THE voters of Chhattisgarh exhibited an exemplary courage in the first phase of polling, by defying Maoist threat to boycott polls. Nearly 70% of the 2.9 million electorate exercised their franchise. Among the five states to go to polls, the first-phase of polling was held in Chhattisgarh on November 11 in the Maoist-infested Bastar region and Rajnandgaon. It was due to security reasons that this ‘Rice bowl of India’ is undergoing polling in two phases.
The political future of Chhattisgarh will depend a lot on the outcome of the 18 seats of this region. According to independent analysts, the ruling BJP which had won 11 out of 12 seats in Bastar and four out of six in Rajnandgaon in 2008 election, will continue to be the numero uno, but there will be a dip in its seat count. For instance, Communist Party of India’s candidate Manish Kunjam is a hot favourite from Konta, who is contesting against sitting Congress MLA Kawasi Lakhma and BJP’s Dhaniram Warse.
Two factors— the growing Maoist insurgency in Bastar and the sympathy created due to the death of Congress leaders in an ambush at Darbha Ghati earlier this year, have compelled many Vanvasi voters of the region to rethink before voting for the ruling BJP. However, Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh, who himself had been an Ayurveda practitioner, through his health sector schemes like Janani Suraksha etc has successfully made an impact amongst the economically weaker sections of not only Bastar or his home turf Rajnandgaon, but in entire Chhattisgarh. In addition, his popular free rice scheme helped him to win the 2008 election and he is fondly called as ‘Chaurwale Baba’ among the Vanvasis and villagers. More than the issues of development and good governance, unlike his peer Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Madhya Pradesh CM, he is going to the voters riding on these popular schemes, which may overshadow his government’s failure to create adequate employment opportunities in the state.
According to ground reports, the seats in South Bastar like Dantewada are likely to have mixed response – BJP and Congress both will have a tough fight to win; whereas in north Bastar like Kanker, Kondagaon etc BJP has an edge over its opponents.
Pre-poll surveys by CNN-IBN, The Week and the CSDS, and India Today-ORG have respectively predicted 61-71 seats and 46 seats for the Chhattisgarh BJP, but will ultimately emerge the winner.
In the state capital, Raipur, which will go to polls in the last phase on November 19, sitting minister Brijmohan Agarwal has a fair chance to win, whereas from another seat Congress veteran and popular leader Satyanarayan Sharma has strong chances to win.
The people of Bilaspur have a strong grievance against their sitting MLA and minister Amar Agarwal, due to the ramshackle condition of roads due to a slow-paced ongoing sewerage project; reportedly, everyday road accidents take place and nearly 50 people have died in the current year.
The recent death of Dilip Singh Judeo, a BJP Member of Parliament from Bilaspur constituency and a member of erstwhile royal family of Bastar likely to impact poll prospects of the BJP.
But, it’s the sudden resurgence of former CM of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jogi which rather than winning seats for Congress, would benefit BJP. Though he was in hibernation for quite sometime, at the last moment, the Congress high command appeased him by giving two tickets to his wife and son, and brought him to the helm of affairs.
“Despite Jogi having his own voter base, people at large don’t want him as CM. Even, it has given rise to dissension within the Congress, and this will definitely benefit Raman Singh,” a senior Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
The effect of union minister Charandas Mahant on Chhattisgarh politics is hardly visible. He makes appearances as a formality, rather than as a mission to win votes for Congress through campaigning. The end of senior Congress leadership in the state in a Maoist ambush on May 25, like Nand Kumar Patel, Mahendra Karma, Vidya Charan Shukla shall have an obvious dent on party’s winning prospects.
Jogi has also been brought back to win over the minority votes – be it Muslims or Christians. But, a section of Christian voters whether in the Bastar region or Bilaspur-Ambikapur belt prefers to back Dr Raman Singh. “What has Jogi done for Christians, when he was the CM,” questioned Richard Kujur of Ambikapur.
The faction-ridden opposition Congress due to its own infighting failed to cash on the allegations it made against the ruling BJP government on corruption issue.
But, Dr Raman Singh’s effort to streamline the public distribution system (PDS) in Chhattisgarh has given a befitting reply to his opponents. “We have introduced a corruption-free PDS model in the country, and we’re ahead of Centre’s food security programme through our nutrition-based food programme that has covered 32 lakh families in the state,” reiterated Dr Raman Singh, who is confident of making it for the third term, like Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan.