In MP, desperate Congress versus cocky BJP

BJPScindia heads Cong campaign; it usually means CM candidate

The Congress had never before been out of power in Madhya Pradesh for a decade, and is desperately seeking a comeback. And the BJP, which had never ruled here for so long, regularly taunts the Congress saying when it loses a state election for the third time in a row it remains out of power forever.

The basis for the sarcasm lies in trends seen in states with multiple parties or stronger regional parties. MP, however, is essentially a bipolar state where, but for the last decade and a few short spells in the past, the Congress has always called the shots since 1956.

Occupying the opposition benches for such a long period has unnerved the Congress. The BJP has rubbed it in by commenting on grey-haired leaders. As if to answer back, the Congress has deputed Jyotiraditya Scindia to head its campaign committee, a position that usually translates into chief ministerial candidate.

The young leader has his task cut out. The BJP won in 2003 and 2008 by comfortable margins. The Congress nearly doubled its 2003 tally five years later, but it was way too short, while the BJP won most of the byelections held in between.

Scindia's anointment has forced the BJP to alter its strategy. Until then, it had been all set to go to the polls by going back to former chief minister Digvijaya Singh's rule from 1993 to 2003.

Mindful of anti-incumbency against several of its legislators, the BJP is banking mainly on Shivraj Singh Chouhan, its chief minister of nearly eight years, and his governance "with a human face". Chouhan was not the original choice when the BJP unseated the Congress in 2003; he followed Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur to the chair. But things have changed since Uma Bharati, who had floated the Bharatiya Janshakti after storming out of the BJP, managed only five seats, and eventually merged her fledgling outfit with the BJP.

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