Chhattisgarh elections hinge on anti incumbency and a spoiler third party

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 20, 2018 13:04 hrs
Rewind 2017

The final phase of Chhattisgarh assembly elections on Tuesday will decide how the BJP and Congress fare in the run up to 2019. Currently, the BJP holds 43 of the 72 seats in the state, after their commanding performance in the 2013 elections.

The ruling BJP is looking for a fourth successive term in the state as the Congress hopes anti-incumbency will bode well for them, in what is sure to be a tight contest. However, the entry of a third party could throw a spanner in the works. Usually a binary state with a fight between the two major national parties, this time, an already close race could be tighter.

History

Since the formation of the state, it’s had two Chief Ministers. The first Chief Minister was Ajit Jogi of the Congress who served from 2000 to 2003. Since then the BJP’s Raman Singh, who is seeking a fourth term. The 2000 elections were an easy win for the Congress with them winning 48 seats.

However, with a lack of ministerial experience from Jogi, things didn’t turn out well and the BJP made in roads and succeeded Jogi and the Congress winning 50 seats in 2008 and claimed victory on a pre-development message and fighting the Maoist insurgency.

The state does have the problem of dealing with Maoists as the Congress well knows. In June 2013, the state Congress chief Nand Kumar Pate and his son were killed in an attack. 200 Congress leaders travelling on a statewide campaign were attacked in a forested area in the Dharba valley when an IED was triggered. 27 Congress leaders died.

Congress

The Congress is hoping for any sort of anti incumbency in the state in hoping they gain a majority. The margins in the state last time were just about 1%. The party is hoping to win over voters with its manifesto, which includes a loan waiver within 10 days if elected to power and Rs. 2500 support price for paddy.

The Chief Ministerial candidate will most likely be Tamardhwaj Sahu, the 69 year old MP who is seen as a non controversial figure in the party. Previously he was the chairman of the Congress’ Other Backward Classes department. He was then nominated by Rahul Gandhi to the Congress Working Committee.

The Congress is also fielding former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla against Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh from the Rajnandgaon constituency.

She left the BJP in 2014 after 30 years in the party where she occupied several organizational positions and headed the BJP’s women’s wing. She did not have any kind words for the party or Raman Singh saying in part, “As far as I know this (state) government is miles apart from Atalji's teachings. It is his (the chief minister's) double standards. It is no more a party envisaged by Atalji and (Lal Krishna) Advaniji and people of the state know this”.

BJP

The BJP has a stronghold on the state but there is a sentiment of anti incumbency. Eyeing a fourth straight term will be tough given the thin margin in 2013. The BJP’s strategy is to simmer down the expectations of the Congress. The Prime Minister painted the Congress as a party of corruption and accused them of hindering development for the state saying in part, “Do you want to give an opportunity to people who ruined the lives of earlier generations of the state?”

Competing in a state that is often marred by violence and isn’t very developed will be a challenge for the BJP is voters wanting to find out how much the state has progressed under 15 years of BJP rule. In 2013, the party lost 8 ST seats to the Congress down from 19 in the previous elections.

One factor is the government dragging its feet on implementing the Forest Rights Act. In 2006, a law was introduced that recognised and vested land rights to forest dwelling communities. Agricultural income in the state is among the lowest in the country and could drive voters away from the BJP. One poll however, has the BJP retaining a majority in the state.

Ajit Jogi & Mayawati alliance

In September, springing a surprise on the Congress, Mayawati and her party the BSP formed an alliance with former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC). Ajit Jogi and his son formed the JCC two year ago after their split with the Congress, making this their first real test.

If the alliance does win a majority, Jogi will be the Chief Minister according to Mayawati herself. While it’s highly unlikely that this new alliance will get a majority in the state, they could end up being kingmaker in the case of a hung assembly.

Their main reliance is on support from scheduled castes and hope that they can draw away enough support and votes from the two main parties to play spoil sport. The BSP, in the last elections contested all 90 seats and won a little over 4% of the votes. Jogi, who walked out of the Congress, is hoping, along with Mayawati, for a Karnataka like situation.

For Jogi, this election is a family affair. His daughter-in-law and wife are BSP and Congress candidates respectively.

His target is a simple majority of 46 though it seems unlikely. He however has remained confident, saying in part, “The JCC-BSP alliance is not a spoiler. We are here to win the election”. Given Jogi’s history with the Congress, there is a danger of its vote share being eaten away more than that of the BJP’s. Jogi’s party is contesting in 55 seats which saw a better performance by the Congress in the last two elections in 20103 and 2008.

The two main factors in determining the state will be mobilising backward communities and a seat wide arithmetic, which makes the BJP vulnerable, according journalist Aditya Menon. In his column for Moneycontrol, he explain as to how these two points will give a clearer idea of who will win the state –

The politics of Chhattisgarh have been deeply shaped by how the BJP and the Congress have competed in mobilising backward communities. In the last elections, 31 out of Chhattisgarh’s 90 seats were won by margins less than 5 percent. Of these, the BJP won 20, the Congress nine and others two. This makes the BJP more vulnerable than the Congress”.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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