In the last Assembly elections in 2008, the BJP and the Congress equally shared the 72 seats that are going to polls on Monday. Both sides got 35 seats each, with two seats won by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The difference in vote shares was nominal, and both had an equal number of tribal seats — nine each — with a difference of only one seat in Scheduled Caste (SC) constituencies in north and central Chhattisgarh. Realising the nature of the competition, both sides have got their star campaigners from Delhi and rest of the country in for the fight.
The BJP’s star campaigner is Narendra Modi, whose campaign message is now being delivered as voice SMS through cell phones. “Development will be rapid if the BJP wins in Chhattisgarh and the rest of the country,” says Mr. Modi, in an attempt to encourage voters. In fact, he is now competing with Chief Minister Raman Singh in the number of outdoor displays in Raipur as well as other large cities. Political observers wonder why the BJP is under pressure. The party, according to official reports, has done reasonably well in carrying out its flagship welfare programmes, while promoting power and steel businesses.None of the top ministers is behind bars for corruption, and the Chief Minister has a personal image score of six, on an average, on a scale of 10, in any survey.
The answer may well lie in Raman Singh’s remark. “When a party stays in power for 10 years, ambition rises,” he told The Hindu recently. For instance, once its list of candidates was announced, several powerful leaders like ex-minister Ganesh Ram Bhagat in Jashpur, ex-MLA Bijay Agrawal in Raigarh, general secretary of the BJP’s Koriya division Shivcharan Cherwa, former MLA from Balod, Balmukund Dewangan and another half-a-dozen prominent local leaders rebelled against the party diktat. In fact, the BJP had to expel several local leaders who decided to contest the election, including Mr. Bhagat.
The Congress, too, has similar problems. On the leadership front, internal rivalry with Ajit Jogi, which was headed towards a truce, is now on again — this may damage the party’s prospects.
“In at least seven seats Mr. Jogi has put up rebel candidates,” said a senior Congress leader. While Mr. Jogi could not be reached for comment, the mood in the BJP camp has perked up. “Mr. Jogi may even defeat some senior Congress leaders, which is surely good news for us,” said Subhash Rao, senior BJP leader and spokesperson.
The middle class has a few reasons to complain about the ruling party. “The BJP has focused too much on BPL families and has totally ignored the middle class,” said a consumable distributor, Anand Srivastav. A sharp hike in the power tariff, poor health and educational infrastructure and unemployment are some of the issues that may trouble the incumbent government. In an election that is expected to reach a penalty shootout, the BSP is expected to play a critical role. Kanshi Ram, the founder of the party, fought his first Lok Sabha election from the central district Janjgir-Champa, where the BSP has a 35-40 per cent Satnami vote.
One of the BSP candidates, Dev Kumar Kaneri, however said they were “not working to cut Congress votes, but to win in eight seats.” If the Congress’s problem is the BSP, the BJP is facing a threat from a yet-be-tested party, the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch (CSM), which is expected to reduce the BJP’s vote share in five or six seats in Durg. The Chief Minister, however, feels the CSM will “cut into the votes of both the Congress and the BJP.”
Keywords: Chhattisgarh polls 2013