Development may be the poll cry for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Chhattisgarh but the challenge it faces is to beat the voter fatigue that appears to have set in after 15 years of uninterrupted rule in the tribal-dominated state.
Aware of this, the BJP is devising a strategy to beat anti-incumbency. Dropping a substantial number of sitting legislators is part of the plan.
Party strategists argue that anti-incumbency is more against sitting legislators but “considerable goodwill” exists for the government and chief minister Raman Singh.
“Yes, there is anti-incumbency against some sitting legislators but that can be countered by replacing them with fresh faces. There is none against the chief minister or the government,” a senior BJP leader said on the condition of anonymity.
In 2013, five BJP ministers had lost the assembly elections.
No anti-incumbency or overconfidence?
Will this overconfidence hurt the party in the year-end elections? Chhattisgarh BJP chief Dharamlal Kaushik insisted that while the party is “certain” to win a fourth term, there is no scope for overconfidence and complacency.
“We cannot afford to be overconfident or complacent since less than 1% vote share divides us and the Congress,” he said.
In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP had a vote share of 41.04%, while the Congress secured 40.29%. Of the 90 seats, the BJP won 49 and the Congress 39 with one seat each going to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and an independent.
Coordination between government and party
But this is not the only cause of worry for the BJP. A section in the BJP is upset that a “coterie of bureaucrats around the chief minister is not only running the government but also interfering” in party affairs.
“The entire power rests with this coterie. They have now started taking decisions regarding party matters,” said a BJP leader who is a known detractor of the chief minister. He refused to be named.
But Kaushik rejects the contention. “A government or bureaucrats cannot run a party. The fact is that a party forms the government and not vice-versa. There is complete coordination between the party and the government in Chhattisgarh,” he said.
To buttress his point, Kaushik cited the three-phase ‘Lok Suraj Abhiyaan’, during which ministers were sent to different areas to hear and address the grievances of the people and apprise them of the government’s welfare schemes.
Kaushik argued that Chhattisgarh Janata Congress leader Ajit Jogi would definitely hurt his former party (Congress) but not affect the BJP. “His entry in the poll arena will not impact us. In fact, he will cut into Congress votes,” he said.
But a state minister disagreed. “Upper castes and OBCs (other backward classes) had gone away from the Congress and supported the BJP because of Jogi. They can now go back to the Congress. It is not a good situation for us (BJP),” said the minister on the condition of anonymity.
Crucial Dalit/tribal vote
BJP leaders admit that it will be difficult for their party to retain nine of the 10 Scheduled Castes seats it won in 2013. “Some incidents of atrocities against the Dalits in the recent past have gone against us. It is difficult to claim that we will hold on to all those nine seats,” a leader said.
But Kaushik countered that the BJP has a good chance of making up the losses from tribal areas, as had happened in 2003 and 2008.
In the 29 tribal-dominated constituencies spread across Bastar, Sarguja, Durg, Dhamtari, Bilaspur and Jashpur districts, the BJP had won majority of the seats in the 2003 and 2008 elections, which eventually resulted in its victory.
In 2008, the BJP had won 19 of the 29 tribal seats but the tables turned in 2013 when the Congress managed to bag 18 seats. This was mainly due to the sympathy wave arising from by the Maoist massacre of its frontline leadership — including Nand Kumar Patel, Mahendra Karma, Gopal Madhavan, Uday Kumar Mudaliar and VC Shukla — in May that year.
However, the BJP is hoping to reverse the trend in the upcoming elections. “We are getting positive feedback from tribal areas this time. We will do very well in Bastar and Sarguja,” Kaushik said.
Banking on Modi and Vajpayee
The ruling party is banking on intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the elections, and hoping to cash in on voter sentiment by invoking the name of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who died in mid-August.
It was during Vajpayee’s tenure that Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000.
Also, the second phase of the chief minister’s development yatra, starting September 5, has been renamed Atal Vikas Yatra. The government has also decided to name Chhattisgarh’s new capital (Naya Raipur) as Atal Nagar.
Raipur-based political analyst Diwakar Muktibodh, a former editor of a national Hindi daily, is not sure if the BJP strategy will work. “There is a strong anti-incumbency against the government. They are trying to invoke Atalji’s name in an attempt to gain sympathy vote. But I don’t think these tactics will work,” said Raipur-based political analyst Diwakar Muktibodh, a former editor of a national Hindi daily.
“People by and large are looking for a change this time but much depends on whether the Congress is able to tap the anti-incumbency against the BJP and its government,” he said.
First Published: Sep 16, 2018 08:35 IST