BJP retains Chhattisgarh -- after hours of suspense

BJP retains Chhattisgarh -- after hours of suspense

After hours of nail-biting suspense, the BJP Sunday finally retained power in Chhattisgarh to begin a third five-year term -- a la neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

After seven hours of fluctuating fortunes for the BJP and the Congress, a jubilant Chief Minister Raman Singh claimed victory with 49 of the 90 seats in his kitty.

"It is peoples' victory, the mandate is for development," he said.

"I fought the election entirely on development issues, and I will do my best to speed up the pace of development," he said. "Winning for the third time in a row is a historic feat."

The Congress, which at one time looked as if it would oust the Bharatiya Janata Party, conceded defeat.

Its state unit chief and Central Minister Charandas Mahant said: "It's hard to digest defeat. We worked hard but the bitter fact is that Congress has lost and now it's time for serious introspection."

Chhattisgarh was seen as a weak spot in the region for the BJP when millions voted in November-December to elect new assemblies in five states including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram.

As officials counted the mass of votes Sunday, the Congress took an initial lead over the BJP -- only to start trailing later. The fluctuation in fortunes continued for hours.

At one time, the Congress even claimed victory. Hundreds of overzealous supporters stormed party leader Ajit Jogi's residence here demanding that he be named the chief minister.

So uncertain was the situation that even BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's first congratulatory message over the election results was confined to party colleagues in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Eventually, however, the BJP went past the half-way mark in the 90-seat legislature to secure a simple majority with 48 seats - two less than what it won in 2008. The Congress tally was 40 -- two more than last time. One seat went to a BJP rebel and another to the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The scare the BJP suffered was because of its near drubbing in the sprawling Bastar region where the Congress snatched around half a dozen seats from the ruling party.

In 2008, the BJP had won 11 of 12 assembly seats in Bastar.

BJP MP Ramesh Bais admitted this to IANS, saying what saved the day for the party was Chief Minister Singh's "welfare and development programmes".

Chhattisgarh BJP leaders underlined that Raman Singh alone was the reason the party overcame a near defeat -- which consumed several ministers.

Among the notable Congress winners were Umesh Patel from Kharsia, the son of former Chhattisgarh Congress president Nand Kumar Patel who the Maoists slaughtered along with other party leaders in May this year. Raman Singh defeated Alka Uday Mudaliyar of Congress in Rajnandgaon.

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