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Demoralised Cong takes on upbeat BJP

With new equations emerging in tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh, a demoralised Congress takes on an upbeat BJP in April 20 LS polls.
PTI | By Press Trust of India, Raipur
UPDATED ON APR 18, 2004 06:17 PM IST

With new equations emerging in tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh, a demoralised Congress takes on an upbeat BJP in the April 20 Lok Sabha elections as the saffron party expects an action replay of its 1999 sweep when it pocketed eight of the 11 seats at stake.

After its win in the December 2003 assembly polls, the first elections after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, BJP hopes to consolidate its hold on the tribal seats, once a favourite hunting ground of the Congress.

Political observers point out that BJP’s rise in the state is neither sudden nor surprising. after its total rout in 1991 when Congress romped home with all the 11 seats in its kitty and with a 48 per cent vote share, the saffron party pulled up its socks and started making a slow but sure dent in the Congress citadel.

After years of hard work put in by Vanvasi Kalyan ashrams run by RSS and Ekal Vidyalays operated by the VHP, the BJP started reaping a bumper electoral harvest as was evident in the subsequent Lok Sabha polls. In 1996, the BJP won six seats, added one more to its tally in the 1998 general elections and took its score to eight in the last Lok Sabha polls.

In the December 2003 assembly elections, the BJP bagged 49 of the 90, but the results did not fully reflect the rising graph of the BJP as its vote share was only 39 per cent, barely three percentage points ahead of Congress.

The Congress, which suffered a massive and unexpected wipe-out in the southern tribal region in the assembly polls, might improve its present tally of three just marginally in case the voting pattern was a repeat of 2003 assembly polls, analysts said.

The state saw a split in Congress with a group led by VC Shukla leading an exodus. 'Vidya Bhaiya', as he is popularly known, is now in BJP and is contesting from the Mahasamund Lok Sabha constituency where he is pitted against a convalescing former chief minister Ajit Jogi.

Jogi's accident has taken him away from electioneering, though Congress supporters claim that the mishap would generate a sympathy wave which the party is trying to exploit to the hilt.

Political observers say Congress is in disarray because of various factors -- the defection of former MP Pawan Diwan to the BJP, and shortage of time of PCC chief Motilal Vora, who is also the AICC treasurer and has to stay in Delhi more than in Raipur.

Besides, two senior Congress leaders Shyama Charan Shukla and tribal leader Mahendra Karma are themselves candidates and are badly tied up in their respective constituencies, unable to spare time to campaign for other party candidates.

A look into the vote bank reveals that Congress dominated over the state politics because of its hold over adivasis, dalits and other backward castes (OBCs).

But now, it seems, the BJP while retaining the upper castes has managed to split the adivasis, who constitute about 32 per cent of the population, thanks to the silent revolution undertaken by various RSS and VHP outfits to inculcate Hindutva among tribal.

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