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Can Chhattisgarh assembly elections turn out to be a game changer for the Congress?

BJP’s seat share was consistent around 55% in the 2003, 2008 and 2013 Chhattisgarh assembly elections. Although Congress has not been able to wrest power from BJP, it has closed the gap both in terms of seat share and vote share in successive state polls.

chhattisgarh elections 2018 Updated: Nov 11, 2018 20:30 IST
Chhattisgarh Election 2018,Chhattisgarh Election 2018 News,Chhattisgarh Constituency
After the delimitation exercise in 2008, Chhattisgarh assembly has 29 ST-reserved assembly constituencies (ACs). The BJP won 19 and 11 of these seats in the 2008 and 2013 elections, while the Congress won 10 and 18.(AP File Photo/Representative image)

Chhattisgarh is among the five states which go to polls at the end of this year.

The main contest will be between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been ruling the state since 2003, and the Congress, the main opposition party.

Although the BJP swept the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning 10 of 11 seats, assembly elections have been much closer contests. BJP’s seat share in the Chhattisgarh assembly was consistent around 55% in the 2003, 2008 and 2013 assembly elections. Although Congress has not been able to wrest power from BJP, it has closed the gap both in terms of seat share and vote share in successive state polls (Chart 1).

An HT analysis shows that alienation among Scheduled Tribes (ST) voters vis-à-vis BJP could be behind the gradual revival of Congress fortunes in the state. However, the process of ST consolidation behind Congress also seems to have triggered a counter-mobilisation of non-ST voters behind BJP that might have been helping it get re-elected.

After the delimitation exercise in 2008, Chhattisgarh assembly has 29 ST-reserved assembly constituencies (ACs). The BJP won 19 and 11 of these seats in the 2008 and 2013 elections, while the Congress won 10 and 18. There were 34 ST-reserved ACs in the 2003 assembly, of which the BJP and the Congress won 25 and nine seats. A similar trend is seen in the vote share figures of the two parties (Chart 2).

Constituencies with the highest share of ST population are reserved for ST candidates. The number of ACs to be so reserved is determined during the delimitation exercise by dividing the total number of ACs in proportion to the share of ST population in the state. Since the share of ST population is a factor in deciding which constituencies are to be reserved, an improvement in performance on ST-reserved ACs suggests that the Congress has been gaining ground in areas with more ST voters.

To double-check these findings, we classified all ACs in Chhattisgarh into three categories: ACs with ST population greater than 50%, ACs with ST population less than 50% and ACs with ST population less than 25%. Of the 90 ACs in the state, 63 have less than 50% ST population and 48 of these have less than 25% ST population.

This analysis has been done only for the 2008 and 2013 elections, as 2003 ACs are not comparable with the ones in 2008 and 2013 due to the redrawing of AC boundaries in the 2008 delimitation exercise.

In ACs with a greater than 50% share of STs, the BJP had a lead of 2.3 percentage points over the Congress in the 2008 elections in terms of vote share.

In 2013, the Congress ended up with a lead of 4.3 percentage points over the BJP in these ACs. In terms of the number of seats won, the break-up changed from 17-10 in favour of the BJP in 2008 to 18-9 in favour of the Congress.

On the other hand, in ACs where STs had a population share of less than 50%, the BJP led over the Congress in 2008 by 1.5 percentage points in terms of vote share. This increased to 2.7 percentage points in 2013. In terms of seats won, the BJP improved its lead vis-à-vis the Congress from 33-28 in the 2008 elections to 40-21 in the 2013 elections.

In seats where STs had a population share of less than 25%, BJP made bigger gains. In terms of vote share, its lead over the Congress increased from 2.2% points to 3.5%. The break-up changed from 26-20 in favour of the BJP in the 2008 elections to 31-15 in the 2013 elections (Charts 3 and 4).

What explains these trends? Praveen Rai, a political analyst with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, says the ST communities brought the BJP to power in 2003 because the Congress was seen as having treated them only as an electoral vote bank, which the BJP highlighted.

However, the development agenda pursued by the BJP — with a failure in paying attention to the land, forest, or human rights in general of the tribals — means that the party is “no more the first choice” of the community.

The “counter-mobilisation of non-tribal voters” has taken place because they “have been the main beneficiaries of the unbridled development in the state and votaries of the Hindutva agenda”, Rai added.

Our analysis, however, is limited in the sense that it reflects voters’ sentiments only until 2013. In India, voters are swung not only by long-term factors, but also campaigns and announcements a year or closer to the polls.

To what extent a continued swing of tribal communities away from the BJP translates into a gain for the Congress this time will also depend on the performance of Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister, who has parted ways with the Congress.

(Abhishek Jha is a Hindustan Times–Mint– How India Lives Data Journalism Fellow)

First Published: Nov 10, 2018 08:41 IST