Patan (Chhattisgarh): Seema Sahu, a small general store owner in Motipur village in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, opened her shop earlier than usual on Friday. Her store, located on the road to Patan, chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s home turf, is located right in front of the government school designated as the polling booth in their village. “Since morning, Congress workers have been coming and buying various items,” Sahu says, even as less than 150 metres away, steaming hot plates of fried fritters arrive on the table at a makeshift pandal where Congress agents are sitting. One of them, Pramil Sahu, is Seema’s brother-in-law. He says, “We are sure of Baghel Kaka’s win. We are just trying to ensure that he wins with a huge margin.”
Even as Congress flags of all sizes dominate Kuruddih, Motipur and nearby Jheent, Tulsi village, in the same tehsil, flies flags of the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (J) and Bharatiya Janata Party too. Near the polling booth in Tulsi, BJP and Congress agents are sitting across the main road. While the Congress workers have a steady input of fried fritters, the BJP is offering fruits to the voters coming to their pandal to check for their names. “Vijay Baghel is a worthy candidate who lived and worked among his people even after becoming an MP. We have full faith that the bhatija (nephew) will win against Kaka (Kaka is an endearing term used for chief minister Bhupesh Baghel),” Anoop Sahu, a BJP worker from Tulsi village, said.
With the second phase of voting for 70 constituencies complete in Chhattisgarh, the fates of over a thousand candidates have been sealed in the electronic voting machines. While the first phase of the election held on November 7 saw a weak voter turnout, the second phase of the election saw long queues in most polling booths. The voter turnout percentage, however, recorded a slight decrease from 2018, with 75.08% voter turnout.
Chief minister Baghel stood in a line at his home village of Kuruddih, in Patan constituency, to cast a vote around noon. While speaking to the media, he said, “The BJP is losing, we are coming back. The Congress party has fought the election on my face; still the party high command will decide who becomes the CM after we win.”
The highest voter turnout was in Sanjari Balod constituency in Balod district with 79.63% and the lowest was recorded in Raipur (south) with 52.11%.
Two villages in Bilaspur region’s Masturi constituency decided to boycott the election and even demonstrated in front of the district officials who had come to try and dissuade them from their boycott. According to the residents, the boycott was called after none of the political parties took seriously their complaints of not having a motorable road connecting them to the nearby regions.
In Chhattisgarh, while the Congress fought the election on Baghel’s face and his tenure of five years, the BJP made allegations of corruption against Baghel. Both the parties tried to one-up the other in their manifestos, with the Congress declaring a scheme like BJP’s Mahtari Vandan just days before the election.
However, the BJP had also pitched for Hindu votes by targeting conversions and inter-religious marriages across various districts in the plains. In Saja constituency, Bemetara, the BJP gave its ticket to Ishwar Sahu, father of Bhuneshwar Sahu who had died allegedly in a Hindu-Muslim clash in 2021, against Congress’s agriculture minister Ravindra Chaubey. The Congress, while not openly fighting for Hindu votes, had not shied away from adopting a soft Hindutva approach across seats.
The party had fielded Mahant Ram Sundar Das of the Doodhadhari Math against BJP leader and former minister Brijmohan Agarwal in Raipur (south), a seat that many within the party believed was promised to mayor Dhebar. The fight over the seat turned dramatic in the run-up to the election, as Agarwal alleged the Congress had organised an attack on him while he was campaigning in the area.
The Congress, however, might lose some votes from minority communities like the tribal or Christian voters to small parties like Hamar Raj and Sarv Adi Dal. One of the biggest challenge for the Congress is also the Sahu community, one of the major OBC groups, who feel sidelined by the ruling government. The BJP has actively worked on gaining support from the Sahu community in the run-up to the election.
According to political analysts, the elections in both phases across the state are unlike any held before, due to the lack of a common wave. “In 2018, it was an anti-incumbency wave and before that, Raman Singh was a strong factor. This time, the contest is between individual contestants, and each seat has its own dynamics,” a veteran political leader said.
While the BJP is confident of winning 60 seats, the Congress appears sure it will win 75 seats. However, the ‘war rooms’ of both parties are struggling to get ground intelligence on the booth level. The results in Chhattisgarh will be declared on December 3.