Chhattisgarh on Sunday looked set for a photo finish in the assembly elections with the ruling BJP leading in 45 of the 90 seats and contender Congress trailing closely behind with its candidates ahead in 43.
Chief minister Raman Singh was leading by over 12,000 votes against Alka Mudliar of Congress from Rajnandgaon. Alka is the wife of Congress leader Uday Mudliar, who was killed in the brazen Darbha Maoist attack in May.
Former state chief minister Ajit Jogi's son Amit Jogi of Congress was leading against BJP's Sameera Paikra from Marwari seat in Bilaspur.
Devti Karma, the wife of slain Congress leader Mahendra Karma, the man behind the anti-Maoist 'Salwa Judum' movement in the tribal regions of the state, was ahead of BJP's Bheema Mandavi from Dantewada.
Sitting Congress MLA Kawasi Lakhma, one of the survivors of the Darbha valley Maoist attack in Sukma district in May this year that wiped out almost the entire state party leadership, was leading by around 2,000 votes from Konta.
Among the 27 killed in the attack were state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla, besides tribal strongman Karma.
The Darbha attack was one of the major issues flagged by Congress during the campaign.
Some ministers in the Raman Singh government were also trailing. While agriculture minister Chandrashekhar Sahu was trailing his Congress rival and former minister Dhanendra Sahu from Abhanpur, Panchayat and rural development minister Hemchand Yadav is behind Congress' Arun Vora, son of AICC treasurer Motilal Vora, from Durg city seat.
Sports minister Lata Usendi and tribal welfare minister Kedar Kashyap were also trailing their Congress rivals from Kondagaon and Narayanpur seats respectively in tribal Bastar region.
Pollsters had earlier seen chief minister Raman Singh scoring a hat-trick, but not as comfortably as he would have liked.
The BJP is banking on Raman Singh's welfare schemes paying off. Tribals, the most dominant social group in Chhattisgarh, fondly call him ‘Chaur Wale Baba’, or The Rice Man.
The CM’s rice scheme for the poor, efficient public distribution system (PDS) and relatively clean and developmental image have helped even though the state remains the heart of Maoist insurgency and there is resentment against some of his MLAs.
Ajit Jogi, the only other CM Chhattisgarh has had, is upbeat about the Congress staging a comeback.
Jogi headed the first government in Chhattisgarh after it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000. It ceded governance to the BJP in 2003 and has since failed to dislodge Singh.
The Congress had mounted a strong campaign even after losing many of its top leaders in the Maoist ambush at Darbha in May.
Maoists, who have hit Chhattisgarh the worst in the last decade, gave their usual poll boycott call this year too.
Voters braved the threat even as the government provided war-like security for polling, especially for the first phase in Bastar and Rajnandgaon.
Around 80,000 election commission officials and more than 100,000 security personnel were roped in for polling. Nearly 3,000 surveillance cameras were installed at polling booths.
Unlike in Bastar and Rajnandgaon, where Maoist insurgency was the overarching poll issue, the determining issues in the second phase were basic — corruption and development.
Several surveys say Singh is poised to score a hat-trick, but barely so.
C fore predicts the BJP will get 46 of the 90 seats, with a 42% vote share. It says the Congress will improve from 38 seats in 2008 to 42 this year.
This showing will give Singh a slim majority and not the comfort he enjoyed with 50 seats the party had won in 2008.
A CNN-IBN survey gives the BJP 45-55 seats and the Congress 32-40. The Congress had bagged 38 seats in 2008.