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In the lotus vs hand battle, the elephant’s weight may scuttle the scales

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In this closely fought election, any party eating into its vote-share could end up dampening the Congress’ prospects.

Morena, Dimani, Sumawali, Joura: As one drives into the district of Morena in north Madhya Pradesh, at the heart of the once dacoit country in Chambal division, the usual colours of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that define this election —  green, white and saffron —  have company: dark blue.

Flags and hoardings of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) dominate the landscape as much as those of the state’s two key parties.

This is one of the regions where the BSP has a sizeable presence. In fact, two of its four MLAs in the outgoing Madhya Pradesh assembly are from Morena district — representing Dimani and Ambah seats.

Of the six seats in the district, the BSP won two and the BJP took the rest in the last elections. The BSP, however, managed to beat the Congress and finish second in two of the seats and ended up third in the other two.

It is the BSP’s presence and significant vote-share here that pushed the Congress down in the final tally, with Mayawati’s party eating into some of its voter base, particularly Dalits and the minority community.

In an election as closely contested as this, where perhaps every single seat matters, a party eating into its vote-share — even if in limited areas — is something that can dampen the Congress’ prospects, unless the mood in its favour is so overwhelming that it overpowers all other factors.

And thus, the fact that an alliance with the BSP fell through, with these parties contesting separately now, can prove to be a bit of a thorn in the Congress’ path.

Also read: Shivraj Chouhan’s Madhya Pradesh shows the more the Indian farmer grows, the angrier he is

The BSP’s numbers

In the past 15-odd years, the BSP has managed to create a base for itself in these regions, at the cost of the Congress. In the 2013 assembly polls, when it won four seats, the BSP had a vote-share of 6.3 per cent. This, however, was lower than its vote-share in the previous two assembly elections — 7.3 per cent in 2003 and 9 per cent in 2008.

“In the Chambal region, it (BSP) got 13.7 per cent, 20.4 per cent and 15.6 per cent of the vote share in the 2003, 2008 and 2013 Assembly elections, respectively. In the Vindhya Pradesh region, its vote share remained at 14.3 per cent, 14.7 per cent and 12.0 per cent in these elections, respectively,” writes Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), in The Hindu.   “All the Assembly seats that the BSP won (two in 2003, seven in 2008 and four in 2014) came from these two regions. Surveys indicate that the BSP may not have been able to expand its support base in the other regions of MP but its vote share seems to have remained intact in these regions, which would be disadvantageous to the Congress.”

Take the seat of Sumaoli in Morena district, for instance, where the BSP beat the Congress to the second position in the 2014 assembly elections. The BSP had 30.7 per cent of the vote-share and did enough to put off the Congress chances. The Congress managed 26.6 per cent while the BJP won the seat with 39.8 per cent of the vote-share

In the main Morena seat — where the BSP came second by a thin margin — the vote-shares of the BJP, BSP and Congress were 40.2 per cent, 39 per cent and 15.5 per cent respectively, with the BSP clearly steadily gaining here at the expense of the Congress.

Also read: Congress nears power in Madhya Pradesh, but not quite there yet

‘Congress ko nuksaan hota hai

Voters in the region, meanwhile, appear to recognise this phenomenon.

“It is a three-cornered fight here, between the BJP, BSP and Congress. This is one of the seats where BSP is strong. In fact, it has a presence in the whole district,” says Vivek Garg, a voter in Morena who works at an automobile company. “Wherever it has a presence, it eats into the Congress voter-base, mainly of the Dalit samaaj.”

Nitin Sikarwal of Sumaoli says people are “looking for change” this time, but often, this translates into “change at their own constituency level”. “People are saying change,” he says.  “Now who knows whether by change they mean their own MLA. In that case, they may also opt for BSP and not the Congress in areas where the former is strong. In any case, BSP cuts into the Congress vote-bank.”

Several voters say an alliance would have meant a consolidation of votes behind it, thus preventing a split between the two.

“If BSP was not contesting from here, the Congress would have 100 per cent won this seat. Similarly for the BSP, if the Congress was with it. Jahan BSP mazboot hai aur  khadi hoti hai, Congress ki sthiti dagmaga jaati hai (Where the BSP is strong and it contests, the Congress starts to wobble),” says Devendra Tomar of Dimani.

Some voters explain how caste dynamics play a big role in giving the BSP that extra push. If the election ends up becoming about jaativaad, then the BSP has the potential to gain in areas where it is present, they say.

“We want the Congress this time since we want change. Our MLA is from BSP and the government is the BJP’s. We would like to change both,” says Ramprakash Prajapati of Kheda Mewda village that falls in the Dimani assembly constituency. “The BSP, however, has a dedicated vote-bank and if the elections become about jaativaad (caste), all of its core votes will consolidate behind it, leaving the Congress to suffer.”

Ravindra Tomar of Joura, meanwhile, has a pithy way of explaining the BSP’s impact on the Congress’ fortunes in areas where it has a significant presence. “Do ki taaqat ek se zyada hoti hai. Agar do alag lag ho jaye, toh ek doosre se hi ladenge aur khatam karenge, aur teesra aaram se nikal jayega (The power of two is more than that of one. If the two are not together, they will fight against one another and finish each other, while the third will sail through,” he says.

BSP workers also admit it is the Congress whose votes the party eats into the most, something they say even Congress workers on the ground fear. “Whether we want to defeat the BJP or Congress, fact is it is the latter’s vote we cut into here, and even Congress workers have a fear since they know our contesting is a something that affects them more than BJP,” says Ram Naresh Sikarwal, a BSP karyakarta, who has been with the party for 15 years now, in Morena.

With the election not an easily predictable one this time around, the Congress’ fortunes hinge on several factors that can be its make or break. Whether the elephant can help give the lotus a much-needed edge over the hand is one of the big questions of the 2018 Madhya Pradesh elections.

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  1. Singly in MP and in alliance with Shri Ajit Jogi in Chhatisgarh, Ms Mayawati is deliberately acting as a spoiler. It must be some compelling reason, for she will end up empty handed. She may not tie up with the SP in UP if the pressure is inexorable. In both states, if voters want continuity, they will vote BJP, Congress if they desire change. Not knowingly waste their votes.

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