Three of Chhattisgarh’s eleven Lok Sabha seats went to polls on Thursday, with the polling percentage crossing seventy percent by 5 pm, election officials said, and expected to rise some more. While the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency voted on April 11, two of the three seats, Kanker and Rajnandgaon are also Maoist violence affected seats, but went through the day relatively peacefully.
There was one incident in Rajnandgaon where there was an IED blast set up by Maoists in the Manpur area, but there were only minor injuries to a jawan. Later in the evening, an IED blast attempted to target a polling party in the Bademamri area of Kondagaon district. One jawan was injured in this incident too, but the polling party was reported safe.
The three seats of Kanker, Rajnandgaon, and Mahasamund that went to the polls on Thursday are all prestige battles between the BJP and the Congress, and each is currently held by the former, which won 10 of 11 seats in 2014. However, the Congress sweep of the vidhan sabha elections, as well as the BJP decision to fight this election on the face of Narendra Modi alone and drop all 10 sitting MP’s have queered the pitch, introducing a number of new factors in each seat.
Take for instance, the Kanker seat, where the sitting member of parliament Vikram Usendi, who was appointed BJP state president ahead of the polls, was not given the ticket, ostensibly to concentrate on the campaign through the state. While Usendi is a multiple time parliamentarian and considered a strong leader among the tribal community of Kanker, despite losing his vidhan sabha seat, the BJP candidate is a new entrant to politics in Mohan Mandavi, an old RSS hand. Facing him is also a new face from the Congress in Viresh Thakur. While the Congress is set to take the seat in the tribal dominated areas of Kanker district, the seat also has two urban and semi urban areas such as Kanker city and Balod, which may cut into their votes and give the BJP a chance.
In Rajnandgaon similarly, the BJP has banked on Santosh Pandey, a long time party worker, but new to electoral politics in a seat which has been dominated by Raman Singh and his family. Abhishek Singh, Raman Singhs son was not given the ticket, and again, while Paandey may not garner votes on his own, the BJP is banking on people voting differently in the Lok Sabha and looking for Prime Minister Modi to continue. Diametrically opposed to that strategy, the Congress has attempted to localise the elections as far as possible, giving the ticket to former MLA Bholaram Sahu, with a large number of Sahu voters in the region, in an attempt to break part of the OBC vote, with the party confident of retaining the tribal vote. However, the BJP hopes that it will sweep the urban vote in places like Kawardha, Khairagarh and Rajnandgaon to give them the win.
Mahasamund is a contest between sitting Congress MLA from Abhanpur and senior Congress leader Dhanendra Sahu and former BJP MLA from Khallari Chunnilal Sahu. With the district having a large number of paddy farmers, the Congress will hope its loan waiver and paddy support price of 2500 per quintal have taken effect, while the BJP has been campaigning vociferously claiming that these schemes have rung hollow. The hope for the Congress is that despite the BJP wave in the 2014 election where eight of the 11 seats were won by the BJP by over 1.4 lakh votes, Ajit Jogi, then of the Congress lost only by a tiny thirteen hundred vote margin. While the BJP argues that these were votes that came in because of Jogi;s personal popularity, the Congress believes that these votes will not shift to the BJP.
Both parties said that they were confident of winning all three seats on Thursday evening.