Chhattisgarh Elections: Congress Counts on Baghel While BJP Goes Faceless

Chhattisgarh, known to repeat governments unlike other states like Rajasthan, is set to see a tight fight with seat-by-seat competition in the upcoming elections.

Raipur: In poll-bound Chhattisgarh, both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party have entered election preparation mode in full swing after declaring their final lists of candidates. While the ruling Congress is contesting the election under the leadership of chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, the BJP is fighting sans a chief ministerial face.

Quelling all internal turmoil, the Congress seems to have decided to follow Baghel, a tall OBC leader, into the election. The ruling party will focus on reaping benefits of its various people-centric schemes like NYAY (minimum wage schemes for farmers, landless labourers and old-age pension), Godhan Yojana, Rural Industrial Parks among others. Leaders within the ruling party also believe that by investing in Ram Van Gaman Path and building various temples and Devgudis, the Congress has snatched religion as an issue out of the BJP’s hands. “We believe in Ram and his ideals, unlike the BJP who only remembers him during the elections. This message is apparent to the voters, who have seen the Congress government work for five years,” Congress spokesperson Sushil Anand Shukla said.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Several political analysts, however, accuse the Congress of opting for a strategy of soft Hindutva in their politics. “The Congress government furthered the BJP agenda of Ram-centric politics and has in a way given fuel to the opposition. With only a lone Muslim candidate in minister Mohammad Akbar, the Congress seems to be playing it safe,” a political analyst in the state said, requesting anonymity.

The BJP is fighting the election under the reluctant leadership of Raman Singh, a former chief minister. MP Arun Sao, who is going to fight the election from Lormi, was made the state party chief; his visibility and popularity is still not comparable to the reputation of Singh, who was the chief minister for 15 years in the state. While the top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raised Sao’s stature by sharing vehicles and stages with him during political rallies and road shows, many within the party believe his rise is a response to Baghel’s OBC politics in the state. While he is handling the election preparations, sources in the party said that Raman Singh was looped in a few weeks ago to take over the reins and try and ensure a victory.

The BJP engaged various political consultancies with over 500+ people creating targeted messaging and slogans for the upcoming election. Through its various publications and BhuPay, an app made on the lines of Karnataka’s PayCM app, the BJP has targeted the Congress government over the various accusations of corruption. “The Congress has stooped to a new low in the state. They have pushed the state back by five years. The state remembers BJP’s good governance. When we come back, we have promised to take strict action against those found guilty,” Ajay Chandrakar, a BJP leader, said.

Besides the various accusations of corruption, the Baghel government is also besieged with resentment from the various chambers of the bureaucracy and police department. The involvement of people close to Baghel in bureaucratic decision making and the constant intervention of the CMO in departmental decision making has irked senior officials within the government.

Amidst the Congress and BJP’s OBC politics, the tribals in the state are feeling ignored and have decided to be a part of the election. The Sarva Adiwasi Samaj, an umbrella body of various tribal communities in the state, has created “Hamar Raj” party and plans on fighting from the ST seats in the state. Several protests have marred the Congress government’s tenure, specifically the Hasdeo Bachao protests to save the biologically pristine Hasdeo Aranya forests from coal mining and Silger protest against the killing of five tribals in police firing while protesting a police camp. Both these protests have been going on for more than a year. The tribals had a huge role to play in ousting the Raman Singh government in the previous election, but this time their sway might not help the Congress either.

Chhattisgarh, known to repeat governments unlike other states like Rajasthan, is set to see a tight fight with seat-by-seat competition in the upcoming elections. While the Congress seems to want to ride a Baghel wave, the BJP is set on fighting the elections without a face and hence without a sweeping wave.

With the emergence of small parties like Hamar Raj, Gondwana Gantantra Party, Chhattisgarh Johar and the existing Janta Congress Chhattisgarh Jogi (JCCJ), the party started by first chief minister late Ajit Jogi, and AAP with its dedicated voter base in certain pockets, it will be interesting to see whether they manage to make a dent in the vote count of the big two.

Unlike other states set for election, Chhattisgarh is set to go to election in two phases; on November 7 and November 17. While Bastar and other LWE-affected regions are to vote on November 7, the plains and north of Chhattisgarh will vote on November 17. The results will be declared on December 3. While the Baghel government has strengthened security in the Bastar region, even shifting polling booths for several LWE affected villages, the Maoists have called for a boycott of the election, per usual. With small instances of violence apparent in the run-up to the election, the BJP and other opposition leaders have demanded that central forces be deployed for the election to ensure safety and transparency.