Bastar, rebels push BJP close to the edge

It was just what the doctor ordered. But, for the medic turned Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr Raman Singh, and for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the assembly poll results in the state have left plenty to ponder.

For starters, the saffron party, while managing to retain power in a state it had ruled for two consecutive terms before this elections, has lost heavily in the Bastar region, the springboard that propelled the party to power in both those times.

The Congress won 8 out of 12 seats in the region, including in Dantewada where Devti Karma, widow of slain Congress leader Mahendra Karma, emerged victorious. By contrast, the BJP swept the region in 2008, bagging 11 out of 12 seats, while the lone Congress representative Kawasi Lakhma scraped through with a slender 200 vote margin.

Lakhma returned to the Assembly this time with a 6,000 vote difference, indicating the Congress resurgence here. The Congress only faired better in 2003 when it won Dantewada, Konta and Bijapur.

The Congress used the wipe-out of its top state leaders in May this year to raise serious questions on Raman Singh’s ability to reign in on Maoists in this forest-rich and Maoist-infested region. Going by the results, the strategy has certainly paid off.

In several constituencies of Bastar such as Narayanpur, Kondagaon, Keshkal, Kanker and Bhanupratappur, a large section of the votes had been taken away by the NOTA (None-Of-The-Above) section, though it is harder to pinpoint the influence of the Red Brigade on voters.

In Keshkal and Kanker, two independent candidates, Dhaniram Markam and Mahendra Gawade, took away more than 9,000 votes which were more than the winning margin for the Congress candidates in both seats, revealing the impact of the infighting in the Chhattisgarh BJP.

Outside Bastar, the Mahasamumnd seat also exposed the rift within the BJP, as dissident Deepak Chopra carried it trouncing the Congress and the official saffron candidate.

However, the BJP managed to make it up by wins in other regions of the state, as the Congress decision to fall back on Ajit Jogi backfired.

The Congress leader was still not a favourite of the urban elite despite enjoying a large fan-following among backward caste.

Jogi secured two tickets for his family  and persuaded the Congress to give tickets to candidates of his choice. The party did as he asked, ignoring advice of Pradesh Congress Committee chief Charan Das Mahanta and other senior leaders.

Jogi’s son, Amit, won by a margin of more than 46,000 votes in the family pocket borough at Marwahi, but his mother and sitting MLA Renu Jogi could manage a lead of about 5,000 votes in Kota.

Both assembly segments fall within the Bilaspur Parliamentary constituency, from where Jogi is looking to contest the next Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP thumped its national rival in 2008 by bagging 50 seats to Congress’s 38. But it lost a few seats this time. The close nature of this elections surely comes as a warning for Raman Singh.

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