BJP leaders are highly averse to comparing the assembly elections in five states including the three in the Hindi belt — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — to a semi-final before next year’s crucial general elections when Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a determined bid for a second successive term as Head of Government.
They contend the issues in these elections are essentially those afflicting each of these states where polls kicked off on Monday in Chhattisgarh which is the only state having a two-day poll. The bipolar issues in this state have turned triangular this time with Mayawati’s BSP and Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh joining hands aimed at getting the better of the country’s oldest politial entity yet again.
Notwithstanding the anti-incumbency against the Lotus party and its on-the-trot three-term chief minister Raman Singh, the aggrieved Jogi wants to be the spoiler for the Congress. More than anything else the former Congressman is eyeing stakes in the state government. It is apparent the agenda of the JCC is to try and push the Congress out of reckoning.
As the country’s 29th state, Chhattisgarh was carved out from Madhya Pradesh in 2000 when the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. A Congress government headed by Jogi was at the helm of affairs in in that fledgling state for the first three years. Thereafter, the Raman Singh government managed to win closely contested bipolar elections so far which has ensured stability in that state.
Therefore, it is widely believed that the outcome in the Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh and adjoining areas comprising 18 seats is expected to decide who will be in power in capital Ranchi. In the last elections five years back in 2013, the Congress won a dozen of the 18 seats with the BJP winning the remaining six in this region. The tally in the 90-member assembly in the last elections is as follows: BJP – 49, Congress – 39, BSP – one, and Independent – one. It will not be out of place to mention here that earlier this year Naya Raipur was rechristened Atal Nagar in memory of the saffron brigade’s first Prime Minister.
Even though the State government claims to have pushed the Maoists on the backfoot, they continue to unleash violent attacks. Nevertheless, the common refrain is that the BJP government in Chhattisgarh has failed to end the menace of the Maoists as evidenced by IED being exploded even last Monday before polling got under way.
Yet again the Maoists have threatened to cut off the finger of those who picked up the courage to exercise their franchise. These people had implored the Election Commission of India not to smear their fingers with the indelible ink after they had voted to escape the wrath of the Maoists. Such threats had been evidenced in the past with some tribals facing the danger. What is glaring is that the Maoists menace continues unabated with the Tribals and police forces being at the receiving end.
What has come to the fore is a frustrated Congress failing miserably time and again in the assembly elections barring the odd success in Punjab since Modi became the prime minister four-and-half years back. They have been compelled to adopt a ‘soft Hindutva’ approach as evidenced in their massive 112-page “Vachan patra” and not a manifesto for Madhya Pradesh. It leaves little room for doubt that the Congress is seeking to take on the BJP at its own aggressive game of pursuing the Hindutva agenda propounded by its mentor — the RSS.
The question is whether the Congress is becoming more like its arch rival the BJP seeking to evolve its agenda akin to the diktat of the RSS. This assumes significance as there has been no meeting ground between the Congress and the twice banned RSS which has been categorised as a “cultural organisation” by senior BJP leader L K Advani.
Emphasising that the “Vachan patra” is not the kind of “jumla” trotted out by the BJP all along, the million Dollar question is can such tactics stem the rot in the Congress. The “Vachan patra” focuses largely on farmers, youth, women, tribals and industries.
Madhya Pradesh goes to the polls on November 28 to elect a 230-member state Assembly. The counting of votes in all the five assembly elections will take place on December 11. The Congress appears going the BJP way in garnering the attention of the electorate despite the latter’s “ghoshna patra” failing miserably in fulfiling its pledges over the last 15 years.
T R Ramchandran is a senior journalist and commentator.