A senior IAS official back from deputation to his home cadre of Chhattisgarh was passed a solemn advice by a Cabinet minister: “Here we don’t go into niceties of correct procedures, we just do it. After all, it is for the larger social good.” What was left unsaid was more clearly understood. The relationship between the babudom, the political executive and the Opposition is so smooth that work never suffers! No hurdles and no uncomfortable questions.
There is good reason why. A look at the first lists of both the Congress and the BJP, who divide all the 90 seats in the state almost vertically between them, reveals the root of the cozy political arrangement the state has become. The BJP has declared 67 candidates and the Congress, 62. Of the 129, more than 80 percent — 102 candidates — have been contesting elections for the past 15 years and have kept the road blocked for newcomers. It is called election management.
A closer look at the 180 candidates who have contested the Assembly polls since the creation of Chhattisgarh throws up an interesting fact. As many as 130 candidates or their family members contest 65 seats between them. Some like Arun Vora of the Congress have lost three out of four times, but continue to get a party ticket. Raman Singh and Ajit Jogi have made safe pocket boroughs after becoming chief ministers and some others have devised a pair-hunt method, wherein they win alternate elections against the same opponent.
“All the arrangements by the Election Commission, the elaborate campaigning and the suspense over ticket distribution are a massive sham as the Assembly polls are meant only for these 125 people,” says a disgruntled Youth Congress worker, who was hoping to get a look-in this time. The Congress has decided to repeat all its 38 sitting MLAs. The BJP has cut back on 10 out of its 51 MLAs, but with a catch. Of the 10 unlucky ones, five are tribals, three OBCs and two Dalits — the most easily disposable commodity in the election ticket mart as the SCs and STs contest reserved seats and are easily replaceable with absolutely new faces.
The BJP has decided not to give Assembly tickets to two tribal MPs — Nand Kumar Sai and Vishnu Sai — while it is willing to bend the rule for two others from the General category. The reason is not far to seek. The demand for a tribal CM is forever boiling.
The Congress has its own millstones to carry. It has had to dole out tickets to the sons of Jogi, Vora, Vidya Charan Shukla, Dhanesh Patila and Nand Kumar Patel. Jogi’s wife has also been given a ticket as have been the wives of Mahendra Karma and Uday Mudliar, both slain in the 25 May Naxal massacre at Darbha Valley.
Jogi is himself likely to contest the Lok Sabha polls in six months time, which will leave only his daughter-in-law at home when the family gets busy with constitutional duties.
Ravindra Choubey, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, has won a record six times and held the Saja Assembly seat for the past 30 years. His brother Pradeep has contested the Durg Lok Sabha seat unsuccessfully.
PCC president Charan Das Mahant has been a legislator for the past 25 years. His father Bisahu Das also was an MLA. In fact, there is no dearth of fourth or fifth-timer contestants in the Congress.
Anti-incumbency is unheard of or is simply ignored as a factor. “Some ministers may face anti-incumbency but with their experience, they are also most likely to overcome it,” says JP Nadda, national general secretary in-charge of the BJP in the state.
How, then, are the elections ever decided? The differences are more within parties than between them. Only five lakh votes and less than 1 percent vote share separates both parties. It’s a tossup and may the lucky man win. Later, we will rule together is the prevailing sentiment. This, of course, is all for the greater common good.