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Challenges in Chhattisgarh

The contest will be close. As Chhatisgarh sets out to elect a new assembly on November 14 and 20, the two principal contestants, the BJP and the Congress, are both facing resentment in the ranks, reports Ejaz Kaise. See graphics

india Updated: Nov 08, 2008 01:40 IST
Ejaz Kaise

The contest will be close. As Chhatisgarh sets out to elect a new assembly on November 14 and 20, the two principal contestants, the BJP and the Congress, are both facing resentment in the ranks.

The strong presence of Naxalites, who are opposed to the bourgeois parliamentary process, in 12 of the state's 18 districts, adds another dimension of uncertainty to the coming elections.

In the 2003 election - the first to be held after Chhattisgarh became the 26th state of the Indian union on November 1, 2000 - the political wind was blowing very strongly in one direction: against the Congress. Popular resentment against the Ajit Jogi led government which had been ruling the state till then was high. There were numerous allegations of scams, including a dispute over whether Jogi's own certificate, classifying him a tribal, was genuine or not. It was reflected in the results, with the BJP winning 50 of the 90 seats.

This time the situation is different. Though the Congress has been harping on the corruption and poor governance of the Raman Singh led BJP government, the latter believes its record in development and various populist schemes will see it through. But resentment has been caused by both the Congress and the BJPfielding several new faces, ignoring the interests of party leaders and group loyalists and thereby antagonising many.

The BJP, in an attempt to neutralise anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling government, has introduced 46 new faces. In a repeat of the strategy tried out in Gujarat - where it won the last assembly election in December 2007 handsomely - the party has denied tickets to many sitting MLAs - or changed their constituencies - when internal surveys showed they had become unpopular with their voters.

"We believe the same formula will work in our favour,” Chief Minister Raman Singh told HT. He insisted there would be no anti incumbency feeling against the BJP.

The opposition Congress too witnessed major disagreements among senior leaders over the choice of candidates. But finally, former chief minister Ajit Jogi has succeeded in getting most of his loyalists into the party’s final list.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are also in the fray. The NCP has entered into seat adjustments with the Congress in three places, while the BSP is going it alone, confident of improving its tally of two MLAs in the previous assembly. Even the CPI is a serious contender in parts of Bastar.

The Naxalites have their strongest presence in the five districts comprising the Bastar area, specially Dantewada and Bijapur, which have large areas where the state's writ barely runs. Conducting peaceful polls in these will be a huge challenge for the election commission. Already the commission has changed the poll timings here in order to complete polling before sundown.

Comprising 32 per cent of the state's population, the tribal vote will decisively influence the poll's outcome. Though the delimitation exercise has reduced the number of scheduled tribe constituencies from 34 to 29, tribals are still the most important force. The last election had seen a marked shift in the tribal vote, traditionally with the Congress when Chhattisgarh was still part of Madhya Pradesh, and towards the BJP.