Chhattisgarh, Lok Sabha Elections 2019

Kanker Lok Sabha seat: Can BJP retain this constituency in tribal heartland of Chhattisgarh?

In the last three Lok Sabha elections, BJP has always won 10 out of 11 seats in Chhattisgarh, and once again, it wishes to repeat its past performance.

But after the defeat in recent Assembly elections, party has realised that it may not perform as well in Chhattisgarh. Hence, it has decided not to field the sitting MPs, and instead chosen new faces.

In Kanker too, the BJP has replaced Vikram Usendi, who had won the last election. It has fielded Mohan Mandavi, who comes from RSS’ background. Mandavi faces Congress’ Biresh Thakur.

While BJP hopes to buck the trend by changing the candidate, Congress’ hopes rest on its big win in the Assembly polls just a few months ago. Such was the performance of Congress that it had won all the eight Assembly seats that fall in this Lok Sabha constituency.

In fact, the party had got over 2.25 lakh votes more than the votes secured by BJP candidates on the eight seats here. Clearly, there was a swing of votes against the BJP and the popular mood was in favour of Congress. Will the Congress again perform so well?

The BJP candidate, Mandavi has the image of a social worker who was also member of public service commission apart from being a Ram Katha singer. However, his candidature has angered several ticket aspirants within the party. BJP leader Sumitra Markole has rebelled and said that she will contest against him as an independent candidate.

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A Maoist-infested region, Kanker, is a seat reserved for tribal candidates. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, BJP candidate had won but the victory margin was not too impressive here, unlike other constituencies in the state. This is also the reason that Congress’ state leadership is more confident of winning this seat in Chhattisgarh.

Vikram Usendi had defeated Congress’ Phulodevi Netam by around 35,000 votes in the last Lok Sabha election. Usendi had got 4.65 lakh votes while Netam had secured 4.30 lakh votes.

Earlier, in 2009, Phulodevi Netam had lost to BJP’s Sohan Potai by a margin of around 23,000 votes. Potai had won the seat four times–in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009, ending Congress’ reign in Kanker.

This seat was carved out in the year 1967. It was the year when there was a major anti-Congress wave sweeping this region. Jan Sangh’s TP Shah had won the election by defeating Congress’ Shyam Kumari by a margin of 3,500 votes.

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In 1971, Congress’ Arvind Singh defeated Jan Sangh’s Brij Lal by around 7,400 votes. However, in the next election Lok Dal’s Aghan Singh won from here, defeating Arvind Netam by around 53,000 votes.

From 1980, Netam consistenly won on Congress ticket from here. In the first election, he defeated Aghan Singh by a margin of 20,000 votes. Then in 1984, Netam won for the second time, defeating Aghan Singh (BJP), again. In 1989 and 1991 too, Netam won easily.

In the year 1996, his wife Chhabila Netam had defeated BJP’s Sohan Potai by a margin of 24,000 votes. From 1998 onwards, BJP has been consistently winning the seat. Sohan Potai was elected MP four times in a row.

Apart from the two major parties, CPI and BSP-Chhattisgarh Janta Congress (Jogi) also have a dedicate vote in the region. Though Assembly election results suggest a pro-Congress mood, BJP leaders feel that the Vidhan Sabha poll was fought on local issues and the party will be able to make a comeback in the Lok Sabha elections.

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. NewsD neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

The author is a Bhopal-based senior journalist.

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