Election pundits have found it difficult to call the Madhya Pradesh election this time. Though some opinion polls have given a slight edge to the opposition Congress, the best guess has been a neck and neck race. And, the voting percentage recorded on Friday has only served to heighten the guessing game.
The state reported a record 76.22 per cent polling on Friday – the highest in 66 years of electoral history of Madhya Pradesh. However, it was a meagre 0.59 per cent higher than the turnout of 75.63 per cent reported in 2018, when Congress managed to dislodge 15 years of BJP rule in the state albeit by a slim margin and for a short duration.
The slight rise in the polling percentage this time is as interesting as it is confusing for the psephologists as well as political watchers in the state and country. Among some of the prevalent electoral beliefs is that a significant rise in vote percentage indicates a change in government, but statistics in Madhya Pradesh in the past two decades defies this belief.
Surely, the BJP had managed to throw out the Digvijaya Singh-led Congress government in 2003 with a huge majority (173 out of 230 seats) when a turnout of 67.25 per cent was reported. This polling percentage was 7.03 per cent more than the 1998 turnout (60.22 per cent) in undivided Madhya Pradesh (Chhattisgarh was its part then).
However, in the 2008 and 2013 polls, 69.78 and 72.13 per cent turnouts were recorded, respectively – 2.53 and 2.35 per cent more than the previous polls. But both these times, the BJP retained power, though its tally decreased to 143 in 2008 and rose again to 165 in 2013.
In 2018 polls, the polling percent went up to 75.63 – a rise of 3.5 per cent from the previous polls. But this time, the people of the state threw up a neck and neck result with few more seats to the Congress (114) compared to the BJP (109). Even this slight margin allowed Congress to form a government with support of independents and parties like the SP and the BSP.
The Kamal Nath government, however, did not last as 22 Congress MLAs switched over to the BJP in March 2020. In the bypolls to 28 seats in the same year, the BJP managed to win 19 seats. After a few other bypolls, the final official BJP tally in the house came to 127 and the Congress at 96. However, an MLA each of SP, BSP and the Congress switched over to the BJP in 2023, taking the number of effective MLAs to 130.
The slight increase in voting percentage in the current election will have to be seen in context of the above complex happenings during the past five years, before being discussed as to what it may mean for the major contenders—the BJP and the Congress. The polling percentage overall has failed to give any hint to the mood of the voters who anyway played their cards close to their chest throughout the poll campaign duration, experts feel.
Political analyst Girija Shanker says that there has been nothing remarkable about the current polls in MP. “There was no apparent anti-incumbency or pro-incumbency. There was no impact of national leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi or (Congress leader) Rahul Gandhi and the bogeys raised by them. Basically, these elections have been all about poll management at the candidate level and the candidate who has played the best will come out a winner irrespective of the party. Even the much-hyped Ladli Behna scheme that was touted as a game-changer for the BJP did not show any apparent impact on voting as in 2018, too, women had voted almost on equal footing as men (74.3 per cent compared to 75.9 per cent of men)," he said. The gender-based voting data of the current poll is yet to be released.
Both the BJP and the Congress have expressed gratitude to the voters for turning out in ‘historic numbers’ and claimed that it would work in their favour. However, it is quite apparent that the almost unchanged voting per cent has made the result guesswork much tougher even for the political parties.