The fight for Chhattisgarh

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Chief Minister Raman Singh
Chief Minister Raman Singh

While Chief Minister Raman Singh is hoping for a hat-trick for the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls, a decade of anti-incumbency against the party could be a cause of concern. On the other hand, the intense factionalism amongst its state leaders remains Congress’ biggest worry.

Chhattisgarh has always been a Congress bastion, with stalwarts like VC Shukla and Shayama Charan Shukla (three-time CM of undivided MP) holding the fort. Though the BJP and the RSS had its presence in Madhya Pradesh (MP), it was Chhattisgarh which almost always backed Congress. When the state was formed, it was assumed that the leadership of the state would go to VC Shukla. Ajit Jogi, then an Arjun Singh protégé, was the choice of the high command. It would require a political no-brainer to even guess which way the decision went. Old timers admit with a tinge of remorse, “Everybody was taken aback with the decision. Not a single cracker was burst.” This decision of appointing Ajit Jogi as the first CM of Chhattisgarh triggered political rivalries that continue till date.

So how bad is the situation for the Congress and what is the extent of the damage of the factionalism? In the undivided MP in 1998, it was Congress government and Chhattisgarh area of it was also overwhelmingly in favour of it. In the king maker area of Bastar, Congress had 11 out of 12 assembly seats. When Ajit Jogi was made the CM and VC Shukla was left to twiddle his thumbs, Shukla chose to go the rebel way. He formed the NCP which didn’t do any miracle but made sure that enough percentage of votes were lost for the Congress to be defeated. BJP won the first assembly election of a state which was a Congress bastion. The difference between the two party in terms of seats was 12 but the difference in vote percent was 2.5 percent.

In 2008, it was again the infighting which was at work. The Ajit Jogi factor debilitated the Congress so much that BJP came back to power with less than two percent of votes more than Congress. Several tall leaders of Congress like Bhupesh Baghel, Dhanendra Sahu and others have complained to the party high command in 2008 that it was Ajit Jogi who was responsible for their defeat. Baghel lost by more than 7,000 votes when four independent candidates polled more than 5,000 votes. The then PCC chief, Sahu lost by less than 1,500 votes as five independent candidates polled more than 5,000 votes. Not only this, even the defeat of Congress leaders Mahendra Karma and Satyanarayan Sharma was seen as the handiwork of the Jogi camp as most of these leaders belong to the anti-Jogi camp. In 2008, the percentage of votes dwindled down to less than two percent but thanks to the Congress infighting, BJP won 50 seats again.

Jogi, till a couple of months back, was running ‘Jogi Express’ with an open invitation to the Congress factions and leaders – “If you want to win election, hop on to Jogi Express.” A month after state Congress leaders were killed in a maoist ambush, a rebel backed by Jogi faction led to the defeat of the Congress candidate in the Bastar nagar panchyat poll.

In Chhattisgarh, Bastar region is said to be the key to power. Any important rally either starts from Bastar or ends in Bastar. No party has ever captured power without winning Bastar.  In 1998, Congress won 11 out of 12 assembly seats in the region and came to power. In 2003, BJP won 9 seats in Bastar and won Chhattisgarh for the first time. In 2008, BJP won 11 out of the 12 seats and romped home.

Apart from this , there are smaller parties like Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch which are desperate to make its presence felt in this election. The most organised and vocal among them are the Sahu community which are around 20 percent and are getting increasingly politically assertive. A recently concluded Sahu Samaj Sammelan saw the presence of leaders from all political parties. Sahu samaj is very active with regards to their demand of increasing reservation for the backward castes from 14 percent to 27 percent. BJP, in an apparent bid to not antagonise the community, has formed a sub-committee led by Agriculture Minister Chandrashekhar Sahu to look into the matter. Though government figures put the population of Sahu community at 27 lakh in Chhattisgarh, they claim that they are close to a population of 55 lakh. It is well known that in around 24 seats, Sahu voters play a crucial role. In 2008, around 11 MLAs got elected from the Sahu community.

In Numbers

Assembly Seats —  BJP 50 | Congress 38 | BSP 2   (Total Seats – 90)

Vote percentage — BJP  40.33 | Congress 38.63

Constituency breakdown — General 51 | Scheduled Castes (SC)  10 | Scheduled Tribes (ST) 29

Electorate breakdown — Male 76,75,813 | Female 75,42,747

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