The political ardour is gaining pace across the state as the first phase of Chhattisgarh elections in 18 assembly segments will take place in eight Naxal-affected districts on Monday, November 12, 2018. Of these 18 assembly seats, 12 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) while one is for Scheduled Caste (SC) category. The constituencies which are going to poll on Monday, include Khairagarh, Dongargarh (SC), Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur (ST), Antagarh (ST), Bhanupratappur (ST), Kanker (ST), Keshkal (ST), Kondagaon (ST), Narayanpur (ST), Bastar (ST), Jagdalpur, Chitrakot (ST), Dantewada (ST), Bijapur (ST) and Konta (ST). As many as 4,336 polling booths have been set up for the first phase of the state polls. There are 31,79,520 voters, including 16,21,839 males, 15,57,592 females and 89 of the third gender.
As the stage is set for the first phase of Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections, here is a quick look at the main candidates fighting the crucial polls in the Maoist-hit state.
BJP's Raman Singh Vs Congress's Karuna Shukla:
Chief Minister Raman Singh, who last time defeated Alka Mudliyar, wife of slain Congress leader Uday Mudliyar, this time will be contesting against Congress' Karuna Shukla, the niece of former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee from Rajnandgaon. Singh, who has been ruling Chhattisgarh for the last 15 years, is eyeing a fourth straight term in the tribal-dominated state. The Congress, on the other hand, is seeking to oust the Raman Sing government and aims to return to power after 15 long years. However, this will be one of the toughest challenges for Shukla in her 30 years of the political career. She left the BJP in 2013, alleging mental torture.
Besides Singh, two state cabinet ministers, an incumbent BJP MP and 187 others will be in the fray in 18 constituencies of the 90-member Assembly.
Congress's Bhupesh Baghel:
The Chhattisgarh Congress president will contest from the Patan Assembly constituency. It is assumed that he will be one of the top contenders for the chief minister's post if the party comes to power in the state, besides TS Singhdeo and Charan Das Mahant.
Though Chhattisgarh has always been a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress this time a third front comprising Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J), Mayawati's BSP and the CPI may make some significant changes in the poll-predictions of the state.
Third front in Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2018:
Ajit Jogi, who served as first chief minister of Chhattisgarh for three years after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, is still considered to be a key force in the state's political landscape. The Janata Congress Chhattisgarh chief's alliance with the Mayawati-led BSP and the Communist Party of India (CPI) for this month's elections is being seen as having a multiplier effect, especially in terms of caste equations.
Talking about other key candidates in the state, the Congress has fielded Chandan Kashyap against BJP minister Kedar Kashyap from Narayanpur, despite the fact that Chandan had lost to Kedar last time. Congress's Vikram Mandavi was also given a second chance from Bijapur (ST) seat against state Forest Minister Mahesh Gagda. Mandavi had lost to Gagda in 2013. Prominent BJP leader and Kanker Lok Sabha seat's incumbent MP Vikram Usendi is contesting from Antagarh (ST), where the Congress has fielded a fresh face, Anoop Nag. Usendi had won Antagarh seat in 2013 polls. However, he resigned after he was elected as the Lok Sabha member from Kanker seat in 2014. The ruling BJP has also fielded two sitting MLAs - Santosh Bafna (Jagdalpur) and Sarojani Banjar (Dongargarh).
The Congress has renominated its nine sitting MLAs - Manoj Singh Mandavi (Bhanupratappur), Mohan Lal Markam (Kondagaon), Lakheshwar Baghel (Bastar), Deepak Kumar Baij (Chitrakot), Devati Karma (Dantewada), Kawasi Lakhma (Konta), Girwar Janghel (Khairagarh), Santram Netam (Keshkal) and Daleshwar Sahu (Dongargaon).
The Saffron Party, on the other hand, has again fielded Mandavi from Dantewada against Devati Karma, the wife of Congress leader Mahendra Karma who was killed in the 2013 Jiram valley attack. Dhani Ram Barse, who was defeated by senior Congress leader Kawasi Lakhma, from Konta has also been renominated again.
The campaigning for the first phase of the election came to an end on Saturday evening with prominent leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi holding roadshows to woo voters for their respective candidates. The polls are significant for the BJP as it had lost 12 out of 18 constituencies in the last polls held in 2013.
Polling to the remaining 72 constituencies, in the second and final phase, will be held on November 20, 2018. Counting of votes will be taken up on December 11, 2018. In 2013 Assembly Polls, the BJP had won 49 seats, Congress 39, BSP 1 and independent 1. The Saffron Party has won three consecutive elections in the state.