The Raman Singh government is projecting its welfare schemes. The Congress is making a bid to reclaim the ST vote.
Since its birth in 2000,Chhattisgarh has emerged as one of the fastest-growing state economies in India,with an average growth rate of more than 9 per cent during the last decade. However,it has also earned notoriety for the violation of human rights allegedly by both Maoists as well as security forces. While the Congress formed the first government in 2000 after the bifurcation of Madhya Pradesh,the BJP has been in power since the first election held in 2003.
In the 2003 election,the BJP won 50 out of 90 seats and formed the government under the chief ministership of Raman Singh. It retained its control in the 2008 polls,securing the same number of seats. Currently,38 seats are held by the Congress and two by the BSP. For the coming assembly election,29 seats are reserved for tribals. Thus,ST voters,who constitute 32 per cent of the total population,hold the key. Historically,most tribal sections were inclined towards the Congress,but efforts by the RSS and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram helped the BJP expand its support base among tribals. The support from the tribal-majority regions of Bastar and Surguja was central to the BJPs victory in the 2003 and 2008 assembly elections,and in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004 and 2009.
To strengthen this support base,the BJP decided on December 7,2011 to revise the reservation pattern in government jobs and educational institutions in favour of STs,raising their share from 20 to 32 per cent. On the other hand,it brought down the share of SCs from 16 to 12 per cent. The BJP also succeeded in convincing Kamal Chandra Bhanj Deo,the head of the royal family of Bastar who is influential among tribals,to join the party. To counter this and to regain its support base among tribals,the Congress has been trying to garner sympathy votes for the killing of prominent Congress leaders in the Maoist attack in May by accusing the BJP of failing to provide adequate security. Both the BJP and Congress have brought their star campaigners to launch the pre-poll campaign in tribal-dominated areas. While Rahul Gandhi blew the poll bugle for the Congress at Jagdalpur,headquarters of the Bastar division,the BJP fielded both L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi to launch the partys campaign.
The SCs constitute 12 per cent of the states population and 10 (of 90) assembly seats are reserved for them. In the 2008 election,the BJP won five of these,while the Congress and BSP won four and one,respectively. However,the decision to reduce the SC quota in government jobs could create problems for the party,especially since the Congress declared that if voted to power,it would revert to 16 per cent. The SCs,who have a significant presence in more than 50 assembly constituencies,may pose a serious challenge to the BJP if they decide to vote against it,particularly given that in more than 15 assembly seats during the 2008 election,the margin of victory was less than 5,000 votes for the BJP or Congress. Also,in the last general elections of 2009,although the BJP managed to increase its votes among upper castes,lower OBCs and STs,it lost out on SC votes by 7 per cent in comparison to the 2008 assembly polls (according to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies). Although OBCs constitute 42 per cent of the total voters in the state,their votes are equally divided among the BJP and Congress. There have been no significant developments thus far to challenge this equation.
The Raman Singh-led BJP government will seek a third consecutive term by leveraging the goodwill generated from various welfare schemes launched by the government. These include the highly acclaimed public distribution system,smart health card,the distribution of free laptops to final-year students (first-time voters),skill development programme for youth,distribution of bicycles,the government-sponsored teerth yatra (pilgrimage) programme,etc. But the road ahead will not be easy. The Congress continues to make promises regarding welfare schemes. For instance,in response to Singhs Rs 1 per kilogram rice scheme,the Congress has promised free rice to the poor. The government organised a Vikas Yatra,a 2,700-km trip to interact with voters across the state. In response,the Congress organised a Parivartan Yatra in an attempt to puncture Singhs claims of good governance.
The Chhattisgarh election will likely witness a close and intense contest between the BJP and Congress. Whoever wins,the result is crucial for both parties calculus for the Lok Sabha elections.
The writer is head and professor,department of political science,Guru Ghasidas University,Bilaspur.