When voters in Chhattisgarh walk into polling stations this November, the state would have witnessed only its fourth assembly election, ever since it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000.
In this 18-year-old state, elections to the Legislative Assembly have largely been a two-corner fight between the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress. But with Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati joining hands with Congress rebel and Janta Congress Chhattisgarh Chief Ajit Jogi, the stage could well be set for a triangular contest this year.
As the state rushes into polls, here’s a look at several factors that might decide not only who becomes king, but also those that make him.
Who is Ajit Jogi?
When the first Assembly of Madhya Pradesh was formed in 2000, the Congress’ Ajit Jogi became the state’s first chief minister. Thought of as a strong tribal leader, Jogi unsuccessfully led the Congress’ election campaign in 2003, 2008 and 2013. He was, essentially, the face of the Congress in the state.
But Jogi resigned in 2016, and floated his own party, the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, after his son Amit Jogi was suspended from the Congress for anti-party activities. Why? Because audio-tapes released by the media suggested that Jogi and his son had made the Congress’ Antagarh candidate withdraw from elections, paving an easy way for the BJP.
But why are we still talking about Jogi, when he’s left the Congress?
There are two reasons here. First, the tie-up of Jogi’s JCC with Mayawati’s BSP is no good news for the Congress. Apart from having lost its face in the state, the Congress has also lost its opportunity to foster an alliance with the BSP.
In Chattisgarh, about 29 assembly seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. 18 of these went to the Congress in 2013, while 11 went to the BJP. But at that point Jogi – the tribal powerhouse – was still with the Congress then. Now, his departure threatens the grand old party’s tribal votes.
And Jogi threatens not just the Congress, but can also dent the 11 tribal seats BJP won in 2013. However, given his rivalry for the Congress, it is yet to be seen which side he may swing. But unlike his poll partner Mayawati, Jogi has reportedly refrained from an all-out political attack on his former love, the Congress. Is he keeping all political doors open? it is safe to conclude that Jogi is keeping his cards very close to his chest.
BSP: The Elephant in The Room
Among the many failures of the Congress in Chhattisgarh was its inability to forge strategic alliances. And who better to drive this point home than Behen ji herself? In September this year, BSP Supremo Mayawati confirmed she was tying up with Ajit Jogi’s JCC – a decision that Jogi claims was made only two hours before the alliance was formally announced.
What Business Does Mayawati Have in Chhattisgarh?
Well, there are multiple reasons. Chhattisgarh has 10 seats reserved for Schedule Castes and the Satnami community is the most prominent force in this segment. Moreover, BSP enjoys a huge support base among the Satnamis and could play a pivotal role in these reserved seats.
But it's not just these ten seats that the BSP has been eyeing. The Jogi-Mayawati alliance is eyeing the 12% Dalit vote in the state, that had earlier been divided between the BSP, Congress and the BJP. In total, there are over 40 seats in which the Dalit influence is considerable.
A close look at the BSP’s vote share reveals that the party has remained with the 6-4% bracket in the last three elections in Chattisgarh ( 4.45% in 2003, 6.11% in 2008 and 4.27% in 2013.) It had won just one seat in the 2013 elections. But, this time around, on a best case scenario, even if BSP manages to bag six seats, or even lower, it could seriously disrupt the seat-balance and would, hence, be in a position to decide who becomes king.
You’d be fooled to think that Mayawati’s Chhattisgarh game is short-sighted. It is, rather, a testing ground for her national aspirations and a desperate bid for re-entry into national politics.
Will Raman Singh Return as CM?
Chief Minister Raman Singh has so far managed to keep his ship afloat, but will he be fourth-time lucky in Chhattisgarh? Singh, in an interview to The Indian Express, has, in fact, admitted that the new front comprising Jogi and Mayawati cannot be ignored and that it will leave its impact on 10 seats in the state.
Let’s look at how the BJP’s fared in SC and ST seats first.
Out of the 29 ST seats in Chhattisgarh, the BJP had won 19 in 2008. But it was hit by the tribal spear in 2013, winning only 11 of the 29 reserved ST seats – a fall in eight seats when compared to its 2003 performance.
In 2013, the BJP had one arch-rival, the Congress, led by Jogi. But in 2018, it faces a new challenge, with Jogi’s separate political party threatening to eat into its diminishing tribal vote share in Chhattisgarh.
As far as the SC seats are concerned, the BJP won five in 2008 and increased its SC tally to 9 in 2013. But as Mayawati works silently with Jogi, the BJP could be caught on the wrong foot in Chhattisgarh.
In total, the Jogi-BSP combine can together snatch over ten seats across the SC-ST seats. If this happens, the BJP will have to rely heavily on Jogi to come back to power.
The Elusive MSP
During Raman Singh’s long reign, and in each successive election, the BJP has attempted to project the state as a model of development. The idea may have worked with voters in the first two elections, but the BJP cannot solely rely on it this time.
For the incumbent BJP , agrarian distress has resurfaced as a major poll issue in Chhattisgarh. In its 2013 manifesto, the BJP had promised to pay an MSP of Rs 2,100 and an additional bonus of Rs 300.
But Singh’s government has only been able to increase the MSP to Rs 1,750 this season – Rs 350 short of the price it had promised to try and achieve. In order to bridge this gap, the BJP government has promised to procure paddy from 1 November, and has also to pay a bonus of Rs 300 per quintal. Right now farmers are entitled to a total of Rs 2,050, including bonus and MSP.
Farmers in the state are neck-deep in loans and may not be wooed by the carrot-stick approach, just ahead of polls. Further, the Congress has been questioning the BJP over its MSP miss, and could mobilise support from farmers on this issue.
How Has Chhattisgarh Voted in the Past?
In 2003, the BJP had won 50 out of 90 seats with a vote share of 39.26 %. The Congress, faced with its first real test in the state, finished second with 37 seats, but, at the same time, received a vote share of 36.71%.
In 2008, the BJP remained steady at 50 seats, but managed to increase its vote share to 40. 33%. The Congress, on the other hand, added one more seat, increasing its tally to 38 seats, while managing a vote-share of 38.63%.
In a span of ten years between the first election in 2003 and the third election in 2013, the Congress kept on narrowing the gap between the seats won by it and those won by the BJP – from 13 in 2003, to 12 in 2008 to 10 in 2013.
In 2013, the BJP retained power with 49 seats, one short of its half-century in 2008, with a vote share of 41.04% . The Congress won 39 seats and bagged a vote share of 40.29%. This means that in 2013, there was only a difference of 10 seats between the BJP and the Congress. And yet, vote share that year narrowed down to 0.75 %.
Both Jogi and Mayawati are conscious of the fact that their alliance alone cannot muster the numbers required to form a government. So, they are clearly not fighting to win Chhattisgarh. If either Mayawati or Jogi had formed a pre-poll alliance with the Congress and BJP respectively, they wouldn’t have got a better deal.
So, which party will the BSP-JCC alliance eventually support? Well, both Mayawati and Jogi are keeping their cards close to their chests and will only speak once the numbers are out.
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