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Madhya Pradesh: Overriding the Contours of Anti-Incumbency

A high level of voter satisfaction with the government and disarray in the ranks of the opposition saw the Bharatiya Janata Party retaining power in Madhya Pradesh. Though the Congress managed to put on a better show than in 2003, its internal problems did not allow it to pose much of a threat to the BJP. And, with the exception of the Bahujan Samaj Party, none of the smaller parties could cash in on the antiincumbency factor.

STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200935Madhya Pradesh: Overriding the Contours of Anti-IncumbencyRam Shankar, Yatindra Singh SisodiaA high level of voter satisfaction with the government and disarray in the ranks of the opposition saw the Bharatiya Janata Party retaining power in Madhya Pradesh. Though the Congress managed to put on a better show than in 2003, its internal problems did not allow it to pose much of a threat to theBJP. And, with the exception of the Bahujan Samaj Party, none of the smaller parties could cash in on the anti-incumbency factor. The electoral race in Madhya Pradesh began with two possibili-ties: a regime change from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Con-gress and a systemic shift from bi-party to multiparty competition. Neither was the most likely outcome, but both were not beyond the realm of political possibilities. The massive lead the BJP had secured in 2003 meant that the contest was always going to be an uphill one for the Congress. Yet, the entry of the Bharatiya Jana Shakti Party (BJSP), the breakaway BJP faction led by Uma Bharati, kept Congress hopes alive. That the Congress was in power at the centre added to the media-driven sce-nario that it could stage a comeback in the state. The presence of both the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the BJSP as serious players also opened up the possibility of a rupture in the bi-party nature of compe-tition. Speculation about a hung assem-bly was rife till the day of counting. If that had happened, it would have been a major development irrespective of who won or wholost. Eventually none of these possibilities was realised. The election remained a bi-party competition just as in Rajasthan in this round of polls and in Gujarat earlier. Within the framework of bi-party competition, the contest became closer but left the BJP comfortably in command of the new assembly. This article seeks to understand the fate of these two political possibilities. TheBJP was able to retain power in the state, but lost votes and seats. The Con-gress was unable to wrest power from the BJP, but gained considerably in terms of seats. Table 1 presents a comparative pic-ture of the 2003 and 2008 elections. The BJP swept the polls last time with a lead of about 11 percentage points over the Congress. This time, it shed about 5 per-centage points, about as much as it did in Rajasthan, but these losses did not turn into corresponding gains for its main rival. The Congress gained less than one point in popular votes; the BSP and the BJSP accounted for the rest. This meant that theBJP’s losses were confined to 30 seats. The Congress managed to add 33 seats to its tally but did not come close to challenging the BJP. A region-wise analysis of the result shows the overall dominance of the BJP. Table 2 (p 36) shows that except for the Chambal region the BJP did well in all the other parts of the state. In Chambal, the Congress got more votes than the BJP but failed to translate this advantage into seats, mostly because of the BSP. Compared to the other regions, the Congress also put up a betterperformance in the tribal region of Malawa. InVindhya,Mahakoshal and north Malawa, theBJP was clearly dominant. The commanding position of the BJP is also seen in the urban-rural division of seats. In a predominantly rural state (the urban population in Madhya Pradesh was under 27% in 2001),theBJP managed to wrest a four-point lead in rural areas while totally dominating the 36 urban seats. Though the BSPmanaged to make inroads into constitu-encies with a significant dalit population (not necessarily seats reserved for scheduled castes), this benefited the BJP, which picked up 32 of the 57 such seats. The Congress could not inflict any major damage on the BJP even in the adivasi-dominated areas (Table 3, p 36).Party Fortunes and StrategiesThe foregoing discussion shows that the BJP’s victory was less sweeping than appears at first sight. But its losses did not translate into a regime change for a number of reasons. The last assembly election was fought under the cloud of anti-incumbency after two consecutive termsby Digvijay Singh and at a time the Ram Shankar ( is with the Department of Political Science, Rani Durgawati University, Jabalpur. Yatindra Singh Sisodia ( is with the Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain. Table 1: Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections of 2003 and 2008: Comparison of ResultsParty 2008 2003 Seats Won Vote (%) Seats Won Vote (%)Congress 71 32.40 3831.61BJP 143 37.64 173 42.50BSP 7 8.972 7.26SP 1 1.997 3.71BJSP 54.71nanaOthers 06.08 87.23Independents 3 8.23 2 7.70Source: CSDS Data Unit.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly36fortunes of the Congress had fallen to an abysmal low. The vacuum left by Digvijay Singh, both in the state’s Congress leader-ship and in personal popularity, could never be adequately filled. The BJP’s present success in retaining a majority wasthus a combined result of the opposi-tion’s failure to mobilise the voters againstitand voters’ satisfaction with the incumbent government. Throughout the election campaign, the Congress was never able to present a unit-ed front against the BJP. In almost every constituency, it had more than one aspir-ant for the ticket, leading to rampant fac-tionalism and rebellion in the party. And there were more than 50 rebel candidates of the party in the fray. More than this constituency-level rebellion, the Congress leadership failed to present a united face because of rivalry among its state-level leaders. The party was forced to adopt a system of giving a quota of seats to each of the warring factional leaders – Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Suresh Pachauri and so on. In contrast, the BJP benefited from the popularity and low profile of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Apart from having the image of an accessible, soft spoken and ac-commodative leader, Chouhan also bene-fited from overall voter satisfaction with his government. His success hinged on a combination of three things: image, vot-ers’ satisfaction and an attempt to make populist welfare schemes work efficiently. The BJP also tried to fend off the anti- incumbency factor by denying tickets to more than one-third of its sitting MLAs, though this did not stop the voters from defeating many of its stalwarts. Nearly 50% of the respondents in a post-poll survey said that they were fully satisfied with the performance of the BJP government, taking overall satisfaction with it to 77% (Table 4). Though opinion polls often record high levels of satisfac-tion with the incumbent party’s perform-ance, in times when consciousness about performance-related issues is high and ex-pectations are rising, such a level of satis-faction is uncommon. Moreover, this high level of satisfaction with the state govern-ment was spread across all sections of the electorate – all educational groups and both genders in rural and urban areas. However, a close analysis of the data reveals that the sense of satisfaction was higher in the upper half of the social pyra-mid. Satisfaction levels among the upper castes and both upper and lower other backward classes (OBCs) were relatively higher. This figure drops to a shade below the halfway mark among dalits and Gonds and falls drastically among Bhils and Muslims. Interestingly, other tribes such as the Minas, Marias and Bhatras reported a very high level of satisfaction with the government. The survey reveals that a majority of Congress and BSP supporters also expressed satisfaction with the per-formance of theBJP government. As many as 63% of Congress voters and 68% of BSP voters said that they were satisfied with the state government’s performance, while 93% ofBJP voters said the same. A more realistic assessment of the gov-ernment’s performance can be gauged through opinion on concrete issues such asthe condition of roads, the electricity supply and corruption (Table 5). Overall, the BJP state government was not rated very positively, but there was no sign of a negative opinion as well. On issues such as irrigation facilities and law and order a substantial proportion of the respondents felt that the status quo had been main-tained. One of the biggest successes of the BJP seemed to be improving the condition of roads, with 55% of the respondents re-porting that they had improved. This was in sharp contrast with public opinion in 2003, when 62% of the respondents said that the condition of roads had deteriorated under Digvijay Singh’s Congress government. Al-though very few of the respondents said that the electricity supply had improved, Table 2: Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election 2008 by Regions Area CongressBJPBSPOthers Seats Turnout (%) Seats Vote (%) Seats Vote (%) Seats Vote (%) Seats Vote (%)Chambal 3464.81328.7 1627.24 20.4 1 23.6Vindhya pradesh 56 67.0 10 24.3 38 32.3 3 14.7 5 28.6Mahakoshal 4973.11833.33036.805.9124.1Malwa north 63 72.0 19 37.1 42 44.6 0 3.5 2 14.8Malwa tribal 28 70.4 11 39.5 17 45.3 0 3.4 0 11.7Source: CSDS Data Unit.Table 3: Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election 2008 by Constituencies Dominated by Dalits, Adivasis and Urban ElectorsNature of Constituencies Congress BJP BSP Others Seats Turnouts (%) Seats Vote(%) Seats Vote(%) Seats Vote% Seats Vote(%)Dalit concentration 57 68.5 18 31.0 32 34.1 3 14.0 4 20.8Adivasi concentration 8071.8 27 33.85138.6 0 4.9 2 22.6Urban 3663.3 6 32.027 45.5 1 8.0 2 14.5Classifications done on the basis of Census 2001. Dalit/adivasi concentration defined as a constituency with 20% or more scheduled caste or scheduled tribe population. Urban constituency defined as a constituency with more than 50% urban electorate.Source: CSDS Data Unit.Table 4: Satisfaction with the BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh by Party Voted Fully Satisfied Somewhat Satisfied Somewhat Dissatisfied Fully Dissatisfied No Opinion NAll respondents 50 27 6 9 9 1,554Congress voters 26 37 9 17 11 418BJP voters 79 14 2 1 4 485BSP voters 42 26 9 15 9 118Voters of other parties 46 31 7 5 12 269N: denotes number.Source: CSDS Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set. Table 5: Assessment of Five Years of BJP Government in Madhya PradeshThose Who Say That under BJP Rule Improved No Difference Deteriorated No OpinionCondition of roads 55 27 17 1Electricity supply 24 43 27 6Irrigation facilities 22 42 22 14Condition of farmers 27 39 23 11Law and order 22 42 25 11Those Who Say That under BJP Rule Increased Same as before Decreased No OpinionInflation 7910101Corruption 3537208Employment opportunities 40 32 15 13Hunger deaths 40 36 14 10Source: CSDS Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set .
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200937only 27% said that it had deteriorated, which was again a positive rating. In 2003, 79% of the respondents said that the elec-tricity supply had deteriorated under Con-gress rule. It must be remembered that in 2003, theBJP campaigned against the Congress under Uma Bharati’s leadership on theBSP factor; that is thebijli-sadak-pani (electricity-roads-water) factor. Though theBJP did not seem to have made a huge difference on most services other than roads, the absence of a strong negative opinion put it in a better position than what the Congress was in five years ago. Given all the other factors, the lack of a negative rating on basic developmental issues seems to have helped the BJP in overriding the contours of anti-incumbency.Smaller PlayersThough theBSP could not quite change the bi-party nature of competition in the state except in the Chambal region, this election saw its best performance to date. It won seven seats and was second in 18 constitu-encies. It polled 8.97% of the votes, sur-passing its previous high of 8.7% during the 1998 Lok Sabha election. Factionalism and break-ups reduced the party before a partial recovery in the last assembly elec-tion. However, the BSP has still not spread much beyond its previous strongholds, the Chambal and Vindhya Pradesh (Pai 2003). These regions with extreme forms of ex-ploitation of the dalits are some of the last feudal bastions in Madhya Pradesh. They have also seen the birth of socialist move-ments in the state. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) were the real losers in this election. The natures and constituencies of the two parties are very different but both had showed pro-mise during the last assembly election. TheSP had won seven seats and 3.71% of the votes. This time, however, it won just one seat and 1.99% of the votes. Its candi-dates forfeited their deposits in all the seven seats the party had held. The SP has not been able to fit into the role of van-guard party in thisOBC-majority state, which has more than 5% Yadavs.TheGGP, the party that seeks to repre-sent the aspirations of the Gonds of the Mahakoshal region, won three seats in 2003 with 11% of the vote. It could not win a single seat this time and finished second in only one constituency. This humiliating defeat followed the party’s top leadership and its three MLAs falling out among themselves. Another non-starter in the state was Uma Bharati’s BJSP. Given her abil-ityto pull crowds and strident Hindutva stance, popular opinion had it that the party could dent the BJP’s electoral for-tunes and emerge in a king maker’s role. The result belied these expectations. The BJSP polled merely 4.71% of the votes and won five seats, finishing second in six. Uma Bharati herself lost the election. Infa-mous for her maverick style of function-ing, she was in allprobabilitythemain cause of her party’s dismalperformance.A lack of organisation and consolidation also contributed to its failure.Social Basis of Voting With a voter turnout of 69.7%, a record for the state, Madhya Pradesh has entered the era of high mobilisation and politicisation. However, high voter turnouts do not nec-essarily ensure a broadening of the social base of politics (Palshikar and Kumar 2004). What social chemistry produced the elec-toral outcome? If we take a close look at Table 6, the social groupings in the state take cognisable shape. By far the largest proportion of population, nearly 51%, isOBC. It is over this social grouping that theBJP seems to have consolidated its hold. From among the upper OBC, 40% voted for the BJP and 22% for the Congress.Asimilarpattern prevailed among the lower OBC, where 47% supported the BJP and 18% supported the Congress. It is interesting to note that the thin wedge the SP was driving into this vote bank in 2003 has almost vanished. The dismal performance of the BJSP that aspired for support from this social grouping also seems linked to theBJP’s consolidation. The upper castes also rallied behind the BJP with a 49% share of the vote whereas it was 23% for the Congress. As for dalit support, the Congress with 33% of the vote was marginally ahead of theBJP with 30%. The BSP’s support base is among the dalits, and one-third of the party’s total vote share came from this group. With 19% of the dalit votes, it be-came a strong contender for poaching Congress votes among the dalits. As al-ready mentioned, the BSP has been con-solidating its base in the Chambal and Vindhya regions of the state. The Congress led in a big way among the Bhils and to a lesser degree among the Gonds, but the BJP led among the rest of the adivasis. An analysis of caste-wise voting patterns show that only 6% of the Gonds voted for the GGP. The Congress got more votes from the bottom of the social pyramid, while the BJP got more votes from the up-per castes andOBCs, the only exception being tribes such as the Minas, Marias and Bhatras. A look at the voting gender-wise reveals that the Congress got almost the same proportion of votes from men and women (Table 7). However, the BJP had a lead of 4 percentage points among men.ConclusionsThree broad conclusions can be drawn from the verdict of this election. First, the binary format of political competition con-tinues in the state with a high entry-level barrier for other political formations. New entrants like theSP, BJSP, GGP andBSP have not been able to breach this entry barrier. The BSP did play spoiler to the Congress in a few seats, but it is still far from crossing the threshold of viability. So, unlike Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Madhya Pradesh continues to have a two-party system, although, like Delhi and Rajasthan, theBSP’s rise indicates that the nature of party competition may change in elections to come. Second, Chouhan’s style of functioning as a down-to-earth Table 6: Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election 2008: Vote by Caste Groups CongressBJPBSPOthersNUpper caste 23 49 9 19 257Upper OBC 22 40 4 34 247Lower OBC 18 47 10 25 199Dalit 34301917207Gond 3825102781Bhil 612410541Other STs 27 43 13 18 120Muslims 83 16-1 128Others 331705012Source: CSDS Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set . N: Number.Table 7: Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election 2008: Vote by Gender CongressBJPBSPOthersNMen 3339 1019776Women 32 35 8 25 516Source: CSDS Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set. N: Number.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38organisational man helped theBJP over-ride not only anti-incumbency but also factionalism. Poor electoral management by the faction-ridden Congress also helped theBJP. It could be argued that the Con-gress had too many leaders and very few workers in this election. Third, it became clear that incumbency need not always be a liability. In Madhya Pradesh, like in neighbouringChhattisgarh, the victory of therulingparty raises questions about how far the “anti-incumbency factor” deter-mines electoral outcomes. The results of this election are an eye-opener for all the major political parties and the emerging trendsreinforcethe reality that the electorate of the state isbecoming mature with the passage of time. ReferencesPai, Sudha (2003): “BSP’s Prospects in the Assembly Elections”, Economic & Political Weekly, 26 July, 3136.Palshikar, Suhas and Sanjay Kumar (2004): “Partici-patory Norm: How Broad-based Is it?”Economic & Political Weekly, 18 December, pp 5412-17.Chhattisgarh 2008: Defeating Anti-Incumbency Dhananjai Joshi, Praveen RaiThe Bharatiya Janata Party’s triumph in the Chhattisgarh assembly election had a lot to do with the way in which the public perceived the gains of the Raman Singh government’s social sector spending. The opposition Congress embarked on its campaign with the plank of anti-incumbency but forgot to factor in that there is a perceptible link between voter choice and satisfaction with performance.The Chhattisgarh assembly election held in December 2008 saw the Raman Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government return to power with a clear majority. The incumbent BJP government confidently contested the election on the slogans of “development” and “fight against the red terror”. The BJP’s main rival, the Congress, along with its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), preferred the more usual anti- incumbency plank. The result showed that Raman Singh’s development record was able to persuade the electorate to grant him another five-year term in the state. Even the state action against the Maoists in the southern tribal tracts garnered sup-port but like in the last assembly election, theBJP had a very thin lead in terms of votes polled, though it won a comfortable majority. What makes it important is that the BJP won this election against many odds: the Congress-NCP alliance that threatened to turn the tide, widespread disturbances and violence due to the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored vigilante movement against the Naxalites, farmers’ suicides and the incumbency factor. The BJP was able to win 50 assembly seats, the same as it won in the 2003 election, with a little over 40% of the votes polled, improving its vote share by 1%. The faction-ridden Congress managed to im-prove its tally to 38, one more than what it won in 2003, and secured a little over 39% of the vote, 1% more than in 2003. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had two seats in the 2003 assembly, again wontwoseatsbut improved its vote share by around 2%. The results clearly point out that the Raman Singh government’s image among voters as a development-oriented admini-stration enabled it to counter the logic of anti-incumbency and the impact of the Congress-NCP alliance. This was strongly so among the voters in urban areas of the state. But this alone would not have given the BJP a decisive victory, carrying the Bastar region in particular and the entire Naxalite-dominated region in general. The BJP presented itself as a strong force capable of countering the Naxalite “menace”. While much of the focus of media was on the Salwa Judum areas (Konta, Bijapur and Dantewada constituencies in south Bastar), what was crucial was the areas1 outside it. This was where the BJP scored an emphatic victory, backed by Gond adivasis in the south and by non-ad-viasis in the north.A region-wise disaggregation of elec-tion results shows that the BJP swept south Chhattisgarh, winning 11 of the 13 seats in this region (Table 1, p 39). South Chhattis-garh, comprising Bastar, Kanker and Dan-tewada districts, has been the hub of the Salwa Judum,2 a government-supported initiative against the Naxalites which, though started by Congress leader Mahen-dra Karma, has enjoyed the active support of the BJP government. The BJP fared well in the tribal regions and all the rural as-sembly constituencies of the state where the Naxalite influence was strong. It man-aged to win 21 of the 30 Naxalite rural as-sembly constituencies with a vote share of more than 42%. The ruling party also cap-tured the support of urban voters, winning nine out of the 12 urban assembly seats with a vote share of more than 49%. In ru-ral areas not affected by Naxalites, the Congress did better than the BJP, winning 26 of the 48 rural seats. In neighbouring Dhananjai Joshi ( and Praveen Rai ( are at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.

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