Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh), Nov 10 (IANS) The insurgency-riddled Bastar region, which is made up of seven districts, is heading for a cliffhanger between the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress as assembly polling begins in Chhattisgarh on Monday.
The Congress had bagged eight seats in the last assembly polls out of 12 in Bastar in 2013 but the BJP has launched an aggressive campaign in the sprawling, forested 'red zone'. Bastar, spread over roughly 40,000 sq kms.
Chhattisgarh has a total of 90 assembly seats and in the first phase, polling will be held for 18 seats -- 12 in Bastar and six in Rajnandgaon district.
Political analysts say that the BJP holds an edge in Bastar but the Congress appears to have made a comeback in the past one week due to an unrelenting election campaign. It has also persuaded party rebels to pull out from the elections in favour of the official candidates.
"It's a very close contest in Bastar and as of now the Bastar battle heads for a photo finish. The only worry for the Congress would be that BJP has largely convinced people in jungle areas that only the saffron party could eliminate insurgency and bring prosperity," said Kawasi Lakhma, three-time Congress MLA from the state's worst Maoist-hit Konta seat in Sukma district.
Lakhma, who never attended school, is the tribal face of the Congress in Bastar. He remarked that his party had no option but to effectively counter the BJP's propaganda that the Congress adopts a soft approach towards the Maoists, mainly urban Maoists.
Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel though claimed: "Congress would definitely consolidate its seats tally this time in Bastar, despite the BJP putting in all its might and resources."
The BJP which claims to have constructed roads, schools and hospitals in deep interiors of the 'red zone', has set a target of winning not less than 10 out of Bastar's 12 seats.
"The BJP has the best ever chance in Bastar in this election. We have placed the right candidates in the right seats. Any figure less than 10 seats will be disappointing," Raman Singh, the longest serving Chief Minister of the BJP, told IANS.
Singh is contesting from a Rajnandgaon seat. The Congress has fielded Karuna Shukla, niece of former Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to spice up the poll battle in Rajnandgaon, where Raman Singh's son and BJP Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Singh appears to be calling the shots for the BJP.