The see-saw game between Congress and BJP for the throne in Madhya Pradesh, which lasted for more than 20 hours, resulted in a hung Assembly. The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 114 seats while the BJP finished close with 109. This happened only the second time in the electoral history of Madhya Pradesh (MP). In 1962, the Congress finished three seats short of a majority. The only man who stood like a rock between the Congress and a clear victory was three-term chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

The man, battling 15 years of natural anti-incumbency, agricultural and rural distress, anger against local MLAs, growing uneasiness about undelivered promises of central government, held the fort for the party and nearly pulled up a fourth consecutive victory. The grace with which he handled the loss became a rage on Twitter, with people across political class and leanings applauding his humility. He said a clear no to all temptations to form the government with the support of others. A section of people also compared Shivraj with Bharat Ratna Vajpayee Ji, highlighting the need of more such leaders in our political arena.

The BJP held onto almost half of its 2013 tally, snatching 30 seats from the Opposition, mainly the Congress. Similarly, the Congress held onto almost half of its 2013 tally, snatching 84 seats from Opposition, mainly the BJP, which explains it’s gharwapsi.

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According to political commentators and analysts, the BJP could have finished between 50-60 seats, had it not been for Shivraj. A journalist of a popular Hindi newspaper, after his tour, told me that the Congress could win 180 seats if there was no Shivraj. We have all seen the rout faced by Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. Both states share similar voter profiles, schemes and political dynamics. Singh was equally popular in his state. But the wind of ‘badlao’ was so strong that he couldn’t save his turf. In MP, the Shivraj factor stood tall and protected the BJP turf from strong headwinds.

The three facts below about the mandate give credence to this theory

1. Significant anti-incumbency against local MLAs / candidates

It is natural for any long-tenor government to suffer from fatigue factor. Since the representatives also have been serving for many years, anti-incumbency develops against them as well. When I travelled across the state, I saw immense love and affection for Mama. People were generally happy with him, but unhappy with many MLAs and party functionaries. Reports suggested 70-100 MLAs could be replaced. The party finally denied tickets to 43 sitting MLAs. Data suggests that only 40% of sitting MLAs won their seats, while the majority (60%) lost. 

On the contrary, 55% of new candidates won their seats. Many people who voted out the BJP’s sitting MLAs wanted Mama to return, but also to teach their representative a lesson. However, they didn’t realise that the elections could be so close. Mama travelled across the state visiting almost every constituency and through his charisma, negated much of this local level anti-incumbency; but this was just not enough. Across surveys, he was the most favoured CM candidate.

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2. BJP faced rout in its strongholds  

Malwa-Nimar, Mahakoshal and Gwalior-Chambal have been BJP strongholds for several years now. In the 2013 elections, the BJP bagged 55% of its total tally from these three regions. In 2018, the BJP suffered massive losses in Malwa and Mahakoshal, losing half of the seats, while in Gwalior it lost two third of its 2013 tally.

In Mahakoshal, the fact that Kamal Nath could be chief minister, helped Congress galvanise votes in the name of asmita. People generally want their representative to head the government. Tribals are in majority here (31%) and their displeasure over the installation of the SP Mookerjee statute instead of local hero Rani Durgawati, among other factors, also contributed to this loss. 

In Chhindwara, Kamalnath’s home constituency, the Congress bagged all the six seats. In Malwa, which houses Mandsaur, the epicenter of agri-distress, the BJP’s tally declined. The party also lost seats in Indore and Ujjain as traders were unhappy with the central government’s policy of GST and demonetisation. SC-STs account for 38% of population in this area. The Congress tie-up with JAYS, a body which fights for rights of tribals, also damaged the BJP in this region.  

In Gwalior-Chambal, which was the hotbed of forward caste agitation against SC-ST Amendment Act, the BJP suffered huge losses. This region has 28% upper caste population. The Sapaks Party, which was spearheading the movement, got more votes than the margin of Congress victory in two seats, Gwalior south and Kolaras. On Karera seat, it bagged 5% votes, damaging the prospects of the BJP.

Stories were abuzz about internal sabotage in the party, and many leaders working behind the scenes to deny Shivraj a fourth time.

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3. SC-ST ditched BJP despite amendment to Act, section of upper caste also moved away

After Dalit protests across the country in April 2018, the BJP government at the Centre brought about an amendment in the SC-ST Act to nullify the Supreme Court order. This was done in the hope that these voters who had flocked to the BJP in large numbers in 2014 elections do not drift away. 

However, the results show the contrary. The BJP had won 59 out of the 82 reserved seats in 2013, which declined by 40% to 35 in 2018. The fall was sharper (50%) in tribal seats. This central policy acted as a double whammy for the party as it also instigated a swarn andolan in the state. The regional distribution shows that not only the SC-STs but also a handful of upper caste deserted the party.

What’s next for Shivraj?

The ex-chief minister put all speculations to rest when he declared in a press conference that he will not contest the Lok Sabha elections. He will stay put in the state and work for the creation of a Samriddh Madhya Pradesh. He has extended all possible support to incoming chief minister Kamal Nath; at the same time also issuing a warning that if his government doesn’t fulfill its manifesto promises, Shivraj will hit the streets. He has announced an ‘aabhaar yatra’ to express his gratitude to the voters for showering love and affection on him. A true statesman, he is down but not out!

(Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker who is now following his passion for politics and elections. He is a political consultant and commentator who tweets @politicalbaaba. The author worked with Shivraj Singh Chouhan during his campaign.)