Madhya Pradesh and 70 assembly constituencies in Chhattisgarh are headed for the polling booths today. Both the states are largely bipolar polities with the BJP and the Congress dominating electoral politics here for decades now. There are smaller parties with pockets of influences which may assume clout if the outcomes on December 3 are not conclusive. These elections are crucial for Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the longest-serving CM of the BJP, and his rival, Kamal Nath, as well as incumbent CM Bhupesh Baghel and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. Chouhan has campaigned hard despite his party’s reluctance to project him as its CM face. It is his long record in office that is on trial, and he needs an emphatic win to further his legacy in state politics.
However, with general elections around the corner, both the BJP and the Congress have a lot more at stake in MP and Chhattisgarh.
For the BJP, regaining Chhattisgarh and retaining MP is essential to broadcast the message that it is invincible in the Hindi heartland, that the Karnataka loss earlier this year was an aberration and that the party has fireproofed itself from anti-incumbency. This is all the more important because the BJP has sought votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the PM leading the campaign and underwriting the party’s welfare promises as his guarantees. A defeat would be more than just an electoral loss for the party. The Congress is desperate to win both the states to signal to its INDIA allies that the party counts in northern India. It won a narrow mandate in MP in 2018 but could not hold the party together and complete a full term. Chhattisgarh has been its showpiece state where welfarism and its current fascination for OBC politics have gelled well. In both Chhattisgarh and MP, the Congress outreach to voters projected the local leadership — Nath in MP and incumbent CM Baghel in Chhattisgarh. This tactic, an admission of the limited vote-catching abilities of the party’s central leaders, worked to its advantage in Karnataka. The outcomes in these two states are likely to influence the tactics both parties are likely to adopt for the general election campaign: On test are the BJP’s attempts to woo the tribal vote and the Congress’s new avatar as an OBC-friendly outfit.
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