First things first. Here are my predictions for the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections:
52-55 seats for the Congress party
32-35 seats for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)
Two seats for the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party)
One or two seats for the GGP (Gondwana Ganatantra Party)
One seat for the CPI (Communist Party of India)
Most of the exit polls for Chhattisgarh released by different media groups and polling organisations give an edge to the Congress. I agree that the Congress is winning, but allow me to now justify my prediction.
A Divided Congress and a United BJP
It needs to be acknowledged that the BJP has exceeded its own expectations in the state.
A month before the voting, even the most diehard supporters of the party would have predicted no more than 26 seats for it. Even I had written in this column that the party's usual hunger for electoral victory seems sated. With the voting behind us, the party should not be accused of over-confidence if it is expecting to triple the present number of seats to more than 40.
The reasons are not difficult to understand. The BJP fought as one unit, despite sitting MPs foisted from Delhi, despite the out-of-character late start and, despite the fact that many electioneering stalwarts were confined to their constituencies. This turned out to be a blessing since they consolidated their margins and this had a domino effect on the neighbouring constituencies, spread by the word-of-mouth.
The Congress was a house divided.
If there was no open rebellion, there was a definite undercurrent of non-cooperation, particularly in Surguja district. Party veterans who had been discarded sulked. There has also been some talk of sabotage.
The internal conflict between the pro and anti TS Singh Deo flanks will have to bear the burden of blame for any blink-and-miss if the Congress actually loses out on forming the government, in spite of a clear and viable public mandate before the polling.
The Congress was, throughout, in an unenviable position because of the rebels, as many as a dozen of them. Even if a few of them win, the party might then have to eat the humble pie by re-inducting them into the party and also the assembly. If the grapevine is to be believed, nearly 30 percent of the seats that the Congress would have won may be actually lost due to the rebels.
The few BJP rebels, on the other hand, were swiftly defanged and there was not even a whimper of protest.
Indeed, Baghel is His Party's Numero Uno in the State
The BJP’s Rs 12,000 annual largesse for every married woman appears more credible, doable, and attractive to the women of Chhattisgarh. The Congress’ omission of anything similar in the manifesto and the after-thought offer of Rs 15,000 may have become dubious.
What may go against a BJP sweep is Dr Raman Singh’s late resurrection, the confinement of the party’s bigwigs to their own constituencies, and the absence of any agitation by the party against the Congress. They were too dependent on the Modi magic, something that does not work anymore as effectively as before. But if they get the required numbers, it will be nothing short of a magnificent victory.
The vote clinchers for the Congress will definitely be the Rs 3,200 per quintal MSP (minimum support price) for rice, the farm loan waivers, and the indisputable rise of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as the party’s numero uno in the state.
His confident aggression against the BJP made him the most important protagonist in the state’s political firmament. And, frankly, even now, despite all the challenges, he is the most likely Congressman who will take oath as the next CM of Chhattisgarh.
The factors that may go against the Congress are the large number of non-performing MLAs, the non-cooperation of the Congress discards, particularly in Surguja, and the vote cutting parties that harm the grand old party more than the BJP.
A Word on 2024
Whichever way the wind blows and whoever forms the governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, there will be clarity regarding how the two national parties will approach the 2024 general elections.
The Modi factor for the BJP at the state level would be held in high relief. Even a 10 percent increase in the BJP tally attributed to Modi would cement the prime minister as a necessary and permanent campaigner for the party in state elections, no criticism brooked.
Then there is the role of regional satraps for the two national parties, that is, Baghel, Kamal Nath, and Ashok Gehlot for the Congress, and Dr Raman Singh, Shivraj Chouhan, and Vasundhara Raje for the BJP. Close calls in these elections will mean stronger satraps in the future, even in the general elections.
If the Congress wins in Madhya Bharat, Congressmen will be forced to choose between the Gandhi siblings as their main campaigner. If the Congress loses Chhattisgarh, soft Hindutva will no longer remain a milch cow for the party. It would mean the voters have seen through the Congress’ stratagem. The BJP would be restored as the sole and absolute owner of that platform.
Women voters have become a major votebank this election season. Party manifestos are dripping with programmes and announcements for them. On the other hand, close calls might wean off parties from wooing women for their votes. They might then become the mandatory but cosmetic mentions in all manifestos.
Caste census is also being bandied about as the new buzzword. These state elections will also determine if they remain a buzzword or become cuss words among the politically sentient.
Parting prediction for Chhattisgarh: If the Congress dips below 50 seats and the BJP crosses 36 seats, we have the strong possibility of the onset of Operation Lotus in Chhattisgarh, and subsequently of course, a BJP government led by Dr Raman Singh.
(Ashok Tomar is a political commentator based out of Chhattisgarh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)