicides and offers good policies related to farm and farmers will have an edge. Further, the party with strong grassroots workers — who can take the message of the party to the farmers and the rural households — will hold an advantage.

Scams aren’t big issue
Big scams such as Vyapam, sand mining, dams and ponds, mid-day meals have still not hampered the image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He is still seen as progressive, development-oriented, humble, down to earth and man of the masses. It is the failure of the INC to build a successful groundswell around these large scams.

Soft Hindutva bad strategy
Madhya Pradesh can’t be polarised on the Hindutva agenda. The position of hardcore Hindutva leader is already occupied by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and soft Hindutva will not work. I wonder why the INC is not focusing on the issues of development, big scams and other progressive issues that attract eyeballs of the millennial.

Caste plays a big role
The positioning of the INC as a party that believes in soft Hindutva is not an effective positioning. Madhya Pradesh prefers to votes for caste. Religion is not the core issue here. Roughly 60% of the voters evaluate the caste before casting their vote. Caste-based social engineering is key to the success in the State.

ST, SC central
In Madhya Pradesh, STs, SCs and Muslims (roughly 21%, 15% and 6% respectively) are the big vote banks of the INC. The State has a strong ST and SC population, which is a traditional vote bank of the INC, but the BSP has been successfully consolidating them to its advantage.
Moreover, the BJP has been working hard for the last few years to win over these voters. This move has disturbed the traditional vote bank of the BJP — upper castes and OBCs — but this may help the BJP win over a new set of ST and SC voters.

No Hindu-Muslim divide
MP cannot be polarised on the lines of Hindu-Muslim divide. This is one of the States like Gujarat that has a negligible Muslim vote bank. Over 90% of the voters are Hindus. It will only be apt to say that the caste and communal equation in MP is beyond the politics of the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Alliance was key
The tribal vote has a strong presence in 35-40 seats in MP. In these tribal-dominated areas, the combined might of the INC and the BSP would have won almost all seats but now that the INC and the BSP are not together, the result will be different. Moreover, the voting patterns in the last three Assembly elections indicate that the INC has a loyal voter base of over 30%, the BJP enjoys 35%, and the BSP roughly 5%. This basic arithmetic of voter’s loyalty suggests that an alliance was one of the safest ways for the INC to romp home.

The win and loss in MP will mostly be decided by fence-sitting voters who decide their preference in the final leg of the election campaign. In such a scenario, the last leg of political campaigns will change the dynamics of the election result. The BJP with the political campaign expertise of Modi and Shah, and the positive image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan will be able to challenge the INC once again. Well-crafted campaigns of Modi and Shah in last 15 days could swing a minimum of 5% voters to their fold.

Also published at

Congress must learn from Gujarat

Congress must learn from Gujarat

The party’s new strategy did yield dividend, but it also showed up the critical gaps that prevented a victory

It will not be wrong to read the loss of Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat as his moral victory and the victory of the BJP as a mere face-saving act. In fact, Team BJP could not manage the rise of politician Rahul and they had to rely on their tallest leader, Narendra Modi, to save the ship.

Modi managed to derail Rahul’s campaign by diverting the focus of voters from development and Patidar agitation to the statements of Kapil Sibal on ‘Ram Mandir’ and Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘Neech’. But the biggest reason for BJP’s success was the new socio-cultural model of United Spectrum of the Hindu Votes (USHV), Saffron Dalits and Reluctant Muslim Voters.

Though there was an undercurrent in favour of the INC and a strong anti-incumbency, the Modi-Shah duo managed to divert voters’ attention to issues like Gujarati Pride and National Security. So, it turned out to be a classic election where the BJP did not win but the INC lost. But why did the INC lose it from a winning position?

Mere Symbolism
The INC mostly believes in politics of symbolism whereas the BJP focuses on on-ground execution and booth level management. Mere symbolism doesn’t work anymore in Indian politics.

The voters now demand honest effort and action. They want dedicated, 24×7 politicians. The INC has to project strong and dedicated national and State level leaders.

Shaky Organisation
10The grand old party lacks the support of on-ground organisation unlike the BJP, which enjoys ideological and on-ground support from the RSS. In the 70s, under the leadership of Sanjay Gandhi, the INC had managed to build a strong organisation with a presence in each district. Such an organisation needs to be built again.

The absence of a dedicated INC cadre in Gujarat was one of the biggest reasons why they failed to mobilise voters and bring them to the booth. An analysis of the voting pattern in Gujarat will find that Reluctant Muslim and Dalit Voters needed the motivation to go to the booth.

Urban Connect
The BJP is popular in urban areas and the INC has a strong rural presence. The INC lost the elections because it failed to connect with the urban voters.

Of the total 42 urban seats in Gujarat, the BJP won 36, while 6 went to the INC. Clearly, the INC failed to convince the urban voters to switch sides.

Candidate Selection
Both the INC and BJP made efforts to woo Dalits, Patidars, and OBCs and the same also reflected in ticket distribution. While the BJP fielded 50 Patidars, 58 OBC, and 13 Dalit candidates, the INC fielded 41 Patidars, 62 OBC and 14 Dalit candidates.

The BJP won because it intelligently selected candidates who could win seats.

Caste Politics Falters
Caste and religion-based politics play a critical role but it is not the only element that influences the voters. In the last few Assembly elections – Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – the INC played caste-based politics and lost all elections.

The classic example is that just after the Babri Masjid demolition, the BJP lost power in three out of four States. The popular belief that India votes at the intersection of caste and cash is not true.

The Indian voter has always shown a preference for non-corrupt alternatives over issues like caste, religion and cash. India also votes at the intersection of development and resilient governance.

The INC is struggling hard to understand the change but the BJP has already incorporated the new equation in their political planning.

Plus Hindutva
While the BJP incorporated the new-age requirement of development and resilient governance, it also did not leave out the old equation of caste and religious politics. This new combination of USHV along with development is working fine with voters.

The honest effort of Rahul Gandhi to project a soft Hindutva image in Gujarat election was probably the first move in aligning the INC towards the new equation of development with USHV.

Confused Alliance
The INC has been outsourcing part of its political campaign to outsiders. In UP, it was outsourced to Akhilesh Yadav and in Gujarat, part of the campaign was outsourced to Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. The message emanating from the alliance with all three caste leaders from different domains was a bit confusing.

But the INC alliance with Hardik worked well as out of 52 seats where Patidar vote share is 20% and more, BJP won 28 seats which is 8 less than the last election, whereas the INC bagged 23, which is 9 more than the last election.

It will only be right to say that Rahul and Hardik Patel have bridged the gap between the Patidar community and the INC but have upset a few other prominent OBCs and Dalits.

Changing Campaign
The INC could have swung the election if they had not changed the storyline. It changed the storyline even before it peaked. Moreover, Team INC lost focus during the last leg of the campaign and kept changing the script.

It is evident from the results that the INC was almost there. It lost 16 seats with a margin of less than 3,000 votes and fell short of 12 seats to majority. If the INC and Team Rahul had not diverted from the script of development, social and cultural growth, and the new image of liberal Hindutva, they would have won the election by a good margin.

But it is still an impressive outcome as Rahul Gandhi was taking Narendra Modi head-on in his home State. The fight was not only about the image and might of two national leaders but also between the mighty campaign machinery of the BJP and yet-to-evolve campaign team of the INC.

Rahul Gandhi and Team INC fought their most challenging election battle without a well-prepared on-ground activation team and disciplined cadre.

The lessons from this battle will hold them in good stead.

Also published at

Why Congress came close in Gujarat

Why Congress came close in Gujarat

A deep reading of the party’s campaign shows that it may have hit upon a template that could restore its primacy

In the recent Gujarat Assembly election, the BJP won 99 seats, seven more than the magic figure of 92 in a House of 182. The INC secured 77 seats while its allies got another three. The NCP, which fought alone, got a seat and Independents won two.

This election represents a key moment in Indian politics. On the one hand, it once again proved the robustness of the Gujarat model of governance. The incumbent government, which faced the economic challenges of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, social challenge of caste revolt and agrarian distress, political challenge of a weak local BJP leadership, and 22 years of anti-incumbency, retained the State for the sixth time.

On the other hand, this election saw the revival of opposition and rise of a strong opposition leader – Rahul Gandhi. Rahul had four major wins — one, exposing the Gujarat model of governance, two, establishing an image of liberal Hindutva, three, stitching an alliance with three upcoming leaders – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, and four, resurgence of the Nehruvian model of election campaign management.

Exposing Gujarat Model
Rahul Gandhi put all his might in this elections. It was his aggression that helped the INC build a euphoria against the BJP. The Congress president started the campaign with the slogan ‘Vikas gando thayo che’. The success of the campaign exposed the chinks in the BJP’s claims of development and forced it to rethink its campaign strategy.

Rahul also managed to penetrate his message to the influential trader community by attacking demonetisation, failed economic policies and bad implementation of GST. He gave a new name to the GST – Gabbar Singh Tax — and an impactful campaign around it forced the Modi government to amend the tax slabs. This was the first big win of Rahul in challenging the established image of the Gujarat model of governance.

Liberal Hindutva
The BJP has been projecting the image of the INC as pro-Muslim and effectively using it to polarise the electorate. In the Gujarat election, Rahul did not provide any opportunity for the BJP to polarise the election.

He kept Muslims out of the political discourse and instead experimented with the image of liberal Hindutva. He visited multiple temples during the campaign. This new avatar influenced voters and helped the INC win sizable votes.

New Political Alliance
In the game of caste politics, the INC had an edge over the BJP. Rahul successfully managed to win support of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. The trio enjoyed good support of the Patidars, OBC and Dalit votes and the same influenced voters’ turnout as well.

Rahul with the support of Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh managed to consolidate the Patidars, OBC and Dalit vote bank. This was Rahul’s second big alliance after the alliance with Akhilesh Yadav.

Resurgence of Nehruvian Model
The INC historically has been the party of the urban elite, upper castes – Brahmins and Thakurs, who maintained their alliance with the local communities. This election witnessed the INC going back to its roots and core strength.

We witnessed the resurgence of the Nehruvian model backed by the support of THAMs — Thakurs, Dalits (Harijans), Tribals (Adivasis) and Muslims.

While there is no problem with the new emerging equation, it needs to be implemented well. In Gujarat, the INC leadership failed to implement it. If the party implements the new equation on ground with efficiency, they will win most of the States that go to polls this year.

The Gujarat election also saw a tectonic shift in the way the INC has been managing campaigns in the last two decades. This shift forced the BJP to change its campaign. Only time will tell if the change in INC’s campaign management is a long-term strategy or just a tactical move to win Gujarat.

New Social, Cultural Vote Bank
The Gujarat results have challenged the established Gujarat model, which was developed and nurtured by Narendra Modi over the years. The model is not only about economic development and good governance but also about the emergence of a new social and cultural vote bank – United Spectrum of the Hindu Votes (USHV).

If we analyse the last few Gujarat elections, we will see the rise of USHV and fall of caste-based politics. The emergence of USHV resulted in the rise of two new prominent groups – Saffron Dalits and Reluctant Muslim Voters. In the past, the USHV had liberated Gujarat from opportunistic caste dynamics.

Through an intelligent and aggressive campaign, Rahul managed to disturb this USHV equation but the damage was managed by the rise in the number of Saffron Dalits and Reluctant Muslim Voters.

The INC tried its best to cultivate socially and economically dominant castes like Jats in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, Marathas in Maharashtra, Lingayats in Karnataka and Patels in Gujarat. The experiment of exploring new caste equations has not worked well for the INC. The party lost almost all the States where it experimented with socially and economically dominant castes.

Nurturing a new socio-cultural equation is not easy. It requires astute political acumen, huge operational skills and on-ground presence. The BJP stitched USHV as it had the dynamic leadership of Modi as well as political shrewdness and booth management skills of Amit Shah. The INC will have to work on building its cadre, leadership and presence before experimenting with new caste equations.

In many ways, the Gujarat result is a huge loss for the BJP though it got the mandate to rule the State for another five years. Rahul Gandhi made a big dent on the established vote bank of the BJP. It will not be wrong to read the loss of Rahul Gandhi as his moral victory and the victory of the BJP as a
mere face-saving act.

Also Published at

Gujarat Elections: An intense battle in the offing

Gujarat Elections: An intense battle in the offing

The State, which the BJP cannot afford to lose, is priming itself for a tough contest.

The ensuing Gujarat Assembly election is significant in its own way. The State has been a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastion for over two decades now and is the home ground of Narendra Modi. So, Gujarat is a prestige battle for the BJP and they would like to win again.
At the same time, the Indian National Congress (INC) would like to reclaim its lost ground of two decades. This is going to be an intense battle of prestige and survival. On one hand, losing Gujarat to INC would be a big setback for the BJP ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections. On the other, a victory for the BJP will ease its path towards winning the 2019 parliamentary election.

Ground in Gujarat
It is important to understand the history to predict the future. In Gujarat, the INC has been out of power since 1995. However, for a brief period from October 1996 to March 1998, it was a part of the ruling alliance along with Shankersinh Vaghela’s Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), which he floated after quitting the BJP. This was the last time the INC was part of the government in the State.

The BJP has been in power since March 1998 but more importantly, the party has been dominating the Assembly since 1995. In the last two decades, it has been consolidating its position. The last two Assembly elections have been the extension of its growth story. In the 2007 and 2012 Assembly elections, it polled 49.1% and 47.9% votes respectively. During the same period, the INC attracted 38% and 38.8% votes.

In last two decades, the popularity of the two national parties – BJP and INC — has been on the rise in Gujarat. In fact, the State election has turned into a two-party contest. The two together command roughly 90% vote share, leaving the remaining 10% to other national and regional parties. It will not be wrong to say that over the last two decades all other national and regional parties have lost relevance in the State.

New Challengers
But this election may see the entry of three national and regional parties – Aam Aadmi Party, Nationalist Congress Party and Vaghela’s party. Among these three, AAP could pose a challenge, especially owing to its new campaign methods. The party has learnt from the debacle of Punjab and Goa elections and will field candidates only on seats that meet certain criteria set by its central leadership.

The NCP will play the role of the spoiler for the INC by dividing the anti-BJP vote share and making the task difficult for the INC. The party has decided to contest all the 182 seats, which means it will spoil the chances of revival of the Congress.

Vaghela’s party will also be another spoiler. Till recently, Vaghela was a member of the INC and the tallest Thakur leader. During his leadership, the Thakurs voted mostly in favour of the INC. In the last Assembly elections in north Gujarat, the BJP won 13 of the 27 seats, while the INC raised its tally from 6 to 14. The exit of Vaghela from the INC will damage its prospect in this area.

Two Together
Though the entry of these three parties will have some impact, in all probability the battle of Gujarat will be mainly between the INC and the BJP. The INC marginally increased its vote share here from 32.9% in 1995 to 38.9% in 2012. In the last three Assembly elections, the INC attracted 39% vote share on an average.

The BJP, however, has been doing extremely well. The overall vote share of the BJP has been on the rise since 1995. It reached around 49% under the leadership of Modi. The party attracted 48-49% vote share during the last three Assembly elections.

Thus, there is a difference of 10 percentage points in vote share between the ruling party and the opposition. This difference is also a function of the urban and rural divide.

Clear Divide
The INC has been successful in consolidating the rural vote bank but has failed to entice the urban voters. The same is reflected in the recent local body elections where it consolidated its stand in the panchayats but failed to gain grounds among urban voters.

In the recent panchayat elections, the INC won 23 of the 31 district panchayats and 113 of the 193 panchayats but the BJP won all the big municipal corporations, namely – Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar — and also captured 40 of the 56 municipal corporations in small towns.

The mathematics of panchayat and municipal elections suggests that the INC is far from winning Gujarat. In the Assembly of 182, the BJP still commands 67 urban and 20 semi-urban Assembly seats.

It will not be wrong to say that the BJP has been an urban and semi-urban phenomenon. The same is also reflected in the last Assembly elections. In 2012, the party won 15 of the 16 seats in Surat, 15 (17) seats in Ahmedabad, 3 of the 4 seats in Rajkot and all the seats in Gandhinagar, Vadodara and Bhavnagar.

Also Published at

Best chance for change

Best chance for change

With the powerful Patidars as well as Dalits growing restless, Gujarat is a good opportunity for Congress

Yesterday, we dwelt upon how Gujarat has primarily been a two-party State for over two decades, with the Bharatiya Janata Party being the leader.

Though this time too, the numbers continue to be mostly in favour of the BJP, this is also the best chance for the Indian National Congress (INC) to defeat the BJP in Gujarat. In many ways, the ensuing Assembly election is the opportunity the INC has been waiting for, for the last two decades.

Also read
Gujarat Elections: An intense battle in the offing
State of Flux
The BJP, even after two decades, is not facing any huge anti-incumbency wave. However, the local leadership and the Chief Minister are struggling to match up to the popularity of Narendra Modi. It does not have stalwarts of Modi’s stature to run the party and the government in Gujarat.

Besides, the unrest among the Patel vote bank, its largest in Gujarat; emergence of parallel local leaders, like Patel leader Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, have added to the BJP’s woes.

Local and regional leaders now have the opportunity to invoke the Gujarati asmita card, which the BJP has been playing for long. Despite this fertile ground, the INC has a long distance to cover. In recent times, the INC has lost one of its tallest leaders in Shankersinh Vaghela.

Voting Blocks
Bridging the gap of 10 percentage points in vote share is not an easy task. The INC needs to rework its campaign strategy and execution. While it needs to strengthen its base in rural Gujarat, it must work hard to win the trust of urban voters.

The party also needs to do some deft social engineering. The dynamics of caste-based politics in Gujarat is changing, and the INC must work to redefine it in its favour.

In fact, the dynamics of caste-based politics in the State remained unchanged for two decades. The Patels, who constitute 15% of the vote bank vote for the BJP; Brahmins and Jains (roughly 5%) too mostly vote for the BJP, and the OBCs who are the biggest block of around 35% also favour the BJP, making it 55% of the total vote bank.

Muslims, who constitute 10%; a united block of SC and ST which adds up to 25% of the vote bank, and Thakurs (8%) support the INC. So, the INC is supported by Thakurs, Dalits (Harijans), Tribals (Adivasis) and Muslims, politically known as THAMs, who make a total of 43%.

THAMs Equation
In recent times, the BJP has also made some serious inroads among the old voting blocks of the INC. This may change the THAMs equation. The BJP has been making efforts in this direction since 2015. In the last two years, it has been trying to engineer a new social coalition in Gujarat ever since its core constituency, the Patidars, revolted against the government demanding reservation in government jobs.

The party is aggressively wooing the Tribals (Adivasis), Thakurs and Kolis. The Thakurs and Kolis are currently split almost equally between the BJP and INC.

In the last two Assembly elections, 16 of the 27 reserved seats for ST were won by the INC and the remaining by the BJP and others.

New Battleground
Gujarat’s tribal belt is set to be the new battleground and any party that wants to win the State must win big here. The tribal votes are critical for the BJP to register a respectable win and for the INC to remain relevant. If the BJP succeeds in winning even a small percentage of Tribals, Thakurs and Kolis’ vote share, it would be a big blow to the INC.

While the RSS is working hard to divide the INC’s core vote bank, the grand old party is still in search of a concrete strategy to defeat the BJP. It is trying hard to consolidate the rural base and devise a plan to win urban voters. The INC may devise a plan to increase its vote share but the absence of an organisation like the RSS will make it difficult for it to implement it on the ground.

The INC had a better chance of winning the State had Anandiben Patel not been replaced as Chief Minister and Vaghela not quit the party. The present equation is quite complex and with new players in the fray, all parties need to rework their strategies.

The Gujarat elections will in all probability set the tone for all upcoming Assembly elections in 2018 – Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – and, the next general election of 2019. So, there is a lot at stake and not just for the main parties INC and BJP.

Also Published at