The first round of Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh is billed for as early as November 12. Eighteen Vidhan Sabha seats out of a total of 90 are going to be up for grabs through this round of voting in the main forest strewn, minerals-rich and verdant southward part of the state.
Among the warring parties trying their luck in what is going to be a triangular contest are the Congress and the BJP besides former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s Chhattisgarh Janata Congress though the contest is mainly thought to be between the first parties.
Yet, Ajit Jogi’s alliance with Mayawati’s BSP, or Bahujan Samaj Party, around the time polls were announced has given rise to the possibility of a split in Congress votes. This is also expected to benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party which has been in power in the State for a decade-and-half.
Together Jogi and Mayawati are said to have potential to cut into Dalit and tribal votes of the Congress through not only the first phase of November 12 polling but also in the second-phase of the contest which is slated for November 20 for the rest of 72 Assembly seats.
Among the constituencies going to the polls in the first phase are those of Bastar region which is thought to be a stronghold of extreme Leftwing Maoists. Bastar has 12 assembly seats and out of them, eight are held by the Congress in the current Vidhan Sabha while the rest, or four, are with the BJP.
Thus, the Congress already has an edge over the BJP in Bastar. Maoists have again given a call to voters to boycott the polls though this is likely to help the BJP and make a dent in the Congress votes since those who would follow such a call are not likely to vote for the BJP in any case.
This also points to the fact that in tribal areas, or parts, of Chhattisgarh, the Congress has been caught between two extremes -- left and right – and the fierce battle the two ideologically diverse forces are generally prone to fight. There are also hardly any saviours for the Congress left who can be on the side of the party, or its workers and leaders. This is more so as they can well be caught in the crossfire of the two bitter ideological rivals.
A few years ago, because of this, a better part of the State Congress leadership, including party veteran Vidya Charan Shukla, was brutally killed in a Maoist attack as their motorcade passing through the forests in extremists stronghold came under a hail of fire.
On the unfortunate day of the ambush, Ajit Jogi too was expected to be part of the Congress leaders’ entourage as he was very much among the top leaders of the Congress in the State at that time. He is said to have backed out from accompanying his party peers at the last moment.
He strongly denied having any clue about the tragedy that befell his party colleagues. Yet, by and by he fell out with his old party. The parting of ways with the Congress-led him to form his own regional outfit. Soon this earned his new party the sobriquet of BJP’s B-team, courtesy his old cohorts from his former party.
Jogi and his party also deny any sort of understanding with the BJP or its Chief Minister Raman Singh. But the Congress higher-ups go on blaming him of not only being covertly in league with Raman Singh but also robbing the Congress of a possible ally like the BSP with the intent to help the BJP though in a roundabout way.
Jogi’s critics say that the former Chief Minister has been trying to queer the pitch for the Congress though he had little support outside his strongholds in Bilaspur and Durg districts. And his bid to make a possible alliance of tribesmen and Dalits through a tie-up with Mayawati’s party can hardly make a difference for the Congress since in the last polls, the BJP had not only got a large chunk of Dalit votes but also won nine out of 10 Vidhan Sabha seats reserved for scheduled castes. And, thus, only these seats would be affected with the entry of Mayawati in the electoral fray which is going to harm the BJP more than the Congress.
Whatever may turn out to be voters’ choice Jogi’s alliance with Mayawati’s party is a new aspect brought this time to the battle for Chhattisgarh. It has raised hope both for Jogi and the BJP. The Congress is somehow trying to look unfazed by this and is banking mainly on anti-incumbency against Raman Singh’s long drawn rule in Chhattisgarh. Yet, the Congress will be left with little option other than to deal with both Jogi and Mayawati in case a truncated verdict is thrown by the electorate.
This is thought to be more so because of the last summer’s turn of events in Karnataka where both the BJP and the Congress fell short of a majority after the Assembly polls, paving the way for the Janata Dal-Secular to finally form Government with the Congress support.
The outcome of the two-phased polls this time in Chhattisgarh will be known only next month when votes are counted on December 11. So until then, it is difficult to guess or predict the post-poll scenario.