Bhopal: Way back in 2003, during the run-up to the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, the then stormy petrel of the BJP, Sadhvi Uma Bharati, had launched an acerbic assault on the Digvijaya Singh government, employing the ‘Bijli-Pani-Sadak (power-water-roads)’ plank. She went to town focussing only on the dismal situation vis-à-vis power, water and roads. She used the word, ‘Shriman Bantadhar’ (Mr Ruiner) to roil Digvijaya. The plank clicked, and the BJP romped home with a comfortable majority, dislodging the 10-year-old Digvijaya government.
Fifteen years down the line, the state BJP, it seems, has decided to use the same plank to retain its government for the fourth time in a row. It is now official that the party is going to theme its campaign for the Assembly polls on the failures of the 15-year-old Digvijaya Singh government, with the achievements of its government forming only the backdrop.
‘Hamare neta to Shivraj’
A series of TV spots released by the party on November 8 are amply indicative of this. ‘Maaf karo Maharaj, hamare neta to Shivraj’ (Excuse us Maharaj, our leader is Shivraj) is the punchline of these spots. As many as eight such spots have already been released and more are in the offing.
Maharaj, of course, refers to the state Congress campaign committee chief, Jyotiraditya Scindia, the youngest and, by far, the most popular face of the state Congress. Scindia comes in handy for juxtaposing a born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-the-mouth Maharaja oblivious of the trials and tribulations of the common man against an ears-close-to-the-ground Kisan Putra (Shivraj). And ‘maaf karo’, interestingly, is a decent way of saying no to beggars.
The spots feature a bus driver, a small shopkeeper, a farmer, a flour mill owner, a housewife in short, the aam aadmi. And all remind the voters of the ‘inki sarkar’ (their government). Although no party or individual has been named, the implications cannot be lost on anyone.
‘Yaad hai inki sarkar?’
All the spots feature a group of young netas, wearing kurta-pyjamas, pleading for votes. Done with them, the main character turns to the viewers, with the line, ‘Yaad hai inki sarkar?’ (Remember their government?). And then, the bus driver talks of the dilemma of deciding whether there were potholes on the roads, or whether there were roads between potholes; the flour mill owner talks of how the state had become a ‘Lalten Pradesh’ (lantern state) with power supply always on the blink; the farmer, sitting by the side of a canal full to the brim with crystal-clear water, describes how crops were ruined for want of irrigation, and so on.
In between, there are potshots at Scindia: how he eats in silver utensils, how the then Congress leadership was perpetually occupied with pleasing ‘one family’ living in Delhi and how it paid only lip service to the poor. The half-minute spots also refer to how Shivraj has turned the state into a veritable heaven with smooth roads, round-the-clock water supply, ample water for irrigation and how he takes care of the poor, the elderly, women and children.
All of them end with the slogan, ‘Vikas ka sath dein, Bhajapa ko vote dein’ (Side with development, vote for the BJP) and end with a picture of a smiling Shivraj Singh and Narendra Modi, with a blooming lotus.
The reason why the BJP has been forced to hark back to Digvijaya rule is not far to seek. It knows very well that the Congress, in its campaign, is and will be primarily, targeting Modi the demonetisation pains, GST imbroglio, surgical strikes chest-thumping, the escapades of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi and the failure to generate jobs or bring back black money stashed away abroad.
The party is well aware of the wisdom inherent in the maxim that attack is the best form of defence. In the past two elections (2008 and 2013), the BJP had a whipping boy in the UPA government. Every failure of the state government was blamed on the ‘step-motherly’ treatment meted out to the state by the UPA government. This is no option this time. And, so, the party has decided to target the Digvijaya government.
Congress leaders are, obviously, squirming in their seats. They are asking why the BJP should talk about what a government 15-years ago did, or did not do, and why it is not speaking of what its own government did.
The BJP also needs to remember that a sizeable chunk of voters haven’t seen Diggi rule. They were kids then.