Having seen tight BJP-Congress electoral battles over the years, Chhattisgarh will see a new dimension in the two-phase polling next month: a third political formation, which may challenge, or at the very least disturb electoral calculations, in the tie-up between the BSP and Chhattisgarh Janata Congress (CJC).
While the BJP has governed the state since 2003, it has won with narrow vote-share advantage over the Congress – the 2013 election saw a difference of less than 1 per cent.
Leaders across parties told The Sunday Express that the new alliance has already affected calculations, as both the BJP and Congress are now set to announce their candidates later than they would otherwise have, for fear of angry, influential leaders heading to BSP-CJC team.
BJP president Amit Shah has repeatedly stated that the party is fighting these elections under the leadership of CM Raman Singh. Singh himself has thus far primarily focussed on what his government has done in terms of development, a sharp contrast to Shah’s far more combative speeches, speaking on issues such as surgical strikes and attacking his Congress compatriot Rahul Gandhi.
Singh has repeatedly asked voters to compare the state of Chhattisgarh today not with what has happened since 2013, but 2003, when the first of BJP’s three successive governments were formed. He has argued that he inherited a state in the doldrums, and in 15 years has pioneered a growth story.
Critics, however, see this as an effort to hide weaknesses in his last term. And while Singh remains acceptable across the state, and is not a polarising figure, there is a sense on the ground that the BJP is fighting voter fatigue after 15 years in power.
Important also is a sense of anger among some farming communities that the BJP has not lived up to its electoral promises of a Rs 2,100 minimum support price for paddy.
Fifteen years out of power, the Congress has its own challenges. The first is the party’s apparent inability, at both national and state state level, to finalise crucial tie-ups — with either BSP, Gondwana Ganatantra Party or even the CPI, which is influential in at least two seats in Bastar.
Many political analysts had even said that a Congress-BSP victory was certain had their alliance come to fruition. Over the last one year, BJP, which won nine out of 10 reserved SC seats in 2013, found itself fighting an anti-Dalit image amid protests around amendments to SC/ST Act. But with BSP teaming up with Jogi’s CJC, the Congress is now trying to woo OBCs — the party has appointed Tamradhwaj Sahu as chairman of its OBC wing.
Holding its advantage in the 29 reserved ST seats, of which it has 18, is also crucial for the Congress.