The final frontier in the poll battle for Madhya Pradesh may finally prove to be a handful of urban seats scattered across the state. Just like it eventually happened in Gujarat, the Congress is becoming an increasingly menacing competitor to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.

Forming ground level social coalitions, fielding potent BJP renegades, holding small scale public meetings and most crucially, overcoming its factional differences, at least for the time being, the Congress has employed every tool in the manual to deny Shivraj Singh Chouhan a fourth consecutive term as Chief Minister.

But both parties know that to attain an unassailable lead the Congress will need to breach urban citadel of the BJP – Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior, Jabalpur, and Ujjain. In all these five cities, which are also parliamentary constituencies, have 36 Assembly segments. In a House of 230 seats, this is a huge constituency.

The Congress’ performance in these seats was quite poor in 2013 polls. The BJP had won 30 while the the Congress had won just six seats.
If one also adds other commercial hubs like Satna and Sagar, the total seats come out to be 51 of which 40 seats have sitting BJP MLAs.

The vote-share of the Congress has consistently been slipping in these constituencies. According to a study conducted by a Madhya Pradesh daily, while Congress’ vote-share in urban areas has hovered between 25% and 35%, the BJP’s vote-share in urban areas has consistently been registered from 40% to 46%.

The survey found that the BJP has held, on average, 70% of the urban seats while the Congress has been able to win just 27% urban seats in MP.

Though in absolute numbers, the BJP has been more successful than the Congress in placing its MLAs in the Assembly. This is because victory margins in several constituencies have been quite low. A slight shift in vote-share could thus have huge impact in the number of seats.

Just as it happened in Gujarat, where a slight improvement in vote-share for the Congress from 34.7% in 2012 to 43.5% in 2017, had the BJP almost looking at a shock defeat. The saffron party, which once looked to be going for another record, finally managed to nudge just past the halfway mark. And it could do so because it largely managed to hold on to its urban citadel, winning 44 out of 55 seats in four major urban centres of Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot.

Some pre-poll surveys like one recently done by C-Voter and ABP news actually have predicted just this. Congress has been projected to win 42 per cent votes against 40 per cent votes for the BJP, which is good enough to win 117 seats in the 230-seat Assembly, the survey has predicted.

The fact that BJP is facing anti-incumbency built-up over successive terms, the anger of the farmers, and a resurgent opposition riding on corruption allegations against the BJP, has been almost same in both Gujarat as it is in Madhya Pradesh. But if the Congress wishes to script a different end to the MP polls, it will have to make a decisive dent in BJP’s vote share in the five biggest cities

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