NEW DELHI: “In my entire political life I have never seen this level of distress across all sections as this time in Madhya Pradesh,” Congress leader Kamal Nath told The Citizen in a quick interview. He said that there was a strong anti-incumbency sentiment running against the BJP and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the absence of governance had impacted on all sections including farmers, youth, small and medium business, traders and women.

There is new enthusiasm in the Congress after the power struggle within its three factions was decided in favour of the old war horse Kamal Nath, over and above Jyotiraditya Scindia. The Congress leaders in the state admit that they lost considerable time in resolving the factional feud between Kamal Nath, Scindia and Singh. And while they are hoping to make up for the lost time in the coming days, there is a realisation that the party has not been able to connect with the poor of Madhya Pradesh in the manner that was expected.

Kamal Nath does not agree, clear that the Congress has been consistent in its work, and connected with the poor. He said that the people, suffering from non-governance, knew that the state was “number one in farmers suicides, in unemployment, in crimes against women.” He said that every section was in deep distress and wanted a way out. The Congress, he added, was providing not just the way out but assurance of new, responsive, committed governance.

The Congress leader who is widely tipped to be the Chief Minister if the party wins the state, said that he was sure “that the people will vote for us, as they have been thugged at every level by the BJP.” The BJP is facing a tough battle here after Gujarat and Karnataka, with the Congress now poised to give a serious fight to the ruling party.

The Congress, despite focusing essentially on local issues in the state elections, it has also vowed not to allow the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to hold shakhas in government buildings. It has promised to revoke the orders allowing government employees to attend RSS sessions. It has tempered this with the promise to open gaushalas in every district, and develop the Ram Path Gaman, the route that Ram is said to have taken during his exile in Madhya Pradesh forests. It will also begin the production of cow urine even as it effects ‘land reform’ by alloting land for cattle to graze.

However, in the ground campaign the Congress is focusing on local issues of demonetisation, corruption, unemployment, price rise and women security and safety. Congress leaders in Delhi are optimistic that the party will rise sufficiently in MP by the time voting takes place on November 28, to garner the anti incumbency sentiment.

The BJP is relying on three factors, the RSS cadres, caste combinations and communal polarisation. It has deliberately moved away from state governance issues, focusing instead on central schemes and approaching beneficiaries for their votes. So far the BJP firebrand orators have not campaigned for the party till date, the list including Uma Bharti who was the first OBC face and woman chief minister of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj who is a sitting Member of Parliament from the state.

Madhya Pradesh is a crucial state for the BJP, third largest after Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. If the party is unable to retain the state it will have a direct bearing on the general elections due next year with a direct impact on the Hindi heartland. If the Congress is able to wrest this state from the BJP, along with Rajasthan, it will be in the drivers seat determining new coalitions and strategy for the Lok Sabha polls.