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In Chhattisgarh, BJP Bests Congress, Upending Exit Polls

The BJP seems poised to dislodge the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government.
File image of BJP leaders in Chhattisgarh. Photo: X/@BJP4CGState

This analysis will be updated with poll numbers through December 3.

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has edged past the Congress in Chhattisgarh, where the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government is looking to return to power by pinning its hopes on its winning formula of farm loan waivers and increased paddy procurement prices to farmers.

Party Won Leading Total
Bharatiya Janata Party – BJP 53 1 54
Indian National Congress – INC 35 0 35
Gondvana Ganatantra Party – GGP 1 0 0
Total 89 1 90

Chhattisgarh, along with Mizoram, was the first of the five states that went to polls this election season. Unlike four other states, polling was conducted in two phases in Chhattisgarh on November 7 and November 17.

In the 2018 elections, which ended 15 years of the Raman Singh-led BJP rule in the state, disenchantment among paddy farmers is believed to be one of the key factors along with anti-incumbency that helped the Congress dislodge the saffron party and win 68 of the 90 assembly seats in the state and reduced the BJP to 15 seats.

While the BJP has centred its campaign around corruption by the Bhupesh Baghel government, in learning from its mistake in the 2018 defeat, it is also attempting to woo farmers this time.

The party in its manifesto has promised to procure paddy at Rs 3,100 per quintal (21 quintal per acre) – Rs 500 more than what the current Congress government offers. It has also promised to deliver on the outstanding paddy procurement bonus for the two remaining years of the Raman Singh government at Rs 300 per quintal by December 25, if it comes to power.
The Congress has called the BJP manifesto a “copy” of its promises but subsequently upped the ante and promised to procure paddy at Rs 3,200 (20 quintal per acre).

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Along with its promises to farmers, the Congress is also pinning its hopes on other people-centric schemes like NYAY (minimum wage schemes for farmers, landless labourers and old-age pension), Godhan Yojana, Rural Industrial Parks to bring it back to power. It has also invested in regional pride through the Baghel government’s push for “Chhattisgarhiyavaad”, Ram Van Gaman Path and building various temples and Devgudis which is believed to have snatched religion as an issue out of the BJP’s hands.

Along with making corruption by the Bhupesh Baghel government a major issue in the elections, the BJP has also accused the Congress of “forced conversions” in the tribal Adivasi-dominated regions of Bastar division, along with increasing Maoist attacks under the Congress government.

The BJP has in addition attempted to meet the Congress’ challenge by also promising pro-people assurances like financial assistance to married women among others, LPG cylinders at Rs 500 among others.

Ahead of the elections in the state, the Congress has also attempted to set its house in order by making T.S. Singh Deo, who has been at loggerheads with the chief minister in the past, the state’s deputy chief minister. The BJP, on the other hand, went to the polls without a chief ministerial face and said that the party works on the principle of “collective leadership.”

In a bid to capitalise on its huge success in 2018, the Congress has given the slogan of “Abki bar 75 paar”, but exit poll results released this week have shown a neck-and-neck fight between the two national parties in the state.

Regions & Seats

Chhattisgarh, with a tribal population of about 30%, has three broad regions electorally.

The northern Adivasi belt is called Ambikapur or Sarguja region which sends about 14 seats to the assembly. This includes nine ST seats, all of which were swept by the Congress in 2018, largely believed to be under the influence and leadership of Singh Deo. Singh Deo, who is fighting from the Ambikapur constituency again is a three-term MLA from the seat.

The central region with its large cities, major OBC populations and agrarian areas which accounts for about 64 constituencies. While the Congress swept the region in 2018, both parties have registered victories here in previous elections with variations only in a few seats. The Congress had a small lead in 2008, and the BJP in 2013.

The southern Bastar region is also Adivasi-dominated. Bastar is also known for widespread Maoist activities in the state.

Adivasi-dominated Bastar with 12 seats in southern Chhattisgarh is seen to be a crucial region in the state, with the common refrain that whichever party wins Bastar, wins the state. An exception in the trend was in 2013 when the Congress won the majority in the region but lost the state.

Former union minister and Sarva Adivasi Samaj (umbrella organisation of tribal groups in the state) chief Arvind Netam’s new political outfit the Hamar Raj Party is also in the fray and has declared to be fighting for PESA rights and “jal, jungle, zameen.”

Some of the key constituencies to look out for:

Patan: Incumbent chief minister Baghel is facing off against his nephew and BJP MP Vijay Baghel. Bhupesh Baghel has won five times from the seat.

Rajnandgaon: Former chief minister Raman Singh’s home turf and has won the last two assembly elections in the state from the seat. The BJP strongman who ruled Chhattisgarh for 15 years (2003-08) is facing off against the Congress’ Girish Dewangan, a key OBC leader and close aide of CM Baghel.

Ambikapur: Deputy chief minister Singh Deo’s constituency, who has won the last three elections from the seat. He is facing BJP’s Rajesh Agrawal.

Konta: Long term Congress MLA Kawasi Lakhma who is also industry and excise minister in the Baghel government and is facing opposition from his constituency over his handling of protests in the region, including Silger which last over a year. CPI’s Manish Kunjam, a popular face in the region is also contest from Konta but is facing a setback in the form of his party’s election symbol which has been changed from hammer and sickle to air conditioner. The BJP has fielded Salwa Judum (a people’s militia movement against Maoists started by late Congress leader Mahendra Karma) face, Soyam Muka, who has a good rapport with tribal sub-groups in the region.

Kondagaon: Congress MLA Mohan Markam, the ex-Pradesh Congress chief, and BJP national vice president Lata Usendi are facing off in a fight which is expected to be close.

Durg Rural: Congress minister Tamradhwaj Sahu who helped consolidate the OBC votes along with Baghel in 2018 elections is facing off against the BJP’s Lalit Chandrakar.

Raipur city south: Mahant Ramsundar Das of the Dudhadhari Temple is facing off against BJP’s Brijmohan Agrawal who has won the seat for seven consecutive terms.

Dantewada: Late Congress MLA Mahendra Karma who started Salwa Judum (people’s militia against Maoists)’s son Chhavindra Karma is fighting on the seat where his mother Devati Karma is the sitting MLA. He is facing off against Chaitram Atami another Judum leader, in a fight that is believed to be close.

Bellwether seats

Key bellwether seats that always vote the way the state votes include Jashpur, Nawagarh, Dongargarh, Jagdalpur and Bijapur.

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