‘Saalon se desh tha haal behaal, pragati ki dheemi padi thi chaal; aise mein ek sadhu aaya, tha koi usko na moh na maaya… (For years the country was in a bad shape, the pace of development was slow; then a sadhu, with no craving for worldly pleasures, burst on to the scene…)’
These are the opening lines of a song that was played at the beginning and end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll rallies in Chhattisgarh. The song ended with ‘sapne nahin haqeeqat bunte, tabhi to sab Modi ko chunte (he weaves reality, not dreams; that is why everyone elects Modi)’.
Another song replaced this in MP: ‘Modi ke dil mein MP, MP ke dil mein Modi (Modi has MP in his heart; MP has Modi in its heart).’
The Congress, which largely focused on local issues — barring the caste census demand raised across all poll-bound states, which is part of its Lok Sabha plank — put forth local faces to lead its election campaign. In contrast, the BJP’s campaign – particularly in states where it has a base – was more akin to a campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, which are still several months away. PM Modi remained its star campaigner, with local campaigns tailored to capitalise on his mass appeal.
The BJP did not project a state face in any of the Assembly polls. In Rajasthan, former CM Vasundhara Raje was just one of the party’s probable faces – the others, say sources, being Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore; Baba Balaknath, a sadhu from the region bordering Haryana; and Diya Kumari, who belongs to the erstwhile Jaipur royal family. There was also a buzz about some unexpected face being projected, should the BJP be able to garner a majority.
In MP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the CM for close to two decades, was not the declared face. Thrown in the electoral mix were Union ministers like Narendra Singh Tomar, a Thakur leader from the Chambal region, Prahlad Singh Patel, an OBC Lodhi leader, and Faggan Singh Kulaste, an Adivasi leader. The mix sent out a strong signal that the CM post was open, in case the party returned to power.
In Chhattisgarh, former CM Raman Singh was just a contestant, not the face. Speculations are rife that if the BJP ends up in a position to form the government – something that none of the exit polls predicts – names like O P Choudhary, Vishnu Deo Sai, Ramvichar Netam and state BJP chief Arun Sao, will be Raman Singh’s competitors.
This apart, the party aggressively deployed Hindutva in some instances – like accusing the Congress’s Kawardha candidate Mohammad Akbar of allegedly settling Rohingya refugees in the constituency, or fielding Ishwar Sahu, whose son was killed in a riot, from Saaja. In Rajasthan, too, the BJP brought up the murder of Kanhaiya Lal allegedly by Islamists in Udaipur to accuse the ruling Congress of minority appeasement.
From the Congress, it was mainly Rahul Gandhi who raked up the issue of caste census, to charge that the BJP was not ready to give the underprivileged their dues.
The Congress CM candidates kept the campaign fully local. Ashok Gehlot offered seven guarantees and asked people to register online to become beneficiaries of the welfare schemes promised by the Congress. There were more than 1-crore registrations. Bhupesh Baghel remained the CM face of the Congress across Chhattisgarh, and his farm loan waiver promise was a major talking point. In MP, too, Kamal Nath made headlines much more than the party’s central leadership.
For the BJP, the official campaign was Modi-centric, with no state face projected by the party. Raman Singh seemed stoic in his campaign, and Raje also did not wish to grab headlines. It was only Chouhan who gave everything to the campaign, trying to personalise it despite not being the declared CM face of his party.
The national pitches, however, did not seem to be working on the ground, with people seeing the state Assembly elections in local terms, unlike the presidential-style campaigns that the Lok Sabha elections have been transformed into over the last decade.
Across the Mewar region of Rajasthan, neither communal polarisation nor the articulation of social justice around caste census, seemed to have much traction. “Jatiya janganana! Wo kya hota hai? (What is caste census?),” said Dungarpur tea stall owner Umesh Yadav when asked about it. Ramesh Suthar, belonging to an OBC community from Tetarari village in Udaipur Rural constituency, seemed perplexed when asked about it. But after thinking a while, he said, “No one cares about caste census here. It is more of an issue for UP and Bihar.”
This echoed responses of some residents from Jabalpur in MP.
The Kanhaiya Lal murder case, too, appeared to be an issue mainly among hard Hindutva supporters or those staying in the vicinity of the place where the incident had occurred. Few spoke about it unless asked specifically.