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Ground Report: On Chhattisgarh’s Current Political Scenarios

Chhattisgarh will go to polls in next 10-15 days from now. We already knew that-the Election commission has issued orders to conduct polls in 2 phases in this state. The first phase will be on November 12 in all left wing affected areas and 2 phase will be conducted in rest places i.e. on November 20. This time elections will be-genuine triangular contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh-Bahujan Samaj Party (JCC-BSP) combine. We all knew that Chhattisgarh assembly consists of total 90 seats. This time Chhattisgarh elections creating huge interest among the political community because of so many special impacting factors are in presence in the present political scenario in the state. Political analysts stating these elections will go in neck-and-neck competition.

For that matter, elections in Chhattisgarh have always been neck-and-neck, especially in terms of vote share. In 2013, BJP’s vote share was 41% while Congress’ was 40%. Mayawati’s BSP had secured a 4%vote share. While Congress had won in 39 seats, BJP had won in 49 seats, thus forming the government for the third straight term. In 2008, BJP had secured 40.33% vote share while Congress had polled 38.63%. BSP then had won two seats and secured 6.11% of the vote share. Similarly, in 2003, BJP had secured 39.26%votes while Congress had secured 36.71% of total votes polled.

This time Ajit Jogi- the JCC chief would hope to be the kingmaker in case both the BJP and Congress fail to secure enough seats. Jogi was in Congress during the 2013 elections, and had led the party from the front and formed JCC in 2016 after removal of his son Amit for reason of his anti-party activities in congress.

Expert’s saying-With Jogi and Mayawati’s alliance in the state, this time there will be high chances of this alliance in playing the key role in forming the government of Chhattisgarh. They definitely play an important role in formation of new government like what was happened in Karnataka state. Their combine vote share definitely plays crucial role.

On the other side the tribal vote-share is crucial for every party, theirs is the lion’s share of votes in this state, who grabs their votes will definitely have the high chances in government formation.

BSP chief- Mayawati earlier clarified that senior Jogi would the alliance’s Chief Ministerial candidate.

Communist Party of India (CPI) too would be contesting as an alliance partner with BSP-JCC. CPI would be contesting from Konta and Dantewada, both ST seats going to polls during the first phase of the elections, and both having a considerable Communist influence. CPI candidates in both seats had secured third position during the 2013 polls.

The influential and crucial factors are discussing here one by one:

Tapes, scandals and scams- In Chhattisgarh, audiotapes have dominated political discussion throughout its history. In 2003, Ajit Jogi was suspended for allegedly offering money to Congress legislators to form an alternative government. He was involved in another controversy along with his son Ajit in 2015 for allegedly fixing the Antagarh by poll, audiotapes of which were leaked to the media. Congress was hit by another scandal in 2017 when its Chief- Bhupesh Baghel was jailed for circulating a “sex CD.”

A senior BJP minister, Brij Mohan Agrawal, was also accused of being involved in illegal purchase of forest land, an alleged scam which is expected to be one of the crucial points of debate- during the upcoming elections.

Tribal votes

Chhattisgarh has 29 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST), out of which Congress won 18 and BJP 11 during the last elections. That was shocking for the BJP, which had received surprising support from the tribal belt during the past elections— in 2008 which it had swept the tribal belt by winning 23 of the 29 seats.

In 2013, prominent BJP tribal ministers in the state cabinet, including Nankiram Kanwar, Ramvichar Netam and Lata Usendi had lost from their constituencies. This was despite reports indicating CM Raman Singh’s popularity in the tribal belt.

Now, the Congress has focused (by highlighting) on the Forest Rights Act, and pitched their poll battle in the tribal belt on the dilution of the act. The party has also been targeting the BJP-led central government over its reduction of MSP for minor forest produces. In present context congress has good faith among the tribals if it translated greatly into votes then congress will definitely have the upper hand as compared to rest all parties in coming elections.

‘Urban Naxal’ debate

The recent ‘urban Naxal’ debate could also shape the poll campaigning and results of the elections. We already knew the present atmosphere of country that the- number of human rights activists— accused of being in tandem with the Maoists-work in the state’s Naxal-affected districts.

BJP national president Amit Shah on October 12 highlighted that- if the Congress comes to power in Chhattisgarh, the government machinery will depend on Maoist forces. This statement definitely will play a key role in the casting of votes on the ground level.

22 seats- where women will decide the results

During the 2013 elections, Congress won 13 out of these 22 seats, while BJP had  win only 8, one seat being won by an Independent. On October 5, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah addressed a ‘Matrushakti Sammelan’ rally in Durg district. During that rally, Shah called for the “power of the women” voters to not just defeat Congress but also completely remove the party from the state. We can understand with these statements how crucial the votes of women in the upcoming elections. On the other side, the congress party already had faith among all sections of women –for its successful implementation of welfare schemes not only in this state but also all over the country. The congress party has citing incidents that range from the government’s ignorance of women in policy issues to increase in crime against women in the state/country.

The fact is -In Chhattisgarh too, as in any other state, women voters play a significant role in deciding the fate of the government. During the 2013 assembly elections, the voting percentage was more as compared to male in the Chhattisgarh. In these elections, as many as 22 seats out of the 90 going to polls will see women voters play an instrumental role. That is because these 22 seats have more women than men.

Interestingly, only two out of these seats had elected a female representative during the 2013 assembly elections, and both from Congress. Devati Karma, the wife of slain Congress leader Mahendra Karma, won by over 6,000 votes in Dantewada while Anila Bhediya won from the Dondilohara constituency, beating the BJP candidate by over 19,000 votes.

The highest number of women voters in the state-is in the Pathalgaon constituency in Jashpur district. Pathalgaon, an ST seat from where BJP’s Shivshankar Paikra had won during the last elections, has 98,665 women voters as opposed to 98,245 male voters. Next is Dharamjaigarh, another ST seat, which has over 90,000 female voters. Of these 22 seats, Bastar has the lowest number of women voters at 68,596. Lakeshwar Baghel from Congress had won the seat during the last assembly elections.

However, this won’t be the first time that Singh is forced to handle a complicated situation arising just before Chhattisgarh went to polls. In 2013, after a Maoist attack in Bastar eliminated half of the Congress’ top state leadership, Singh and his government were staring at a major crisis. The government had been riding on its success in reducing, almost decimating, Maoist attacks in Chhattisgarh, and had been planning to make it a BJP poll plank. The attack was a major dent on the government’s image and its plans, to the extent that the administration was unable to respond for days after the strike and even the state BJP unit was mum.

According to reports, Singh reigned in the bureaucracy, which suggested that the CM should communicate to the media its failure in assessing the security threat. Consequently, Singh, in a statement-admitted that there were “security lapses” but stated that adequate security was provided to the leaders.

According to observers, the delayed but effective response to the attack in Bastar had suggested that Singh is capable of admitting to his mistakes but also taking a tough stand when needed. This incident gave mixed opinions on the government.

Another incident, though on a much smaller scale, was within his party. Before the elections in 2013, Brijmohan Agrawal, the then minister of Public Works Department (PWD), criticised the chief minister’s top bureaucrats, calling them corrupt and asking for their removal.

Agrawal, who had nursed chief ministerial ambitions before Singh was installed in 2003, also reportedly tried creating a lobby within the government and the state party unit, asking for a change of leader. Singh loyalist Rajesh Munat, the current PWD minister, had reportedly played a major role in cracking the lobby and saving Singh his post. The chief minister had responded by taking away the PWD portfolio from Agrawal and handing it to Munat after the elections.

So  Agrawal, according to reports, has continued to project himself as the true son of the soil while Singh— who was born in undivided Madhya Pradesh and was a part of the state’s legislative assembly for eight years— as an outsider. On the other side, Agrawal’s recent involvement in an alleged land scam has cast a shadow over his ambitions for the top post.

Raman Singh is often called the ‘silent performer’ for the BJP in Chhattisgarh. An ayurvedic doctor by profession, the 66-year-old’s electoral journey started when he was elected as an MLA from Kawardha in Madhya Pradesh, where he was born and where his family had influence.

Singh shifted to Ranandgaon constituency in 1999 and got elected as an MP. He was then appointed as the Minister of State for Commerce in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Singh had to give up his ministerial position. The BJP ensured that Singh got his due after the party swept the elections and made him the chief minister.

In Chhattisgarh, Singh is known as the Chawal Waale Baba- for his scheme of distributing rice to poor families for a low price. He has also been hailed for promoting start-ups in the state, with 36Inc, a start-up incubation centre being one of the three non-academic incubators to be built by the central government under its Atal Innovation Mission.

In an interview with CNN-News18, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said that the BJP will come to power in the state again, and is hoping to gain more than 65 seats of the 90 in contest.

“The last time we won the elections in 2013, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government was at the Centre. This time we have extra benefit and are in a better position. We are aiming for 65 plus”- Singh said.

Speaking about the recent Naxal attack in Dantewada, which killed four people including three police personnel and a Doordarshan cameraman, Singh said that the media ‘should go with road opening parties and instruct the government while going into these areas.’

‘Initially, the entire Bastar was in their control… we are fighting constantly and now their control has receded… I have been fighting for the past 15 years, without stopping and courageously… Bastar will be calm in the coming two to three years’-Singh said.

‘The JCC-BSP alliance will certainly be a factor. It will only be determined when the results come out. I think the circumstances tell me that 100% the BJP will come to power again’- Singh added.

It is to Singh and his developmental aura’s credit that his government does not seem to face the kind of anti-incumbency wave that his BJP counterparts in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are up against. However, challenges such as farmers’ discontent in the state and the party’s loss of base in tribal regions are issues the chief minister will have to handle to ensure a fourth term for himself in the state. For Singh, the challenges range from inter-party rivalry to have him unseated to projecting his state as gradually clawing towards a developmental model.

Whatever the things/issues are present in the current situations, the JCC-BSP alliance in addition to tribal voters- is in the key position to write the fate of the Chhattisgarh state.

 

 

 

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