The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained its power in the Madhya Pradesh state assembly elections held in late 2023. This was the third consecutive term for the BJP government led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The BJP was able to hold on to power due to a combination of factors including effective leadership, focus on development, organizational strength, countering anti-incumbency, managing alliance politics, and exploiting opposition weaknesses.
How BJP Held its Power in Madhya Pradesh: 2023
Effective Leadership of Shivraj Singh Chouhan
A major reason why the BJP was able to retain power was the effective leadership of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Chouhan has served as CM since 2005, making him one of the longest serving CMs of any Indian state. His popularity and mass appeal was a significant factor in the BJP’s electoral success. Chouhan cultivated the image of being a people’s CM who is accessible and focused on inclusive development. His track record on implementing welfare schemes and improving social indicators boosted the BJP’s prospects. Chouhan also managed to keep different BJP factions united and ensured better coordination between the state government and the center.
Development Plank and Delivery of Welfare Schemes
The BJP placed development at the center of its campaign. It highlighted the progress made under 15 years of Chouhan’s leadership in increasing investment, improving infrastructure, raising agricultural output, and implementing welfare schemes. For instance, the BJP claimed that under Chouhan, MP’s agricultural growth rate has been over 9% for over a decade. The government’s Bhavantar scheme to support farmers’ incomes was promoted as a major achievement. Similarly, the government’s success in building roads, improving electricity access and digital connectivity were also promoted. This focus on the developmental track record helped counter the anti-incumbency the party may have otherwise faced.
The effective delivery of welfare schemes like distribution of free food grains, scholarships, PM housing scheme benefits etc also allowed the BJP to garner electoral support. The new Ladli Behna scheme of giving financial incentives for higher education and jobs for daughters also proved popular. By ensuring that the voters positively experienced the benefits of these schemes, the BJP was able to garner votes.
Strong Organizational Network
The BJP in Madhya Pradesh has built a formidable organizational structure over the years under the leadership of Chouhan, state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma, and the RSS. The party has an active presence on the ground, down to the booth level across constituencies. This strong network of party workers helped in converting many previous narrow defeats into wins for the BJP. The organizational machinery conducted mass outreach programs like voter awareness campaigns, material distribution, political rallies etc. The party was quick to sense voter mood, responded to opposition criticism and was able to mobilize voters on election day.
Countering Anti-Incumbency Effectively
Besides depending on its development record and welfare schemes, the BJP also adopted strategies to counter anti-incumbency after being in power for three straight terms. This included adding fresh faces to candidature by replacing unpopular MLAs. 17 sitting MLAs were denied tickets. Young candidates with clean image were given prominence. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan personally addressed 142 rallies covering all assembly seats to re-energize cadres. Booth level meet and greet programs were expanded so that CM and ministers directly interacted with voters to understand issues. Local level grievances on electricity, water etc were quickly addressed to temper disconnect. A massive ground level poll machinery was deployed down to the page committees level. All this helped neutralize the anti-incumbency.
Managing Alliance Politics
An important factor in the BJP’s win was also how it managed alliance politics. Despite being in power, the BJP faced rebellion from some key leaders before the election. However, besides quelling internal dissent, Chouhan was also successful in allying with and retaining the support of most smaller parties. Despite losing the SP MLA to Congress earlier, Chouhan managed to realign with SP leader Prahlad Lodhi. The BJP retained the support of SP, BSP and rebel Congress leader Ajay Singh Rahul. MP Jana Vikas Party and Akhil Bhartiya Khangar Kshatriya Mahasabha also allied with BJP. BSP support in particular was key in denying Congress any major upswing in reserved category seats. Thus, BJP’s political management helped it contain losses.
Exploiting Congress Weakness
Finally, the downslide in MP Congress also helped BJP retain an edge. Despite winning the 2018 assembly polls, Congress failed to sustain momentum and faced an erosion of voter base in subsequent rural polls. Infighting and defections from Congress undermined its campaign. PCC Chief Kamal Nath continuing as former CM also hindered Congress strategically in attacking BJP governance record effectively. Congress poll plank of farm loan waiver and corruption allegations failed to make a major impact. The Congress also suffered from lack of alliance partners barring the Gondwana party. Ultimately, the BJP benefited electorally from the failure of Congress to get its act together as the main opposition.
In summary, the BJP managed to hold on to power for a rare fourth straight term due to an optimal strategy. CM Chouhan’s popularity, visible development delivery, wide organizational reach, masterful political management and Congress weakness aided its win. Despite anti-incumbency and rural distress in parts, the BJP prevailed due to its well-planned and multifaceted campaign centered around its governance record. The 2023 MP win establishes the BJP electorally in the state and highlights the enduring charisma of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. It remains to be seen if the Congress can recover lost ground before the next state polls.