The Dantewada bypoll, to be held on September 23, is now set to be an emotionally high-strung affair with both the Congress and BJP likely to field the wives of senior leaders — slain in Maoist attacks — who 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 another 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 among the 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.
Why bypoll is significant for Cong, BJP
For the Congress, the Dantewada bypoll is an opportunity to show that the government is being perceived well, and is a chance to display that the Lok Sabha election results were only a blip. For the BJP, it is important not to lose the only seat they had among the 12 in Bastar, and a win would re-energise a beleaguered state unit, which only has 14 MLAs in the state’s 90 constituencies.
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 don’t 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.
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 husband’s 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.