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How an ex-Congressman can scupper the party's chances in Chhattisgarh polls

Former Chief Minister of Chhatfisgarh Ajit Jogi. Photo: PTI
In the Chhattisgarh assembly elections in 2013, a mere 0.67 per cent of the vote share had separated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the Congress.

This time around, as Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh relies on his 15-year-old government’s efficient delivery of social welfare schemes to get re-elected, the story of the 2018 assembly elections in the state could well be how the Congress manages to overhaul the slim gap in its vote share by striking pre-poll alliances, or whether a former Congressman scuppers the party’s chances.

In 2013, the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system had meant the BJP with 41.18 per cent vote share won 49 seats in the 90-member assembly, while the Congress with 40.43 per cent vote share won 39 seats. 

In 2013, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) secured 4.27 per cent of the votes and won a solitary seat. The BSP’s vote share in eight seats was much more than the gap between that of Congress candidates and those of the BJP.

The Communist Party of India was a respectable number three in terms of vote share in Chitrakoot, Dantewara, Bijapur and Konta. The Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP), which had a vote share of 1.6 per cent in 2013, and Nationalist Congress Party also played a role in the Congress losing close contests in the three seats of Bharatpur-Sonhat, Mahendragarh and Baikunthpur.

Senior Congress leader P L Punia, the party’s Chhattisgarh in-charge, favours the Congress aligning with the BSP, GGP and CPI. According to CPI chief S Sudhakar Reddy, his party and the Congress are set to have an alliance in Chhattisgarh.

The Congress party’s alliances with the BSP and GGP would also depend on whether it succeeds in having alliances with these two parties in Madhya Pradesh as well.

The crucial difference between 2013 and now, however, is the presence of former Congress leader and former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi and his son Amit, who have launched their own party, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh. Punia has ruled out either an alliance or a seat adjustment with Jogi, and the Congress has taken to calling the party the BJP’s “B team”.

Punia has also been vociferous about Jogi’s alleged involvement in the May 25, 2013 Naxal attack on Congress leaders in the Darbha valley, in which 27 people were killed, including former state minister Mahendra Karma, Chattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and senior Congress leader Vidya Charan Shukla.

But Jogi and his son command respect in their Satnami Scheduled Caste community. The Dalits comprise 12 per cent of the state’s population. Of these, the Satnamis are nearly two-thirds. The Jogis could damage the Congress party’s chances in at least a dozen seats, but their absence from the Congress could also help it win over the middle classes. Interestingly, Jogi met BSP chief Mayawati last month, which left the Congress a tad nervous. It has since reached out to the BSP chief, and such leaders as the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar have also met Mayawati since.

As for Chief Minister Raman Singh’s campaign, he has taken to reach out to the people about the efficient delivery of social welfare schemes, particularly the state’s public distribution system. The Raman Singh government counts improvements in health and education sectors as its successes.

According to Singh, the state’s health scheme has benefited as many as 5.5 million people. He will launch the second phase of the health scheme on Independence Day, and is hopeful that the people would not ignore efforts at generating employment through the NMDC’s 3-million-tonne Nagarmar Steel Plant in Bastar, which will go into production by the end of the year.

For the present, it is safe to surmise that an interesting electoral battle awaits us in Chhattisgarh with Singh continuing to be the frontrunner to win it.