Congress, Kamal Nath Out For ‘Revenge’, BJP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan Plots 5th Win

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In Battle For Madhya Pradesh, Congress Out For 'Revenge', BJP Plots 5th Win

Madhya Pradesh voted in a single-phase election on November 17 (File).

New Delhi:

Counting of votes for the Madhya Pradesh election began this morning, with the overall narrative pitting the ruling BJP against the opposition Congress in a two-way fight for the state. 

On paper, the advantage is with the BJP – Madhya Pradesh has voted for the party in three of the last four elections and four of nine exit polls have it returning to power, each by large margins. Three of those four give it more than 139 of the Assembly’s 230 seats.

The Congress is confident it can upset its rival’s apple cart, but the exit polls disagree; only four predict a return close to the 116+ seats it needs to form the next government and, even then, in each case the BJP is within striking distance in a state they have dominated since 2003. 

READ | BJP Likely To Keep Madhya Pradesh: NDTV Poll Of Polls

There is, though, more to the story, including ‘revenge’ for 2020, the Kamal Nath and Shivraj Singh Chouhan narratives, and the build-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

For the Congress and Kamal Nath, a former Chief Minister, this is a chance at redemption after the events of March 2020. The party watched its government fall and was left in disarray after Jyotiraditya Scindia’s revolt, and few can say the rebellion was not on the cards.

READ | Kamal Nath: The Man Who Won Madhya Pradesh For The Congress In 2018 

This was just two years after Kamal Nath orchestrated a campaign that won the Congress 114 seats – two short of an outright majority, yes, but a big result in a state the BJP had held for 15 years. In each of the three previous elections, the Congress had won only 38, 71, and 58 seats. 

As Kamal Nath quit on March 20, 2020, he declared: “Those responsible, remember tomorrow comes after today and day after comes after tomorrow. The day after will come for sure.” 

Could that “day after” be today? The 77-year-old held over 100 rallies – nearly a third of his party’s total – as he cross-crossed Madhya Pradesh in a bid to win back the state.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan doesn’t think so. 

“There is no doubt. It is said there is a close contest… there is no such situation. People of Madhya Pradesh will bless the BJP for its work in the state,” the four-time Chief Minister said. 

The BJP has walked a curious line this campaign – it has not backed Mr Singh for a fifth term but is trying to capitalise on his ‘Ladli Behna Yojana’ scheme for women, which it hopes will win 29 seats – of which the Congress won 20 in 2018 – in which they outnumber men. 

READ | BJP, Congress To Fight For Women’s Votes In 29 Madhya Pradesh Seats

The party made its strategy clear in September; an NDTV exclusive revealed the BJP would rely on “collective leadership” and the “Modi factor” in the November polls.

READ | NDTV Exclusive: Inside Details Of BJP’s Strategy For Upcoming State Polls 

That was before the party gave a ticket to seven MPs – three of whom are union ministers – and, critically, left Mr Chouhan waiting till early October before confirming his ticket.

The delay, though, did not deter the outgoing Chief Minister, who doubled down on his own campaign, launching a mega outreach effort of his own and tapping into vast stores of goodwill. 

He has, therefore, ensured he remains the most visible of the BJP’s faces, including the high-profile union ministers – who, many claim, have lost touch with ground realities in the state – and is now in pole position to maybe even dictate terms to the party should it retain power.

READ | In Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Chouhan Has Eyes On Fifth Stint At Top Post

Should it win, the BJP might have little choice but to hand Mr Chouhan a fifth term, particularly since he is also an OBC leader in a state that has a massive OBC population – over 50 per cent.

The fight to form the next Madhya Pradesh government should end today, but that to win its 29 Lok Sabha seats is just getting started. And the Congress has (another) mountain to climb.

Madhya Pradesh may not have as many Lok Sabha segments as other states – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, and Bihar all have more – but its seats give the opposition a chance to offset a likely headstart for a BJP that is widely expected to sweep UP’s 80.

The BJP decimated the opposition in 2014 and 2019, winning 27 and 28 seats, respectively; the Congress’ three wins across two elections were in Kamal Nath’s bastion of Chhindwara and Jyotiraditya Scindia’s Guna. Mr Scindia now, of course, is with the BJP. The (more) bad news for the Congress is that the BJP won over 50 per cent of the votes in those two elections, while it averaged around 34 per cent. 

That is a big deficit to make up, and for the Congress the first steps must be taken now, considering Madhya Pradesh largely voted for the same party in each of the last two state and general elections.

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