Assembly polls: Cong latching onto anti-incumbency

Three-states, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, are going to polls this year

Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee president Kamal Nath addresses a press conference at state party headquarters in Bhopal on August 28, 2018. PTI

Anti-incumbency against BJP chief ministers is the common thread to which the Congress is latching on to come back to power in three-states, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, which are going to polls this year.

In MP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is chief minister for three consecutive terms and the Congress is hoping to gain by the fatigue factor. Congress leadership has been able to bring some semblance of order in the divided state party unit and the troika of Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath is trying to pull up a joint show, papering over differences.

While Chouhan has an ‘accessible to all’ image, the Congress is trying to pin him down on planks of farm distress and corruption. Party leader Kamal Nath has been named the state chief under compromise formulae. Digvijay is in the deep background while Scindia has yet again been named the Congress Campaign Committee chairman.

The vote gap between the BJP and the Congress was 8% in 2013, 2% more of what BJP had got in the earlier elections of 2008 and 2003.

While there is a problem of plenty (of faces) in Madhya Pradesh for the Congress, the grand old party's real crisis is in Chhattisgarh, where there is a void in leadership. This void is due to the Maoist ambush in Darbha valley of Bastar in 2013 that wiped out almost the entire state party leadership including Salwa Judum architect Mahendra Karma, party state chief Nand Kumar Patel and Congress veteran V C Shukla.

Ajit Jogi, once Congress’ most well-known face in the state, quit the party in 2016 and founded a new outfit. While he says the Congress is “irrelevant” now in the state, Congress leaders claim Jogi leaving the party was a “good riddance”.

Chhattisgarh, which was carved out of MP in 2000, has not seen a Congress government since. BJP’s Raman Singh has since then been the chief minister for three consecutive terms.

Much will depend this time on whether Jogi succeeds in emerging as a third player in the tribal state’s politics and which side he tilts. The Congress is trying to offset the damage by forging an alliance with Mayawati’s BSP to consolidate Dalit votes.

In the 2013 Assembly polls, the difference between votes secured by the BJP and the Congress was a mere 0.75%.

The long spell of drought has added to the BJPs’ woes, which is though hopeful of gains because of sops like cheap rice scheme by Raman, who has earned the acronym of ‘Chawal Wale Baba” in the state’s rural hinterland.

In Rajasthan, party leader Vasundhara Raje riding on the Modi wave romped home in 2013 winning a massive 163 seats, more than double of the 78 seats her party had secured in 2008 Assembly polls. The Congress, which had come to power in 2008 with 96 seats, was reduced to a mere 21 in the last polls.

Raje is the BJP face while the choice in Congress is divided between former CM Ashok Gehlot and state party chief Sachin Pilot. Besides farm distress issue, BJP this time also faces the anger of Rajputs and Gujjars, the two communities which in past strongly backed the BJP.

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Assembly polls: Cong latching onto anti-incumbency

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