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Chhattisgarh LS polls: BJP banking on Congress infighting and Modi magic

Ejaz Kaiser , Hindustan Times  Raipur, February 10, 2014
First Published: 00:28 IST(10/2/2014) | Last Updated: 17:39 IST(18/2/2014)

Three months ago, Chhattisgarh was a sitting duck the Congress failed to bag. Now, it has another chance — a slender one though — but may miss it again.

Chhattisgarh has always seen a two-horse race, and the assembly polls had almost always been a photo finish with the saffron party mopping up 49 of the 90 seats in the 2013 assembly polls.

But what really is bugging Hindutva leaders is the poor – almost a non-existent – growth of 0.77% in the party’s vote-share in assembly polls. It indicates that the voter has some reservations after two successive terms of BJP governments in the state.

“Anti-incumbency appeared to be more against the candidate than the party. A chunk of its winning MLAs are yet to live up to the voters’ expectations. So, if anti-incumbency still works, the Congress may gain,” said political expert Parivesh Mishra.

But the scenario in the Lok Sabha polls, as in most other states, is a little different than in assembly polls. The BJP expects to have a cakewalk in 2014. The reason: In 2004 and 2009, they bagged 10 of the state’s 11 Lok Sabha seats.

This time, it should be easier as the Congress is still struggling to find its feet after almost the whole top leadership of the party was massacred in the May 2013 Maoist attack in Bastar. What’s more, party veteran Ajit Jogi has decided to stay away from politics for a year.

But experts say anti-incumbency is a double-edged sword. It could work against the Congress too. The sitting Congress legislators who lost in the assembly polls were apparently punished for the UPA government’s performance at the Centre, Mishra said.

So, it’s a good strategy for the BJP leaders to keep the focus of the political rhetoric on the central government’s policies. Citing the recent UPA decision to hike the number of subsidised LPG cylinders from 9 to 12 a year, chief minister Raman Singh said, “Nau se Barah UPA ke liye aakhiri film show hoga (The nine-to12 film show will be the last one for the UPA).”

Retorted leader of the opposition, Congress’ TS Singhdeo: “The chief minister should now get ready to watch the new film, UPA-3, in May.”

The chief minister, instead, is banking heavily on PM candidate Narendra Modi’s show. “The Modi wave will get BJP a win in all the 11 Lok Sabha seats,” said party strategist Subhash Rao.

Realistically, however, the party is hoping to cash in on the Modi card in seven Lok Sabha constituencies of the central region. Although Modi tried to bring Delhi to a corner of Sarguja – a district town about 270 km north of capital Raipur – by addressing a rally during the last assembly polls from the “ramparts” of a wooden replica of the Red Fort, Chhattisgarh has not really experienced the Modi wave.

Experts say his magic works only in urban areas, but not in the tribal centres such as Sarguja and Bastar, which account for four Lok Sabha seats. In the assembly polls, the BJP could win only one of the eight segments in Sarguja. Now, the party is also expected to trail in south Bastar, despite two rallies by Modi in the area.

For the Congress, it is the only silver lining. The party is hoping to get anything between two and seven seats. Singhdeo said, “Modi cannot command a chunk of tribal and scheduled caste population. His appeal is restricted to urban population, salaried middle class and the youth.”

The death of Mahendra Karma — a former minister who had been the guiding force behind Salwa Judum — and PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel, had hit the Congress hard. Although Bhupesh Baghel has been made the new PCC chief, he is not on the best of terms with Jogi. The party had to appoint octogenarian Motilal Vora as campaign chief to keep warring factions in check. Days later, Jogi walked off in a huff, announcing his decision to take a year’s sabbatical.

Now, the Congress claims that the cadres have got the much-needed boost from the recent AICC sessions and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. And it has a game-plan in place.

Banking on the lean vote-share margin that the BJP enjoys now, the Congress is concentrating more on the BJP’s perceived failures in tackling corruption and law and order problems.

Meanwhile, Maoists have vanished from everybody’s cross-hairs, for now.

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