Congress candidate Devti Karma defeated Ojaswi Mandavi of the BJP by a margin of over 11,000 votes in the bypolls for Dantewada Assembly seat. The votes were counted on Friday, four days after Monday’s polling.
The victory means the Congress now holds all 12 Assembly seats in the Bastar region, and the party’s tally in goes up to 69 seats in the 90-member House.
The bypolls were necessitated due to the death of BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi in a Maoist attack in April. With this defeat, the saffron party’s tally goes down to 14 seats in the Assembly.
The by-election was billed as an electoral battle not just between the Congress and the BJP but also between wives of two leaders killed in Maoist attacks. While BJP candidate Ojaswi Mandavi is wife of Bhima Mandavi, Devti Karma’s husband Mahendra Karma was killed in a Maoist attack in 2013.
After 20 rounds of counting, Devti Karma won 50,028 votes, or 43.65 per cent of the votes polled, according to official Election Commission (EC); Mandavi polled 38,836 votes (33.89 per cent). Bhimsen Mandavi of CPI finished a distant third with 6 per cent of votes.
Congress chief spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Trivedi said the victory is a result of constructive policies of the Bhupesh Baghel government and hard work of state Congress chief Mohan Markam, for whom this was the first election after assuming charge of the state unit. The result was made possible also by decisions such as return of land in Lohandiguda, increase in bonuses for tendu leaves and paddy.
Chief Minister Baghel tweeted, “By giving us their blessings, the people have shown faith in work done towards building a new Chhattisgarh in Dantewada bypoll. This victory is also a win for the dreams of the late Mahendra Karma. Congratulations and good wishes to Shrimati Devti Karma.”
While congratulating Devti Karma on her victory, former Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Raman Singh accused the Congress-led state government of misusing power, and said the party will now concentrate on bypolls for Chitrakote, scheduled on October 21.
In response, the Congress said the BJP failed because of its faith on three leaders from “outside” — Raman Singh, Shivratan Sharma, and O P Choudhary — and the victory margin was an answer to Singh’s allegations.
For the Congress, this win is extremely important, coming as it does after a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, and ahead of the Chitrakote bypolls and local body elections.
Senior Congress leaders told The Indian Express that in the days running up to the polling day, many within the party felt the BJP was ahead in Dantewada, and the result has been turned around because of “focussed management”, and the state leadership stepping in. “We lost both elections in December, and even in the Lok Sabha were behind from Dantewada,” a senior party leader said. “Up to a month ago, surveys showed the BJP was ahead, and there were problems with the image of the extended Karma family.”
At that point, party leaders said, the state government stepped in and made it a prestige battle — the Chief Minister spent time in Dantewada, the PCC chief camped in Bastar, and strategists such as Rajesh Tiwari spent more than a month in the area.