Can Congress maintain the Assembly poll momentum, end BJP's long reign in Bastar?
Chhattisgarh, Election, Lok Sabha Elections 2019

Can Congress maintain the Assembly poll momentum, end BJP’s long reign in Bastar?

The tribal dominated Bastar Lok Sabha constituency is part of the region, which has been the battleground between security forces and Maoists, and has seen bloody violence for decades. Bastar is the sole seat in Chhattisgarh where voting will be held in the first phase of election on April 11.

BJP has won the seat six times in a row. However, in Assembly election just a few months ago, Bastar voted in favour of Congress, overwhelmingly. Out of eight Vidhan Sabha seats in this Lok Sabha constituency, Congress had won seven seats, and overall the party had secured around 1.10 lakh votes more than the BJP.

Can Congress continue the momentum and win the seat after two decades? Or will the voting pattern be different to such an extent that BJP will again continue its hold on the Lok Sabha seat, even though it sends seven legislators to the State Assembly!

It’s after a long time that Bastar is witnessing a contest that has no member of either the Kashyap clan or the Karma family. BJP’s Baliram Kashyap was elected from Bastar repeatedly in the past. After his death, his son Dinesh contested and won the by-election. In 2014 too, he was fielded and got elected from Bastar. But the party decided not to field any of the sitting MPs in the state.

Instead, BJP has given ticket to Baidu Ram Kashyap. Baidu Ram was first elected from Keshlur constituency (before delimitation) and later he was elected from Chitrakot in 2008. Also, he was vice-chairman of Bastar Development Authority.

He is seen as a down-to-earth politican and has a clean image. However, it is believed that as the party has not given ticket to a member of the Baliram Kahsyap’s family, this has caused disgruntlement and can hurt the chances of Baidu Ram.

In recent Assembly election, he had won from Chitrakot constituency, by around 18,000 votes. The Congress candidate Deepak Baij is a young politician. He has the support of local party leaders. BSP has fielded Ayatu Ram Mandavi while CPI’s Ram Maurya is also trying his luck from the constituency.

Land rights are a major issue for tribals and this is likely go in favour of Congress in the Assembly election. Tribals were unhappy with the land acquisition during the BJP regime. Surprisingly, though elections are round the corner, there is not much enthusiasm in Bastar for the Lok Sabha polls.

In tribal areas, people are busy collecting ‘mahua’ or busy in traditional rituals during this part of the year. However, politicians are now touring villages and even going to the Salwa Judam camps, for canvassing.

Bastar seat has elected independent candidates several times in the past. In 1957, Congress’ Surti Kistaiya had defeated Boda Dada, an independent. In 1962, Lakhmu Bhawani, an independent candidate, defeated Boda Dada who was again contesting as an independent. In 1967, Jhadu Sundarlal, an independent candidate, had defeated Jan Sangh’s Rati Ram.

Then, in 1971, Lambodar Baliyar, an independent, defeated Pilu Ram, who was also not associated with any party. In 1977, Dagpal Keshri Shah contested as opposition’s candidate on Lok Dal ticket, and defeated Congress’ Lambodar Baliyar. Congress’ Laxman Karma won in 1980.

He had defeated Janata Party’s Samaru Ram. Politics in Bastar underwent a transformation as families of Mankuram Sodhi and Baliram Kashyap got influential her in later years. Sodhi won in 1984, defeating Mahendra Karma who had contested as a CPI candidate.

Later, Sodhi won in 1989 and 1991 as well. In 1996, Mahendra Karma contested election as an independent candidate. He defeated Sodhi. BJP first won the seat in 1998 when Baliram Kashyap defeated Congress’ Mankuram Sodhi by 16,000 votes.

In 1999, Kashyap defeated Karma (Congress) by 21,000 votes. Again in 2004, BJP won as Kashyap defeated Karma by a bigger margin of 54,000 votes. In 2009. Congress fielded Shankar Sodhi who lost to Kashyap by 1 lakh votes.

But two years later when Kashyap passed away, his son Dinesh won the by-poll, defeating Congress’ Kawasi Lakhma by around 90,000 votes. In 2014, Congress fielded Deepak Karma but he lost to Dinesh Kashyap by 1.25 lakh votes.


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The author is a Bhopal-based senior journalist.

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