A three-cornered contest in the offing

A three-cornered contest in the offing

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh.

Chhattisgarh is once again heading for a scenario that it had witnessed in the first state assembly election in 2003 for 90 seats, just after three years of Congress government. The state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000.

It was the veteran Congress leader Vidyacharan Shukla who played spoilsport for Congress by forming his own party. He had a keen desire to become chief minister of the newly formed state, like his father and elder brother had in undivided Madhya Pradesh. Endorsed by the party, Ajit Jogi became the first chief minister. Aggrieved, Shukla joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar.

Shukla moved extensively throughout the state during the election and gained around 7% of votes but secured no seat. Still, he did damage the fortunes of the Congress, paving way for the BJP to gain power in the newly constituted state for the first time.

Now, once again, a similar situation is building up, with even Chief Minister Raman Singh himself saying that it will be a triangular fight in the assembly elections later this year. There is a role reversal, though. Earlier, it was Shukla; now, it is Ajit Jogi. Jogi floated a new outfit — the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) — as he walked out of the Congress along with his son Amit Jogi and two MLAs, Siyaram Kaushik and Rajendra Kumar Rai.

Ajit Jogi, on a wheelchair after suffering a spinal injury in an accident, has been travelling extensively, holding public meetings and contact programmes. His party has already announced candidates for 35 seats so that they get time to work on the field. Jogi’s movement has taken a toll on his health and he is now out of action for a few days as he is undergoing treatment.

But all those who know him say he is not one who rests for long. Son Amit and daughter-in-law Richa are leading the party activities. Now, it has to be seen if they will be able to effect the kind of vote swing that the NCP did in 2003. Ajit Jogi’s wife Renu, meanwhile, has remained with the parent organisation, Congress. Jogi might also take advantage of rebels from Congress and BJP to gain an advantage.

The Congress, out of power for the last 15 years, is banking on the anti-incumbency factor. P L Punia, a retired IAS officer, the Congress in-charge in state, has been trying to boost the morale of Congress leaders and workers across the state, working down to the booth level.

But with the heavy aspirations of Congress leaders to come to power, whether he would be able to keep the pack together till elections is to be seen. All the political antics —agitations, regularly raking up corruption and other failures of the government in different sectors, development versus no development debates — are on. The party has also become active on social media, too. 

The Congress fears that some of the seats would be lost due to the Jogi effect as those having spoken against Jogi would face the heat. Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has announced that the candidates would be declared by August.

Development plank

Meanwhile, the BJP, ruling the state since 2003, will have to come up with some drastic steps to enthuse voters to vote for it once again. It is banking on the plank of development, which is mainly infrastructure, like roads, buildings, water supply, electricity, social welfare schemes and others. The rural areas still remain out of reach in some sectors.

The BJP is banking on Chief Minister Raman Singh to pull the party through to victory again. The dynamics of the BJP as an organisation has changed with Amit Shah at the helm of affairs. BJP sources say he wants the party to win 65 seats.

If one observes polling patterns in the state, the polling percentages in Chhattisgarh assembly elections were 71.3% in 2003, 70.6% in 2008 and 77.02% in 2013. In 2013, the Congress, contesting in 90 seats, won 39 with 40.43% vote share while the BJP won 49 seats with 41.18% of votes. Thus, the difference was a mere 0.75% vote share. A small swing in votes could change the colour of the outcome. Therefore, how the fringe parties — BSP, CPI, NCP — perform will be crucial.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has in all the previous elections won one or two seats. In 2013, it won one seat out of the 90 contested, securing 4.29% of the vote share, while the Communist Party of India (CPI) contested 13 seats and won 5.15% votes in those seats.

In the four Maoist-infested constituencies, the party won 2.01% of votes. Similarly, the NCP contested in 14 seats and secured 1.99% votes. In total, these parties’ vote share comes to about 11.43%, which could prove crucial in the coming assembly election.

(The writer is a senior journalist in Raipur, Chhattisgarh)