WITH POLLING in three states over and two more to go in the next 10 days, the campaign in this set of Assembly elections has been all about two issues – polarisation and welfare politics, with a clear divide. If polarisation seemed to be working for parties in urban areas, the discourse in the rural parts has been dominated by welfare initiatives.
The BJP, which is trying to wrest power in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, retain it in Madhya Pradesh and emerge as a significant electoral force in southern Telangana, has been as enthusiastic as other parties in promising schemes, which it earlier dismissed as “revdis” by the Opposition. (In the fifth state, Mizoram, the BJP remains a marginal figure.)
This stress on schemes is especially true of Madhya Pradesh, where his women-oriented announcements are the main hope of its four-term Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Senior Congress leader and Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar has even accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “stealing” the Congress’s idea of giving guarantees – which was one big factor in the Congress win in Karnataka.
In Chhattisgarh, where the campaign revolved around Hindutva issues on both the BJP and Congress side, the BJP unveiled several promises just four days ahead of the first phase of polling on November 7 – including cooking gas cylinders at Rs 500 for poor families, and Rs 12,000 per year financial assistance to married women. Party sources claim there has been instant positive reaction to the promises, bringing the BJP back in contention in the state.
One indication of this was the reaction of the Congress and its fully confident CM Bhupesh Baghel, who within a week of the BJP’s announcements said a Congress government would give Rs 15,000 a year to all women if voted back to power.
The BJP has the Karnataka example before it, where its campaign constantly talking of Bajrang Bali could not hold back the Congress momentum, which rode on its poll guarantees, including taking action against divisive outfits.
BJP leaders say their calculation is that the party’s last-mile aggressive campaign, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took away JD(S) votes rather than the Congress’s.
Not that Hindutva issues have been off the table this time. Addressing a rally in Raghogarh, Madhya Pradesh, recently, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said: “Do you want to have darshan of Ram Lalla or not?… You don’t worry about the expenses. Vote for the BJP and the party government will help you have darshan of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya free.”
In Chhattisgarh, he talked of how the state was “Lord Ram’s maternal home”, with Kaushalya believed to have been born there. Shah kept reminding that PM Modi will inaugurate the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, and said the BJP would introduce a Ram Lalla Darshan Yojana if it comes to power in the state.
The Baghel government has a Ram Van Gaman Path project, tracing the route Ram is said to have taken in exile.
In Rajasthan, the BJP has promised LPG cylinders at Rs 450 and free Scooty for meritorious Class 12 girls. Under the Lado Protsahan Yojana, the government has said a BJP government would set up a savings bond of Rs 2 lakh for a girl child.
In Telangana too, the BJP has promised free travel to Ayodhya.
In Madhya Pradesh too, the Congress’s undeclared CM candidate Kamal Nath has been walking the Hindutva thin line, to deny the BJP any advantage on the issue. Kamal Nath, who also announced a Ram Van Gaman Path project that later got stalled when his government fell, said that if voted to power, the Congress will ensure that a project to construct a Sita temple in Sri Lanka is revived.
With the Congress showing willingness to engage with the Hindutva issue, mixed with its welfare politics, the BJP has been forced to follow suit. Before the current round of Assembly elections, the party promised free LPG cylinders for women in BPL families, and Rs 25,000 for pregnant women etc in Himachal Pradesh. Ahead of the Gujarat elections, the Centre announced two free LPG cylinders under the PM’s Ujjawala Scheme.
It has tried to differentiate these from the Congress’s promises, claiming that its schemes are meant to “empower” women.
But, BJP insiders admit: “Karnataka proved that guarantee schemes can sway votes… With economic issues increasingly taking the centrestage in elections, welfare politics and freebies are here to stay… Plus, in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where more than 90% of the population is Hindu, communal polarisation has its limits.”
A leader added that the trend of such schemes may continue. “Hindutva issues may have some impact on a small section of the population, that too in urban or semi-urban areas. With price rise and unemployment back in the electoral politics discourse, the BJP cannot be seen as hesitant to announce popular sops even in the Lok Sabha elections.”