The Dantewada bye-election, to be held on September 23, is now set to be an emotionally high strung affair, with both the Congress and the BJP likely to field the widows of senior leaders slain in Maoist attacks, that led their respective parties for decades in Bastar. While the Congress has once again chosen to go with Devti Karma, wife of former leader of opposition Mahendra Karma who was killed in a Maoist attack in 2013, the BJP is banking on Ojaswi Mandavi, the wife of Bhima Mandavi, killed in a Maoist attack in April.
It was the attack on Mandavi’s cavalcade on April 9, two days before the Lok Sabha election in Bastar, that has necessitated the bypoll, with him being the only BJP MLA, of a total of 12 in Bastar. He had in December, defeated Devti Karma, to win the Dantewada seat. While both the Congress and BJP have said that these two names have been sent to their respective central offices, it is very unlikely that there will be any changes to the list.
For the Congress, sources in the party said, that the challenge is to quell dissent within the Karma household itself, with Devti Karma’s son Chhavindra Karma a claimant for the seat. “There were some candidates from outside the Karma family as well. But the truth is, that at this point, if you dont give them the ticket, the Congress is likely to lose because of the damage they would cause. We have to assuage Chhavindra, but he has been told that the last election we lost because of him, and if he rebels again, the future of the entire family may end politically,” a senior Congress leader said. Chhavindra told local mediapersons that he was not unhappy with the decision, but tellingly asked for party responsibilities for the “Chitrakote” vidhan sabha, and not Dantewada.
For the BJP, it was difficult to look past the claim of Ojaswi Mandavi, who has been vocal in the past months about taking her husbands political legacy forward. “The BJP ground worker wants to honour Bhima by winning this election, and there was a lead in the Lok Sabha despite the attack. It was only right to give the seat to Ojaswi and there was near consensus on this,” a senior BJP leader said.
The battle is also steeped in history, as Mandavi shot to fame after he defeated Mahendra Karma, till then seen as untouchable, in the 2008 assembly election at a time when Mahendra Karma was leader of opposition.