Bilaspur: With Chhattisgarh Assembly elections due at the end of the year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is pulling out all stops to maintain its winning streak in the central Indian state. In just a fortnight, a series of road shows and rallies have been held in Chhattisgarh by prime minister Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh, party bigwigs such as Amit Shah and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
In Chhattisgarh, where the BJP has enjoyed a 15-year rule, the party is faced with a double whammy of anti-incumbency and a likely pre-poll Congress-BSP alliance.
The BJP plans to ride to victory on the development plank, with chief minister Raman Singh carrying out a 'Vikas Yatra' this month to highlight developmental works carried out by his government as well as to lay foundation stone for more projects.
The BJP is hoping its development agenda will help woo tribals in Maoist-affected Bastar region, which has 12 Assembly seats where the party was able to win only four seats in the last Assembly elections.
The BJP has won Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh with a very narrow margin and is not taking any chances, especially after the drubbing it received earlier this year in bypolls held in its bastions Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP's performance was also dismal in bypolls held on 28 May, with the party winning just three out of four Lok Sabha and 10 Assembly seats. In Karnataka Assembly elections, BJP was ousted by Congress-JD(S) alliance.
A good performance in Chhattisgarh, which goes to polls along with Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan later this year, is crucial for the BJP just ahead of 2019 general elections.
Of the 90 Assembly seats in Chhattisgarh, the BJP has 49 seats, while Congress holds 39. One seat is with the BSP and another is held by an Independent MLA. While the Congress and the BSP are in talks to form a pre-poll alliance, former chief minister and ex-Congressman Ajit Jogi entering the fray with Janata Congress Chhattisgarh might also upset BJP’s calculations.
The BJP should not underestimate Jogi, who is backed by three former Congress MLAs (Amit Jogi, Siyaram Kaushik and RK Rai) shown the door by the party. Jogi has a following among the populace. A crowd of nearly 1.25 lakh people gathered at Raipur to listen to him on his 72nd birthday where he urged people to support him.
Senior journalist and political analyst Alok Putul said, "In the last Assembly elections, chief minister Raman Singh formed the government by winning 10 more seats than the Congress. These include nine constituencies where Dalit voters hold sway. In these constituencies, Jogi had been working against the Congress and making it easier for the BJP to make inroads. Now that Jogi has his own party, it will be tough for the BJP to capture these seats. Jogi will definitely emerge as a source of trouble for the BJP."
The BSP will also fight hard to retain its lone seat in the state Assembly. BSP supremo Mayawati sent five leaders to act as election in-charge in Chhattisgarh and to work towards strengthening the party.
It is in Maoist-hit Bastar that BJP is eyeing boosting its seat tally. Of the 12 Assembly seats in Bastar, Congress occupies eight. Modi has focused on Bastar in two of his tours while Raman kicked off the 'Lok Suraj Abhiyaan' and the 'Vikas Yatra' from Bastar division.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi also held rallies in Bastar. He set up a special team to prepare a report card of Congress MLAs from eight seats. Congress is also eyeing 20 Assembly seats in Raipur division, 15 of which are occupied by the BJP, while the Congress has four. One seat is held by an Independent candidate.
Besides its opponents, the BJP will also have to battle anti-incumbency. The BJP will also find it hard to fight allegations of corruption. The alleged PDS (public distribution system) scam, under which poor quality food was distributed to people, also tainted the image of the BJP government. Opposition Congress has alleged that the scam was to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore.
The Supreme Court is also investigating alleged irregularities in the purchase of the Augusta helicopter for VIP use in 2006-2007. Moreover, the Congress party alleged that chief minister's son Abhishek Singh was named in the Panama Papers scandal. The party claimed that an address mentioned in the leaked documents was that of the chief minister, against Abhishek's name. Abhishek is a Member of Parliament from Rajnandgaon.
The Congress said that Raman's yatras were an attempt to take the focus away from real issues like corruption.
State Congress president and MLA Bhupesh Baghel said, "If the BJP government has done development in 15 years, then why is it talking about it by organising yatras? Raman's government is surrounded by scams. It is sure to lose this time." Moreover, to further counter BJP's election strategy, Congress has also launched a campaign called 'Vikas Khojo' in the state.
Campaigning by Congress is in full swing in the state with Baghel consistently making his presence felt among voters from Bastar to Surguja. Three main leaders of the party, Baghel, TS Singhdeo and Charandas Mahant have been interacting with voters, conducting meetings and organising rallies.
The BJP, however, said that Congress does not pose a threat to it. Dharamlal Kaushik, president of BJP in Chhattisgarh, said, "Congress was once a national party but it is now a regional party. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it is hanging on to other parties. It is no threat to us. We will form the government for the fourth time as well. We will win 65 seats this time."
Neeraj Agrawal is a Bilaspur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2018 18:38 PM