Chhattisgarh is set to witness a bipolar contest between the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress party in the upcoming election to its 90-seat assembly, with tribal voters in the Maoist-affected Bastar region holding the key.
While the BJP is hoping for a repeat of its 2008 mandate on the back of welfare schemes such as paddy bonus and subsidised loans to farmers, free laptops to students and smart cards for health insurance, the Congress is banking on anti-incumbency and sympathy over the killing of its leaders in a deadly Maoist ambush in May.
“My policies and programmes have catered to the needs of every section of the society. I look forward to positive and pro-incumbency votes,” said chief minister Raman Singh.
Most opinion polls have given BJP an edge over Congress, but Singh’s policies and achievements still fall short of expectations.
“This time I will vote to bring a change and encourage others too,” said Dharesh Mandloi, a tea vendor in Bilaspur.
Mandloi feels successive governments have done little to change Chhattisgarh since it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh as a new state in 2000.
It remains impoverished despite being one of India’s most mineral-rich states.
Singh also faces a growing discontent among the tribals, especially in the Bastar region, who often find themselves caught in the crossfire between the Maoist rebels and the state’s security apparatus.
In 2008, the BJP had won 20 of the 29 seats reserved for the tribals.
Eleven of these came from the Bastar region.
For all of the state the BJP had won 50 seats and the Congress 38.
The killing of several state leaders of the Congress in an audacious Maoist attack in May is also likely to have an impact on voting in Bastar, where “the tribals are annoyed with the Maoist policy of the state government,” said Bhujit Doshi of the Congress party.
The Congress, however, faces a bigger challenge – factionalism that played a big role in its 2008 defeat.
“We have given a call to the party cadres to put up a united fight,” said Chhattisgarh Congress president Charan Das Mahant, a close aide of former MP chief minister Digvijaya Singh.
Infighting apart, the Congress in Chhattisgarh faces the problem as does BJP in Delhi.
Unlike Raman Singh, who is leading BJP into the elections, the Congress remains somewhat faceless.