While Ajit Jogi party pulled some votes from Congress fold, Congress pulled more votes from BJP’s.
“Congress seems to be losing Chhattisgarh once again,” said the anchor on one of the prominent news channel waving his hands across the screen behind him. The exit poll numbers glowing on the screen stated what every pollster believed- Congress stands no chance in Chhattisgarh. There wasn’t even remote possibility. That was December 7. Little did they know, the same Chhattisgarh they struck off Congress’ game would be the first state to giving Congress reasons of celebrations four days later.
Jaws dropped, the numbers flipped and pollsters were left baffled when the numbers started rolling in on December 11. The early trends showed Congress taking a quick lead over the incumbent BJP. Many believed that by noon, the numbers would stagnate giving a clear picture. One of the pollsters sitting on the panel in another news channel’s discussion around election results, casually but rather confidently said, “These are initial numbers and it can change as the more rounds of counting get over.” He then went on to list the reasons why BJP would retain the state. Much to his surprise, the numbers in Congress’ favour only surged while the leads on BJP’s numbers tally plunged as the day proceeded. By 3 PM it was pretty clear that BJP which was ruling the state of Chhattisgarh for the past 15 years, had lost. Not only did the BJP lose the election but also performed poorly in terms of seat share.
The “expect the unexpected” scenario in Chhattisgarh brought some positive news to Congress camp. The Congress state unit which seemed to be staring at the defeat for the fourth consecutive term a few months ago, enthused by the astounding numbers went into celebratory mode.
As much as this victory throws a surprise, it also begs us many questions. How did BJP lose despite the state performing well on economic indicators under the Raman Singh government? How did Congress win proving the exit polls wrong? And lastly, didn’t the Ajit Jogi factor work? Well, let us explain what went wrong for BJP and what went right for Congress in Chhattisgarh one by one.
Anti-Incumbency against BJP:
When Chhattisgarh entered the phase of Election Campaigning, the BJP knew that it will have to battle the anti-incumbency of several years. Despite this realization, the Raman Singh government was quite sure of its victory in the state. The BJP wove its entire campaign around the goodwill of Dr Raman Singh, 66- a leader cut in the mould of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s era who enjoys a corruption-free and untainted image across party lines. So much so that even some of the Congress leaders behind the door accept that the party doesn’t have any leader of the stature of Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. Apart from Raman Singh’s personal goodwill, BJP also invoked Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s special connection with the state to woo the voters.
However, even these narratives were not able to overshadow the discontent among masses against the lowest-rung officers or the ‘Sarkari Babus’. The BJP suffered a major backlash from the tribal and Dalit voters. The amendment to the SC/ST acts provoked country-wide protests. According to a report by the government of India, at least 34% are Scheduled Tribes and 12% are Scheduled Castes. The tribal who constitute nearly 34% of the state’s population was clearly angry with the BJP because of land grab by the government for industrial purpose and the government’s failure to implement the PESA Act. The general feeling on the ground was, the benefits of the schemes introduced by the government never reached the masses.
The people wanted ‘Parivartan’ and it is the major reason why despite having Chhattisgarh’s stalwart leader on its side, BJP received a drubbing.
How did Congress win?
More people seemed shocked at Congress managing a crystal-clear majority rather than BJP failing and rightly so. Congress did not have any leader who matched up to Raman Singh’s stature, its entire leadership was wiped in a Naxal attack and Ajit Jogi who was considered master strategist had left the Congress fold to form his own party. These factors were expected to affect the elections results as anticipated in the exit polls results.
However, all the factors that were expected to go against Congress might have brought the party fortunes. Congress’ campaign wasn’t built around a single personality, rather was a combination of abilities of multi-rung leaders from across various communities. Putting foot on the ground and extensive door-to-door campaigning helped in networking with the masses. The farm loan waiver and MSP and employment generation seem to be the biggest drawer of masses to the Congress.
The Ajit Jogi Factor:
Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh and popular among the Satnami community left the Congress fold and established his own own party. In the run-up to Assembly election, his party even tied up with Mayawati’s BSP. This alliance was expected to hurt the Congress’ prospect in the state. However, his new party, Janata Congress ended up getting only five seats with 7.6% vote share.
This happened majorly because, instead of cutting Congress’ votes, Jogi’s party ensured that BJP’s voter base shifts to Congress. Apart from SC and ST, OBC’s are the dominant electoral community in Chhattisgarh comprising 50% of the population. OBC community includes Kurmis and Sahus which have had a traditional rivalry with the Satnami community. Over the years, the BJP garnered this OBC base while Ajit Jogi ensured Satnami community votes for Congress. But, the Jogi factor was also the reason why OBCs turned their back towards Congress. With Ajit Jogi now out of the Congress, Satnami votes went with Janata Congress, however, it led to significant OBC votes from BJP camp shifting to Congress.
If we look at the numbers, in the 2013 Assembly elections, Bharatiya Janata Party won 49 seats claiming the CM post while Indian National Congress won 39 seats. The difference of vote share between Congress and BJP was even less than 1%. This gap was easy to bridge for the Congress with Jogi out of the picture.
The vote shares clearly spell out the phenomenon. While Congress managed to increase its vote share by just 3% the seats it drew were more. On the other hand, BJP’s vote share dropped 33%. Which means, while Ajit Jogi’s party pulled some votes from Congress fold, Congress pulled more votes from BJP’s.
Well, now the real challenge in front of the Congress party is to choose a Chief Minister candidate.