Diggying Their Own Grave

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Catch them young Shivraj Singh Chouhan was successful in wooing the youth and new voters
Catch them young Shivraj Singh Chouhan was successful in wooing the youth and new voters

The routine has become so boring that calling it déjà vu is itself boring. For the third straight Assembly election, the BJP, led by the unassuming Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has decimated the Congress to retain power in Madhya Pradesh.

Once again, the blame has been laid at the feet of former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, whose reign from 1993 to 2003 has become the BJP’s lucky charm. Every time the ruling party’s boat rocks a little, all they have to do is pull out Digvijaya’s photograph and scare the electorate. After the election results, it’s always the turn of the Congressmen, who collectively exhale their bad temper on the veteran leader.

Congress spokesman and Rajya Sabha member Satyavrat Chaturvedi, whose brother Vijay lost from his home base in Chattarpur, minces no words. “We lost due to Digvijaya’s habit of manipulating people and hatching conspiracies,” says Chaturvedi.

Former Union minister Suresh Pachauri, who lost by a whopping 20,000 votes in his first attempt at contesting an Assembly election after 24 years in the Rajya Sabha, echoes similar feelings against the “Thakur syndrome that grips the party in MP”.

The Congress’ ‘Mr Bantadhar’ continues to be the whipping boy for his past sins, though his 26-year-old son Jaivardhan Singh will sit in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly for the first time after winning handsomely from his home borough of Raghogarh.

But Digvijaya is only half the story. What is even more boring is the Congress leaders’ constant refrain that everything other than their own inactivity has cost the party dear.

“What has the Congress done in the past 10 years to deserve our vote?” asks 19-year-old Ganga Ureti, a student from Bhopal who voted for the first time. “In all this time, they have not even launched one sustained agitation against corruption in the state.”

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She is obviously hinting at the alleged corruption in the education system, the multiple scams in the service commissions and the numerous scholarship schemes.

The alleged Rs 5,000 crore scam in the selection of medical and engineering students through the state Professional Examination Board could have provided enough ammunition for the Congress to nail the youth vote. But, instead of agitating against the scams, the Congress leaders were reportedly hand-in-glove with the scamsters. Home Minister Umashankar Gupta should have lost badly from Bhopal South-West, but won because of the extremely poor reputation of his Congress rival Sanjeev Saxena, who has now been named in the same scam along with some notorious BJP party leaders.

For the local Congress leaders, blaming party vice-president Rahul Gandhi is the next most fashionable thing to do. But Rahul’s ‘formula’ of seat allocation was demolished by the satraps, who divided the ticket distribution among themselves. Each tenet of the supposed ‘formula’, which prescribed that tainted candidates should be avoided in favour of newer, brighter and educated ones, fell on deaf ears. The result: 42 of the 66 sitting Congress MLAs lost.

In comparison, the BJP played it smart. The party denied tickets to 43 of its 143 MLAs in the outgoing Assembly. Of the remaining 100, 36, including 10 ministers, still lost. The message: people prefer newer, fresher and untainted faces. Perhaps the most glaringly obvious message from the Aam Aadmi Party’s success in Delhi.

Meanwhile, the analysis and accolades for Chouhan’s success abound. The BJP’s vote share (45 percent) has improved beyond what it was in 2003 (43.7 percent), when the party won 168 seats under Uma Bharti, though the number of seats won this time is 165. This, after a record voting of 75 percent with 80 lakh new voters.

The BJP had its game plan ready for each segment, but especially targeted the youth and new voters. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of new voters put their faith in the BJP. This could be for various reasons, including the appeal of Narendra Modi and Chouhan, though thin crowds at their rallies gave no indication of this and, in turn, actually enthused Congressmen. There are others who believe that rising prices and corruption have alienated voters, and perhaps rightly so.

But if you ask NP Prajapati, the chief whip of the Congress in the outgoing Assembly, who lost by a whisker in Narsinghpur district, it’s the UID scheme. “The hurried implementation of cash transfer scheme without providing UID cards cost me dear,” he says.

Eleven districts in Madhya Pradesh were chosen for the implementation of the much touted cash transfer scheme. However, the beneficiaries were highly dissatisfied with the UID cards not getting made and bureaucratic delays in the money actually landing in their account. In the meantime, they had to pay the full amount for gas cylinders. The difference of Rs 400 in subsidy is supposed to land in their account, but somehow it does not in most places in the state.

Compare this with the meticulous planning with which the BJP has distributed ration and BPL cards. It was completed much before the free rice and dal schemes were brought in. Nandan Nilekani take note.

A buoyed BJP is treating this mandate as a ‘semi-final’ victory. The focus has already shifted to garnering as many seats as possible in next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

“We will send the most number of MPs this time,” says Chouhan, who may derive double benefit from this. If he manages to send at least 25 MPs out of the 29 possible, he may also have an edge over other claimants should BJP’s PM candidate Modi be shunned by prospective allies. He is already spoken of as a possible candidate. He smartly chose to thank LK Advani above all in his acceptance speeches after the landslide victory.

What is the lesson for the Congress? First and foremost, the Grand Old Party should junk its so-called established leaders and satraps. They do nothing for the party except flex muscles, fabricate elaborate conspiracies and burden newcomers with their baggage.

The clearest indication for Rahul should be the voting percentages. Despite the party’s inactivity, its vote share in the state has grown steadily from 32 percent in 2003 to 37 percent this year. In the same period, the BJP’s share has fluctuated wildly from 32 percent in 1998 to 42 in 2003 to 38 in 2008 to 45 now. It only means there are still at least 35 percent people who agree with the Congress ideology with or without its satraps, or more accurately, despite them. It’s now a question of building on that base just as the BJP has done.

Why has it still failed to take advantage of this? Simply because the satraps don’t let go of their pocket boroughs easily. Rahul has to sort that out or see the BJP improve its tally in all bipolar contests in states such as MP and Chhattisgarh. And where a third party enters the fray, the first one to wither is the Congress, like it happened in Delhi.

letters@tehelka.com

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