The speculation in northern Chhattisgarh,voting Tuesday,is about the drift of votes in Bastar in the south,which voted with a high turnout in the first phase. What everyone agrees on is that the contest here is evenly balanced in most of the 14 seats,though the BJP had won nine last time.
Unlike Bastar division,which has seen some of the most brutal killings by Maoists in the last five years,Surguja has virtually put Naxalism behind it. For this people credit Raman Singhs anti-Naxal stance and accuse his predecessor Ajit Jogi for having been soft on Maoists.
What makes the contest even,however,is local anti-incumbency. With that in mind the BJP has denied tickets to four of its nine sitting MLAs in Bharatpur-Sonhat,Manendragarh,Jashpur and Kunkuri.
We elected Deepak Patel in Manendragarh because he was young and hailed from Chirmiri. But he has become so unpopular that the BJP would surely have lost had he been renominated, says S B Shukla of Chirmiri town,which comprises mostly workers of eight collieries that functioned in the region. Similar sentiments about sitting BJP MLAs can be heard expressed in other constituencies where the party has denied tickets to the incumbents.
Even in constituencies where it has retained its MLAs,such as Premnagar and Bhatgaon in Surajpur district and Samri in Balrampur district,the BJP faces tough contests because of them. Minister Ram Vichar Netam,for instance,finds the Congress candidate having rallied tribals against him. Netams future depends upon the Muslims in Ramanumganj town and nearby villages, says Ramchandra Gupta of Ramanujganj. Unlike last time,he has forged good relations with the community,which may be his only saving grace.
BJP state chief Ramsevak Paikra,contesting from Pratappur,finds the Congress trying to leverage a local issue against him. It concerns district status to Pratappur,something the BJP government did not give.
Such local issues and disillusionment with MLAs offset Raman Singhs statewide chaur waale baba image and the appreciation for his anti-Naxal policy. The last of these issues is,however,something people still hold against the Congress.
The Congresss three-year rule under Ajit Jogi had emboldened Naxals. He never uttered a word against them while we lived in fear. The situation has improved so much since Raman Singhs government came, says Ajit Sircar of Damodarpur village,which had been selected to accommodate Hindu refugees from Bangladesh in the late 1960s.
In Wadrafnagar town,Kishorilal Kushwaha says,Raman Singhs cheap rice scheme has won the party support in the rural areas,while the relief from Naxalism is an equally important reason for the BJPs good showing.
The Congresss problems include the threat of a vote split with the NCP candidate in Manendragarh,and an alleged sabotage attempt by Jogis supporters against its Ambikapur candidate,T S Baba.