Shivraj Under Poll Heat


Madhya Pradesh is a state where a ‘quake’ comes ahead of primary health centre. Thanks to the ‘Bengali Doctors’ — who migrated from eastern Bihar to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Those ‘Bengali doctors’ were not a doctor but a trained health care professionals who could be approached for first aid. Hence, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his ambitious ‘Ayushman Bharat’ program, he must be thinking that the way his Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna has gained traction among various social sections of the ‘cow belt’, this healthcate scheme would also become talk of the town in quick time. But, the situation in Madhya Pradesh is completely different. Various NGOs and social worker groups are skeptical about its success in such a small time that people would line in cue to vote for BJP in coming assembly polls. In fact, public opinion is like it was likely to miss the proverbial wood for the trees.

After three terms of Shivaraj Singh Chauhan as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, this is appalling. Will this lack of development work against him? The community members working in the farm are not so sure. First, a few of them understand the difference between good and poor healthcare. Caught in a time warp and lacking exposure, they accept it as their lot. What matters to them is money, and “mamaji” has showered them in cash in the recent months. Among them, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna was a big hit. It is another matter that the village headman took Rs 20,000 in cash for every application cleared. Still, a roof over their head makes a world of difference.

But, is this enough to secure their votes? Much depends on the selection of candidates and ground mobilization. The Congress does have presence in the region. But like most places, it is faction ridden. While the BJP seems ahead right now, a ‘wave’ could change this fact.

Back in Indore, there are a few BJP karyakartas among my old business contacts, whom we meet on most trips to get a pulse of place. Six months ago, any question about the BJP’s chances would invite a derisive laugh. “Are you serious?” they would ask in a Vadra-esque style. Now, they are more restrained.

At first, they deflect the question towards the Lok Sabha polls, saying, “No one can stop Modi-ji.” But when pinned down to the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, they say, “Malwa mein toh koi problem nahin hain (there’s no problem in Malwa).” The earlier bravado is missing. “East mein fight rahega; Malwa nikal ayega (there will be a fight in the east, but Malwa will breeeze through).”

The stress on the east and central regions are real. If they are correct, BJP president Amit Shah’s rallies in the east are on hold. The party is waiting for the ‘mahaul’ to change. Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath is giving his all to these elections and will make a difference in Chindhwara and its adjoining regions.

To counter the Congress strategy, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has stepped up its booth-level work. They have now assigned two workers at every booth to cater to 50 voters as against one booth worker earlier. While technology and digital outreach will be a force multiplier for the RSS, the Congress is not sparing any money or efforts either.

The BJP’s confidence seems to stem from two counts. First, the huge sums Chouhan has doled out under the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana on minimum support price (MSP). Farmers have had a good soya bean yield and reaped a double bonanza with the MSP scheme. Other minor sops, such as capping electricity bills for farmers at Rs 200, have been good draws, as well.

But not everyone is happy with “mamaji’s” generosity. The trading community that had to bear the brunt of the Goods and Services Tax believe it is their money that is funding these doles — a case of robbing “Pappu” to pay “Pidi” that they don’t like.

It is here that Congress leader Digvijaya Singh comes to the rescue of BJP loyalists. They are confident that as long as Singh is around, Congress unity is going to remain a mirage.

The highway from Indore to Ratlam is not in the best condition at the moment. Although not better than the US beltways — as Chouhan had claimed — it is still one of the best roads in the country. Having sized Team Dayafter up by now, the driver was quick to recall the condition of the roads during Singh’s tenure. Only for that, people should not vote for the Congress, he remonstrated. He must have suffered in those times, and the memory was still raw, we thought.

An eternal point of difference between the folks of Indore and Ratlam is the quality of the sev. Residents of Ratlam claim that their products are superior because of the quality of the local water. As we are not a sev connoisseur to be able to pass judgement, but on this trip, we found that there was divergence in their political views, as well.

On the day of our trip, a central minister was visiting the nearby towns of Alote and Taal for rallies. At both places, the town’s traders called for shutters to be downed as a mark of protest, unhappy with amendment to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The anger is swelling. If allowed to gather momentum, it will make a heavy dent in the BJP’s upper-caste vote bank.

Contrary to popular perception, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party contesting the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls solo may benefit the Congress. It will split any gains the BJP was hoping to make with SC/ST votes. So it is a potential double whammy for the BJP that has left its most die-hard supporters flummoxed.

A couple of our old associates from Mandsaur were down. We asked them whether there were any residual strains of the riots last year. They smiled and said everyone knew the real story. Last year, there was a bumper crop of opium. According to our associates, the opium mafia had engineered the riots, which provided them cover to smuggle out the excess (undeclared) yield. The state erred in its assessment, and the situation went out of hand. “Ab sab shant hain” (everything is peaceful now). With a bountiful of soya crop and MSP, there is real “bhavantar” now, they said, punning on the word to imply a change of mood.

On the way back to Indore, we stopped for a tea break at the small town of Badnawar. The shop owner we called upon was very clear about his choice — the memories of Congress misrule were still raw in his mind. He said with a lot of emotion, “Mukhiya se naraaz hain, iska matlab toh yeh nahin ki chor ke haath ghar ka chabi saup dega (We’re angry with the chief minister, but that doesn’t mean we’ll hand over the keys to our house to a thief).”

Finally, it is this sentiment that can see Modi and Chouhan through once again, but it is far from a done deal for the BJP.