The Election Commission of India on Sunday announced that the bypoll to the Dantewada Assembly seat in Chhattisgarh will be held on September 23, along with three other seats in the states of Kerala, Tripura and Madhya Pradesh. The electoral battle has been necessitated by the killing of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi, and five other security personnel in a Maoist attack on the legislator’s convoy on April 9, two days before the Lok Sabha polls in the district.
The bypoll has both opportunities and challenges for the BJP and Congress in what is set to be a high-stakes battle. For the BJP, it is important for the party to retain a foothold in Bastar, with Dantewada the only seat among 12 in the district they had won in the Assembly election drubbing. However, despite an opposition state government, the BJP led from Dantewada Assembly seat in the Lok Sabha elections, despite an overall loss in the Bastar seat.
For the Congress, this is an opportunity to stretch their majority in the Lok Sabha even further, winning the only seat left to complete the Bastar set. Politically as well, senior Congress leaders said, a win would help Bhupesh Baghel cement his place as the pre-eminent face of the party, while a loss would dent that image, coming as it would on the heels of a drubbing in the Lok Sabha that largely went unnoticed because of the adverse results all over the country.
Key for both the Congress and the BJP will be their candidate selection for the seat. Multiple term MLA Devti Karma, who lost to Bhima Mandavi, or someone in the Karma family will once again vie for a ticket, but there is a section that believes that the pull of the family has now run out. “After the assassination of Mahendra Karma, the people felt a void that only the nomination of his wife could fill. But after the loss to Mandavi, maybe it is time to look at someone else,” a senior Congress leader said. However, many are aware that while not giving the Karma family a ticket may be an option, the family remains intensely political, with Deepak Karma previously fighting Lok Sabha elections and losing, and Chhavindra Karma also vying for a ticket. This will mean serious heartburn, and a need to assuage tempers if the party chooses to go another way.