Change for the sake of change is an equally valid reason in democracy, and Chhattisgarh desired change.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been demolished in Chhattisgarh. There is simply no other way to put it and there is also no excuse to not being able to sense the sentiment on the ground. While many political commentators and election watchers had predicted a very close fight with the possibility of Congress forming the government, very few had predicted an absolute drubbing for the BJP.
With the BJP being reduced to 15 seats in the state in the most decisive mandate ever, it is a given that the sentiment of resentment and impending change would have been very difficult to miss. But the result has come as a shock to most, and that raises different questions on the nature of the media, both mainstream and social and the kind of tunnel vision operating in each. But that is for later.
The most that can be done at this stage is to assess the loss, and in hindsight get a sense of what went wrong for the BJP and what worked for the Congress in the state.
1. Blow Of Double Incumbency
Chhattisgarh has never been known to throw up decisive mandates and electoral results almost always go very close to the wire. In 2013, the difference in the vote share between the BJP and the Congress was less than 1 per cent and it was only by late afternoon on the counting day, that one could get a clear picture of who the winners would be. Some of the contests were very close and the BJP managed to secure 49 out of the 90 seats even with the miniscule difference in vote share.
But this time, there is a massive difference of 10 percentage points and unlike the previous election, mega margins with which contestants have won. It is not a close contest like Madhya Pradesh and not even a tough fight like in Rajasthan. It is a clear decimation. And that indicates that the most dominant sentiment has been change.
Pin-pointing single reasons will perhaps have a limited impact here because the BJP has suffered heavy losses across all demographic and geographic clusters in the state and the blow of double incumbency at both the level of the state and the Centre finally claimed the Raman Singh government.
For a new generation of first time and second time voters, the BJP government would be the only thing they remember and they would not have any reference point of the first Ajit Jogi government or the Digvijay Singh government in undivided MP, to base their decision upon. Hence, the discontent of local MLAs and the impatience over the speed of development would be the only critical factor playing out.
Impatient voters keep political parties on its toes and probably 15 years was a long enough time for a lot of pent up impatience. The demand for freshness was so extreme that even the popular Chief Minister, Raman Singh managed to win with a relatively narrow margin and the Congress gamble of not having a CM face succeeded.
2. SC And Tribal Votes
Raman Singh known as ‘chawal waale baba’ throughout the state, had a rather positive image among the tribal constituents for institutionalising the best public distribution system (PDS) in the country. But in 2013, the Congress had registered a much better performance in the tribal districts particularly in Kanker and Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh.
Out of 29 tribal seats, the Congress had won 18 seats including the conflict affected seats of Bastar and Dantewara. The BJP had 11 tribal seats with a clean sweep in tribal dominated Jashpur in northern Chhattisgarh. But, this time the BJP has only been able to retain one of the 11 seats it had won in 2013. It has managed to win Dantewara with a narrow margin and Rampur and its final tribal seat tally now stands at three.
Going into 2019, this is a critical vacuum because Congress is now with a strong foothold in the important tribal belts of Kanker, Jagdalpur and Jashpur.
But the loss of tribal constituencies is not as significant as the loss of Scheduled Castes (SC) constituencies for the BJP. Out of 10 SC constituencies, the BJP had won eight in 2013. But now, it has been able to win only Masturi and Mungeli, losing the rest to the Congress. But what is of more significance here is the massive shift of votes directly to the Congress.
In seats including Ahiwara, Arang, Dongagarh, Navagarh, Saraipalli and Sarangarh, the BJP has lost with a margin of anything between 25,000 to 52,000 votes. In some of these seats, BJP had registered a similar margin in 2013 and there seems to be a complete situational reversal.
It is also crucial to note that the same MLA candidates have been repeated by the BJP in many of these constituencies, which raises a question mark on whether the party had somehow missed out on the brewing local discontent.
Going into 2019, these SC constituencies would certainly be critical for both the BJP and the Congress. The former would choose to course correct and the latter further consolidate.
3. Urban Anger
Though Chhattisgarh has been difficult for the BJP through and through, one of the big gaping holes is seen in the urban constituencies. The trend is similar to what the BJP faced in MP and is of importance considering the past image of the party. While many commentators keep harping on rural distress as the key factor, it is note-worthy that BJP has lost out on eight of the 13 urban constituencies, which it had won in 2013.
BJP only managed to retain one constituency in Raipur and Vaishali Nagar in Durg and managed to win Dhamtari, which the Congress had won in 2013. It has lost out major urban centres including Bilaspur, Raigarh, Bhilai, Jagdalpur and most of Raipur to the Congress. It was not even a small loss. Both constituencies in Raipur were won by the Congress with more than 10,000 votes and Jagdalpur with more than 27,000 votes.
The Congress, meanwhile, has retained its earlier urban seats including Ambikapur and Mahasamund.
The urban disenchantment with the BJP is now a pattern that cannot be missed and Chhattisgarh story fits this pattern. Demonetisation and goods and services tax (GST) have eroded the popularity of the BJP in the urban areas and primarily among a significant core base.
4. The Jogi Factor And Vote Share
The dominant assumption going into the polls was that the splinter caused by Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) – or Jogi Congress as it is commonly known – and the inability of the Congress to tie up with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) would cause a dent in the vote share of the Congress.
It was believed that in a tight contest like Chhattisgarh has always seen, the JCC-BSP combine would prove to be the kingmakers. But the final results have actually been a dampener and it now looks like the role of the JCC-BSP had been overstated.
Let us examine how the JSS-BSP combine performed.
The Jogi Congress and BSP managed to win a total of seven seats with a vote share of 11.5 per cent. One of the seats won by Jogi is traditional seat of Marwahi, which he won by a margin of more than 45,000 votes. The other seat won by his party was Kota, where his wife Dr Renu Jogi won with a relatively narrow margin of 3,000 votes. JCC won five seats and except Lormi, the other four seats were wrested from the Congress party. Except Balodabazar, the Congress party was in the third position in all five seats.
The BJP has registered a vote share of 33 per cent, while the Congress has registered a vote share of 43 per cent. In 2013, the BJP had a vote share of 41 per cent and the Congress of 40.3 per cent. The Congress has had a minor gain of 3 per cent in the vote share but managed to get 29 more seats. The BJP though had a severe dent of 7 per cent and that explains the drubbing.
But it does not look like the loss of the vote share of the BJP was transferred to the JCC-BSP combine. In fact, as the earlier discussion shows, the BJP vote share seems to have been transferred to the Congress in direct battles while Jogi has cut into the vote share of the Congress. There certainly has been some transfer of BJP votes to the Jogi camp also, but it does seem like Congress has been the biggest gainer in the process.
While these are some of the reasons, farmer distress in Chhattisgarh, has also been one of the reasons which have led to BJP’s drubbing in rural belts.
Additionally, though the chief minister Raman Singh was popular and likeable, there was an underlying discontent against ministers and localised anger against many MLAs. This issue was perhaps swept under the carpet or not considered serious enough to address and the party paid for it. But at the end of the day, the two-word analysis of Chhattisgarh results would probably be ‘voter fatigue’.
The causes underlying the impatience in voters could be many and it is a topic to be addressed in the coming days. But change for the sake of change is an equally valid reason in democracy. And Chhattisgarh desired change.