Wresting ground

The BJP’s booth-level management and relentless propaganda on the air strikes in Pakistan, which the Congress failed to counter effectively, yield rich dividends just months after a drubbing in the Assembly elections.

Published : May 31, 2019 12:30 IST

Congress president Rahul Gandhi at a campaign rally in Durg on April 20.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi at a campaign rally in Durg on April 20.

After rejecting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had ruled the State for 15 years with Raman Singh as Chief Minister, in the Assembly elections in November 2018, the voters of Chhattisgarh gave the party a thumping victory in nine of 11 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress won two seats.

This shift surprised many, not least the Congress, which had high hopes for a repeat performance of the Assembly elections when it won 68 of the 90 seats with the support of nearly all castes and classes across the rural-urban divide. However, the BJP rode a national Narendra Modi wave and kept its vote share intact.

In the previous Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 10 seats with a vote share of 49.7 per cent while the Congress won one with a share of 39.1 per cent. This year, the vote share of both the BJP and the Congress increased to 50.7 per cent and 40.9 per cent respectively. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh were reduced to playing inconsequential roles.

The Congress conceded much of the ground it gained last year. The election results have dramatically altered the balance of power in the State. An increased voter turnout, at 71.48 per cent, was being cited as the reason for this clean sweep. The Congress clearly failed to galvanise the electorate in its favour.

While BJP workers mobilised voters to be brought to the booths on polling day, the same zeal and keenness to win was absent in the Congress camp. Its leaders relied on the party’s popularity dating back to the days of Indira Gandhi to pull voters to the booths. While the party’s hand symbol still had its loyalists in the older age group, most youths were not aware of, neither cared about, the past glory of the Congress and chose to go with the party that was disseminating its views through WhatsApp, a medium they understand.

Soon after winning the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh last year, Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced sops to consolidate the vote bank in these States. He addressed farm and rural distress, but the message did not percolate down to the voters.

In Chhattisgarh, the State government claimed to have met many of the election promises such as waiving loans, reducing electricity bills by half, increasing the rate of tendu leaves and raising the minimum support price of paddy.

The Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), announced by Rahul Gandhi in the run-up to the elections, which promised Rs.72,000 for each family at the bottom of the economic pyramid, seemed promising. But it targeted only five crore people and failed to capture the imagination of the voters.

While this scheme was a promise, the Prime Minister’s Kisan Yojana that he announced saw the disbursal of the first instalment of Rs.2,000 immediately, making it real and attractive to voters. Besides, in the game of schemes, the huge houses built by people in Chhattisgarh under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana stood as testimony to its success on highways and roads, encouraging the aspirational class to vote for Modi.

The booth-level management of the BJP proved to be strong and the Congress’ boardroom strategy of countering the propaganda failed to take root. The BJP relentlessly spread the message of the air strikes at Balakot in the State’s interior regions, portraying Modi as a strong leader. The Congress simply did not have enough committed workers on the ground to counter the BJP’s narrative.

For the first time, a party that won the Assembly elections in the State in December failed to clinch a victory in the Lok Sabha election soon after. Thrice in the past, the BJP won the Assembly elections in December and followed it up with victories in the parliamentary election the next year.

The Congress managed to win only in Bastar and Korba. In Bastar, Deepak Baij defeated the BJP’s Baiduram Kashyap by 38,982 votes. His victory may in part be credited to the Congress’ decision to respect a court order and return the Adivasi lands of Lohandiguda and Takarguda that had been acquired for a Tata project.

In Korba, Jyotsna, the wife of Speaker Charandas Mahant, defeated the BJP’s Jyoti Nand Dubey by 26,349 votes.

The most shocking loss was in Durg, where the BJP won by nearly four lakh votes. In 2014, Durg was the only seat won by the Congress (with a margin of 16,000 votes). Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel (Patan) and three Cabinet Ministers—Tamradhwaj Sahu (Durg Rural), Ravindra Choubey (Saja) and Guru Rudrakumar (Ahirwara)—represent Assembly segments of this constituency. This loss and the margin have come as a huge psychological blow to the Congress.

Kanker, a seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, was another astonishing loss for the Congress, which had been confident of winning it. Mohan Mandavi of the BJP defeated Biresh Thakur by just 6,914 votes.

Other major losses for the Congress were Surguja and Bilaspur by over 1.4 lakh votes and Raipur by over 3.4 lakh votes. The results clearly indicate that the BJP’s strategy not to give the ticket to any sitting MP, despite stiff internal opposition, worked in favour of the party and helped it overcome anti-incumbency.

Most senior Congress members were shocked at the results, but Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel put a brave face on it. He congratulated Modi and the BJP and expressed his gratitude to Congress workers who “worked tirelessly for these elections”.

Congress insiders blamed the Modi wave across north India, saying it impacted the results in Chhattisgarh as well but added that booth-level analysis would be done in the following days to decode the specific reasons for the results.

Polling was held in three phases. On April 11, the Dantewada, Bijapur, Jagdalpur, Konta, Narayanpur, Chitrakot and Kondagaon Assembly segments in the reserved Scheduled Tribe constituency of Bastar went to the polls.

The constituencies of Kanker, Rajnandgaon and Mahasamund voted in the second phase and Durg, Bilaspur, Raigarh, Surguja, Janjgir-Champa (S.C.), Raipur and Korba in the third phase, on April 18 and 23 respectively.

As per the 2011 Census, Chhattisgarh’s population was 2.55 crore. According to the Election Commission of India, the total number of registered voters in the State is 1,89,16,285, comprising 94,77,113 men, 94,38,463 women and 709 people of the third gender. The number of voters between 18 and 19 years of age is 4,60,394.

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