This election is marked by the absence of several political stalwarts. If the Congress lost Mahendra Karma and Vidya Charan Shukla to Naxal violence, the Bharatiya Janata Party will no more gain from the experience of Baliram Kashyap, Lakhiram Aggarwal and Dilip Singh Judeo, who died of natural causes. Nand Kumar Sai, a popular tribal leader, has been sidelined.

Not only did these leaders have stature in their parties, they had a personalrapport with the voters and hence were entrusted with the responsibility of‘managing’ a region. Mr. Karma was a popular tribal leader and would weave magic with voters in the entire Bastar region, while Vidya Charan Shukla, in his earlier days, was highly respected among the upper caste Congress voters. Similarly, Judeo was popular in his ‘empire’ and later among all when he pledged to shave off his moustache if he lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2009.

But this time, Chief Minister Raman Singh and his predecessor Ajit Jogi are the only two local star campaigners in an election where corruption, anti-incumbency and food security are the main issues. Not many people say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi or Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi will influence the voting pattern in Congress’s favour. When the State goes to the polls in the second phase for 72 seats on November 19, it will have a mix of voters, though Scheduled Castes and OBCs constitute a major chunk of voters. Scheduled Tribe voters dominated in the first phase.

There is an argument doing the rounds in pollbound areas over the changed composition of Scheduled Caste reservations. The Congress has been telling the masses that the government had reduced the percentage of reservation in employment and admission for the SCs and, if voted to power, it would increase it substantially. But how? It says it knows, but fails to tell the people that a disproportionate increase in reservation is not sustainable. The fact remains that the percentage of reservation in admission and employment was based on the 1981 census of undivided Madhya Pradesh. When the State was divided, Chhattisgarh had more of an ST population and the composition of reservation was accordingly revised, resulting in more reservation for STs and less for SCs as per the 2001 census. Now, this is being used against the government.

Similarly, Madhya Pradesh now has more of a Scheduled Caste population and the number of ST people is lower. Those watching the elections keenly say the BJP will have to pay a price in Surguja for overlooking Judeo loyalists during ticket distribution, though his son Yudhvir Singh is contesting from nearby Chandrapur seat where he is the sitting MLA. His rival is Nobel Verma, who had won on an NCP ticket in 2008 from a different constituency but joined the Congress later. Chandrapur is in Janjgir Champa district where the government’s land acquisition for a power plant, which is yet to come up, had led to discontentment. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also has a strong presence in this region and has two Assembly seats, but it often cuts into Congress votes.

“The issue of corruption in Chhattisgarh will be blunted as compared to other States of the Centre. The Chief Minister has a very clean image and allegations of corruption are against only a handful of his ministers and that too, not of the nature of 2G, the coal scam or the Commonwealth games,” says a retired senior government official.