Visitors stepping out of the Swami Vivekanand airport in Raipur are greeted by large-size hoardings of Chief Minister Raman Singh. Election battles in India are typically marked by a feverish display of posters of party leaders. In Chhattisgarh, which is readying for its fourth assembly elections since formation, there is a discernible difference.
Hoardings of Singh, flaunting his ‘Raman ke saath vikas’, are the exception. The CM dominates these banners, with smaller photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP boss Amit Shah and a watermark of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which are displayed almost every kilometer. It is clear that the BJP believes Singh, who has completed a third term, is the most credible face for the party in the state and will coax voters to their side.
No Big Face
The same cannot be said of the Congress, which is clearly reeling under the absence of a big leader as the face. The conspicuously fewer number of hoardings and posters tell the state of the party in the state.
Political analysts say there is a visible difference between the BJP and the other parties, especially Congress, in the size of the coffers. Paucity of funds is one of the biggest reasons for the modest publicity campaign of the party in this election. Grassroots election campaigning programs have also been impacted and booth-level workers have been forced to manage their campaigns with limited resources.
Ergo, the Congress is banking on party President Rahul Gandhi to prop up its fortunes, with his photos and those of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in the backdrop displayed on posters and banners. Even in smaller towns, where one would expect to see faces of the local leaders on the hoardings, there were none.
In my eight days of travel across Bastar, Sukma, Rajnadgaon, Durg-Bhilai, Raipur and Bilaspur, I did not come across personalised posters of Congress candidates. In places such as Narayanpur and Kanker, I did not even spot a single Congress hoarding.
The Big Fight
The only exception was in Rajnandgaon, where congress candidate Karuna Shukla, is drawing huge support from the party. Contesting against the Singh, Shukla's photos have made their way onto the posters with Rahul Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi. State president Bhupesh Baghel and a few other local leaders also managed to find some space in the posters.
In-fighting amongst the Congress candidates and the jostling for space on posters have led to a few embarrassing moments for the party in recent months. Political analysts say the party had then taken a decision against running the campaign on posters so as to not fuel more internal tussles.
But the in-fighting tells only half the story. Congress has been out of power for 15 years in the state and has no local leaders to be projected as its face. A naxal attack at the Jherum Valley in 2013 wiped out the entire senior leadership of the party’s state leadership in a single stroke. Since then, the party has not been able to create a credible second line of leaders, according to analysts.
Former chief minister Ajit Jogi has broken away from the party to create his own outfit.
Other parties are on the same boat as the Congress. The only time I saw hoardings of other political parties donning the main market places was in small-town areas in Bilaspur district. The region is a stronghold of Jogi and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which have formed an alliance. There, posters of the Jogi family and the local leaders of BSP were displayed.As for the Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting on all the 90 seats in the state, I could spot only six hoardings during my travel across the state.