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Competition From Regional Parties Means Bastar Elections Will Be More Than Two-Sided

While political observers in the state see support for the BJP on the ground, the sentiment of anger hasn't completely died down, which might help the smaller and regional parties gain momentum.
Women line up to vote in Chhattisgarh's Bastar. Photo: X/@ECISVEEP.

Kanker: “Being a tribal CM and a CM who is tribal are two different things. Our chief minister identifies himself as a Hindu, so I don’t consider him to be a tribal chief minister,” said Vinod Nagwanshi, senior post-holder of the Chhattisgarh Sarva Adivasi Samaj and a candidate of the Hamar Raj Party from Chhattisgarh’s Kanker Lok Sabha seat.

Even as the Bastar region’s six districts head to the polls, with three more seats following suit on April 26, the Sarva Adivasi Samaj-backed Hamar Raj Party has fielded candidates from all four seats.

The Chhattisgarh Sarva Adivasi Samaj, a prominent umbrella body of various tribal samajs, had launched the Hamar Raj Party in 2023 after claiming disillusionment with both major political parties in the state – the Congress and the BJP – and in preparation for the assembly elections in November.

Helmed by veteran tribal politician Arvind Netam, the party had designated retired IPS officer Akbar Ram Korram as its president and Vinod Nagwanshi as its general secretary.

While the party couldn’t make an indent in the assembly elections, its dignitaries maintained that the party was set to make waves in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

“Every party fights on tribal issues until they are in power. The issues of education, access to basic necessities for tribals, mining and the consequences of it are all on paper, and even then, not from the point of view of tribals,” Nagwanshi said.

He continued: “Hence, over several years of independence, the samaj has not been able to progress. We have been cheated by both the parties, and even sensible members of the samaj have had to leave their parties in the past when they have tried to raise any issue.”

The Hamar Raj Party, which has had to struggle with funds and outreach, has focused on the hard-to-access villages of the Bastar region.

“We don’t have the resources of the national parties, and yet we are the only ones fighting for the issues of potable water for villages near the mines and better healthcare facilities for tribals. That will shine through,” Nagwanshi said.

Due to the presence of the Hamar Raj Party and other parties like the CPI(M), BSP and Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP), the competition in Bastar is not as bipolar as it may seem.

For the same seat in 2019, about 41,667 people chose the NOTA option; followed by the CPI, which got 38,395 votes; and the BSP, which got 30,449 votes.

The 2019 elections stood out as Deepak Baij, a Congress leader, snatched the seat away from BJP after five terms.

It was understood as the rejection of the BJP from Bastar, which led the party to initiate several long term campaigns there. The BJP even held its pre-election Chintan Shivir in Bastar twice, bolstering its on-ground workers.

While political observers in the state see support for the BJP on the ground, the sentiment of anger hasn’t completely died down, which might help the smaller and regional parties gain momentum.

According to sources within the BSP and CPI, such parties are counting on that.

“The Congress has a slim chance to win as it faced a humiliating defeat in Bastar in many seats. Tribals are angry with both parties, as they’ve seen that nothing changes under either’s rule,” a BSP leader from Chhattisgarh said.

Six districts in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region (Bijapur, Sukma, Dantewada, Kondagaon, Narayanpur and Bastar) will vote for the single Lok Sabha seat from the region, which has been affected by violence due to left-wing extremism.

Over 14 lakh voters will vote in 1,961 voting centres. Two hundred and nineteen votes of the disabled and those above 85 years of age have already been cast at their homes, and 2,188 votes have been cast via mail.

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