Chhattisgarh is seeing another round of face-off between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in less than five months. Going by the drubbing the Congress handed to the BJP in assembly polls last December, the task for Congress appears to be much easier, particularly under chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s aggressive brand of leadership. Under Baghel, the Congress has remained in poll mode, keeping the narrative “
Chhattisgarh badla, desh badlenege (Chhattisgarh has changed, will change the country)” intact with a slew of pro-farmer measures.
The Congress' landslide was fuelled by distress among farmers and tribals as well as urban voters’ disenchantment with the BJP government’s failure to create jobs. At least on the farmers’ front, Baghel has gone on overdrive in paddy procurement with the state buying more than 80 lakh tonnes this season. The measure has come after the Congress promise of an additional Rs 750 per quintal bonus to the Centre’s minimum support price of Rs 1,750 per quintal, which translates to Rs 2,500 per quintal.
Baghel’s measures to boost farm income coupled with Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s poll promise to provide Rs 72,000 every year to the poor will further improve the party’s chances at the hustings, particularly in the paddy cultivating central plains of the state. The presence of substantial other backward castes such as
kurmis, teli, and sahu will additionally benefit the Congress with Baghel being from one of the backward communities.
Additionally, the Baghel government has taken steps to reduce electricity bill, which likely will resonate well with urban voters despite recent reports of regular power outages in parts of Chhattisgarh.
But the Congress government will be under some scrutiny on its poll promise of improving the tribals’ incomes as well as implementing alcohol prohibition. Most tribals continue to remain outside the paddy procurement system, largely due to subsistence level farming or lack of access to state
mandis, forcing them to sell their produce to local shops and middlemen.
Stung by knockout after 15 years of rule, the BJP has gone for course correction and has fielded many new faces in the 11 Lok Sabha seats. While doing so, the Modi-Shah combine didn’t blink to deny ticket to a veteran and OBC leader like Ramesh Bais who has been representing the Raipur Lok Sabha constituency since end 1980s. With the decision, BJP has rekindled the morale of its party workers and found a way to work around anti-incumbency. We would come to know whether the strategy paid off only on May 23, but the saffron party also hopes to bet on the Modi factor.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the party’s biggest crowd-puller and the aura built around his strong and decisive leadership has gained after the Balakot air strike. Modi reiterated ‘mazboor vs mazboot sarkar’ (indecisive vs strong government) theme during his recent campaign rally in Chhattisgarh's Balod.
On economic and development issues, the PM also slammed the Baghel government for stopping the aid under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi for the farmers as well as slow progress on the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. Modi also criticized the Congress party for reviewing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), if voted to power.
BJP would also hope to benefit from PM’s pet projects such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, the Ujjawala, rural housing as well as Jan Dhan Yojana in changing Chhattisgarh’s rural landscape, although the issues hardly made an electoral impact in the assembly elections in December. The party could win just 15 seats despite most exit polls predicting a close fight, while the Congress grabbed 68 seats in the 90 –member state assembly.
Apart from the two mainstream parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party will hope to make some impact although the chances of Mayawati’s party opening its account in the Lok Sabha polls are thin. The BSP aligned with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh and won 2 seats, while Jogi’s party managed 5 seats in the assembly polls. Jogi's party is not contesting in Lok Sabha elections and has decided to back the BSP.The second phase of voting in Chhattisgarh's three-phase elections will take place on Thursday. The second phase will see voting in Rajnandgaon, Mahasamund and Kanker Lok Sabha seats. The voting for the remaining seven seats will take place on April 23. The Bastar Lok Sabha seat voted in the first phase on April 11.