Chhattisgarh: A state where BJP turned the tables on Congress since mid-1990s
Raipur, Sept 21: The upcoming elections in Chhattisgarh will be a big test both for the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress. While for the saffron party which is in power in the state for 15 years now, beating the anti-incumbency will be key ahead of the next general elections in 2019; for the Congress, this will be one last chance to return to some kind of reckoning ahead of its president Rahul Gandhi's litmus test next year.
On Thursday, September 20, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) stirred up the poll-bound state's politics by announcing a pre-poll alliance with former chief minister Ajit Jogi's Janta Congress. It not only raised fresh doubts over the prospects of a united federal front against Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the next Lok Sabha elections but also created a scenario for the first time in the central Indian state's 18-year history when it will witness a triangular fight in place of a generally bipolar one. Mayawati's move in Chhattisgarh is aimed at giving the Congress a stern message in the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, which is also heading for the elections and where the Congress and BSP are still short of reaching a comprehensive agreement on seat-sharing.
BJP has grown fast in a state which was once Congress's fortress
However, looking from Chhattisgarh's election perspective, this is significant. The BJP, Congress and BSP have a significant presence in Chhattisgarh's politics. The Congress has been traditionally strong in Chhattisgarh region when it was a part of MP. Barring 1977 when the Janata Party won all the 11 parliamentary seats in the state, the Congress dominated it till 1984.
The BJP's first emergence in the state happened in 1989 when it won six out of 11 seats though in 1991, it lost all those seats in an otherwise good election year. In 1996, the promise to make Chhattisgarh a separate state earned the saffron party a mileage there and it won six seats in the parliamentary election that year. In 1999, its tally of seats went up to eight. In 2004 and 2009, the Congress could win just one parliamentary seat from the state out of 11 even when they did well overall. It shows how the BJP's stature in the state has grown since the mid-1990s.
In the 1998 Assembly election in undivided MP, the Congress won 46 of 90 seats in the Chhattisgarh region. The BJP had only 33 seats in the region. After the state was carved out in 2000, Ajit Jogi became the first chief minister of the state as a Congressman (he was expelled from the party two years ago).
In 2003, in the first Assembly election in Chhattisgarh, the BJP won 50 of the 90 seats on offer while the Congress saw a slide in its traditional bastion and could manage 37. In terms of vote-share, though, there was not much difference between the two parties (Congress's 36.7 to BJP's 39.3). One reason behind the BJP's mega success in Chhattisgarh has been its grip on the tribal areas where the RSS has done comprehensive ground work for tribal welfare. The BSP, on the other hand, hasn't been able to keep pace with the bigger parties and that has made the politics of the state bipolar.
Raman Singh govt's populist policies eclipsed those of the UPA govt
The Raman Singh government has been successful in the state owing to its populist policies that even eclipsed those of the former UPA government led by the Congress at the Centre. The Congress's state-level organisation also did not have the teeth to propagate about the Centre's pro-poor policies, hence leaving less challenge for the Singh government.
However, having said that, factors like the state government's support for the Salwa Judum movement and farmers' suicides in the state added fuel to the anti-incumbency mood against the party which is in power for a decade and half.
(With inputs from 'Party Competition in Indian States': Edited by Suhas Palshikar, KC Suri and Yogendra Yadav)