National issues and leadership cannot be relegated totally to the sidelines in assembly elections, even though it is not possible to win state elections without strong regional leaders. What is clear from the election results of the MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana is that welfare schemes, which often draw strong criticism from certain commentators, strike a chord with the voter. All political outfits have also begun to focus on welfare schemes specifically targeted at women.
The results of the assembly elections held in four states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Rajasthan— were announced on December 3, 2023 (The results of the Mizoram assembly elections were announced on December 4, 2023, wherein Zoram’s People Movement has attained a majority with 27 seats in an Assembly of 40).
While the BJP won the three Hindi heartland states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – the Indian National Congress (INC) won the Southern Indian state of Telangana. A few points emerged very clearly from the verdict.
First, it is true that national issues and leadership cannot be relegated totally to the sidelines even in assembly elections. Secondly, it is not possible to win state elections without strong regional leaders. This was evident from the result of Madhya Pradesh (MP) where the BJP secured a comfortable 2/3rd majority (winning 164 of the 230 assembly seats). Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a four-time Chief Minister of the state, was not the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the election campaign. In fact, there were murmurs that Chouhan would be replaced if the BJP were to retain power. Chouhan himself was very guarded about leading the state in case the BJP were to win.
In the end, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s connect with the voters played an important role in propelling the BJP to a win, though one cannot ignore the Prime Minister Modi’s campaign in MP (he addressed fourteen rallies). While welfare schemes are often mocked by commentators, some of the programmes played an important role in the BJP’s triumph in Madhya Pradesh. One of the important schemes of the BJP government in MP was the ‘laadli behna scheme’, under which Rs. 1250 was credited to women from poor families. This scheme has supposed to have struck a chord with the women voters of the state. While the Congress had promised Rs 1500 per month, the BJP pointed to the failure of the Kamal Nath-led Congress government (December 2018-March 2020) being unable to fulfil welfare promises.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan while lauding PM Narendra Modi’s also referred to the successful implementation of central schemes. Said Chouhan: “…the double-engine government properly implemented the schemes of the Central Government and the schemes that were formed here also touched people’s hearts”
PM Narendra Modi during his campaign also spoke about the success of the welfare schemes and the party used the term “Modi ki guarantee”. It would be pertinent to point out, that in November 2023, Modi had announced a five year extension of the scheme — Pradhan Mantri Gariba Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) – providing free ration to 80 crore poor people of the country under the NFSA regime. While campaigning in Madhya Pradesh, Modi announced the PM Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) Development Mission for the welfare of tribal groups.
In Rajasthan too, where the BJP returned to power winning 115 of the 198 assembly seats, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia was not projected as the party’s Chief Ministerial face nor given any hints that she would lead the party. Towards the end of the electoral campaign, Scindia did campaign actively for the party and sought to focus on women’s issues.
The Congress outlier of Telangana
In the Southern Indian state of Telangana — where INC won 64 of the 119 assembly seats — Revanth Reddy was the face. Reddy was part of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) earlier and, in 2021, was appointed as Telangana Congress Chief. Reddy led an energetic campaign and was able to wean away several leaders from the incumbent Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) which the Congress defeated in the elections. The Congress had also announced several welfare schemes. One of them – Mahalaxmi – was specifically targeted at women. This scheme includes Rs. 2500 monthly assistance for women, gas cylinders at Rs. 500 and free travel on state run buses.
Impact of the results on the 2024 general elections
The BJP wins in the Hindi heartland will put it in pole position for the 2024 polls. Congress’ win in Telangana could help it to improve its tally in Southern India — in May 2023, Congress had wrested Karnataka from the BJP. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana account for 82 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP had won 66 of these. The INC had won 6 of these seats. While the Congress could make some gains in Telangana, any significant gains in the Hindi heartland states is not impossible, but certainly is an uphill task.
In conclusion, the BJP has a clear edge as far as the 2024 elections are concerned. What is clear from the election results of the four states is that welfare schemes, which often draw strong criticism from certain commentators strike a chord with the voter. All political outfits have also begun to focus on welfare schemes specifically targeted at women.
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