Farce of Polls in Chhattisgarh
Both the BJP and Congress fielding almost the same candidates for over two decades, voters are compelled to choose from the bad spread before them
In Chhattisgarh, for the past two decades and more, the same candidates have been contesting all the elections for the two major parties – the BJP and Congress. There are 90 assembly seats and the two major parties field 180 candidates every election. A surprising fact is that more than 136 candidates put up by both parties have always bagged the tickets for the same constituency or the neighboring one over the past four elections.
Most senior leaders from both parties are a residue of the 1990s: Brijmohan Agarwal, Premprakash Pandey, Ajay Chandrakar, Raman Singh, Amitesh Shukla, Baghel, CD Mahant, Satyanarain Sharma, Khelsai Singh, Premsai Singh, Dehru Dhritlehere, Arun Vora, Akbar, Kawasi to name a few. The list seems endless. In the name of change, wives, sons, brothers, nieces and nephews of prominent leaders have bagged tickets. Motilal Vora, Shyama Charan, Arvind Netam, Bisahu Mahant, Mahendra Karma, Nandkumar Patel, Raman Singh, Baliram Kashyap to the Jhumuklal Bhedia family are a few examples. This is despite the fact that the Congress’s entire top leadership, including Nandkumar Patel, Mahendra Karma, VC Shukla and Mudliar, had been killed by Naxalites in 2013.
Some constituencies have not seen a change in nearly five decades. Shyama Charan Shukla fought his first elections from Rajim in 1962 (before, he was elected from the dual constituency of Brindavangardh-Rajim in 1957). He continued to be elected until 1980. He won again in 1990, continuing till 1998, when he gave the seat to his son Amitesh, who has been contesting ever since. Amitesh Shukla has already lost two of three elections he has contested since the state was formed, but Congress is unwilling to find a different candidate.
His opponent Santosh Upadhyay of the BJP contested as an independent in 2003. In 2008 and 2013, he contested as the BJP candidate, losing in the first instance and winning the second. As the sitting MLA, he has been repeated from the BJP again. What real choice have people of Rajim had in past 20 years? Chandru Sahu who contested and won against Amitesh Shukla in 2003 was made the Lok Sabha candidate in 2009 from Mahasamund, of which Rajim is a part. Amitesh Shukla’s Uncle VC Shukla had contested and won Mahasamund nine times from the 1950s to the 1990s. In 2004, when he contested as the BJP candidate, he finally lost to Ajit Jogi of Congress.
RAJIM NOT ALONE
Rajim is not the only example. In fact, two dozen leaders from Congress and about a dozen and half from BJP have been the goto candidates for certain constituencies, win or lose. On top of this, most of these leaders also contest the Lok Sabha within which their assembly segment falls. Thus, losing or winning the assembly has little consequences as they remain the party face in their fiefdoms. Raman Singh, Motilal Vora, Chandrashekhar Sahu, Mahant, Pawan Diwan, Ramesh Bais, Netam, Kawasi Lakhma, Mahendra Karma are few examples of leaders who
have carved out a geographical area for themselves.
This phenomenon is not limited to one region of the state either. The Durg division on the state’s west has had Raman Singh and son, Vora and son, Ravindra Choubey, Bhupesh Baghel, Saroj Pandey, Premprakash and Qureshi dominate for decades. Raipur division in the centre has had Brijmohan, Ramesh Bais and Satyanarain Sharma. Bilaspur division on the east has Amar Agarwal following in the footsteps of his late father Lakhiram and Ajit Jogi family. Up north, the Jashpur families of the Judeos dominate from Dilip Singh to current Ranvijay. In Sarguja, the dominan family is of TS Singh Deo. Down South in Korba, its Bisahu Das Mahant and Charandas. In Bastar, it’s the Netams, Karmas, Usendis, Mandavis and Kashyaps.
Between then, these families also dictate tickets to all the constituencies falling within their area of influence.
AFFINITY FOR RAIPUR
Another interesting observation is that of the 180 candidates who contest the Vidhan Sabha in any given year, a huge majority live in the capital city of Raipur. Only those from Bhilai, Durg and Bilaspur, which are towns close to Raipur, ever live in their own constituencies for extended periods. One argument could be that almost all political activity is concentrated in Raipur, so everyone has a residence here. However, except for the extreme northern and southern parts of the state, every town is within three hours of road journey from the capital. If the sitting MLA and his/her chief challenger don’t even physically live in the constituency they seek to represent, how much they can do for its people?
A case in point here is Kasdol – a three hour drive from Raipur. It’s the biggest constituency in the state with over 3 lakh voters. The present speaker, Gaurishankar Agarwal, represents it now. Between him and Rajkamal Singhania of the Congress, they have represented the seat for two decades. Neither has a permanent home in Kasdol nor family or roots. Both are Agarwals in an area dominated by OBCs and Dalits. They are big businessmen who run their empires from Raipur. Why neither party will look for a local alternative is not a difficult guess.
CORRUPTION NOT A MATTER
The BJP, which has ruled the state for the past 15 years, has not denied a ticket to any sitting minister accused of impropriety and corruption. Even if the ministers are defeated, they find other ways to remain in power. Some of them have been made chairpersons and others state party office bearers. This keeps the seat warm for them till they get the ticket again and win. Ajay Chandrakar lost in 2008, but won in 2013 and was sworn in as a minister. So did Speaker Premprakash Pandey. Dharam Kaushik and Ramvichar Netam are two other examples of people who have continued to block winds of change.
This time, the party says it will change about 30% of its candidates, but it could be nothing more than an eyewash. They will merely be put on the back burner for five years, perhaps with a cosy chairmanship, only to be brought back again in the following elections.
In fact, their influence is not restricted to the assembly and parliament seats. The same candidates also contest the mayoral seats in all major towns. Pramod Dube, Saroj Pandey, Vani Rao and Soni are all mayors of different towns who have contested assembly and Lok Sabha seats. Naturally, it extends to zila panchayat seats as well. There are 27 zila panchayat seats and most of the candidates who contest them would have either lost the Assembly elections or were denied a ticket in a close call. They are all naturally aligned to power people in their own districts and divisions.
You would be gullible to think smaller parties are any different. When VC Shukla rebelled and joined the NCP, he took with him a clutch of Congressmen. Nobel Verma, a rebel congressman was the only winner from his camp. This time around, with Jogi launching his own party (Janata Congress Chhattisgarh), another clutch of Congressmen have broken ranks and will contest with the party’s ticket. Renu Jogi, Amit Jogi, Dharamjit Singh, Rai and Devvrat Singh are the prominent ones amongst them.
But Ajit Jogi may yet buck this trend and give tickets to new faces because of his seat sharing formula with Mayawati. This may reap him a good harvest in the future. Rest assured though, that the state will once again have to select and not elect a lawmaker from the poor spread before it.
Dilip Singh Judeo