Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh CMs both in the fray in November 17 polling

The first phase of voting for 20 seats in the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly was held on November 7 and saw a high voter turnout of 78%

November 16, 2023 10:57 pm | Updated 11:53 pm IST - RAIPUR/BHOPAL

Polling officials move to polling booth after collect their polling materials for Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election at Lal Parade ground in Bhopal on November 16, 2023.

Polling officials move to polling booth after collect their polling materials for Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election at Lal Parade ground in Bhopal on November 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: Faruqui A.M.

The second and final phase of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections for the remaining 70 seats will be held on Friday, and decide the electoral fate of political heavyweights like Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, his deputy T.S. Singh Deo, eight State Ministers and four Members of Parliament.

In Madhya Pradesh, meanwhile, 36 seats in the BJP strongholds in Bhopal and the adjoining central region, including Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s seat in Budhni, will also go to the polls on the same day.

Madhya Pradesh will vote on Friday to decide the electoral fate of 2,533 candidates in 230 Assembly seats

The first phase of voting for 20 seats in the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly was held on November 7 and saw a high voter turnout of 78%. More than 1.63 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the 70 seats going to polls on Friday, where 958 candidates are on the ballot. Of the 18,833 polling booths, 700 will be entirely managed by women. The polling time has been reduced in nine polling booths in the Naxal-affected Bindranawagarh seat in Rajim district for security reasons.

Ambitious target

While the Congress has set an ambitious target of winning 75-plus Assembly seats, the Opposition BJP is seeking to make a comeback to power in the State, which it ruled for 15 years non-stop, from 2003 to 2018. While the main fight is between these bitter rivals, a three-way contest is on the cards in several seats of the Bilaspur division where former CM Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) and the Bahujan Samaj party — which is contesting in alliance with a regional outfit, the Gondwana Ganatantra Party — have pockets of influence. The Aam Aadmi Party has also been focusing on seats in the division.

Mr. Baghel will contest from his traditional Patan seat, where the BJP has fielded his distant nephew and party MP Vijay Baghel, while Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) State president Amit Jogi’s decision to contest the seats adds a new dimension to the contest.

Corruption charges vs welfare promises

The BJP's poll campaign was spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who addressed four well-attended rallies for the second phase and targeted the Baghel-led government over corruption, particularly the alleged Mahadev betting app scam, and recruitment scandal and Naxalism. Top BJP leaders on the campaign trail also criticised Mr. Baghel over religious conversion, and accused his government of indulging in appeasement politics.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, senior leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi and CM Baghel led the campaign for the ruling party and mounted a counter-offensive claiming their party is concerned about the interest of the poor, while the BJP-led Centre only works for the welfare of the rich. The Congress based its campaign on a slew of welfare schemes rolled out by the Baghel government for farmers, women, tribals and Dalits. It has tried to woo farmers with the promise of a loan waiver, similar to its 2018 pledge, and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) with a caste survey.

In the previous Assembly polls in 2018, the Congress had won 51 of these 70 constituencies, while the BJP ended up with 13. The Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) had bagged four seats and the BSP two. The Congress later won one more seat in a bypoll.

BJP defending central M.P. citadel

Madhya Pradesh’s central region has emerged as a stronghold of the ruling BJP stronghold over the past three decades, but a combative Congress is eying a comeback there in Friday’s polls.

While the BJP says it has worked according to the socio-political equations and gained further in its citadel, the opposition Congress says it has strengthened its booth-level organisation set-up and claims the results will be different in the region this time.

Of the 36 seats spread across eight districts in the Bhopal and Narmadapuram revenue divisions, the BJP won 30 in 2013, and 24 in 2018. The Congress tally in 2018 stood at 12.

M.P. CM in the fray

In the Budhni seat, the Congress has fielded Vikram Mastal, an actor who played the role of Hanuman in a TV serial, against the Chief MInister, Mr. Chouhan. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Mirchi Baba, who is best known for performing a hawan (religious ritual) using chillies after Congress candidate Digvijaya Singh’s victory from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat in 2019.

Another important seat is Bhojpur in Raisen district, located on the outskirts of Bhopal city, which has been with the BJP since 1982, except in 2003 when its MLA Surendra Patwa was defeated by Rajesh Patel of the Congress. Mr. Patwa, who is the candidate again, is the son of BJP stalwart and former CM, the late Sundarlal Patwa, who won this seat four times.

In Hoshangabad, two brothers – Girijashankar Sharma (Congress) and Sitasharan Sharma (BJP) – are pitted against each other. In another family fight in this region, sitting BJP MLA Sanjay Shah is contesting against his nephew and Congress candidate Abhijeet Shah from the Timarni seat in Harda district for the second time in a row.

In the previous elections, this was the only region from where two Muslim leaders – Arif Aqueel (Bhopal North) and Arif Masood (Bhopal Central) - were elected. Mr. Aqueel’s son Atif and Mr. Masood are contesting on Congress tickets this time round, from Bhopal North and Bhopal Central seats, respectively.

‘Rectified mistakes’

State BJP secretary Rajneesh Agrawal said his party earlier lost a few seats in Betul and Rajgarh districts of the central region due to some mistakes. “This time, the party has rectified these mistakes. It has worked according to socio-political equations in Bhopal and Narmadapuram divisions and gained further in this BJP citadel,” he claimed.

M.P. Congress media department chairman K.K. Mishra attributed his party’s poor performance in this region to a “weak organisational set up”. He claimed that this time, “the Congress has rectified its mistakes and strengthened the organisational set up till the booth level. The results will be different in these 36 seats this time.”

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