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A lost opportunity for the Congress?

With the first phase of polling for the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly concluding on Monday, the month-long election schedule for the five States — Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Mizoram — finally began. Despite a boycott call by the Maoists, the turnout was about 70%, according to provisional figures put out by the Election Commission of India.

Of these five States, it could be argued that Chhattisgarh should have been the best bet for the Congress to register a victory — and in case the party fails to do as well as expected, it may look back in regret at some its election tactics.

Though Chief Minister Raman Singh is reasonably popular in spite of being in power for 15 years, it is natural to expect some anti-incumbency against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State.

Political developments

Even some anti-incumbency would put the BJP in a difficult situation as the party managed to win the 2013 Assembly elections with a very slender margin, with less than 1 percentage point of the vote between it and the Congress. But political developments in the State suggest that the BJP is all set to win again this time as well.

Ajit Jogi, for long the face of the Congress, has floated his own party — the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) — while the State Congress working president and well-known tribal leader Ramdayal Uike has joined the BJP.

The inability of the Congress to form an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which eventually joined hands with the JCC, could damage its electoral prospects.

Past elections

Here are the reasons why Chhattisgarh could have been an easy State for the Congress to secure. Though the BJP won three consecutive Assembly elections — 2003, 2008 and 2013 — its victories have been with a very narrow margins. The victories have just slipped from the Congress’s hand on all three occasions. The BJP also won a large number of seats with narrow margins. For example, in 2003, 26 seats of the 49 seats the BJP won were with a margin of less than 10,000 votes.

In 2008, 27 seats of the 50 seats the party won had a margin of less than 10,000 votes. In all three Assembly elections, half the seats won were with a margin less than 5,000 votes. A marginal shift in the support base of the BJP could result in the party losing between 12 and 14 seats, which would be good enough for the Congress to register a victory.

But the Congress has clearly missed the bus completely. It remained inactive even after the formation of the JCC. Mr. Jogi, without doubt, was the backbone of the Congress in the State for decades. His political move is bound to damage the vote bank of the Congress. Even after Mr. Jogi’s exit from the Congress, it may have been possible for the Congress to put up a strong contest against the BJP if it had managed to form an alliance with the BSP.

The first phase

While this would be the first Assembly election for the JCC, its alliance with the BSP is an important factor. Mr. Uike’s defection is also sure to not only damage the support base of the Congress but also add to the support base of the BJP.

This means that in the State which has voted the first, Chhattisgarh is certainly an opportunity lost as far as the Congress is concerned unless a miracle happens, which as of now appears to be unlikely.

Sanjay Kumar is a Professor and currently the Director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi

 


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 4:14:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-lost-opportunity-for-the-congress/article25479331.ece

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