Chhattisgarh: Bastar gets its X factor; BJP, Cong reason to worry

By Parivesh Mishra

Raipur: Come 6 May and another political yatra would be flagged off from Bastar in Chhattisgarh. On this occasion it is the Chief Minister Raman Singh who would be embarking on a 2,700 km yatra across the state under the name of Vikas Yatra.

It is not a coincidence that all political parties in Chhattisgarh start (or end) their yatras and campaigns with a grand show in Bastar. The tribal region – once a Princely state and a district after independence by the same name in southern Chhattisgarh elects the party to run the state.

This region sends 12 — ten in the first two general elections, 11 later and now 12 after the delimitations — members to the assembly. The history of election results shows the region has always tended to vote en bloc for one party and it ends up forming the government in the state, first Madhya Pradesh and now Chhattisgarh.

AFP

AFP

When the new state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of MP, it got as its share 11 sitting Congress MLAs the region had sent in the 1998 elections. The Congress was in a majority and Ajit Jogi formed the government in 2000. In the three years of its rule, however, the party managed to alienate the voters in Bastar so much that in the election that was held in 2003, Congress tally came down to 3 and the BJP’s went up from one to nine. Raman Singh took over as the new chief minister.

The BJP consolidated its hold in 2008 and took the number to 11 with a solitary seat going to the Congress and formed the government again in the state. This was not unusual. The Congress won 11 seats in 1998 and 1985; and nine in 1972. It formed the government after all these elections. The BJP won eight seats in Bastar in 1990 and Sundar Lal Patwa of BJP become the chief minister of the state then.

No wonder Bastar is called the key to power in Chhattisgarh.

This phenomenon of all the Bastar seats going solidly with one party or individual has persisted since the earliest elections in 1951 when the last ruler of the Bastar state Raja Praveer Chandra Bhanj Deo still held sway over the tribals in the area. The first general election returned only two Congress nominees as against eight as independent candidates. All independents were personal nominees of the Raja.

Congress was wise enough to win over the Raja to its side and in the second general elections it bagged all 10 seats. The relations between the party and the Raja deteriorated soon to the extent that the Raja was arrested and dethroned. The result showed in the next elections held in 1962 when the Congress could win only  in two seats with nine going to the Raja’s independent candidates.

The Bhanjdeo factor ceased to have its effect after the Raja was gunned down by the police in 1966. At least the Congress believed it to be so. And all these years after that, the seats in Bastar have been shared in varying proportions by the Congress, The BJP and (since 1980) the CPI. There was no place for any other political figure or force in the arrangement.

But not any more. The factor, in the form of another Bhanjdeo – the present Raja of Bastar Kamal Chandra – has come into play. The young Raja is the grandson of Vijay Chandra Bhanjdeo, Praveer’s brother. Can Kamal Bhanjdeo be the X-factor in the assembly elections due later this year is the question political pundits are seriously looking for an answer to.

It is widely believed the crop of alienation and disenchantment with the state and the system nurtured, if not sown, by the late Praveer Chandra was reaped in later years by the Communists. The Communists flourished in the TINA (there’s no alternative) days.

Can this TINA factor be replaced by the Bhanjdeo factor is the question being debated in the state these days.

Though after 1993 the CPI has failed to win a seat in Bastar, its capability to affect the voting and influence the result has not diminished in that proportion. To be fair to Kamal Bhanjdeo, he is young and without the support base of an organized political set-up – at least so far. But he carries the brand Bhanjdeo with him and this factor alone can become deciding in the area where seats were won with as low a margin as 109 (in Antagarh) and 1201 (in Bastar).

Both these seats went to the BJP. At Bhanupratappur the BJP won by over 15,000 but only by defeating the Congress rebel – a close Jogi associate. The Congress which came third here, and the rebel Manoj Mandavi jointly polled 46 percent votes as against the BJP’s 36 percent. Though it won 11 seats (out of 12 in Bastar) in the last elections, the margins in all the seats were not comfortable.

If this gives the BJP reasons to worry or to prepare itself to deal with the untested factor, the Congress is not comfortable either. Praveer Chandra’s memory is invoked in the state invariably with his brutal killing – widely believed to be at the instruction of the then chief minister. And that chief minister belonged to the Congress.