Originally a Congress bastion, Rajnandgaon parliamentary constituency has eight Assembly segments " Pandariya, Kawardha, Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji and Mohla-Manpur " spread over two districts of Rajnandgaon and Kawardha (Kabirdham). Of eight Assembly seats, six are in Rajnandgaon and the other two are in Kabirdham.
From 1957 till 2014, the Congress had won nine times, while the BJP six times and Janata Party once.
This is probably the first time that the election in this constituency is being held on such a low-profile note. Barring BJP president Amit Shah, there has been no star campaigner this time.
Rajnandgaon " 80 kilometres from the state capital of Raipur " has always been a high-profile constituency in Chhattisgarh. Besides being the home turf of three-term former chief minister Raman Singh, this seat has witnessed members of the royal family like Raja Bahadur Singh, Shivendra Bahadur Singh, Padmavati Devi and Devvrat Singh contesting from here, who went on to become Congress MPs. The other stalwart Congress leader Motilal Vora too had won once from this seat.
The sitting BJP MP is Raman Singh's son Abhishek Singh, who has been denied a ticket by the party. He had defeated the Congress candidate Kamleshwar Verma in 2014 by a huge margin of 2,35,911 votes, while Raman Singh in the 1999 election defeated Motilal Vora by a margin of 26,715 votes.
"Unlike in the past, this time there's had been a lacklustre campaign, with no star campaigners. Both the candidates from the BJP and the Congress are no match for previous leaders," Rajnandgaon-based senior journalist Alok Sharma told Firstpost.
While the BJP has fielded the RSS man Santosh Pandey, the Congress candidate Bholaram Sahu is the ex-MLA from Khujji. The latter was denied a ticket by the Congress during the Chhattisgarh Assembly polls in 2018. After the BJP announced its candidate for this seat, the Congress thought that it would get a walkover. But gradually, instead of being a one-sided affair, the contest has become challenging for both parties.
The poll plank for the BJP is now the "Narendra Modi factor and nationalism" that dominates the election landscape in this constituency. Meanwhile for the Congress, it's the Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and the "Nyunatam Aay Yojana" (NYAY) announced by Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
"Unlike in the past, this time no party has talked about its respective candidates and issues of this constituency like irrigation, industry etc. While the BJP has been focussing on nationalism, the Congress' trump card is its NYAY scheme and loan-waiver to farmers. Modi has emerged as a dominating factor," added Sharma.
The Congress is also looking to garner support from the Sahu community, as there's a population of nearly four lakh Sahus in this constituency. However, caste equation had never been a dominant factor in this belt. Though the BJP's central leadership hasn't given Raman Singh any major responsibility in campaigning, the former chief minister continues to be a popular figure. However, the alleged corruption charges against Raman Singh's son-in-law Puneet Gupta and his son Abhishek " whose name appeared in the Panama Papers " have dented the BJP's image.
The Congress victory in the 2018 Assembly election has been acting as a morale booster for the party.
Apart from being a high-profile constituency, Rajnandgaon is one of the several districts in Chhattisgarh battling a Maoist insurgency and falls in the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) category. Mohla-Manpur in this constituency is considered one of the most volatile seats in the state, due to which polling will close at 3 pm instead of at the regular time of 5 pm. The other Maoist-affected constituency in this second phase of polling is Kanker.