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Is 2018 Congress’ best chance to claim Chhattisgarh?

Congress is pro-actively trying to wrest Chhattisgarh from the BJP, which has ruled the state for three successive terms

india Updated: Sep 15, 2018 08:14 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, Raipur
Congress in Chhattisgarh,BJP,2018 Chhattisgarh election
Congress leaders maintain that the BJP is not invincible since less than 1% vote share separate the two parties.(HT File Photo)

Victory has eluded the Congress in Chhattisgarh in the past three consecutive assembly elections, but party leaders feel that 2018 could be their best shot at ousting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power.

Ousted in 2003, a leaderless yet aggressive Congress is pulling out all stops to prevent the BJP and chief minister Raman Singh from winning a fourth term in power in the upcoming elections.

It smells power this time because of the “strong” anti-incumbency against the BJP that has ruled the state for the past 15 years.

Congress leaders maintain that the BJP is not invincible since less than 1% vote share separate the two parties. In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP won 49 out of the 90 seats with a vote share of 41.04% while the Congress bagged 39 seats and secured a vote share of 40.29%.

“For the first time in many years, we are seeing a pro-active Congress setting the agenda and the BJP reacting to that,” said Raipur-based political analyst Parivesh Mishra.

‘No mass-based leader’

The massacre of its frontline leadership in 2013 followed by the exit of its most powerful leader Ajit Jogi earlier this year has rendered the Congress faceless in this election.

As far as Jogi’s desertion is concerned, Congress leaders count that as an advantage. “There is a strong sentiment in favour of our party. People understand that vote for Jogi will mean support for BJP,” said Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel.

He is confident that Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh will not cut into his party’s vote share but help it in winning back the support of upper castes, other backward classes (OBCs), traders and employees who had shifted their allegiance to the BJP due to the former CM.

In fact, Congress’ in-charge of Chhattisgarh PL Punia has repeatedly blamed Jogi for the party’s defeat in the 2013 elections.

It is well-known in Congress circles that Jogi used to “call shots” in the distribution of tickets and would often sabotage the prospects of his party opponents who posed a challenge to him in terms of being the chief ministerial probable.

As part of its strategy, the Congress leadership has deliberately decided not to name a chief ministerial candidate following the assessment that announcing the face will trigger internal struggle and hurt the party’s electoral prospects.

Apart from Baghel, other senior Congress leaders such as TS Singh Deo, Charan Das Mahant and Tamradhwaj Sahu are the frontrunners for the chief minister’s post but none of them is a towering personality to match Raman Singh’s stature and popularity.

“All the leaders know that they need to get their 10-15 loyalists elected as legislators to claim the top post,” said Raipur-based political analyst Ashok Tomar.

‘Funds crunch’

Congress managers are confident that while issues such as corruption, unemployment, farm distress, tribal unrest and alleged mis-governance of the BJP will certainly help them in the elections, their party faces an uphill task in managing funds for its candidates.

“We are facing shortage of funds, rather we have no money,” said a Congress functionary on the condition of anonymity. “But we should also keep in mind what happened in Delhi and Bihar where the BJP lost despite huge resources,” he added.

‘No headway in alliance talks’

Time is running out for the Congress to firm up the alliance. The delay in taking the decision has caused unease within the state unit.

Jogi tried to outsmart the Congress by initiating the alliance talks with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati.

But there has been no headway in those talks since then given that the BSP is discussing the possibilities of an alliance with the Congress.

A section in the Chhattisgarh Congress is pushing for an alliance with the BSP and the Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) to prevent the division of anti-BJP votes.

In the 2013 polls, the BSP had contested on all the 90 seats but managed to win just one seat. Its vote share stood at 4.27%.

For her part, Mayawati had indicated that an alliance with the Congress is possible only if her party is offered a respectable seat share in the coalition. As of now, the Congress has offered 7-9 seats to the Bahujan Samaj Party.

First Published: Sep 15, 2018 08:04 IST