Chhattisgarh’s bipolar Lok Sabha battle: Bhupesh Baghel’s fate hinges on Rajnandgaon results

The contest between Baghel and BJP’s Santosh Pandey could shape the political future of the former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister and Congress leader.

Published : Jun 03, 2024 14:59 IST - 3 MINS READ

Bhupesh Baghel, former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and Congress candidate for Rajnandgaon, in Paangri village during his 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign.

Bhupesh Baghel, former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and Congress candidate for Rajnandgaon, in Paangri village during his 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Chhattisgarh witnessed an intense bipolar contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress across 11 Lok Sabha seats in the three-phase polling across the State. However, the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha seat has become the focal point, where Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel, the State’s former Chief Minister (2018-23), is pitted against the sitting BJP MP Santosh Pandey, who is an RSS protégé. The election outcome is likely to impact Baghel’s political fate.

Seen as a favoured figure in the inner circle of the Congress, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Baghel is a sitting MLA from the Patan Assembly constituency. Currently grappling with investigations by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the State’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) regarding the Mahadev betting app, alongside internal party conflicts, Baghel had an FIR lodged against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 9 out of 11 seats, while Congress won two. Earlier, the BJP had bagged 10 of the 11 seats in three Lok Sabha elections from 2004 to 2014. The State came into being in November 2000 after it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh.

Also Read | Chhattisgarh: In the name of Ram

Baghel has been projecting himself as a leader from the OBCs, which constitutes over 40 per cent of the State’s total population. According to Chhattisgarh observers, the outcome in Rajnandgaon will also set a course for the State’s future politics.

Tribal belt

Making deep inroads in Adivasi areas, the BJP won 17 of the 29 Assembly seats in the tribal belt in the 2023 Assembly election. After the election, the party gave the State its first tribal Chief Minister, Vishnu Deo Sai. The State has over 33 per cent Adivasi population. In the past, Raman Singh, who belongs to the general category, served as the State’s Chief Minister for 15 years.

This election, which saw a series of anti-Naxal operations in the State’s mineral-rich tribal areas, the BJP relied on the Modi wave and the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, while the Congress hammered on the BJP’s alleged plan to change the Constitution and end reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In the Sarguja and Bastar belts of the State, which are two of the four seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, the Congress’ narrative on the BJP’s “400 paar” slogan and its renewed thrust on its promise to give women Rs.15,000 annually under the Grah Lakshmi Scheme as a counter to the BJP’s Mahtari Vandan Yojana, which promises Rs.12,000 a year to married women, had resonance on the ground.

Close contests

Apart from the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituency, according to observers, the State is seeing tough competition in at least four other constituencies, including Janjgir Champa, the only seat reserved for Scheduled Castes. In this Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress had won all eight seats in the State Assembly election last year. The remaining three constituencies where the BJP and the Congress are locked in a tough fight are Mahasamund, Korba, and Bastar. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress won the Korba and Bastar seats.

Also Read | Chhattisgarh: No country for Adivasis

On the Mahasamund seat, which the BJP has held since 2009, the saffron party has fielded a fresh face, Roop Kumari Choudhary, while the Congress has nominated a seasoned politician from the dominant and polarised Sahu community, Tamradhwaj Sahu. The community is said to be miffed with the BJP over ticket distribution.

In the 2023 State Assembly election, the BJP had bagged 54 of the 90 Assembly seats, even though it contested without a chief ministerial face. It had a vote share of 46.27 per cent. The Congress won 35 seats, with a 42.23 per cent vote share.

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