With OBCs in mind, Cong may re­jig its Ch­hat­tis­garh strat­egy

Hindustan Times (Amritsar) - - Nation - Ritesh Mishra Ritesh.Mishra@hin­dus­tan­times.com

RAIPUR: The Congress will project more than one prob­a­ble chief min­is­ter in Ch­hat­tis­garh ahead of the state polls due later this year, party lead­ers fa­mil­iar with the strat­egy said. This is be­ing done to woo the state’s pow­er­ful other back­ward classes (OBCs). Kur­mis and Sahus are two dom­i­nant com­mu­ni­ties among OBCs, and ac­count for around 36% of the state’s pop­u­la­tion.

Bhu­pesh Baghel, a Kurmi, and Tam­rad­hwaj Sahu will be among the prom­i­nent faces for the party’s elec­tion cam­paign, the lead­ers said. Sahu is a mem­ber of Congress Work­ing Com­mit­tee (CWC), the party’s high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body, while Baghel is the party’s state chief.

The lead­ers said the Congress first made Tam­rad­hwaj Sahu head of the party’s na­tional OBC cell and then nom­i­nated him to the CWC as it sensed a chance to win back the Sahu com­mu­nity. “By el­e­vat­ing the Sahu leader to the CWC, we are giv­ing a sig­nal, that he could be the next chief min­is­ter,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named. He said Baghel is the other prob­a­ble can­di­date. He said his Kurmi com­mu­nity ac­counts for the state’s 20% pop­u­la­tion. “Our strat­egy is to strike a bal­ance be­tween the two dom­i­nant OBC com­mu­ni­ties…,” he said. He added other prom­i­nent caste lead­ers like op­po­si­tion leader T S Singhdeo, too, will find a place in the cam­paign strat­egy. Singhdeo, a Thakur like the state’s cur­rent chief min­is­ter, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Ra­man Singh, was un­til re­cently con­sid­ered a fron­trun­ner among po­ten­tial Congress can­di­dates for the top post .

The Congress has mainly banked on tribal and Dalit votes (42%) in the state. Kur­mis and Sahus had shifted their al­le­giance to the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party as they felt side­lined dur­ing for­mer Congress chief min­is­ter Ajit Jogi’s ten­ure over a decade back. Jogi, a tribal, left the Congress in 2015 to float his Ch­hat­tis­garh Janata Congress.

Kur­mis and Sahus are mainly farm­ers and traders. Sahus ac­count for about 16% of the state’s pop­u­la­tion. As many as 18 of the 90 seats have about 40% Sahu vot­ers.

Get­ting Sahu votes is cru­cial for the Congress. There was less than one per­cent­age point (0.75%) dif­fer­ence be­tween the Congress and the BJP’s vote shares in the last assem­bly elec­tion in 2013.

“Most of the Sahus vote for the BJP be­cause they are ba­si­cally small traders (the party’s tra­di­tional voter base),” said Congress’s na­tional OBC cell co­or­di­na­tor San­deep Sahu.

He claimed the com­mu­nity has “de­cided to vote” for the Congress as the BJP did noth­ing for them when de­mon­eti­sa­tion and in­tro­duc­tion of the Goods and Ser­vices Tax hit them hard. San­deep Sahu claimed the com­mu­nity feels the BJP has not given them proper rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the state gov­ern­ment and the party.

BJP spokesman Sacchi­nand Upasane con­tested the claims say­ing the party’s vice pres­i­dent Moti­lal Sah and a min­is­ter Ramshila Sahu in the Ch­hat­tis­garh cab­i­net are from the com­mu­nity. “In­stead of ques­tion­ing us, the Congress should set­tle its in­ter­nal dis­putes first,” he said and in­sisted Sahus will not desert the BJP .

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ashok To­mar says Tam­rad­hwaj Sahu’s pro­mo­tion is a good move. He added there is a strong feel­ing in the com­mu­nity that Tam­rad­hwaj could be the CM if the Congress comes to power. “If the Congress man­ages to win 5% of the Sahu vote, it can be in power .”

Vinod Verma, the Congress’s chief strate­gist in Ch­hat­tis­garh, said the Sahu com­mu­nity is the only one, other than trib­als, which votes in large num­bers for the party. “Congress has been giv­ing them po­lit­i­cal space and if the party comes to power Sahus will get their due. We feel Sahus will vote for us.”

OBC lead­ers Tam­rad­hwaj Sahu (left) and Bhu­pesh Baghel will be among the prom­i­nent faces for Congress’s cam­paign.

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