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Print edition : December 27, 2013

Chief Minister Raman Singh waves to supporters after the BJP's win in the Assembly elections, in Raipur on December 8. Photo: PTI

BJP workers celebrate the victory in Raipur. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

Congress leader Ajit Jogi. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

Another BJP victory, and a message for the Congress to take its local-level leaders seriously and not to take votersfor granted.

The joke in Chhattisgarh after the second round of voting on November 19 was that the Governor was consulting constitutional experts on the options before him in case both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress ended up getting 45 seats each in the 90-member Assembly. This joke almost ended up becoming true. Even after a full day of counting, the results were not clear until the end, and it looked like it could go either way. But at the time of writing the BJP had been declared the winner with 49 seats. The Congress had 39, with one seat each going to a BJP rebel, Mahasamund, and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Chhattisgarh is known for nail-biting finishes, and it did not disappoint this time either. Victory continued to swing tantalisingly between both the contenders, the BJP and the Congress, all through the counting process. While the BJP had put all its bets on the “chawal wale baba”, as Raman Singh is fondly called, the Congress assumed that the annihilation of its entire top State leadership in a gruesome massacre by naxalites in May this year would create a huge sympathy wave, and the party would not have to make much of an effort to win. The party also naively believed that the Raman fatigue would automatically swing the voters to its side. Both assumptions, however, proved wrong, and the people voted exactly the way they had done the last two times. No doubt there was Raman fatigue. But there was no clearly identified alternative, either. So people voted in some confusion, and this reflected in the pendulum-like swinging of the trends. There is no denying that there was an intense desire for change, which had become visible in the huge voter turnout. Even in Bastar, which voted with the naxalite threat of violence looming upon it, people surged out to cast their votes. This produced jubilation in the Congress camp, in which hopes of an ouster of the Raman Singh government soared. “People do not come out in such large numbers to vote for a party. They come out in such large numbers to vote out a party,” a senior Congress leader said after the voting. The results proved him wrong.

Bastar, which always scripts a party’s defeat or victory in Chhattisgarh, proved decisive this time as well. The BJP had won nine and 11 out of the 12 Bastar seats in 2003 and 2008 respectively. This time, however, it could win only four, while the Congress won eight. “Bastar has done us in, otherwise we would have swept past the Congress,” said senior BJP leader Pankaj Jha. According to him, the loss in the tribal belt got compensated for in the rest of the State. “The results have been more or less like last time, though we hoped to do much better. But then Chhattisgarh has always been a strong Congress State,” he said.

Senior Congress leaders rue the fact that the party failed to name a credible leader. They believe that this and the fear of a comeback by former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi prevented people from voting for the party in larger numbers. “If we had had a face, we would have done much better,” a senior Congress leader said.

Interestingly, the “None of the above”, or NOTA, option, which was available to the voters for the first time, also affected the BJP substantially. According to the details that are available at the moment, voters in the tribal areas have resorted to NOTA in large numbers. Besides, with five State Ministers losing their seats, it is now clear that anti-incumbency did work against Brand Raman. “Since we are going to form the government, we will have time to rectify our mistakes,” a senior BJP leader said.

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