The Karnataka assembly results have firmed up the Madhya Pradesh Congress leadership’s resolve to join hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party before the assembly poll in the state due in November. The Congress has learnt useful lessons from the fractured mandate in the southern state, which could have been a clear majority for the alliance had the Congress and JD(S) entered into a pre-election pact. That the two parties still managed to cobble together a post-poll alliance to form a rag-tag government is a matter of poor consolation for the party.
Like JD(S) in Karnataka, the BSP could prove to be a spoiler for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, unless they agree on seat-sharing before the elections.
Statistics of the 2013 assembly elections, however, indicate that the ruling BJP has an edge over the combined strength of the Congress and BSP. The BSP polled 6.29% votes, Congress polled 36.38% while BJP 44.88%. The BSP won four seats and was number two or three in 29 seats. Congress had to be content with 58 seats in the 230-strong Assembly.
But Congress leaders say numbers don’t tell the ground reality. The 2% gap in the previous poll makes no sense today. The BJP is facing strong anti-incumbency of 15 years’ rule which could translate into the ruling party losing as high as 8% votes in the coming election, the party estimates.
Anti-incumbency against the BJP is indeed very strong but Congress is not the only party likely to benefit from it. The BSP has consolidated its base in districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh such as Bhind, Morena in the Chambal as well as Rewa and Satna in the Vindhya region.
In other districts too, the party has its cadre base which, though not very strong, can mar the Congress’s chances. The BSP is banking on the Dalit angst against BJP to increase its vote and seat share. In April, Bhind and Morena districts witnessed violent Dalit agitation which resulted in killing of eight persons in police firing.
Scheduled Castes, which comprise 21% of the state’s population, have 37 seats reserved for them. The BJP won 25 of them in the previous polls, primarily due to the fact that the Congress and BSP contested separately. When the BSP opted out of the electoral race in Chitrakoot (Satna) and Ater (Bhind) assembly by-elections in 2017, the Congress defeated the BJP by a significant margin.
The twin victories convinced the Congress that reaching out to the BSP was imperative to prevent the BJP from winning Madhya Pradesh a fourth time in a row. Congress is also holding discussions with other like-minded parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP), a political outfit of the tribals having 47 seats reserved for them.
Samajwadi Party is a fringe player in Madhya Pradesh, mainly confined to Bhind and Morena districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh. But it has chipped away enough votes in successive elections in the last two decades to harm the Congress in at least a dozen seats.
Congress sources say the party might be inclined to offer 25 to 30 seats to the BSP and five to the SP. However, formal discussion with either BSP supremo Mayawati or SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is yet to begin.
“We are holding discussions with everybody. The BJP wins because of fragmentation of the opposition votes and that will be stopped. The pre-poll arrangement will not just be based on arithmetic. It will be arithmetic plus politics,” says Congress leader Kamal Nath.
The MPCC chief has also realised that Congress cannot negotiate with other parties from a position of strength unless it first sets its own house in order. The party’s state headquarters in the Shivaji Nagar area of Bhopal today looks livelier and swankier than it used to even when the party was in power in the state till 2003. Within weeks of assuming office, Nath has got it buzzing like a corporate workplace.
The businessman-politician has brought in other changes, too, and they are not merely cosmetic. The office hosts regular meetings of Congress workers from across the state; media briefings have become more business-like; a large number of spokespersons and TV panelists have been drafted in; new office-bearers in their respective rooms earnestly attend to calls and papers received from party workers from all corners of the state, and, most importantly, no one in the office cribs about resource crunch that used to plague its functioning before.
The Dabra spirit
At the organisation level, the Congress has taken some swift and drastic decisions to try and remove the perception that its state unit is too faction-ridden and dormant to take on the BJP.
In a rare show of unity, each of the top leaders has expressed happiness with the task he is entrusted with. Jyotiraditya Scindia has been made chief of the campaign committee; former chief minister Digvijaya Singh is tasked with heading coordination among all committees and Suresh Pachouri is head of the election management panel. Old guards, who were sitting idle all these years, have been accommodated in various committees to make them feel a part of the campaign to oust the BJP. Appointments of district Congress chiefs, which was hanging fire for years, have been made. All offices of the Congress, from the block level up are abuzz with activity.
A senior Congress leader says he is seeing the revival of the ‘Dabra spirit’ in the party. Dabra is a small town, 45 km north of Gwalior, where the late Madhavrao Scindia had hosted a conclave of senior Congress leaders in the run up to the 1993 assembly election in Madhya Pradesh.
The leaders had then vowed to bury the hatchet for the sake of the party’s victory. The show of unity paid off as the Congress won the assembly poll. Since then, Dabra has become a metaphor for unity in the state unit.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bhopal)