(According to the trends, the Congress has crossed the half-way mark and is currently leading on 67 seats. The BJP, on the other hand, is leading on just 13 seats. Chhattisgarh had voted in two phases – November 12 and 20.)
Forest strewn, verdant and lush green State of Chhattisgarh awaits an electoral showdown in a few months time from now. And this is going to be amid growing fears about the fate of the BJP Chief Minister Raman Singh. He has been in the saddle for about a decade-and-half. And, thus, this is going to be the fourth time that he will be pitching in for another five-year term for his Government amid heavy odds.
Strangely, in these times of grave test Singh’s best hope to romp home once again is going to be his predecessor and the first Chief Minister of the State Ajit Jogi who took over the reins of the newly carved out province separate from Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000; and lost it only in three years time to Raman Singh.
The reason behind the possibility of Jogi coming to the rescue of Raman Singh is due to the fact that Jogi fell out with his old party Congress about two years ago or so. Soon after this, he floated his own political outfit Chhattisgarh Janata Congress. Now Jogi’s new party is going to try its luck in the provincial Assembly polls expected to be held in October or November this year. The BJP anticipates a possible split of votes between Congress and Jogi’s party. And this is expected to make Raman Singh’s task easier.
Yet, old time residents of the election-bound State say that though Jogi’s party’s presence in the polls has kicked up hopes in the BJP this may not be enough to end the Chief Minister’s woes. He has been in power for long too long with too little hope left on many fronts. These relate to lack of jobs vis-à-vis youth and stagnation of income for farmers in an otherwise resource rich State. On the law and order front, the State has a reputation to have large tracts of land under the control of Leftwing Maoist extremists.
Despite spending huge sums on policing the Maoist controlled areas alongside setting aside and spending funds to develop the extremist-dominated boondocks Raman Singh Government is nowhere near getting over the Maoist challenge despite Centre’s help. And as elections draw nearer Jogi has suggested talks as a means to solve the Maoist problem unlike the BJP and Congress policy based on twin-strategies of police-pressure along with the development of the inaccessible forested villages that have fallen under the Maoist control.
The poll boycott call that Maoist invariably gives before every election generally helps the BJP as only those voters who follow such diktat never cast their votes in favour of the BJP. Yet, despite such advantages that Raman Singh may once again get his or his party’s main source of worry is because of the declining public perception of his rule. This is so because of scams like the one related to rice and his son’s name appearing in the Panama papers leak involving those who are said to have parked considerable sums in offshore tax havens.
Given the rising public disenchantment against the long BJP rule amid accusations of corruption and taint by rivals like Congress, the State Government faces an uphill task in the forthcoming Assembly polls. This is only one side of the story while on the other is the Congress which may well get benefitted by default and, thus, can fare better without doing much. Observers say that Congress stands a chance to humble the BJP despite the fact that there have been differences between the Congress chief of the State unit Bhupesh Baghel and the party’s leader of Opposition in the Assembly TS Singhdeo.
Yet, in the meantime, the Central Congress leadership is trying to improve the party’s chances in the State by possibly entering into a pre-poll alliance with Mayawati’s BSP, or Bahujan Samaj Party, besides efforts are on to tie up also with Gondwana Ganatantra Party. Whether Congress goes to polls with or without allies it is a fact that about five years ago the party had lost the Chhattisgarh polls narrowly. The vote difference between the Congress and the BJP in 2013 polls was less than a per cent, or 0.75 per cent to be precise. This time most opinion polls have been giving Congress as wide an edge over the BJP as seven per cent.
And as for Jogi factor, those who have been watching the poll-related developments in the State point out that Jogi and his party can have the only little impact and, thus may not succeed in spoiling the chances of the Congress as much as to make the BJP win the State polls. This is so since Jogi has only a few pockets of influence though because of growing animosity between him and Congress he would try to affect the poll outcome in a few key constituencies. He is thought to be strong in constituencies like Marwahi and Kota as parts of Bilaspur and Durg are thought to have some presence by his party.
Despite this Jogi has asserted in a recent interview to a news agency that his party would contest all the 90 Assembly seats in the upcoming polls and he will himself challenge Chief Minister Raman Singh from Rajnandgaon. Jogi has called Congress as becoming “obsolete and redundant” in Chhattisgarh, claiming that only his party was a serious contender for power in the State. This is refuted by not only his detractors but also independent observers who point out Jogi’s limited base in the State because of which his wife could not win the Last Lok Sabha polls in 2014 from Bilaspur and a broader outfit formed by tribesmen of the State and their organisations in view of the next Assembly polls among other things has not included Jogi or his party in its ranks.
Though Jogi has berated Congress in his interview he has maintained that a grand alliance of the party is only needed to defeat the BJP in the next year’s Parliamentary elections and not for the Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh. This refrain may be meant to indicate his desire to make bridges with Congress again though through alliance after a show of strength by his party in the Assembly polls.
Congress on its part remains not only unmoved by Jogi’s overtures but is also unlikely to warm up towards him to have any ties in the near future. The party insiders point out that among other reasons this is so because of the death of veteran Congress leader VC Shukla along with other State parties higher-ups in a Maoist attack about five years ago. The convoy of unfortunate party leaders was ambushed at a time when Jogi too was going to be a part of it until the last moment when he backed out to accompany his party peers. Ever since this gruesome incidents, some of the Congress leaders suspect that Jogi could have some clue about as to what was in the store for Shukla and others and that is how he never joined them on an ill-fated day.
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