Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections: Charan Das Mahant’s big test

In November 01, 2000, the ‘heart of India’ Madhya Pradesh was bifurcated and Chhattisgarh was carved out of it. After the formation of this new state the top brass of Congress preferred Ajit Jogi, then an Arjun Singh protégé. The decision to anoint Jogi as the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh triggered a political rivalry within the party which continues till today.

By Sushmita Dutta | Last Updated: Nov 10, 2013, 01:11 AM IST

Sushmita Dutta

In November 01, 2000, the ‘heart of India’ Madhya Pradesh was bifurcated and Chhattisgarh was carved out of it. After the formation of this new state the top brass of Congress preferred Ajit Jogi, then an Arjun Singh protégé. The decision to anoint Jogi as the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh triggered a political rivalry within the party which continues till today.

Since then, the politics of Congress has been marred with infighting among its own party cadres. Due to this ‘divided we stand’ attitude of the Congress party it not only lost the state in the Assembly Elections of 2003 but also lost the chance to win in 2008.

Ahead of the 2014 Assembly Elections, Charan Das Mahant was appointed as Chhattisgarh Congress chief after its state president Nandkumar Patel was killed, along with many other state Congress leaders, in a Naxal attack in state’s Bastar district on May 25.

Born in 1954, Charan Das Mahant represents Korba Lok Sabha constituency in the Parliament. He is the lone Congress candidate from this region.

Many thought that the Congress would gain sympathy after the brutal Naxal attack on its leaders, but the infighting within the Congress has nulled any benefit it could have received by harnessing these sentiments.

As they say, “It is not the Bharatiya Janata Party that wins Chhattisgarh, it is the Congress that loses.” The selection of Charan Das Mahant as the Congress chief over Ajit Jogi has also led to a fresh round of strife within the party which may act as a spoiler for it during the elections.

Most of the differences between the Mahant and Jogi faction started from the fact that Jogi always considered himself to be the tallest leader in Chhattisgarh.

Finally, the central leadership had to intervene and asked the factions to stop fighting. Probably, unless Jogi gives up his chief ministerial ambitions the situation will never improve.

Immediately after his appointment, Mahant, who is also Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Processing, courted controversy when he said that he was ready to even sweep the floor if asked by party president Sonia Gandhi.

Mahant was also in news recently on account of the Unnao gold digging. The minister is a big devotee of the seer Shobhan Sarkar, who had dreamt of the old deposits.

In the upcoming Assembly polls, eighteen Constituencies spread over eight districts in south Chhattisgarh will witness voting on November 11 while the remaining 72 segments will go into polls on November 19. As many as 985 candidates are in the fray for 90 seats.

Congress’ fortunes in the state currently revolve around Ajit Jogi, who has made the most of his standing while others in the party try to outsmart him. It seems as long as the Jogi factor persists and the ‘Mahants’ within Congress exist, the incumbent government of BJP lead by Raman Singh won’t have to face a united opposition from the state unit of the grand old party.

It will be interesting to see if the newly appointed Chhattisgarh Congress chief has the fire power to trounce the Raman Singh government. Only time will tell.