The second phase of the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday has none of the hype that was built around the first phase of polling held on November 11, but covering 72 of the total 90 constituencies across 19 districts it will seal the fate of 843 candidates, including nine cabinet ministers and the assembly speaker, and is not exactly inessential.
The Maoist presence is not as strong here — central and north Chhattisgarh — as compared to Bastar, but pockets of influence exist and the possibility that rebels, who had earlier given a call to boycott the polls, might impede the democratic process is not ruled out either.
Around 80,000 Election Commission officials and over 100,000 security personnel have been roped in to conduct the polls.
“Maoist presence exists in Dhamtari, Gariyaband, parts of three districts of Mahasamund, Raigarh and Jashpur besides few pockets of Balrampur in north. Enhanced movement of security forces, de-mining operations are underway with troopers maintaining heightened vigilance,” ADG (anti-Maoists operation) RK Vij told HT.
The main battle is predictably between the ruling BJP, which has governed Chhattisgarh since 2003, and the Congress. The BJP could score a hat-trick or the Congress, which headed the first government after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, could stage a comeback.
Political observers predict that given the state’s track record — in 2008 both the Congress and the BJP won 35 seats each out of the 72 seats — the contest promises to be somewhat of a nail-biter.
Unlike Bastar and Rajnandgaon, where Maoist insurgency was the overarching poll issue, for the 13.9 million who cast their votes on Tuesday, the determining issues could be anything from corruption to law and order to development.
“In these 72 seats, the biggest fear for the ruling BJP is the anti-incumbency factor against the ministers and some of the party leaders who are in the fray,” said political expert Shashank Sharma. And though chief minister Raman Singh seems to believe that the Narendra Modi factor will “be a bonus”, other party leaders admit that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate’s appeal among the locals is rather restricted.
Moreover, after the first phase of polling a perception has taken root that Congress may snatch some seats from the BJP. “The role of the Bastar zone to act as deciding factor in forming the government has been much-hyped, so much so that it is feared that the emerging perception will influence voters, who by instinct want to be on the winning side,” said political analyst Parivesh Mishra.
The Congress, on the other hand, has little to lose. Experts claim it has not been an effective opposition in the past 10 years and rumours of infighting have not helped either. In this scenario, what might determine the choice of voters is the performance of the Congress-led UPA at the Centre. “The BJP has failed on all fronts. We will snatch power from the BJP,” said senior leader Ajit Jogi.