BJP upbeat

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh during a visit to New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

IN Chhattisgarh, the BJP, buoyed by its victory in the November Assembly elections, is upbeat. Its election slogan is Ek aur ek gyarah (one and one is eleven), implying that the Raman Singh-Narendra Modi combine will sweep all the 11 Lok Sabha seats in the State. With a BJP government ruling the State, the party is trying to sell the promise of faster development if there is a BJP government at the Centre.

“What we are saying has a basis. We have the Chhattisgarh model to showcase. We can tell people that the sort of development that has taken place in Chhattisgarh will be seen all over India if the BJP comes to power,” said Pankaj Jha, the BJP’s election management committee member, in Raipur.

Significantly, it is not the Gujarat model of development but the Chhattisgarh model that the party is talking about. “In both 2004 and 2009, we won 10 out of 11 seats here. This time we are aiming at winning all the 11 seats, that is why the Ek aur ek gyarah slogan is immediately establishing a connect with the people,” said Jha.

Yet, the sailing may not be all that smooth for the BJP. The Congress gave the party a tough fight in November and lost the Assembly elections by just 0.7 per cent of the votes. If the trend continues, the Congress may well win three or four seats, including a couple of seats in the crucial tribal areas where it won eight of the 12 Assembly seats in November. Senior BJP leaders admit in private that it may not be an easy election. “Despite the Congress losing all but one seat in 2004 and 2009, that of Ajit Jogi in Mahasamund, we cannot write it off. Ajit Jogi is back in Mahasamund, and there he has his own influence and is likely to win that seat again,” said a senior BJP leader.

There are two or three other seats where the BJP is likely to face a tough fight from the Congress: Korba, for instance, where former State Congress president Charan Das Mahant is the candidate; and Bilaspur, where Karuna Shukla, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece, is the candidate. Charan Das Mahant was a Union Minister, but last year he was sent to the State to revitalise the party after most of the top State Congress leaders were killed in a naxalite attack. He did manage to put life back into the Congress, which was evident in the tough fight it gave the BJP. Mahant is influential in his area and is a strong candidate.

Karuna Shukla switched sides during the Assembly elections after being sidelined in the BJP and campaigned for the Congress candidate, Alka Mudaliyar, the widow of the slain Congress leader Uday Mudaliyar, in Rajnandgaon, where Chief Minister Raman Singh was a candidate. The Congress did manage to give the BJP a scare.

With Karuna Shukla herself being a candidate from Bilaspur now, the BJP there is slightly nervous. “These three-four seats can be tough, we may or may not win them,” a BJP leader said.

The Congress, on the other hand, is still to get its act together. After the Assembly election defeat, the State president was replaced with senior leader Bhupesh Baghel, but that has not shown any visible effects on Congress workers’ morale. “Having lost the Assembly elections with such a narrow margin, it is normal for workers to be demoralised. Besides, the leadership too has yet to exhibit that killer instinct which is required for victory,” said a senior Congress leader from Raipur. According to him, the Congress has been a loser in the Lok Sabha elections for some 15 years, so the workers seem to be bogged down by the realisation that the party has nothing to gain or lose. “If Jogi or Mahant win or lose, it is their personal victory or defeat, not of the party, and this realisation seems to be bogging down the average party worker,” said a senior leader.

It is, however, surprising that a party which came so tantalisingly close to victory barely a few months ago should appear so demoralised now. The Congress won 39 seats while the BJP formed the government with 49 seats in the 90-member Assembly. Interestingly, the Congress does have a substantial number of votes in Chhattisgarh: in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it won only one seat but got 37.31 per cent of the votes. In 2004 also, the Congress won just one seat but 40.16 per cent of the votes. The BJP, on the other hand, won 10 seats both the times, with 47.78 per cent of the votes in 2004 and 45.03 per cent of the votes in 2009. The BJP’s vote share actually went down in 2009, but the Congress did not benefit from this.

The AAP has fielded Soni Sori, a tribal schoolteacher who was jailed on charges of being a naxalite sympathiser. How her presence will impact the election remains to be seen. Besides, the Left parties also have decided to contest four seats: Kanker, Bastar, Janjgir Champa and Sarguja. The Communist Party of India (CPI) will fight in the first three while the Communist Part of India (Marxist) will contest in Sarguja. The tribal vote this time will get divided four ways and ultimately end up helping the BJP, feels a veteran CPI leader from Chhattisgarh, C.R. Bakshi.

But with Rahul Gandhi taking a personal interest in the selection of candidates in the State and visiting it frequently, the Congress may just pull itself together.


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