Bhopal: The BJP’s determined bid to stretch its almost uninterrupted 20-year rule, and the Congress’ all out pitch to wrest control of the geographically-large Hindi heartland state, sums up battleground Madhya Pradesh which goes to the hustings on Friday.
Madhya Pradesh – which has been under saffron rule since 2003 barring a Congress interregnum – is all set for single-phase polling on Friday in all its 230 Assembly constituencies.
Going by the psephologists, it could be a close call. However, both the principal combatants claim the voters would side with them decisively.
In the 2018 election, the Congress emerged as the single-largest entity with 114 seats and constituted a coalition government that proved to be short-lived owing to the exit in March 2020 of MLAs loyal to then Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, who revolted and the BJP formed a dispensation again.
Later that year, most of the Scindia supporters won on BJP tickets in by-polls.
Needless to say, victory is a prestige issue for the saffron camp even as the Congress is ranging for revenge.
The outcome shall also be a reflection of the voters’ mood vis-à-vis the all-important general election scheduled in 2024. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had a clean sweep barring Congress stalwart Kamal Nath’s traditional bastion Chhindwara, from where he s son Nakul Nath won. It remains to be seen how far the personal charisma and populist schemes of Shivraj Singh Chouhan – the longest-serving BJP Chief Minister ever – influences the electorate’s psyche or an anti-incumbency factor comes into play.
The election canpaign also brought out fissures on the newly formed I.N.D.I.A alliance of the anti-BJP parties, with the Samajwadi Party taking umbrage at the Congress for not leaving some seats for it. The Congress on its part has claimed that the scope of the I.N.D.I.A grouping is limited to the Lok Sabha polls.
The din and bustle of campaigning died down at 6 p.m. on Wednesday after reaching a feverish pitch for the formation of the state’s 16th Vidhan Sabha.
Candidates are endeavouring to woo voters by going door to door.
During the past few days, the BJP, the Congress and other political parties invested every ounce of their respective energies in an attempt to sway the populace.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself led the saffron charge by addressing approximately a dozen public meetings. He was seconded by Union Home Affairs and Cooperation Minister Amit Shah and BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, erstwhile party head Rahul Gandhi and General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati were also on the campaign trail.
The polling will take place from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the exception of certain polling centres in Leftwing extremism-affected Balaghat, Dindori and Mandla districts where voting will cease at 3 p.m.
Chief Electoral Officer Anupam Rajan told UNI that preparations are complete for D-Day.
An electorate exceeding 5.60 crore – including more than 2.71 crore women and 1,292 of the third gender – is eligible to participate in the democratic exercise at over 65,500 polling centres to decide the fortunes of 2,533 nominees including 252 females and one member of the third gender.
The BJP and the Congress have fielded their representatives for all seats whereas other figures include BSP 181, SP 71 and 1,166 independents.
Among the prominent contestants are Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Budhni), Congress state head and former CM Kamal Nath (Chhindwara), Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar (Dimani), Union Minister of State for Jal Shakti and Food-Processing Industries Prahalad Singh Patel (Narsinghpur), Union MoS for Steel and Rural Development Faggansingh Kulaste (Niwas) and BJP Gen Secy Kailash Vijayvargiya (Indore).
Counting is slated for December 3.