In the 11 constituencies in Chhattisgarh which will vote in the general elections this Thursday, not much has changed since last year’s assembly elections. It’s the same bipolar fight between the BJP and the Congress, the same fielding of new faces, a campaign centred around rice and farmer issues, and the same charges and issues dredged-up by the two main parties in the fray.
Of course, Naxal violence remains an ever present danger given the Maoist rebels’ call for a poll boycott and violence in the assembly elections. The impact of Naxal terror, a huge factor in the constituencies of Bastar, Kanker and Sarguja, can be gauged from the fact that none of the political parties has dared to appeal voters to defy the boycott call.
In spite of the lacklustre campaign, triangular contests are expected in Durg, Janjgir-Champa and Bastar. Janjgir-Champa is where BSP founder Kanshi Ram fought his maiden Lok Sabha polls in 1984 and the BSP desperately wants to capture the seat. So the party state president Dauram Ratnakar can be expected to give a tough fight to the Congress and BJP.
In Durg, there’s four time BJP MP Tarachand Sahu, an OBC leader expelled from the party for anti-party activities during the assembly elections, who is fighting as an independent. In Bastar, the Communist Party of India candidate Manish Kunjam is locked in battle with the BJP’s Baliram Kashyap and the Congress’s Shanker Sodi. All eyes are set on Bilaspur where the flamboyant BJP leader Dilip Singh Judeo is pitted against Renu Jogi, sitting Congress MLA and wife of former chief minister Ajit Jogi.
The BJP, which retained power in Chhattisgarh, accepts that repeating its 2004 election performance, when it won 10 seats, will be tough. But the ‘Raman effect’ seems to be working as the chief minister’s charisma has overshadowed that of PM-in-waiting LK Advani.
The opposition Congress believes the party will emerge winner in constituencies where it did well in the assembly elections. “The party has winning prospects in Mahasamund, Bilaspur, Korba and Raigarh,” affirms Congress chief spokesperson Ramesh Varlyani. The party is highlighting the UPA’s accomplishments and targeting ruling BJP on alleged misutilising Central fund, corruption in Central schemes. But infighting could cost the party dear.
Of the 178 candidates contesting for the 11 Lok Sabha seats, the least number are from insurgency-hit Bastar.
Thirty-two per cent of the 1.54 crore voters are tribals and continue to hold the key but the OBCs, with over 45 per cent, could also emerge powerful.