Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch is a key player in Durg and adjoining districts

The fight for power in Chhattisgarh may primarily be between the two national political parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, but there is a semblance of a Third Front also.

Led by the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch, created by a senior BJP leader the late Tarachand Sahu when he quit the party in 2008, the Third Front or the Joint Front initially had nine smaller political parties though only five remain under the umbrella now with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP), and Communist Party of India (CPI) being its major constituents.

The BSP has some support base in Jangjir-Champa and adjoining districts and had won two seats in the last Assembly elections, the CPI has a substantial following in the Naxal-affected Bastar region and the GGP along the regions bordering Madhya Pradesh. However, it is the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch, which is a key player in Durg and adjoining districts, making the contest triangular in a majority of seats. “We are contesting in 54 constituencies and expect to win 18-19 seats, and influence the outcome in others,” Raj Kumar Gupta, party spokesperson and think-tank told The Hindu.

The party draws strength from the Sahu voters who form a substantial chunk of OBC votes in Central Chhattisgarh and have been BJP voters traditionally. Tarachand Sahu was a four time MP from Durg Parliamentary constituency. In the local government elections, a few of the party’s representatives got elected while many others gave a tough fight to the winners, losing by just a few hundred votes.

Dismissing the perception that Swabhiman Manch would cut into BJP votes, Mr. Gupta explains that it would damage the Congress candidates more as the anti-incumbency vote, which would have otherwise fallen into Congress kitty, would get divided. “We will prevent the Congress from coming to power,” he says. The party, however, would support either of the national parties in the case of a fractured verdict if their concerns were addressed. “We also have a responsibility towards the people in ensuring they get a stable government,” Mr. Gupta says.

Swabhiman Manch, the party claims, could influence the outcome in Rajnandgaon, Raipur (rural), Bilaspur, Korba, Mahasamund and adjoining areas. In the union elections held at Bhilai Steel Plant, the Manch had the second largest numbers. This came as a boost to the party, led by Deepak Sahu, and it decided to jump in the elections. It would also help them consolidate their support base in the coming Parliamentary elections.

A very interesting contest is at the Durag (rural) constituency where Tarachand Sahu’s younger daughter Urvashi Sahu is making her political debut. Curiously, all major political parties have fielded women candidates from here. Pratima Chandrakar, the sitting MLA, has been given the mandate by the Congress a second time while Ramsheela Sahu will fight on a BJP ticket.

In 2009 Parliamentary elections, the sitting MP from Durg Saroj Pandey had defeated Tarachand Sahu who had contested under the Swabhiman Manch banner and gave her a tough fight.

In Durg City Assembly seat Hem Chand Yadav of the BJP is pitted against Arun Vora, son of Moti Lal Vora, who has been given the ticket for the fourth consecutive term though he never won. Rajendra Sahu, who was defeated in the Mayoral elections by a few hundred votes, is Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch candidate here.

The Manch has also accommodated many rebels from both the BJP and Congress. D.P. Dhritlahare, a former Congressman who also won two elections independently has been given a ticket from Nawagarh and is likely to make it to the Assembly. Similarly, Gangu Ram Baghel who had defected to Congress from the BJP during Ajit Jogi’s Chief Ministership but contested as an independent candidate when denied ticket, is now Manch’s candidate from Arang. Another Congress rebel Hemant Sahu has been fielded from Gunderdehi.