President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why Congress Is Likely To Lose Battle For Middle India?

By Ankit Trivedi / INN Live

The Congress should have been riding the anti-incumbency wave to power. INN Live travel across central India to discover why the party is floundering. The analysis of INN Live tour shows the anti-Congress wave is dominated in central India states while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) puts its strong hold with a strong leadership and enormous public support despite Congress party's public services. BJP's main agenda is to expose the scandals of Congress regime and show the party's grass-root public work towards minorities and rural people. Congress mostly works in urban areas to populate its populist schemes and utterly failed to reach rural India in these regions. INN Live minutely analysed the entire situations and sketched as following state-wise sequences.
Madhya Pradesh: Divided We Fall  
Of the scores of rallies that Jyotiraditya Scindia has addressed so far in Madhya Pradesh, the one held at Morena on 1 September stood out. On that day, the sleepy town was transformed into a fairground. People turned up in huge numbers to get a glimpse of their ‘Maharaj’. The Scindia scion’s helicopter had landed 2 km away from the Ambedkar Stadium where he was to speak. Waiting for him on stage were Congress seniors, including former chief minister Digvijaya Singh.


Scindia’s convoy finally reached the spot 90 minutes late. The 42-year-old climbed the stage to a rousing cheer by the 1 lakh strong crowd. Apologising profusely to his colleagues for the delay, he asked for the speeches to begin. One after another, Congressmen took to the dais and addressed the crowd, which was getting restless. They had come to hear their ‘Maharaj’ speak and did not feign patience as they rooted for him each time someone stood up to speak. And each time, Scindia had to ask them to keep calm and allow for the speaker to complete his address.


Finally, when his turn came to address the crowd — he was the third but last speaker — Scindia asked for pin-drop silence and the crowd obliged by remaining quiet for the 45 minutes that he spoke. The sway he held over the gathering was exemplary, almost befitting a king. Rattling off facts and figures from the top of his head, he had the crowd hanging on to his every word. He narrated anecdotes and called on his family legacy and the good it had done for the people of the state.

What followed was interesting, and to an extent, telling of how the Congress is likely to plan its script in Madhya Pradesh ahead of the 25 November Assembly polls. After Scindia had finished speaking, Digvijaya took to the stage, but the crowd began to leave. Scindia had to intervene and ask them to stay back, a request he made again when it was the turn of Union minister Kamal Nath. On both occasions, the crowd obliged. A local party leader remarked, “It is only Maharaj who can ensure that the Congress comes back to power in Madhya Pradesh.”

Now that the poll date has been announced, the frenzy around Scindia is even more perceptible. But is there even a small chance it will translate into victory?

A decade out of power should have galvanised the party. But as the election looms large, the dilemma before the party leaders is whom to fight first? Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan or the internal bickering. The Congress is trying to present a united face in a bid to dislodge Chouhan, but the fissures run deep.

The state Congress unit revolves around a troika — Digvijaya, who was chief minister in 1993-2003 and has since been out of electoral politics; Nath, the party’s chief troubleshooter in Parliament; and Scindia. While Singh and Nath have years of experience, Scindia draws strength from his lineage, though he has come of age with his own efforts, both in the state and at the Centre.

Apart from this troika, the party has leaders such as state unit chief and Lok Sabha MP Kantilal Bhuria, Suresh Pachauri, who was MoS, Department of Personnel and Training in the UPA-1 government, Rajya Sabha MP Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Ajay Singh, MLA and son of late Congress leader Arjun Singh, and Arun Yadav, Lok Sabha MP and son of late Congress leader Subhash Yadav.

So the million-dollar question that remains unanswered is: Despite having an array of leaders, why has the Congress not been able to get its act together? The answer, perhaps, lies in paraphrasing an age-old dictum. United we stand, divided we fall. And how!

In the 2008 Assembly election, instead of an independent assessment, the ticket distribution was mostly divided among the troika. Out of 230 seats, 39 were given on Nath’s recommendation, followed by Scindia (32), Digvijaya (24), Pachauri (19), Ajay Singh (17), Bhuria (13), Chaturvedi (11), the late Subhash Yadav (8) and Lok Sabha MP Meenakshi Natarajan (3). The rest were decided on the basis of joint recommendations.

The result was disastrous. Despite such a “democratic distribution” of tickets, the party won only 71 seats. The flawed process also resulted in 13 rebels fighting against the official Congress candidates. The result was that both the rebel and the official candidate lost by margins of less than 3,000 votes.

Interestingly, all the rebels are now back in the Congress and eager for a ticket again. And that has created bad blood among the loyal ones. “The rebel candidates had the backing of state leaders. Their aim was to jeopardise the chances of the official candidates who were backed by rival leaders,” says a Congressman on the condition of anonymity. The official figure is 13, but if insiders are to be believed then the tally is close to 55 candidates who were backed by one Congress leader or the other.

In the 2003 election, the BJP won 168 seats with 43.7 percent of the votes, while the Congress could manage only 38 seats (32.5 percent). In 2008, the Congress’ vote share rose marginally to 33 percent, but the number of seats increased to 71. This was a big improvement, but nowhere close to posing a threat to the BJP regime.

“We lost in 2008 because there were problems with ticket distribution,” says Leader of the Opposition Ajay Singh. When asked what will change in the current polls, he quips, “It’s a case of once bitten twice shy.” Ticket distribution holds the key but whether the Congress will be able to up its game remains to be seen.

BJP leader and former chief minister Babulal Gaur says the Congress does not have leaders, instead it has several ‘kings’ who have assumed the role of regional satraps. “The Congress leaders haven’t organised a single Jan Andolan in the past 10 years,” he says. “Their style of functioning is a dichotomy in this day and age of enlightenment. That is why the BJP will come back to power.”

Similar sentiments are echoed by Congress cadres. A party functionary says that state Congress leaders feel more comfortable in New Delhi than in Madhya Pradesh. “If a political party has been out of power for 10 years, it’s a big challenge to keep the workers motivated. More so if the fruits of power are nowhere on the horizon,” he says.

However, the party does not seem to have learnt any lessons. On 23 September, the party had planned a rally from Vidisha. Before it could start, a fight broke out between rival supporters. Digvijaya’s supporters felt that he was not getting proper representation in the posters.
On 11 September, there was a coordination committee meeting in Bhopal. This was to be held after a press conference at the MP Congress Committee headquarters. As the hall was filled with party workers seeking tickets, they had to be forcibly removed and the doors were locked from inside. Digvijaya was also supposed to be present at the press meet, but he decided to come after visiting a friend. The congregation waited for him, but eventually started as the press contingent was getting restless. By the time Digvijaya arrived, the doors were locked. He banged on the doors, but nobody paid attention. Finally Digvijaya left without attending the meet. This led to further speculation about infighting.

Such examples of palace coup abound. In 2008, Pachauri was a Minister of State in the UPA-1 government but resigned to lead the state Congress unit ahead of the Assembly election held later that year.

After the 2008 debacle, Pachauri wanted to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha election from Hoshangabad. But the troika leaned on him to not contest and asked him to focus on helping the party win the maximum number of seats. As a result, he is now neither a legislator nor has a prominent post. He is nowhere to be seen at Congress rallies as he has conveyed that he is unwell.

Similar is the case in Chattarpur district. Manvendra Singh, the MLA from Maharajpur and a former minister in the Digvijaya Cabinet, was denied a ticket in 2008 due to frequent run-ins with Chaturvedi. He contested as an independent candidate and won. In the past year, he has been trying hard to get back into the Congress. He holds sway in the Bundelkhand region. But due to the rivalry within the Congress, he believes that it would be prudent to join the BJP rather than “beg for a Congress ticket”.

As if the infighting among the bigwigs was not enough, two minority leaders started fighting openly. Ghufran Azam, a two-term MP from Betul, shot off a letter to Aslam Sher Khan, former Indian hockey player and one-time MP from Betul. In his letter, Azam told Khan that he was a turncoat and would struggle to win even a councillor’s seat if he left the Congress. At the moment, Khan is holding his peace but one can expect fireworks. With the Muslim population close to 6 percent, the party would not like to lose them to either the BSP or the SP.

Unlike Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, caste does not play a decisive role during polls in Madhya Pradesh. “Even though the OBC population is more than 50 percent in MP, the state does not vote on caste lines,” says political analyst Girija Shankar. SCs/ STs form 30 percent of the population, while upper castes account for 14 percent.

Meanwhile, trouble is also brewing in Jhabua, the bastion of state Congress chief and Lok Sabha MP Kantilal Bhuria. His son Vikrant Bhuria is keen on contesting from Thandla, located in the district. But the sitting Congress MLA, Veersingh Bhuria, is in no mood to budge. Veersingh has also indicated that if the Congress does not retain him, he will have no option but to contest as a rebel candidate. If Vikrant Bhuria gets a party ticket, it goes without saying that rival leaders will use it as a lever against his father.

Bhuria is certainly not on good terms with the Union ministers who hail from Madhya Pradesh. During a meeting with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, he came down heavily on both Kamal Nath and Scindia. He accused them of being non-cooperative with the state party unit. He also lamented that the UPA government’s policies and schemes are not being popularised by them in the state.

Sources claim that both Nath and Chaturvedi have conveyed to the leadership that Scindia should be named the CM candidate. Interestingly, Digvijaya is not keen on the job. His energies are instead focussed on establishing his son Jaywardhan, a Youth Congress leader, who is planning to contest from the family’s pocket borough of Raghogarh.

Digvijaya evokes strong reactions from both the cadres as well as the general public. Some hail him as a saviour while others detest him. Some party workers believe if he addresses a rally, it’s enough to ensure that the party will lose a few thousand votes. Of course, this could pass for the kind of vicious sniping and infighting that is dragging the Congress down.

In February 2011, when Ratnesh Solomon, a five-term Congress MLA from Jabera, passed away, it was decided to field his daughter Tanya in the bypoll. The party was sure of an outright win as Tanya was known to the people as a hard-working doctor. Considering the anti-Congress mood at the Centre, some leaders requested Digvijaya to resist campaigning as they felt it would help the BJP. Regardless, he hit the campaign trail on the last day, and Tanya lost by 11,000 votes. To this day, a sizeable section of the party blames Digvijaya for this defeat.

If the veterans are having trouble keeping the house in order, the young Turks don’t inspire much confidence either. For example, Ajay Singh hasn’t been able to capitalise on the legacy of his father, the late Arjun Singh. Though he is the Leader of the Opposition, his influence is restricted to his constituency in Churhat. He hails from Vindhya Pradesh, which sends 33 MLAs to the Assembly. Vindhya Pradesh used to be a Congress bastion, but the OBC vote, close to 40 percent here, has been poached by both the BJP and the BSP.

Similarly, Arun Yadav, who hails from Nimar division, has a poor track record. In 2008, the Congress managed to win just one out of the 22 seats in the division.

Political analysts feel that the Congress missed a trick by delaying the decision to name Scindia as the campaign committee chief. Now he is running against time.

As Scindia is tipped to be the chief ministerial candidate, the Congress is expected to win big in the Gwalior-Chambal division, which consists of 34 Assembly seats. It is also confident of doing well in the Bhopal division.`

The rampant infighting in the Congress should be music to the ears of the BJP. But its state chief Narendra Singh Tomar is hardly bothered. “Infighting or not, we have nothing to fear from the Congress,” he says. “We are going to win on the performance of the Chouhan government, which has done monumental work.”

He has reasons to be confident. Chouhan is a shrewd and crafty politician who has successfully changed the perception of the CM’s office. He is easily accessible; the image he has in rural areas is that of someone who has risen through the ranks. But the humble-looking Chouhan is definitely no pushover. He became the CM at the start of the third year of the BJP government by replacing Uma Bharti. Instead of allowing Gaur (who was displaced by Bharti) to turn a rebel, Chouhan persuaded him to join his Cabinet. Such amity is rare in Indian politics.
In sharp contrast to the Congress, Chouhan has kept his party on a tight leash. The way he dealt with state BJP chief Prabhat Jha, a confidant of RSS leader Suresh Soni, is illustrative of this. While Chouhan was a slow and steady operator, Jha was a man in a hurry. There were instances when Jha would directly call up state officials, including the DGP and the Chief Secretary. This created a rift between the party and the government and also ensured that the bureaucracy benefited from these differences.

When the question of giving Jha a second term came, Soni camped in Bhopal to ensure that the deal goes through. Everybody thought that the announcement of Jha’s name was a mere formality. But if sources are to be believed, Chouhan requested RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to intervene and get Lok Sabha MP Narendra Singh Tomar as the party chief. Until the last minute, Chouhan gave the impression that Jha was all set to get a second term but made sure that Tomar got the job instead.

Another advantage that Chouhan has over others is that he has not kept himself hostage to the BJP structure. He has managed to build a direct rapport with the masses instead of banking on the party. BJP leaders concede that rather than Chouhan being dependent on the BJP, it is the party that is dependent on the CM.

The problem for Chouhan is not his party bosses but his ministers. Thirteen of them face corruption allegations, while two have been removed. Then the case of former minister Raghavji, who was arrested following a sleaze CD scandal, has brought a bad name to the government. “These are mere allegations of corruption that can be levelled on anybody in this day and age,” says Tomar.

Further, corruption charges against the bureaucracy have dented the government’s image. In March 2011, Income Tax officials raided IAS couple Arvind Joshi and Tinu Joshi, both principal secretaries, and recovered unaccounted wealth to the tune of Rs 360 crore. Probes are pending against 55 IAS officers. Opposition leaders allege that Chouhan is to blame because he is too lenient on the bureaucracy.

IT raids on low-level officials have exposed the corrupt underbelly of the state administration. For example, a raid at the house of Raman Dhuldhoye, a clerk in the Regional Transport Office, yielded Rs 7 crore in cash as well as gold and silver. Officials also found that Arjun Das Lalwani, a clerk in the state electricity board, owned many shops and a shopping complex. It’s embarrassing for the Chouhan government that even clerks have amassed ill-gotten wealth to the tune of several crores.

“The BJP doesn’t want honest party members. It wants middlemen, contractors and all those who can mint money,” says Digvijaya. “I demand that the CM should get his assets and possessions verified because only then the people would know the extent of his corruption.”

Chouhan has been cautious of his image and has tried to balance the core values of Hindutva with secularism. Madhya Pradesh was the first state to ban cow slaughter. In fact, an amended law entails harsher punishment. He has got the anti- conversion Bill passed in the Assembly, and made surya namaskar mandatory in government schools. On the other hand, you would find Chouhan attending Iftar parties with a skull cap. He has also started special trains to Ajmer for pilgrims. Mass marriages for Hindu as well as Muslim girls take place simultaneously — all this makes him more acceptable to the minorities.

This time there is a possibility that the BJP may field Muslim candidates. It is interesting to note that there are around 35-40 seats where the Muslim population varies between 20-50 percent. As far as the communal situation in the state is concerned, there have been flare-ups, but no major riot has been reported since Chouhan took over.

Chouhan’s major achievement has been Madhya Pradesh’s record agriculture growth. If statistics are to be believed, the wheat production in 2011-12 was 85 lakh tonnes while the figure in 2002-03 was 2 lakh tonnes. In the social sector, Chouhan’s schemes have been so well received that even the Centre has adopted them. In every village, there is an ambulance available for pregnant women to be taken to the hospital. When a girl child attains the age of 21, the state government gives her Rs 1 lakh.

State government employees have benefited from Chouhan’s largesse. He has made their dearness allowance at par with that of Central government employees. He has raised the age limit to 40 for employees to apply for higher positions. He has also allowed the hiring of daily wagers by the state departments for administrative work, which has been a boon for several unemployed youth. He has increased the retirement age of the higher education teachers to 65 years and has also accepted the UGC recommendations for pay fixation.

But it’s not all good news. One of the pet peeves against Chouhan is that most of his announcements never take off. Since he came to power, he has announced 7,334 schemes, but 3,513 of them are reportedly stuck in red tape.

When it comes to crimes against women, MP tops the national charts with more than 4,000 incidents of sexual assault every year. Chouhan has deputed female police officers as nodal in-charge of every district. In principle, it’s a good idea, but the problem is that the person in-charge of Khandwa is posted 190 km away at Bhopal. This creates major jurisdiction issues and the local police are often unable to help the officer probing complaints.

Despite all the permutations and combinations, observers feel that much of the battle will be decided at the altar of ticket distribution. “It would be incorrect to say that there is no infighting in the Congress, but let us wait until ticket distribution,” says political analyst Abhilash Khandekar. The Congress has been let down by ticket distribution in the past two elections, but this time the party feels that it can do better with checks and balances.

Madhya Pradesh is essentially a two-party state. But with the entry of the SP and BSP, the weaker of the two major parties is getting hit. While Chouhan is on a charm offensive, the Congress is finding it difficult to quell the internal rebellion.

Once again, ticket distribution will hold the key for the Congress, along with Scindia’s charisma. It looks like the BJP is ahead with the Congress in hot pursuit. The measure of the Congress gain will depend on how quickly its leaders can resolve their differences.

Chhattisgarh: Will Raman Singh Score A Hat-Trick?
The Congress is a house divided, but the BJP’s bid for a third term may not be all that easy. Ever since Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 2000, the politics of the Congress party in the state has had an unmistakable imprint of ‘divided we stand’. For want of unity, the Congress lost the state in the 2003 Assembly election, and again in 2008. Now, the party could well lose the upcoming Assembly polls in November, again because of the divisions within its ranks. As a senior Congress leader put it, “It is not the BJP that wins Chhattisgarh, it is the Congress that loses.” Even BJP leaders admit this in private.

Within undivided Madhya Pradesh, the region that became the state of Chhattisgarh had always been a Congress bastion, boasting of stalwarts like Shyama Charan Shukla, three-time chief minister of MP, and his younger brother, Vidya Charan Shukla. Though the BJP and the RSS had a presence in Madhya Pradesh, the people of Chhattisgarh had almost always backed the Congress.

When the new state was formed, it was expected that VC Shukla would become the CM. But the Congress high command preferred Ajit Jogi, then an Arjun Singh protégé. The decision to appoint Jogi as the first CM of Chhattisgarh triggered political rivalries within the party that continue to this day. “Everybody was taken aback with the decision,” remembers an old-timer. “Not even a single cracker was burst.”

The tribal-dominated Bastar region, with 12 of the 90 Assembly constituencies in the state, is said to hold the key to power in Chhattisgarh. No party has captured power in the state without winning Bastar. The Congress had won 11 of the 12 Assembly seats in 1998 (in undivided Madhya Pradesh) and formed the first state government in 2000. When the BJP rode to power in 2003, it had won nine seats in the region. And in 2008, it was only one seat short of a clean sweep in Bastar.

No wonder Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi decided to launch his party’s election campaign in the state on 26 September not from Raipur, the capital, but a place 305 km away. Around 40,000 people attended his Adivasi Swabhiman Rally at Jagdalpur, the headquarters of Bastar district. The aim was to wrest Bastar from the BJP and present a united face before the party cadre.

In his speech, Rahul criticised the Raman Singh government for lack of development in Chhattisgarh, but not even once did he refer to the Naxalites. He did not even mention VC Shukla, who was killed along with several other state Congress leaders in the 25 May Naxal attack in Darbha valley, nor did he invite Shukla’s daughter Pratibha Pandey to the stage. But he did talk of Mahendra Karma, another Congress leader who was killed in the same attack. Karma’s family members were also present on the dais.

Though the rally was touted as reasonably successful, it didn’t help the Congress put up a united face. It was clear to the party workers that all the important state leaders were present at the rally only because of Rahul. And they had reasons to be sceptical. The problems of maintaining unity within the party had become clear just a day before the rally when Jogi’s name was found missing from the press invite. Though Jogi, just back from a trip to New Delhi, tried to downplay the omission in an interview with INN Live, the implication was not lost on his supporters. State Congress spokesperson Rajendra Tiwari had to resign following the fracas.

A day before Rahul’s rally, posters of Jogi were put up across Jagdalpur. Hundreds of Jogi’s supporters took out a motorcycle rally in the evening. Jogi, who had initially said that his party was hiring a chopper to fly him to Jagdalpur for Rahul’s rally, went there in a private chopper and sent the bill to the party. Even during the rally, Jogi’s supporters shouted slogans in favour of their leader until Jogi himself asked them to stop.

So, how bad is the situation for the Congress in Chhattisgarh? The party’s politics in the state revolves around Jogi, who tries to dominate it while other leaders try to outsmart him. Many party leaders say that as long as the Jogi factor persists, Raman Singh doesn’t have to worry too much about retaining power. Around eight months ago, a Congress leader had admitted to the existence of as many as nine factions within the state unit of the party.

At that time, state Congress chief Nandkumar Patel was perhaps the only ray of hope. He used to raise issues that affected the people of the state and was also able to get the warring factions on one platform. His Parivartan Yatra had even got the BJP worried. “Under Patel, the Congress seemed to have a sense of purpose,” says Giriraj Sharma, editor of Rajasthan Patrika. 

But Patel was killed along with Shukla and Karma in the 25 May Naxal attack that wiped out almost half the top leadership of the party. “The attack could have triggered a sympathy wave for the Congress, but that didn’t happen,” adds Sharma. Instead of uniting, the remaining party leadership got further factionalised. The mistrust was so deep-rooted that the party could not resume the hugely successful Parivartan Yatra despite announcing the dates twice.

Of course, Jogi is at the epicentre of the crisis that followed the Naxal attack. According to a Congress leader, over the years, Jogi has ensured that the party can come to power only under his leadership. After the Congress lost the 2008 Assembly polls, leaders such as Bhupesh Baghel and Dhanendra Sahu had complained to the party high command that Jogi was responsible for their defeat. Baghel had lost by more than 7,000 votes while four independent candidates got more than 5,000 votes. Sahu, the then state Congress chief, lost to his rival by less than 1,490 votes while five independent candidates got more than 5,000 votes. The defeats of Karma and Satyanarayan Sharma were also seen as the handiwork of the Jogi camp.

Again, this year, just a month after the Naxal attack, the Jogi faction backed a rebel candidate in the Bastar nagar panchayat polls, leading to the defeat of the Congress candidate. Just two months Assemago, the Congress veteran went around in a ‘Jogi Express’ with an open invitation to party leaders: “If you want to win elections, hop on to the Jogi Express.”

So, what is the secret of Jogi’s influence in the state? It is perhaps his sway over three crucial social groups, which together account for around 51 percent of the state’s electorate. The Satnamis (a Scheduled Caste group) comprise 16 percent, the tribals 32 percent and the Christians 3 percent. Jogi raised the hackles of his party by touring extensively in the nine Satnami-dominated Assembly constituencies during the anniversary of Mini Mata (a political icon of the Satnamis) and projecting rebel candidates. He told INN Live that he was merely acknowledging his supporters and the tour was completely apolitical. Yet, the tension between Jogi and his rivals escalated, with both factions meeting Rahul and others in the high command, and also submitting written complaints against each other.

With the central leadership’s intervention, the factions led by Jogi and MP Charan Das Mahant have now stopped criticising each other in public. The change of tone was evident in an interview that Jogi gave a day before Rahul’s Jagdalpur rally. Admitting that there were intra-party differences, he attributed it to the party’s democratic values. “We always fight until the tickets are distributed. I fight for my people, somebody else will fight for his people. It’s a big party, a democratic party, and everyone has a right to demand tickets,” he said. “This makes everyone think that not all is well with the Congress. But once the decision is taken and Sonia Gandhi puts her signature on it, then all the differences vanish and we get united under one umbrella: the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.”

Mahant, too, has gone on record that the Congress is extremely energised and united. But once the tape recorders are switched off, the Congress leaders sing a different tune. A senior leader says that the situation won’t change until the high command scuttles Jogi’s ambition of returning as CM and paving the way for his son to take over the reins.

The anti-Jogi camp alleges that people are ready to believe the worst about Jogi because of his past. They say that the Congress could not pin down the Raman Singh regime over the Naxal attack on its leaders because of the perception among the people that Jogi could have had a hand in the carnage. Had it been impossible to point fingers at Jogi, the Congress could have capitalised on the massacre to earn the sympathy of voters and ensure a landslide victory in the upcoming polls. “But in less than three months, people have forgotten about the worst political massacre in India,” says a Congress insider.

Jogi’s rivals also point to his involvement in an alleged attempt to bribe Baliram Kashyap, the former BJP MP from Bastar who died in 2011, and the alleged involvement of his son, Amit Jogi, in the Ram Avtar Singh Jaggi murder case. His supporters, on the other hand, talk about how Mahant had been removed as the state Congress president in 2008 because of inaction. They insist that no one can match up to Jogi’s stature in the state.

Indeed, the Jogi factor has become such an irritant that many in the party are more concerned about getting the central leadership to settle the issue once and for all, than in a victory in the Assembly polls. “For how long can they allow this kind of anarchy?” wonders a Congress functionary. The 2014 Lok Sabha election, however, is uppermost on the mind of the central leadership, and it needs to play its cards wisely. This will also influence the way it goes about tackling the Jogi factor.

chattisgarhOn the flip side, does the infighting within the Congress mean the BJP will have a smooth ride to a third term in power? Analysts say that though the BJP has an edge, it will be more of a 55-45 kind of fight. A marginal swing of votes and 4-5 seats changing hands could turn the result on its head. “It would be foolish to write off the Congress,” says Ruchir Garg, editor of Nai Duniya. “For both parties, the real battle will begin once the candidates are announced.”

The BJP’s biggest strength is Raman Singh’s personality. The fact that there are no direct corruption charges against him stands him in good stead. Though he has faced troubles in the past, he has always been able to nip them in the bud.

In his first term as CM, several BJP MLAs went to New Delhi to complain against him. They included Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar, Nand Kumar Sahay, Ramesh Bains and Karuna Shukla (the niece of Atal Bihari Vajpayee). But they couldn’t forge an anti-Raman Singh front. Sahay also raised the demand that the CM should be a tribal, but that didn’t cut ice with the central leadership.

After effectively dealing with dissent in his first term, Raman Singh emerged as a frontrunner among the new crop of BJP leaders at the national level along with Shivraj Singh Chouhan, thanks to a weak central leadership, says a senior party functionary. Today, there is little chance of a revolt against him.

Even when caught on the wrong foot, Raman Singh is known to be adept at thwarting his rival’s attempts to use that against him. For instance, a CD had surfaced earlier this year in which an accused in a 2006 bank scam was heard admitting during narco-analysis that he had paid Rs 1 crore to the CM. Yet, the Opposition couldn’t convert it into an election issue.

Analysts and senior party leaders concede that the biggest challenge before Raman Singh is anti-incumbency. The party has decided to replace several sitting MLAs with new candidates as the people are dissatisfied with their work. “This could be a political gamble for Raman Singh. On being denied tickets, these MLAs might end up working against the party’s interest,” says a senior BJP leader.

Winning the battle for Bastar is another challenge. The 2011 death of Baliram Kashyap, who represented Bastar in the Lok Sabha, was a huge loss for the BJP. To boost its chances in the region, the BJP has recently inducted Kamal Chandra Bhanj Deo, the 28-year-old grandson of the legendary Prabir Chandra Bhanj Deo, the erstwhile king of Bastar, who had been killed by the police in 1966 for leading a tribal revolt. However, Deo’s induction has not been welcomed by everyone. “At his induction ceremony,” says a party insider, “no one came forward when an announcement was made to garland him.” Senior BJP leaders think there will be a tough fight this time in at least five seats in Bastar, where the BJP holds 11 of the 12 seats.

As for rivalries within the state BJP, senior political analyst Ramesh Nayyar says that the party’s organisational discipline does not allow them to come out in the open. “Everybody knows that senior minister Brijmohan Agrawal and Raman Singh don’t see eye to eye but they are often seen together at rallies,” he says.

Nayyar believes that Raman Singh’s policies on development and social welfare have benefited large sections of the people. “Around 30 lakh families are beneficiaries of the subsidised rice scheme. There’s no way Rahul Gandhi can trounce him on issues like food security,” he says.

Agrees SK Sharma, chairman of the Urla Industries Association, Raipur. “There has been all-round development under Raman Singh. The administration is sympathetic to the cause of industries, though a lot still needs to be done in the terms of infrastructure development, such as electricity and good roads in the industrial belts.”

Surprisingly, despite the 25 May massacre and the continuing Naxal violence, the issue is nowhere on the campaign agenda of either the Congress or the BJP. Both Raman Singh and Rahul Gandhi have shied away from even mentioning it in their speeches. According to the BJP, the Naxals are not a factor during election time as sympathy for them exists only outside the state. Though the Naxals usually boycott elections, one cannot rule out the possibility of local cadres being involved in campaigning for one or the other party. Podiyam Linga, a Naxal arrested recently for the murder of BJP leader Shivdayal Tomar, told the media that he had campaigned for Bheema Mandavi, the BJP MLA from Dantewada, in the 2008 Assembly election. Mandavi, however, was quick to deny any association with Linga.

Besides the Congress and the BJP, there are also some smaller parties such as the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch that are desperate to make their presence felt in the Assembly polls.

Another significant player in Chhattisgarh are the OBCs, comprising the powerful Sahu community that has become more politically assertive in recent times. Though the official figure of their population in Chhattisgarh is 27 lakh, the community leaders claim they number around 55 lakh. They play a crucial role in deciding the election results in about 24 constituencies. Eleven MLAs in the current Assembly belong to this community. One of them is Nand Kumar Sahu, the BJP MLA from Raipur (Rural). “Though I am from the BJP, I also have to stand by my community,” says Sahu.

The community’s political significance can be gauged from the fact that leaders of all political parties attended the recently held Sahu Samaj Sammelan. The Sahu Samaj is demanding 27 percent reservation for OBCs instead of the current 14 percent. In a bid to woo the community’s voters, the BJP has formed a sub-committee led by Agriculture Minister Chandrashekhar Sahu to look into the matter.

No doubt Chhattisgarh will be a keenly fought contest. And if the Congress hopes to stop Raman Singh from scoring a hat-trick, it has to ensure that the ‘Jogi Express’ doesn’t derail it.
(With the inputs from Santosh Kumar in Bhopal and Mithilesh Mishra in Raipur)
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