A combination photo showing Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (left) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi visiting temples. (BloombergQuint)

MP Elections: Reminding Youth About ‘Deprivation’ Of Congress Is BJP’s Biggest Challenge

The Bharatiya Janata Party feels its biggest challenge in Madhya Pradesh is reminding an entire generation of voters of what it calls “deprivation” under the Congress’ rule as it seeks a fourth straight term in the state.

The new, aspirational generation isn’t aware of this, said Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, BJP’s national vice-president and Madhya Pradesh in charge. “We have to make them conscious that if they don’t vote for BJP, then the chances are these people will take you back to days of deprivation. We have to remind them.”

The Congress rode to power for two consecutive terms from 1993-2003 in the central state—before Chhattisgarh was carved out of it—led by Digvijaya Singh. The party hasn’t declared a chief ministerial candidate this time even as the BJP, led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is campaigning on the basis of “Samruddha”, or prosperous, MP.

Sahasrabuddhe, speaking to BloombergQuint from Bhopal, said that anti-incumbency is a “media creation”, and added that Chouhan’s track record as chief minister would ensure him a fourth term. The Congress’ campaign is based on issues such as farm distress and unemployment.

Sahasrabuddhe also said that the “soft Hindutva” of the Congress—with promises such as a ‘Ram Path Gaman’, cow shelters in all gram panchayats and promotion of the sale of cow urine—is a gimmick. Voters, he said, will see through such promises.

As far as spirituality is concerned, Congress is on a spree of clearing their spirituality backlog. This will not impact the electorate as they know the real position.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, National Vice President, BJP.

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BJP President Amit Shah has said the Madhya Pradesh elections are crucial to the 2019 polls. Why are these elections so important?

BJP considers every election as very significant and Madhya Pradesh cannot be an exception. We fight elections very seriously with all preparation and efforts put in. Therefore, it is very important for all of us and the party president has articulated the same feeling that it is an important election and it will pave the road towards the 2019 victory in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. Our ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya used to say that we have to move from the past to the present and to the future. So, everything is important. There is essential linkage and therefore this election is important just like all the elections we have fought in recent past.

A loss in Madhya Pradesh would be a true loss of face for the BJP and would cement the opposition claim that the Modi wave is waning. Is that the concern?

Not at all. To be precise, we consider every election to be important and we fight elections to win. Our objective is to win the election and not fight for the sake of fighting . Therefore, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh is important and so is Madhya Pradesh. We are going to win all those three elections. You may write my words. This is based on the confidence from the ground reality. We are going to win all those three elections.

Why are you so confident about a state where your Chief Minister has been in charge for three full terms and would face anti-incumbency? Don’t you think that this is toughest election yet that Shivraj Singh Chouhan is facing?

The anti-incumbency theory is largely a media creation. The evidence doesn’t suggest that simply because a particular party’s CM is in power for 15 years that there will be some kind of anti-incumbency. Anti-incumbency is a phenomenon generated by bad governance, scams, corruption, lack of development of road, water, agriculture. All these factors are absent in MP. MP has track records. We won elections in 2003 on basis of “bijli, sadak, pani” (electricity, roads, water). We provided it. Thereafter, in next five years we ensured that MP is taken out of bracket of ‘BIMARU’ states. Post 2013, we have taken care of all the basic infrastructure facilities. Now, we are appealing people to vote us to take MP into an era of prosperity which is why our slogan is ‘Samruddha MP’

The Congress is fighting this election on a soft ‘Hindutva’ plank. Is this going to be a challenge for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh ?

There are dozens of areas where we differ from Congress. We are not a dynasty driven party like the Congress. We are a democratic party run by the organization. We are an ideology-based party. The Congress party doesn’t have an ideology which they can claim . There are other factors too.

As far as spirituality is concerned, Congress is on a spree of clearing their spirituality backlog. This will not impact the electorate as they know the real position of this party. Cow protection is not something which has been brought in by the BJP. It has been there as a guiding principles of the Constitution since 1950. Congress never paid any attention to this. Suddenly, they have woken up from their slumber and they are talking about “gaushalas” and cow protection. It is good for nation and people but whether they are really wanting this to happen or this are just crocodile tears or showbiz on their part. Everybody knows about it. This will not pose a serious challenge because Congress don’t have a track record to talk about as far as governance is concern. It was PM Modi and party president Amit Shah who used the term “politics of performance”. Have you ever heard any Congress leader taking about performance, development? They never because they don’t have anything to report. There is total bankruptcy as far as development is concerned. Therefore, they are trying to enter into the mind space of people through these kinds of big gimmicks. I am sure people are smart enough and they are not going to be hoodwinked.

After a third term is there challenge of presenting new ideas to the electorate? Why are your leaders still talking about the Digvijaya Singh government that was in power fifteen years ago, during the campaign trail.

‘Samruddha MP’ is entirely a new idea. We have provided a road map for prosperity for the State. There was a state before 2003. If we are talking about pre-2003 era, it is natural as it is the only factor live in their memory. Therefore, it is for reminding people that Congress wants to take the State back to that era of deprivation. They didn’t have basic facilities like road, water and energy then. I am surprised when they are talking about certain things in their manifesto where they want to take the State further backwards to pre-1977 era which was the era of emergency, banning organizations. So, everybody knows their basic intentions.

Are you referring to the promise in the Congress manifesto which says RSS activity will not be conducted from the premises of government organizations if they come to power?

All kinds of mentions are there. Their intentions and their animosity towards a movement like RSS is not just in MP or a thing of the recent past. It has been there.

Congress leader Kamal Nath clarified that they are not asking for a ban on the RSS but for government premises to not be used for RSS activities.

But this is a figment of their imagination. He should come out with a list of government institutions where RSS is using their premises.

Has agricultural distress become a sore point and a challenge for the BJP?

Agrarian issues are interconnected. For the first time under the Modi government, PM and Ministry of Commerce and Industries have evolved a national policy of agriculture farm produce exports. This nation was lacking well-articulated policy for all these years. At least for the first time we are working on it and have done it. This is because agricultural issues are not confined to borders of particular country. It is a global situation where prices are offered for farm produce. The entire issue has to be looked at in totality.

In MP, the problems in field of agriculture are not of depreciation and scarcity. Today, have you heard that farmers have to queue up to get a mundane thing like urea fertilizer? No because of our 100 percent neem coating of urea, it has become a thing of past. MP is the only state where the farmers are allowed to get loans for farming at zero percent rates. MP has a different set of problems to grapple which are affluence, abundance and for this new solutions are required.

What is your response to the farm loan waivers that the Congress party is promising? Especially after the anger the BJP government faced after protesting farmers were fired upon in Mandsaur last year.

The spread of unrest among farmers is something which the Congress is fanning in a way and trying to fertilise. The unfortunate event which we are very sorry about happened only in Mandsaur and the CM sought a penance through a fast. He was fasting for 2-3 days. Thereafter, the families of victims of that unfortunate incidence came to the CM. The matter here is about credibility and intentions. On both these counts, the party and the CM are scoring very high. We are a government with high credibility and performance of Shivraj Singh Chouhan also reassures them that their interests are going to be protected.

Do you think that unemployment will be the real sore point for your government with this issue becoming a problem nationwide and no clear answers?

All of us are conscious that the white-collar jobs which aspirational youth has been seeking for all these years are going to be scarce and there will be a limit for white-collar corporate jobs or government jobs, which is another lucrative career option. There are opportunities which can be described as livelihood opportunities, not only for young farmers who want to do some experiment or new initiative. There are some startups and some incubation centers which the government has opened. So, the entire discourse around employment has to change. There will be a limit on white collar routine jobs. Different kind of vocations are coming up. Youngsters are coming for this either through entrepreneurial initiative or anything pertaining to livelihood. I am sure that if there are certain gaps then we will overcome them.

There may be a forward looking solution, but youth in cities like Gwalior or Bhopal who have to move out for work will question your government that has been in power for fifteen years.

If you want industries that provide jobs, then they require assurance of uninterrupted supply of energy of water, good roads. All of this has been provided. There are organisations and conferences which were conducted. Foreign investment is coming. The pace might have been slower. But we will attract much more foreign investment and investment from within the country too. We are on the path of greater industrialization of MP.

Do you think the ‘Vyapam’ scam is an issue in this election?

Most of the Congress leaders reached the apex court seeking a revival of cases pertaining to Vyapam. Judges reprimanded those who have gone with these pleas saying that this has being settled. Go to the hustings and if you have any doubt let the electorate decide. It is profound commentary for the mischievousness of those who are wanting to rake up old issues. People are convinced about the intention of Shivraj Singh Chauhan as a person, leader, CM and his government. These Vyapam related issues are a thing of past and don’t have any impact on campaign.

Do you see it as an advantage to the BJP that the Congress has not named their CM candidate?

Our assessment of our situation doesn’t depend upon what is happening in the opposition campaign. They have their own set of issues to deal with. Every election is a challenge. There is a challenge that there is a generation which has not seen the days of deprivation of pre-2003 days. They might have been born in the last millennial or early this century and they don’t know what deprivation is. We have to make them conscious that if they don’t vote for BJP then the chances are these people will take you to days of deprivation as they are known for the same and can’t provide basic simple things. We have to remind them.

We have to ensure that aspirational younger generation of this state responds and participates in this sojourn towards prosperity and therefore the ‘Samruddha MP’ message has to be taken to every nook and corner of the state and in every village. At the same time, we are banking on our organizational strength and as our national president has said, there are more than 24 crore beneficiaries of government schemes. They are all part of the ‘Pragati Yatra’ or the march towards progress, development, advancement. We have to ensure it and move forward. Whether Congress names a CM candidate or not is their concern. But the fact remains that people are conscious. We are realizing during the campaign too that if we go in Central MP, people are saying that Pachauri will be their candidate.

If you go to Chambal, Gwalior then people say Maharaja will be the candidate. If we move into Balaghat and Chhindwara areas, they say it will be Kamal Nath. Nobody knows who their candidate will be. Therefore, Congress is rudderless and leaderless. They are party with a number of leaders and very few cadres.

A lot of people are projecting Jyotiraditya Scindia as a youth leader. Unemployment among the youth is a sore point. Do you think this is a trouble area for the BJP?

Not at all. Whether any particular leader is acceptable to the entire rank and file of MP, nobody knows. Whether somebody has been handpicked by the apex leadership of that party, nobody knows. So, there is confusion. The party president himself said that he is confused. So, what do I have to say?