Chhattisgarh 2018

Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2018 phase 2: BJP banks on Raman Singh, Congress on farmers

Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi helmed an intense few days of campaigning in Chhattisgarh. File photos: PTI  

As campaigning drew to a close in for the second and final phase of the Assembly elections scheduled for Tuesday, the ruling BJP is banking on the popularity of Chief Minister Raman Singh to win a fourth straight term in power, while the Congress hopes an upswing in its support among farming communities in the plains will turn the tide in its favour.

The past three Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh were settled by narrow margins ranging between 2.5% and 0.7%. The BJP won 49 of the 90 Assembly seats in 2013 by scoring nearly one lakh votes more than the Congress, which won 39.

The Chief Minister for 15 years, Mr. Singh, an Ayurvedic doctor who used to practise in a tin shed in the small town of Kawardha when he began his climb up the power ladder as a municipal councillor in 1983, remains popular. But it is a different scenario for the BJP’s MLAs who are contesting to retain their place.

On one man’s strength

“The BJP is bigger than the sum of its parts, for one reason — Raman Singh. Man to man, booth to booth, the Congress is better this time,” a key figure in the BJP campaign told The Hindu.

“Being in power for the last 15 years led to a weakening of the BJP organisation, which was partly required to assert the CM’s authority. Being out of power for 15 years has had the opposite effect on the Congress. The hunger for power and the fear of sitting in the Opposition for another five years has charged them up,” the campaign functionary said.

The BJP’s sitting MLAs are facing strong anti-incumbency, which is a trend in the State, said Amit Jogi, leader of the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC), which had splintered from the Congress.

“Three out of four MLAs lose in the State, if you go by trends in the previous elections,” Mr. Jogi, who, along with his father and former Chief Minister, Ajit Jogi, is trying to establish the JCC as the first regional party in the State.

The BJP denied ticket to 16 of its sitting MLAs, far fewer than during the previous two times. Many who were dropped in the past three elections have made a comeback too. Twelve of its 13 Ministers are in the fray, many of them unpopular, said Sunil Kumar, a political commentator and editor of the daily Chhattisgarh.

Mr. Jogi has a significant following in the Scheduled Caste Satnami community that constitutes around 12% of the State’s population, but his exit from the Congress may make it more acceptable to several backward castes, traders and the urban middle class.

These sections are hostile to Mr. Jogi. The JCC-BSP alliance is breaking into the BJP base also. “The Congress has made significant inroads among the backward caste farmers in the plains who formed the core of the BJP’s base. They got a raw deal under the BJP. We retain our edge in the tribal regions in the south and north, and a 20% shift among farmers to us will see us through,” said Chandan Yadav, AICC secretary in charge of the campaign in the State.

“Eeven if the sky falls and the roof collapses … one, two, three, four… before the 10th day of a Congress government in the State, the farmers will have their loans waived off,” said Congress president Rahul Gandhi during the campaigning. This message is the spearhead of the party’s attempt to woo the backward caste farmers in the State, particularly the Sahus, Kurmis and Yadavs. Bhupesh Baghel, the Kurmi State president of the party, and Tamradhwaj Sahu, the lone party MP from the State and Congress Working Committee (CWC) member, are leading the campaigning.

Inteventionist leadership

Mr. Singh wanted to replace many more Ministers and MLAs and bring in fresh faces to beat anti-incumbency, but other considerations by the BJP’s central leadership, which is now far more assertive and interventionist in the State’s affairs than it was in the past three elections, tied his hands, according to people in the know.

Mr. Singh initially resisted but gave in. His campaigning is centred on his own persona, and he stresses in speeches that the vote for a particular candidate is, effectively, for him as CM. Campaign ads feature him prominently, with a large sketch of the late A.B. Vajpayee in the background.

While objective factors may appear favourable for the Congress, it is being outspent many times over by the BJP and in the last lap of campaigning, this might be a critical determinant. What is, however, unmistakable is the challenge posed for the BJP by the churn in Chhattisgarh’s social dynamics.

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Printable version | Jul 18, 2021 8:06:40 PM |

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