No sleep and all nerves in ‘Harvest hour’

Even BJP’s safest bet is tense as Chhattisgarh heads for decider.

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Raipur | Published: November 19, 2013 5:40 am

Raipur South has 38 candidates,the most for any seat in Chhattisgarh. Twenty-four of them are Muslims contesting as independents. The seat,which sees PWD Minister Brijmohan Agarwal pitted against city mayor Kiranmayee Nayak,has around 30,000 Muslims among 2,04,716 voters. Muslims here are perceived to be Congress voters but if these 24 independents,who have no political ambition or standing,get even 500 votes each of their community,Nayak should already be down by 12,000 votes.

It could have been even fewer. Over 200 Muslim families,with some 1,000 votes,of the constituency were given rail tickets and money to visit Ajmer Sharif,apparently to get them out of the way. Someone blew the whistle,however,and a complaint was lodged with the Election Commission against Agarwal for using these tactics. The plan has been shelved.

It’s past 1 am,November 18,with just 30 hours for voting. Agarwal is holding a meeting with some 400 party men on an open terrace. “Ab fasal kaatne ka wakt aa gaya hai (It’s time to reap the harvest). Don’t sleep for two days. No one will take kaali dawai (alcohol) now,” he exhorts his workers.

This constituency epitomises the second phase of the elections in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday,when 72 seats vote. The BJP government is going to elections with 10 years of development claims and Agarwal is their most powerful and safest electoral bet. Yet the ground battle is down to pure management of votes and tactics of putting up dummy candidates. The faces are nervous,hardly confident of victory.

Quietly,the government has tweaked an October 26 Election Commission notification that banned liquor in any constituency going to polls,as well as its districts and neighbouring districts,48 hours before polling. On November 2,joint secretary (excise) A P Tripathi wrote to all collectors that the EC notification “be considered amended” and the reference to districts and neighbouring districts be considered deleted.

While the BJP conducted a survey for the seats,Agarwal got one done on his own and passed it to the candidates,instructing them to “work hard,else…” On November 12,the day after the first phase,the BJP held a meeting to discuss strategies to “cover for the losses” in Bastar. The party is grappling with desertions and leaders denied tickets are contesting as independents. Former minister Ganesh Ram Bhagat is contesting from Jashpur in north Chhattisgarh,and has vowed to finish the BJP in the region. A WhatsApp message about “BJP ka teji se Congressikaran” is making the rounds among the party members.

The Congress has its own troubles and sets of independents and dummy candidates. Leader of the opposition Ravindra Chaubey and former PCC chief Dhanendra Sahu,for instance,face candidates supposedly put up by former chief minister Ajit Jogi,who is said to be financing rebel candidates in some seats. From Sahu’s Abhanpur constituency,Jogi publicly declared the candidature of Radha Krishan Tandon,who is now contesting for the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch.

The Manch and the BSP might not get more than two or three seats but could make major dents in several constituencies. In fact,only a few seats can be termed secured; the rest are tricky for both parties. “This is among the two to four seats where the BJP’s victory is assured. Still,we have to protect our field,” Agarwal tells his workers.

How this field will be protected elsewhere remains to be seen.

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