Tribal reserved Antagarh seat under North Bastar division has been vacant since former state forest minister Vikram Usendi, the sitting BJP MLA, resigned from there after winning the recent Lok Sabha poll from Kanker seat.
With the announcement of schedule for the by-poll to be held on September 13, Congress is leaving no stone unturned and has started mobilising party workers in the region to give the BJP a befitting reply in the insurgency-hit constituency.
On the other hand, the BJP is confident of retaining the seat, known to be its bastion. Coming into existence in 2008 after delimitation, Antagrah(ST) seat was won consecutively twice by BJP's Usendi, a teacher-turned-politician, who is said to be widely popular among the tribals.
He was believed to be facing huge anti-incumbency in Antagarh during last year's Assembly polls, as he had managed a narrow win by a mere 109 votes against his Congress rival Manturam Pawar in the 2008 Assembly election. Contrary to speculation, the victory margin significantly increased as he defeated Pawar by 5,171 votes in 2013.
The trend emerging in past two decades at Antagarh indicates that the electorate there has been traditionally favouring the saffron camp.
"If you look at the past, it is not an easy task for the Congress to capture this seat. Although, we are confident of a good show as we did well in tribal-dominated Bastar region during last year's Assembly polls," Congress state spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Trivedi told PTI.
Out of the 12 Assembly seats in Maoist-hit Bastar region, Congress had won 8 - Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Dantewada, Chitrakot, Bastar and Konta - while four seats - Antagarh, Jagdalpur, Narayanpur and Bijapur - went into the kitty of BJP last year.
The Congress is hoping to cash on the public anger against the alleged rampant cancellation of ration cards by the state government citing irregularities during its issuance.
"More than 11,500 ration of cards of the poor people have been cancelled in Antagarh constituency. Earlier the ruling BJP had issued ration cards to a large number of people for electoral gains ahead of the Assembly and parliamentary polls and have now cancelled it," Trivedi alleged.
"We will raise this issue during the by-election," he said. The party workers have been asked to stay connected to people for a good show in the by-poll, he added. Meanwhile, the BJP feels that trust and faith of Antagarh's people in the state government will once again bring victory for the ruling party at the seat.
"We are confident of winning the Antagarh by-poll. People have shown faith in the BJP by bringing it to rule for third time in the state and they will make its candidate win in the by-poll again," BJP MLA and spokesperson Shivratan Sharma said.
Both the main parties have not declared their candidates for the by-poll so far. The last date of filing nomination has been scheduled to August 27.
Subsequently, the scrutiny will be done on August 28 and candidates can withdraw their names by August 30. The result will be declared on September 16.