The 14 seats in in tribal-dominated Surguja division are spread across an area once controlled by three princely states Koriya,Sarguja and Jashpur. Each is struggling to retain its control over its region.
The royal family of Jashpur,still recovering from the loss of Dileep Singh Judeo,appears to be facing its first real challenge there in the form of a rebel.
The royals are facing a rebellion from their own protégé, says a schoolteacher as he prepares for election duty in a nearby constituency. The protégé is Ganesh Ram Bhagat,who is said to have been propped up by the royals in the election that once made him a minister. He lost the last election from a nearby constituency and has defied the unofficial code of loyalty to the royals by entering the fray in Jashpur as an independent against the BJPs Rajsharan Bhagat,the candidate with royal backing now.
Ganesh has betrayed the royals, says a young BJP supporter. Had Dileep Singh Judeo been alive,this rebellion would not have happened.
That is something almost everyone agrees on. Judeo died last August.
Ganesh had been expecting the BJP ticket and was working towards that objective since the defeat. Those five years of political activity,however,have given Ganeshs candidature a sense of credibility. He has been rallying tribals under the banner of a front and also undertaken initiatives for reconversion of tribals, says Sanjay Pandey of Bageecha town.
Ganesh,who enjoys an appeal among a section of Hindu tribals loyal to Judeo because of his initiatives,poses a threat to the latters support base. This appears to be weighing on the minds of the royals. Unlike in the past,when they would campaign for a day and go back,one of the royals is camping overnight in Bageecha to hold supporters back from drifting to Ganeshs camp, says Sanjay Pandey.
Ganeshs supporters claim he has turned the bipolar contest into a triangular one. Many others,however,see the BJP rebel as having provided a window of opportunity to the Congress candidate.
The more support the BJP rebel gains,the likelier it becomes that the Congress will benefit from the division of the votes of Hindu tribals,who otherwise vote against Christian tribals that form the Congress support base, says Jugan Ekka of Sarabkunibo village,while others sitting around the evening bonfire nod in agreement.
In Surguja,T S Baba of the royal family is pitted in a direct contest against a young BJP candidate,Anurag Singh Dev,who has risen through the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha ranks. In the election to Ambikapur,the administrative headquarters of Surguja district,Baba had won by less than 1,000 votes against Anurag,a greenhorn then. While Anurag is mounting a contest more spirited than ever,Baba faces an internal challenge too with former chief minister Ajit Jogis supporters allegedly working against him.
In Koriya,only R C Singh Deo of the royal family is engaged in politics,and he is not contesting this time. The octogenarian is participating as a Congress worker in Baikunthpur constituency that used to be the familys seat of power. The BJP holds all three seats in Koriya district.
Deo,who has never lost an election,was first elected to the Madhya Pradesh assembly in 1967 and became minister three times (1968,1976,1998). The last election he contested was in 2003. He is learnt to have been turned down the Congresss offer of a ticket this time. His pictures can be seen in posters in all three constituencies. Deo is tirelessly campaigning in rural areas too.
Deo,who once worked with Satyajit Ray,is a bachelor. After me,I do not think any of Koriya royals will be in politics, he says.