As the political action shifts to the centre and north of Chhattisgarh for the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections, where seven seats will go to the polls, the key between victory and defeat may still be the votes of the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (Jogi). But, in a different manner to the Assembly polls held three months ago. If the BJP had then hoped that the Jogi’s would cut into the Congress vote, the JCCJ had thought that if the results were close, they would find themselves in the position of a kingmaker. Three months later, the JCCJ is no longer fighting the elections, and where the 7.6 percent vote share they polled in December will shift may decide the outcome of the third phase.
In December 2018, the JCCJ, the party formed by Ajit Jogi after breaking away from the Congress, posited itself as a regional front, and fought the elections in combination with the BSP. The BJP was eager to see the coalition do well, to cut into Congress votes, and yet the results were unprecedented. All conversations of coalitions and kingmakers ended when the BJP only managed 15 seats, in no position to form government. Yet the JCCJ-BSP coalition seemed to hold up its end of the deal, the former winning 7.6 percent of the vote, and 5 seats, with the BSP winning 2.
The JCCJ has declared support for the BSP in the Lok Sabha elections, with Ajit Jogi and Mayawati even holding a joint rally in Janjgir, where Kanshi Ram had fought his first election in 1984. Yet, even when they did announce that they would not field candidates, after the BSP had released names of candidates without consulting the JCCJ, the party line was clear. They said that the party wanted to prevent the “BJP” and “communal forces” from winning the election. The message to the party cadre has been clear. Not necessarily to vote for the BSP. But vote to defeat the BJP.
Amit Jogi, the son of Ajit Jogi and former MLA of Marwahi from where his father is the sitting legislator now, told The Sunday Express, “Our instructions to our party workers are very clear. The aim is to defeat communal forces. We have made a big sacrifice by not fighting this election so that communal forces don’t return, and that we will assure.”
The votes that went to the JCCJ are also important, because they are concentrated around four seats in the next phase, each with a sizeable SC population — Bilaspur, Janjgir, Korba, and some parts of Raigarh. “That JCCJ is not running is a big plus for us. Marwahi for instance is a Jogi bastion from where he won by a big margin. It comes in the Korba seat, and we expect those votes to return for the Congress. In Kota, where Renu Jogi won, those votes could return for the Bilaspur seat. The Jogi votes are their own, but in their absence they have always been Congress voters, and they will likely return to the party in their absence. Otherwise in a split election, the BJP would have clearly won. Now in Korba specially because it has a large rural population, and a strong candidate in Jyotsana Mahant, wife of speaker Charandas Mahant, the Congress is ahead,” a senior Congress leader said. However, he said that in one seat, there is a clear third force candidate in BSP’s Dauram Ratnakar in Janjgir Champa. “If he wins one lakh votes, then the BJP is likely to win the seat. If it is thirty thousand, the Congress has a chance,” the Congress leader said.
The elections have grown increasingly binary, between the Congress and BJP, with time. Leaders of the JCCJ-BSP coalition have shifted to the Congress.
The BSP Friday sent a complaint to the Election Commission, accusing the Congress of using money power to influence its Raipur candidate to withdraw from the election and back the Congress candidate. Leaders of the JCCJ, like Anil Tah, the Beltara candidate who finished second in the Assembly polls, and spokespersons like Subrat De and Sanjeev Agarwal, have joined the Congress, leaving the Jogis red-faced.
The BJP has run an extraordinary campaign, removing 10 of its sitting MPs, bringing in faces with barely any political capital of their own, and running a campaign solely on the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet, in eight of the 10 seats that the BJP won in 2014, the party won by large margins of over 1.4 lakh. The Congress is set to eat into those margins.