It will be a tight fight for office in Chhattisgarh as former chief minister Ajit Jogi will also enter the fray.
With heavyweights like BJP, Congress, Jogi and recently, Mayawati too, the election promises to be a nail-biter.
The state elections in Chhattisgarh are due in November 2018 along with Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. While Congress is hoping to snatch the state from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after 15 years of being out of office, BJP is aiming for a fourth consecutive victory under the leadership of Dr Raman Singh. Amidst all this, Ajit Jogi is threatening to upset the calculations of both the Congress and the BJP and become chief minister yet again.
Normally Bipolar Contest, But Jogi Makes It Triangular
In 2000, the state of Chhattisgarh was carved out from Madhya Pradesh, honouring a long-standing demand. From 2000-2003, Ajit Jogi led the charge, becoming the first Chief Minister of the state. In the first elections for the state in 2003, BJP emerged victorious and Dr Raman Singh became the Chief Minister. BJP won consecutive elections again in 2008 and 2013, riding on development work carried out by its government and the popularity of Raman Singh. Chhattisgarh has witnessed a bipolar contest with a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP all these years.
In the upcoming elections, Chhattisgarh Janata Congress-Jogi (CJC-J) is likely to play an important role. Party president and former chief minister Ajit Jogi, despite his deteriorating health, is very willing to contest the elections against Dr Raman Singh from his home constituency of Rajnandgaon. He has been pitching himself as the CM candidate, which means he is solely riding on any loyalty he might have left in the state besides the sympathy. He clearly does not trust his son’s abilities to lead the way, which is why he is contesting from his traditional seat of Marwahi as well.
Ajit Jogi and the Congress leadership have denied any possibilities of an alliance. Jogi has met Mayawati in Lucknow to seal an alliance. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has 4-6 per cent vote share in the state with decent influence among the Dalit community. The BSP has pockets of support in the Dalit-dominated Satnami belt in central Chhattisgarh. Mayawati is in big demand as the Congress is also exploring the option of forming an alliance with the BSP as it could provide it the edge, also compensating for the loss of votes to the Jogi Congress. There are, however, strong rumours that CJC-J is the “B team” of the BJP and may provide support in case it fails to secure a majority. However, both Ajit Jogi and the BJP have denied any such possibility.
Historically, A Tight Contest
Chhattisgarh has, since inception, witnessed a close contest. The vote share gap between the BJP and the Congress, which was 2.6 per cent in 2003, has gradually reduced to 0.7 per cent in 2013. At the same time, the BSP’s vote share has been higher than the margin of victory of the BJP in all elections. This is the reason the Congress top leadership is desirous of forming an alliance with the BSP. If the BSP and the Congress contested the 2013 polls together, the alliance could have won 52 out of 90 seats and formed the government (assuming seamless and full transfer of votes).
Jogi Hopes For ST Vote-Split
Scheduled Tribes (STs) account for 32 per cent of the state’s population. Twenty-nine seats are reserved for the STs. Congress received 45 per cent and BJP 44 per cent support of the community in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Five out of 27 districts are ST dominated. There are 35 seats where ST population is above 40 per cent, wherein the Congress won 22 and BJP 13 of these in 2013.
Jogi hopes to wean away his community votes from the Congress as well as the BJP and dent their prospects. Jogi has filed a petition in the Chhattisgarh High Court challenging the report of a high-level panel of the state government which has dismissed his claim of being a tribal and is likely to make this an election issue.
Congress Expects Anti-Incumbency
Congress is hoping to make a comeback, exploiting any anti-incumbency sentiment, which may have developed against a 15-year-old government. Its campaign is focussed on targeting the BJP on agricultural distress, farmer suicides, Naxalism, low pay grade of shikshakarmis and nurses, controversies surrounding the cabinet and other party members, below national-level health indicators of the state, and increasing incidents of crimes against women and girls.
The senior leadership in the Congress has decided to go into the state assembly elections without announcing its chief ministerial candidate, keeping in mind the various factions that the state unit of the Congress is struggling to keep together, and in line with its strategy adopted in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It is contesting the state elections on the combined leadership of Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee President) and T S Singh Deo (leader of opposition).
While Baghel gives public and social media statements demeaning the incumbent state and central government, Singh Deo can be seen campaigning among the people with the party manifesto. There are also the added factions of possible CM candidates like Dr Charan Das Mahant and Dhanendra Sahu. This is what BJP is exploiting to the hilt. Where elections are increasingly becoming presidential in style, not having a clear CM candidate will hurt the Congress party. Not only this, the fact that Jogi enjoys higher popularity than Baghel and Singh Deo further aggravates the leadership bankruptcy of the party in the state.
BJP Banks On Raman-Plus-Modi Effect
BJP expects to win on the back of the development track record of Dr Raman Singh government in Chhattisgarh and Narendra Modi government in the Centre. Chhattisgarh under Dr Singh has excelled extremely, especially on the economic and social front. Chhattisgarh is making significant investments in industrial infrastructure. It is one of the fastest growing states with a Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) growth of 10.75 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2011-12 and 2017-18.
Dr Singh is also popular among the women folk for implementing a number of women-centric schemes. PM Modi has also visited the state multiple times this year, during the CM’s Vikas Yatra and his schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and Ujjwala Yojana are popular here.
To sum up, the entry of Jogi has made the contest too close to call in Chhattisgarh, which has traditionally witnessed tight fights. Strategic alliances and leadership issues could well decide the outcome.
(With inputs from Divya Bhan)