In Chhattisgarh’s two-decade history, it has never happened before that all ten municipal corporations are ruled by one party. Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel is making that the takeaway from the results announced last night, as the ruling Congress managed to defeat the BJP everywhere, despite a disappointing year in power.
The rural areas have responded better to the BJP, as recurring trouble with farmers and paddy prices appear to have sapped their patience with Baghel. Overall, of the 38 nagar palikas, 18 have been won by the Congress and 17 by the BJP. Of the 103 nagar panchayats, 48 have been won by the Congress against 40 by the BJP.
Of the municipal corporations, only in Korba the BJP has a lead in terms of numbers, as it won 31 seats against Congress’s 26. But eight independents and two Jogi Congress winners have tilted the equation in Congress’s favour. In effect, the Congress has won only four municipalities directly, but the equation is in its favour in the remaining six because of its own breakaway independents who have won.
“If Bhupesh had not changed the existing system of direct elections for mayor, results would have been different,” says former chief minister Raman Singh. In what is now being seen as a masterstroke, Baghel had changed the election pattern by returning to the old method of corporators electing the mayor, or what is referred to as indirect elections. He was inspired to do so by Kamal Nath’s decision to the effect in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, though Nath himself has not been able to conduct elections in his state so far.
The ruling party has the upper hand when it comes to indirect elections in civic bodies. It also has the benefit of appointing aldermen to each of the 151 bodies in the state, which tilts the exercise in its favour.
Though there has been no official word so far, Baghel also considers it a major strike in favour of ballot papers. He had announced that all elections in the state will be held through ballot papers as EVMs can’t be trusted. Singh, on the other hand, feels that ballot papers have helped the ruling party and it has managed to compromise the elections through state power.
While the Congress may celebrate its victory, it is not as if it has come through hard work and dedication. Most ministers did not bother to tend to their constituencies. There were allegations of sale of tickets by district bodies as the ruling party was expected to win in the light of reduced electricity bills and permission to register small plots in urban areas, which had been stopped by Raman Singh government.
There is also a general perception in the urban areas that for smooth functioning of the local civic bodies, a helpful ruling party is essential. This perception is also a result of BJP leaders like former finance minister Amar Agarwal, who had blatantly terrorised civic officials in their alcoves. Agarwal had ensured that the entire Bilaspur city remained dug up and under repair for five years just to ensure that incumbent mayor Vani Rao of the Congress took the blame.
People have responded against all such leaders who damaged their urban areas just to settle scores. Leader of opposition Dharam lal Kaushik, state BJP president Vikram Usendi, former ministers Ajay Chandrakar, Brijmohan Agarwal and Ramvichar Netam and Union minister Renuka Singh all managed to lose their respective areas.
It is likely that the buoyancy of this victory may carry the Congress through the impending panchayat elections in January, but issues then may be different, with the focus on mismanagement of paddy procurement. The BJP also appears better prepared in rural areas, so it will be interesting to see how Baghel prepares for the next round.