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November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:November' 2018

ASSEMBLY POLLS

Farmers’ discontent a major issue

N D Sharma

Nearly 15 crore voters (7.28 crore of them females) will elect 679 Assembly members in five States between November 12 and December 7. The outcome is expected to impact the Lok Sabha polls, due in six months, considerably and, as such, is being seen as the semi-finals between the BJP and the non-BJP parties. The BJP is at present ruling at the Centre as well as in most of the States in the country. Of the five States going to the polls in November-December, the BJP has been the ruling party since 2003 in Madhya Pradesh (230 seats), Rajasthan (200) and Chhattisgarh (90). The party is leaving no stone turned to retain power in these States by overcoming prevailing antiincumbency sentiments. A defeat in these States will be a terrible setback to the BJP which is determined to repeat its 2014 performance in the next year’s Lok Sabha elections. If Telangana (119 seats) is important for the BJP to shed its tag of North India party, Mizoram, with its 40 Assembly seats, is no less important as a victory there will make it in control of the entire north-east. Till almost two years back, the BJP hardly had any appreciable presence in the northeast. Today it has its governments in Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh and is the ruling alliance partner in Meghalaya and Nagaland. Mizoram is the only State in the north-east which is still under the Congress rule. The BJP tried five times but could not win a seat in Mizoram.

In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh the discontent in the farming community is the single most important factor worrying the BJP. The farmers in Rajasthan have for some time been agitating under the aegis of All India Kisan Sabha demanding agricultural loan waiver, withdrawal of ban on cattle trade, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report and pension scheme for farmers.

The situation is equally bad in Madhya Pradesh which has in the recent years witnessed a number of farmers’ suicides because of the burden of the farm loans. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been trying to reach out to the farmers, particularly after the Mandsaur police firing on agitating farmers --- six were killed – in June last year. But his efforts have not yet succeeded in placating the farming community. One reason is said to be that there is no effective follow-up of the Chief Minister’s announcements.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan The situation is equally bad in Madhya Pradesh which has in the recent years witnessed a number of farmers’ suicides because of the burden of the farm loans. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been trying to reach out to the farmers, particularly after the Mandsaur police firing on agitating farmers --- six were killed – in June last year. But his efforts have not yet succeeded in placating the farming community. One reason is said to be that there is no effective follow-up of the Chief Minister’s announcements.

Another major issue worrying the political parties, the BJP in particular as it is the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh and at the Centre, is the agitation of the Sapaks against the amendment in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to nullify the Supreme Court judgement disallowing arrest of the accused under the Act without investigation.

Sapaks is an organisation of general category, OBC and minority government employees in the State, set up to protest against the State government’s decisions to announce reservation in promotion for SCs and STs and the restoration of the stringent provisions of the Act. For some time Sapaks activists have been holding black flag demonstrations against Chouhan and his ministers and other BJP leaders.

Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia Even Congress leaders, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, have had to face their ire for supporting the amendment in Parliament.
farmers committed suicide in Chhattisgarh in the past three years, according to official figures. As many as 96 tehsils in 21 districts were affected by drought conditions, affecting an estimated 11 lakh farmers, in September last year. The Congress has accused the Raman Singh government of going back on its promise of Rs 2,100 as MSP (minimum support price) and Rs 300 as annual bonus. Besides, the large scale unemployment is adding to the woes of the rural families as their avenues of finding livelihood in other States were closed by the cash crisis in the wake of the demonetisation. A large number of small industrial units had also to be closed down for the same reason.

The Congress-ruled Mizoram also faces the farmers’ discontent, along with the three BJP-ruled States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Thousands of farmers had participated in a demonstration at Aizawl (the State capital) demanding land reforms and regulation of market system for sustainable development of farming.
Farmers account for nearly 70 per cent of the State’s population of 11 lakh. Corruption is another major issue in the election as there are corruption allegations against the Chief Minister and some other ministers. Lalhriatrenga Chhangte, Deputy Controller of Mines at the Indian Bureau of Mines, has alleged that the Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla has amassed assets disproportionate to his known sources of income; and that he was constructing a multi-storey building in Kolkata.

The problem of Bru tribals may also play an important role in the elections. Over 20 years ago, the ethnic violence had forced nearly 32,000 Bru tribe families to leave their homes in Mizoram. They have since been living in temporary camps in north Tripura. Only a handful of them have returned to Mizoram.

Lal Thanhawla The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’ Coordination Committee (MBDPCC) has refused to come back unless the Union Government accepted its demands which include the creation of an area development council for the Brus in Mizoram, allocation of five hectares of land to each refugee family, creation of cluster villages each housing at least 500 families, Rs four lakh compensation to each family and inclusion of their names in the freshly revised electoral rolls.

However, two Mizo organisations, the Young Mizo Association and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (the Mizo Students’ Association) are said to be opposed to the Brus’ inclusion in the electoral rolls; their argument is that the Bru tribe is not indigenous to Mizoram. An interesting poll issue in Mizoram is liquor. Zoram People’s Party (ZPM), an alliance of seven regional parties and groups, has promised to do away with Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Act (MLPC Act) of 2014 which allows opening of liquor shops and bars in the State. K Sapdanga, General Secretary of ZPM, was quoted by The Hindu as having stated that the “MLPC Act warrants selling of liquor to card holders. But liquor is sold illegally to minors and adults without permit.

“Consumption of liquor has killed many young people, greatly affecting the Mizo society.” If we win the polls, illegal selling of liquor will be stopped first. We will also consult social NGOs and church leaders about the MLPC Act whether to continue with it or scrap it for the greater good of the society”.

The say of the Church is important in any matter as more than 87 per cent of people in Mizoram are Christians. The BJP has announced its intention to contest all the 40 seats in Mizoram. Party president Amit Shah had announced at Aizawl that his party, though, would be open for post-poll alliance with any like-minded party. It would be interesting to see if the BJP would field Chakma candidates for West Tuipui and Tuichawng constituencies. Part of Chakma Autonomous District Council Area, the two constituencies are dominated by the Chakmas.
The Mizoram Coordination Committee, the apex body of major NGOs which enjoys considerable influence in Mizo society, has appealed to political parties not field any Chakma, most of whom are branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Mizo National Front (MNF), the opposition party in the present Assembly, is also contesting on all the 40 seats. Interestingly, MNF was part of North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) which was formed by the BJP in 2016. But now both the parties have decided to contest on their own. The Congress party hopes to retain power with the division of anti-Congress votes between the two.

Most of the opinion polls have indicated BJP’s defeat in the three BJPruled States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It is only in Rajasthan that the Congress has been making a serious effort for quite some time to wrest power from the BJP. The infighting in the Congress in Rajasthan is also not as pronounced as in Madhya Pradesh. Besides, Rajasthan does not have the presence of other parties to disturb substantially the Congress or BJP positons.

The situation is different in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh, the BSP and the SP have announced their intention to contest on nearly all seats. The two parties have pockets of influence in the State and are in a positon to upset the outcome in several constituencies unless there is a wave-like condition in favour of one party or the other.

Besides, the Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) and the Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), both tribal parties, are also in the fray. GGP has influence in the Mahakoshal region while JAYS, with its slogan ‘abki bar, Adivasi Sarkar’, is active in the Malwa-Nimar region.
Though recently formed, JAYS has already alarmed both the BJP and the Congress. There are 47 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. Quietly, away from the media glare, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has for several months been campaigning in the rural areas, particularly among the farmers and tribals.

The poll alliance between the BSP and Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) has upset the Congress’ calculations in Chhattisgarh. GGP and SP have also announced their decision to contest on some seats in the tribaldominated State. The Congress leaders in both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh say that the people are fed up with the ‘corrupt’ BJP governments in the two States and they are going to oust the BJP from power this time. They take it for granted that the people will vote overwhelmingly for the Congress.

Ajit Jogi The Congress in both the States is ridden with internal strife. In Madhya Pradesh it is the usual question of who will be Chief Minister. There are three visible aspirants: PCC chief Kamal Nath, Campaign Committee chairman Jyotiraditya Scindia and Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Singh. No one knows what former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh is up to.
Side-lined by the party, he told his supporters that he is not campaigning or addressing rallies because his speeches damage the party’s prospects during the elections. Whether it was reflection of his desperation or part of some game is anybody’s guess. He is rumoured to lend his support to JAYS in the Malwa- Nimar region.
The BJP is the only party which has been systematically going about poll preparations for several months. Party president Amit Shah is constantly visiting the poll-bound States of Mizoram, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, addressing rallies and interacting with party leaders and workers to get feedback and issue directions.

If the Congress comes to power in the three BJP-ruled States, some credit should go to Amit Shah also because he has constantly been attacking the Congress in harsh tones and thus insinuating in the public mind that the Congress is the only party which the BJP fears and which can replace the BJP.