Sheila Dikshit in Delhi on Sunday. (Ramakant Kushwaha)
New Delhi, Dec. 8: One puzzling aspect of today’s Assembly poll results lies in the way anti-incumbency worked.
It reduced the Congress’s Rajasthan and Delhi governments to rubble but spared the BJP dispensations in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
If anything, Shivraj Singh Chouhan stepped into his third term in Madhya Pradesh fortified by 20 extra seats compared to his 2008 tally. Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh scored one less than his previous count.
So why did anti-incumbency stop at the Congress’s door and not invade the BJP’s gates?
“Our chief ministers faced a double whammy,” a Congress source said, suggesting the Centre’s unpopularity had rubbed off on the party’s state governments.
“Both Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot were saddled with the drawbacks the Centre suffers from: corruption scandals, price rise, an image crisis. On top of that, the Delhi government failed to live down the Commonwealth Games (corruption) stigma.”
The BJP took advantage, clubbing the UPA’s failures with those of the Delhi and Rajasthan governments.
“So each time Gehlot tried to hard sell his pro-poor schemes, people promptly asked, ‘But what about the shooting prices of onions and potatoes’?” the Congress source said.
Several beneficiaries of Gehlot’s flagship scheme of free medicines and health care in state hospitals backed this up. They had other grouses as well, such as the quality of the free drugs provided.
Even when these states had voted in 2008, the BJP had tried to connect national and state issues, particularly the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in late November that year. But that attempt flopped.
A BJP leader admitted that the voters had then seen the anti-UPA grandstanding by L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi, just days after the siege of Mumbai, as “petty” and “destructive”.
This time, the jury is out whether a more credible UPA could have helped Dikshit and Gehlot stave off the disenchantment with their rule.
In Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh had started off with a disadvantage because of his government’s failure to stem the murderous Maoist attack on Congress leaders in May.
“The chief minister’s development yatra was rolling all over the state under heavy security while he had left the Congress vulnerable,” a BJP source conceded.
“When he initially expressed sympathy for the families of the dead, people asked, ‘But why could you not provide security to the Congress leaders?’ He had no answer.”
The BJP had reconciled itself to losing a chunk of its seats in Bastar but Raman, sources said, thought on his feet and focused on places outside the region where the party had fared indifferently last time. He won over his critics, reworked caste equations and directed the administration to unleash his food security and other schemes with renewed vigour.
Raman realised that his food scheme, which has earned him the nickname “Chawal Baba”, might not yield the electoral dividends it had in 2008, state BJP sources said. So he concentrated on wooing women voters by evolving schemes to empower them.
He gave the women, and not the male members of their households, the statutory rights over holding and using ration cards. He formed all-women village committees to oversee the distribution of supplies under the food security law.
Chouhan’s recipe was “constant contact” with the people. A man Madhya Pradesh journalists accuse of refusing to take questions at news conferences met ordinary people in his chief minister’s bungalow and toured the countryside to talk to villagers.
For a time, Chouhan had pandered to his national ambitions by periodically positioning himself as Narendra Modi’s competitor. But once anti-incumbency threatened to catch up with him at home, where his ministers and MLAs were embroiled in serious graft charges, Chouhan abandoned his Delhi dreams and focused on Bhopal.
Unlike the Congress, where Dikshit and Gehlot were forced to waste time and energy fighting off intra-party adversaries, the BJP closely guarded Chouhan’s and Raman’s flanks. Both had their share of enemies within their cabinets and the party, but the diktat from the Sangh was clear: the organisation would work for their victory, and no dissidence would be tolerated. The order was implemented in letter and spirit.