In Madhya Pradesh, a three-term Chief Minister, whose return is uncertain even if the ruling BJP returns to power, is trying to fend off the Congress, which is charged up after its victory in Karnataka.
While both parties have announced a slew of welfare schemes, the Congress has tried to go one up on its rival by promising a Bihar-like caste survey in the state.
The BJP will be eyeing its fourth win in MP in the past two decades. To be sure, the Congress won the 2018 Assembly election by a wafer-thin margin but was unseated 15 months later after Lok Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia, along with 22 MLAs, switched over to the BJP in March 2020.
The two national parties hit the ground much before the poll dates were announced, but their campaign strategies have been starkly different.
The Congress is being steered and micromanaged by former CM and State party chief Kamal Nath, who is also the party’s Chief Ministerial face.
CM faces dilemma
While the BJP has gone to the masses with the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its high command’s stamp over the decision-making process is quite apparent. The party has fielded three Union Ministers, four MPs, and a national general secretary in the election. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who is fighting from the Dimani seat in Morena district, is also the BJP’s election management committee chief in the State.
The BJP has not declared Mr. Chouhan, who has been in the driving seat for the past 18 years, as the CM candidate. The party leaders have, in the past few weeks, dropped hints that the BJP might be looking for a change of face in the State. Some of the buzz was created by Mr. Chouhan himself.
In a speech in Sehore last week, he said that the women voters would never get a brother like him and that they would miss him. At another recent rally, Mr. Chouhan asked the public if he should become the Chief Minister again.
The Congress has been using a much more localized approach, with leaders such as Digvijaya Singh, Jitu Patwari, Kamleshwar Patel, and Kantilal Bhuria comprising the party’s strategic core.
The Congress has once again entrusted national general secretary Randeep Surjewala as the State in-charge, a role he successfully played in the Karnataka poll.
The party’s central leaders have also made fewer visits to the State compared with their counterparts in the BJP. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has visited the State thrice in the past six months while Rahul Gandhi has visited MP only once during this period.
On the other hand, Mr. Modi has visited the State nearly 10 times in the past year to inaugurate and launch various projects. He has kept the larger campaign pitch centered around the works of the Central government.
State Congress leaders have organized religious events across the State, which some have termed a “soft Hindutva” approach. The BJP has charged the Congress with being “election-time Hindu”.
Meanwhile, the BJP is trying to expand its footprint into the Mahakoshal region by paying tributes to local tribal figures like Veerangana Rani Durgavati, a 16th-century Gondwana queen, who is revered across the tribal-dominated region.