From 58 seats in 2013 to 114 seats in 2018, the Congress made a giant leap in Madhya Pradesh, as the final tally of the Assembly elections emerged on Wednesday morning. Most of these seats came from regions where the party had performed poorly in the last elections: Chambal, Mahakoshal and Malwa-Nimar. This is the sole reason why the Congress finished just two seats shy of the majority mark of 116 in the 230-strong Assembly.

The Congress won 26 of the 34 seats in Chambal, vastly improving on its 2013 tally of 12. Similarly, it won 24 of the 38 seats in Mahakoshal, against 13 the last time round. And it ended with 35 of the 66 seats in Malwa-Nimar, where it had managed to win just eight seats in 2013.

In all, of the 138 seats from these regions, the party won 85 seats – a jump of more than 50 from its previous tally of 33.

Gwalior in Chambal is Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia’s home turf while the party’s state president Kamal Nath hails from Mahakoshal. Political watchers said it was the popularity of the two leaders that helped the Congress sweep these regions. They attributed the party’s performance in the Malwa-Nimar tribal belt to strong anti-Bharatiya Janata Party sentiment.

For the BJP – which despite winning 109 seats found itself out of power after 15 years at the helm – its failure to repeat its 2013 performance in these regions was the difference between victory and defeat. According to Election Commission data, the party won seven seats in Chambal against 20 seats five years ago, 13 seats in Mahakoshal against 24 previously, and 28 seats in Malwa-Nimar against 56 in 2013. In all, the BJP won 48 of the 138 seats in the three regions, down from 100 seats in 2013.

Two other regions of the state – Bundelkhand and Central Madhya Pradesh – also saw the Congress improve its tally. The party won 10 of 26 seats in Bundelkhand and 13 of 36 seats in Central Madhya Pradesh. In the previous elections, the party had won six seats in Bundelkhand and five in Central Madhya Pradesh.

Vindhya was the only region in Madhya Pradesh where the BJP outperformed the Congress. The saffron party won 24 of 30 seats here against 16 in 2013. The Congress was reduced to six seats from 12.

The Congress improved its tally in five of Madhya Pradesh's six regions. (Credit: IANS)

A close fight

While data analysts try to figure out the exact reasons for the surge in support for the Congress in five regions and the dip in its popularity in Vindhya, they are not convinced that an anti-incumbency wave and anger against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government are the chief factors behind the results.

“If these were the factors, how do you justify the BJP crossing the three-figure mark and making it such a close contest?” asked Bhopal-based political analyst Girija Shanker. “How do you justify the BJP winning in Mandsaur and Ratlam? The results were not like that of Chhattisgarh, where the chief minister had become unpopular among people.”

According to him, mismanagement in ticket distribution and vote bank erosion are the real reasons for the BJP’s poor performance. He also held BJP national president Amit Shah’s strategy at fault, pointing out that an exhausting election campaign and endless party meetings had caused fatigue not only among leaders but also workers. “The central leadership misled Chouhan by claiming that BJP has one crore members in the state,” he said. “If the party had these many members, why didn’t it reflect in the results? How is it possible that despite remaining the most popular choice for chief minister, Chouhan lost in such a close contest?”

Shanker explained that people who benefited from Chouhan’s schemes voted for him irrespective of caste and creed. “But there were others who liked Chouhan but disliked the party,” he added. “They are the ones who voted against them. The BJP should introspect and look deeply into the reasons for its failure to win. In Vindhya, they fielded fresh faces on a lot of seats and the results are for everyone to see.”

APS Chouhan, who heads the political science department at Jiwaji University in Gwalior, agreed. Lauding Chouhan for a spirited performance, he said the former chief minister’s enduring popularity had made such a close contest possible. “However, people were not so convinced with the performance of their MLAs,” he added.

YS Sisodia, who teaches at the Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research in Ujjain, also blamed the BJP’s ticket distribution strategy for its defeat. He pointed out that 57 sitting MLAs, including 13 ministers, lost because of strong anti-incumbency sentiment against them. “The party should have given a chance to new faces and the results could have been different,” he said.

Tribal belt

Nearly every exit poll predicted a photo finish to the Madhya Pradesh elections but none of them guessed it would be quite so close. Many political analysts said it was Malwa-Nimar that turned the tide for the Congress, which added 27 seats to its 2013 tally here. Sisodia pointed out that the Malwa region has a large Adivasi population that had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in 2013. However, they had since become disillusioned with the party. “Tribal outfits like Jai Adivasi Yuva Sangathan and others had been mobilising youth against the BJP for the last four years and it finally paid off,” he added.

Many experts said the controversy over the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, though, did not have the impact it was expected to on these elections. In August, the Central government had moved to restore the Act that had allegedly been diluted by the Supreme Court. Its decision was guided by violent Dalit protests on April 2. But it led to counter protests by upper-caste groups in Madhya Pradesh. It also gave rise to the Sapaks Samaj Party, which claimed to have the support of upper caste, Other Backward Classes and minority voters in the state. But the anti-reservation party failed to live up to hype and made no impact on the elections, reflected in its vote share of 0.4%.

“If the April 2 violence had any impact, BJP wouldn’t have performed so well in upper-caste dominated Vindhya region,” said Shanker. “So, this was not the factor in these elections.”

Congress did it right

As for the Congress, it kept its internal differences under control and stayed focused on matters concerning the common man, said Shanker.

“The Congress troika buried their differences and considering they had nothing to lose, put all their energy in the campaign,” he said, referring to Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh. “Moreover, their ticket distribution was far better than that of the BJP,” he added.

The major takeaway from this election, according to Shanker, is how the Congress closed the gap with the BJP on vote share. “In 2013, the difference in vote share between the two parties was nearly 8% while it has come down to 0.1% in 2018,” he said. “This led to such a close contest.”