Chhattisgarh is either going with Raman Singh or a hung assembly giving BSP-JCC to have their say in the next government as Congress’ hopes have scaled down to 40 seats only
Predicting anything in Chhattisgarh is fraught with difficulties. Traditionally, it has been a binary rivalry between the BJP and the Congress with the difference of vote being only about one percent either way. The difficulty this time is the Bahujan Samaj Party-Janata Congress Chhattisgarh combination of former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi is likely to upset all calculations.
In the absence of any strong wave, Chhattisgarhis have always voted conservatively and in line with their moderate nature. But every time a national wave rises, it does not crash on Chhattisgarh’s shore. So few ground rules were visible in all the constituencies. In Sakti, former Union minister Charan Das Mahant appears comfortable as he is a big name and people will rather have him than Sahu. In neighbouring Rampur, former home minister Nankiram Kanwar of the BJP is expected to win. In Korba, sitting MLA of the Congress Jaisingh Agawal, whose wife is also the mayor, is expected to sail through. Even Vimal Chopra, the only independent MLA in the state, is expected to retain Mahasamund.
So as the state goes to vote these are the discernible trends:
• There is no wave in anyone’s favour. No undercurrents either.
• The BJP is hopeful of a status quo, claiming an incumbency factor in its favour.
• It is depending on a disruptive rather than a constructive theory of election management and on the inability of the opposition to prick the balloon. Both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi have talked of everything from Rafale to dynastic politics but not local issues including MSP and corruption. • The presence of a potent third party alliance has not deterred either of the main contenders from playing their own small games including fixing or selling seats.
• The usual election issues like ‘bijli, pani, development’ are a footnote.
Its either the lethargy of the electorate, inability of the opposition to throw up a challenge, Raman Singh’s blessed luck or all three put together, that has resulted in an unbroken 15-year reign for the threetime chief minister. But despite the years in power, he has remained likeable – a down to earth person that the Chhattisgarhis love. Very few may claim to have seen him angry or perturbed over anything. He has weathered three elections, the elimination of entire opposition top brass by the Maoists and some feeble challenges from within. His rating has remained good after three terms and that in itself is a small miracle for any incumbent chief minister.
The sad part though is that ennui has set in, primarily the result of a long reign. Lack of new ideas and an administration has become opaque and complacent. The same people have been running the show for past two decades and look visibly tired and bereft of ideas other than extolling the virtues of their leader. Government servants never seem to retire, party faces never change and even the cook, gardener and drivers of the chief minister’s house have become used to a pattern of life. It can’t be good for democracy. It does not
need chaos but certainly more vibrancy. The bottom line though is that if there was no Raman Singh in the equation, then it would have been a cake walk for the opposition.
Former chief minister Jogi’s strength is his ability to bounce out of every hardship in life, an indomitable spirit and penchant to spring a surprise. He worked hard on his relationship with Mayawati when most expected him to work through his batchmate PL Puniya to reconcile with the Congress. He did that too but having failed to break through the Rahul coterie, he has thrown in the dice with Mayawati. Jogi’s penchant for surprises, of course, extends to his inability to retain the loyalty of those who stand by him. After a proper name calling and wrestling match between JCC treasurer Gajraj Pagariya and another loyalist Vijay Nijhawan in Jogi’s residence, the former resigned from the party two days before polling.
Baghel’s belligerence is both his strength and his weakness. He is the only Congressman who has been able to stand up to both Jogi and Raman Singh. A member of the Digvijay Singh cabinet of the 90s in MP, he has his own circle of influence. And that circle has been built very strongly on a pro-Kurmi and anti-upper caste politics. He is a product of a time when Shuklas ruled Chhattisgarh and was backed by Arjun Singh and Digvijay who wanted to cut down the Shukla influence. Along with Satyanarain Sharma, Charandas and Nandkumar Patel he was part of a band of leaders who had held influential positions in undivided MP. While Charan got his chance as PCC president last time after Patel was shot down, Baghel benefited from the fact that Charandas was seen as a mild leader who could not effectively counter Jogi within the party and the BJP outside. Thus Baghel ascended the PCC throne and soon proved to Rahul that he could counter Jogi who from all accounts got the blame for the loss in 2013.
That brings us to what is the actual count on the ground. If we were to take all sure winners from both parties – based on their record and present ability – there is not much headway. From the Congress all senior leaders are expected to win. So is true of the BJP. A seat by seat analysis indicates that both parties are expected to win 27 seats each. That makes it 54, so the contest will be for the remaining 36 seats.
It’s here where Jogi hopes to come into play. He is hoping to stop both the parties short of the simple majority mark of 46. So what are his chances? Realistically the alliance can win – Chandrapur, Jajaipur, Marwahi, Kota, Akaltara, Pamgarh, Sarangarh and Mungeli. It can hope to cause an upset in Kasdol, Lormi, Khairagarh and Bhanupratappur. It can also hope to finish second in Arang, Navagarh and Ahirwara. The best case scenario for the alliance is that it may win 8 seats. It will be desperately hoping to stop the BJP and Congress at 40 and 42 respectively. Then Jogi can negotiate with either party.
Will that happen? It may not since BJP has been continuously harping that Jogi is a friend much to Mayawati’s consternation. Jogi had to ultimately call a press conference and swear on religious texts that he will not support BJP. The BJP plan is to impress upon the electorate that it is going to come back to power with or without Jogi and that Congress is out of the race.
The BJP apple cart might roll over in the plains where its ministers are in the fray. Amar Agarwal from Bilaspur, Ajay Chandrakar from Kurud, Rajesh Mudat from Raipur West, Prem Prakash Pandey from Bhilai and Speaker Gaurishankar Agarwal from Kasdol are all on weak wicket. If they lose then BJP may get restricted to 40-42.
The Congress thinks it has done very well in the first round of polling on November 12 for 18 seats. It expects to win 14 of them improving upon its last first phase tally of 12 out of 18. It’s also banking heavily on its stalwarts to come through as well as an ennui factor — more than the anti-incumbency. Ironically the anti-incumbency works more against the Congress sitting MLAs than the BJP but the party has refused to learn its lessons which may be its undoing. Two months ago, it was hoping to win 54 seats and if BSP came on board then 58. Now it has seen its fortunes decline to 40s.