Ritesh K Srivastava
Though it is yet to be known whether the lotus will blossom again in Chhattisgarh where BJP has been in power for over a decade, a record turnout in both the first and second phase of assembly polls has thrown a big surprise to poll pundits and triggered speculation on the possible outcome of the polls here. .
While the opposition Congress is rooting for parivartan or change in the keenly contested elections here, the ruling BJP is relying on the charisma of Chief Minister Raman Singh, who has thrown his entire political weight to secure a third straight term. Having sat in the opposition for over a decade, the Congress in Chhattisgarh has gone all out with a single aim of bringing in `parivartan` in the tribal heartland.
After 1.39 crore voters cast their votes for 72 seats in the 90-member Assembly in the final phase of elections, the mood in the Congress camp is upbeat and the party claims to have thrown a big challenge to the incumbent BJP government.
The first phase of polling on November 11 saw a record 75% turnout despite Naxal`s call for boycotting the elections, in a clear indication that voters have preferred ballot over bullet. This has left both the Congress and BJP leaders flummoxed about whether the high turnout was for a change or in favour of the Raman Singh regime. Since the first phase of polls, both sides have been interpreting the turnout to their own advantage.
Unlike the 2003 and 2008 Assembly polls, when Ajit Jogi was named as its chief ministerial candidate, the Congress has refrained from projecting anyone this time around. Former chief minister Ajit Jogi, who had in the past quarrelled with the party leaders in the state and in New Delhi over the leadership issue, too seems to be contended with no one being projected for the CM`s chair this time.
Jogi has been campaigning actively for his wife and son and is not contesting the election himself. Senior leader Moti Lal Vora, who is the chairman of Congress` campaign committee with Jogi as its convenor, had been entrusted with the task of curbing any factionalism within the party.
Though Congress is determined to unseat the two-term BJP government, a section of its state unit leaders admit that a lot is at stake for the party in these elections. Another cause of worry for the Congress camp is that if the BJP retains power in Chhattisgarh, it will have a direct bearing on the party`s prospects in the 2014 General Elections.
Hence, the Congress which has campaigned all the way with a new slogan `Parivartan Laiye, Chhattisgarh Bachaiye` (bring change, save Chhattisgarh), has rubbished what it terms the false propaganda of the Raman Singh government about its performance and development.
In order to revive the party`s fortunes, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, party vice president Rahul Gandhi and a host of other national leaders and Congress chief ministers from other states have addressed rallies across Chhattisgarh.
Having seen its top brass wiped out by Maoists in May, the Congress leaders have also not forgotten to highlight the `sacrifice` made by their senior leaders and the issue has widely featured throughout the party`s poll campaign.
The soft-spoken Ayurvedic doctor-turned-politician Raman Singh has been the target of attack by the Congress leadership over lawlessness and growing Maoist menace in the state. The Congress, which managed to win 38 seats in the 2008 Assembly elections as compared to BJP`s 50 seats, has compared the state with other violence-hit states, saying Chhattisgarh has witnessed more bloodshed than even the terrorism-affected Jammu and Kashmir.
While the Congress claimed that the high polling is an indicator of change, the BJP bigwigs believe that the `Raman effect` will help the party retain power in Chhattisgarh. Party strategists, including BJP general secretary and Chhattisgarh in-charge Jagat Prakash Nadda, says that the opposition Congress has nothing to offer to the people and is "solely banking on anti-incumbency factor".
The BJP, however, is not banking on the `Raman effect` alone and that`s why the party`s star campaigner and PM candidate Narendra Modi addressed many rallies in the last few days. For the BJP leadership, the image of Chief Minister Raman Singh and the development work initiated by his government are the things that mainly matter as the party attempts a third shot at staying in power.
Out of the 18 seats in the Maoist-affected belt, the BJP had won 15 seats in the 2008 Assembly elections. It was this belt that proved decisive for the BJP last time as the party won 50 seats. The Congress had to contend with 38 seats and sit in the opposition. Congress is quite hopeful that the Bastar belt, which went to polls in the first phase, will give the party many more seats this time and it will form the next government. However, the BJP top brass thinks otherwise.
With no clear wave for or against the BJP or the Congress, both sides are claiming an upper hand. However, no one is saying that it will be a washout for the other side.
Congress has refrained from naming a CM candidate as it knew that it could handle the leadership issues at a later stage if the poll results favour the party. For the BJP, what is at stake is reputation of Chief Minister Raman Singh, who has sought votes claiming how his government`s people-centric welfare schemes "have changed the lives people in Chhattisgarh."