It was a divided house that brought the Congress down in the Chhattisgarh assembly elections and helped the BJP return to power for the second time in a row. The BJP even retained its hold on the Naxal-dominated tribal areas like Bastar and Ambikapur.
At one stage it looked like a close call, with Congress chieftain Ajit Jogi going great guns, but the BJP did manage to wrest power – with a slight edge. It won only two per cent more votes than the Congress.
The Congress campaign focused on the corruption of the ministers and on the Raman Singh government’s inability to provide security in the Naxal-hit areas. But the BJP countered anti-incumbency by adopting the Narendra Modi model.
It sidestepped the corruption charges by dropping one-third of its sitting MLAs. Another factor that helped the BJP romp home to victory was the its ‘rice politics’ in the tribal heartland. The government launched a scheme to provide rice at Rs 3 a kg and promised rice at Rs 2 per kg for the poor and Re 1 for those below poverty line once it came back to power.
But even then, the Congress had enough reasons to win. In the 2003 assembly elections, the National Congress Party, led by former Congress leader and Union minister V.C. Shukla, had secured more than seven per cent votes. This time round, the veteran was back with the Congress. With the ‘Shukla advantage’, the Congress had a good chance, considering that it missed the bus in 2003 by a margin of less than three per cent.
But the factors that could have aided the Congress were overshadowed by internal squabbling and lack of coordination in the faction-ridden party. Congress leader Ajit Jogi only worsened the situation by shocking the voter. In his speeches at election rallies, Jogi admitted that he was a dictator.
He even went on to justify terror tactics of a section of the people who targeted those involved in illegal activities. Naturally, Jogi’s betenoire Shukla, AICC treasurer Motilal Vora and state Congress working president Charandas Mahant did not show interest where Jogi loyalists were contesting.
Jogi’s rivals in the party even accused him of fielding at least 20 Congress rebels against the party’s wishes. A former minister of the party who lost the race told Hindustan Times, “I didn’t just contest against the BJP but also Jogi.”
Another factor that led to the party’s defeat was the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mayawati has been able to spread her wings in the areas dominated by the Satnami (a scheduled caste), which had always been traditional Congress strongholds.
(With inputs from Pradip Kumar Maitra)