Chhattisgarh first phase of polling: Confident Congress repeats MLAs

As Bastar and Rajnandgaon get ready for polling on Nov 12, people ask if Maoists will strike and reduce voter turnout or will the turnout be higher? A higher turnout will indicate BJP is in trouble


Yashwant Dhote

November 20 is the big day in Chhattisgarh when polling will be held in 72 of the 90 seats in the Assembly. Polling in the first phase on Monday, November 12, is confined to 18 seats in Maoist-affected districts of Bastar(12) and Rajnandgaon(6).

With Congress having won 12 of these 18 seats in the last election in 2013, and polling for which is being held on Monday, November 12, four questions are uppermost in everyone’s mind:

· Will Congress be able to retain the seats it won last time? The party has fielded most of the existing MLAs, who will have to contend with the ‘third force’ of CPI, Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress and Mayawati’s BSP for the first time in this election.

· What will be the turnout of voters? And if the turnout is low as compared to last time, who will it benefit?

· Will the first phase of polling be peaceful? In view of the renewed surge in violence by Maoists and their usual call for boycotting the poll, the Election Commission has requisitioned an overwhelming number of para-military forces. Will it prove to be adequate?

· Is the BJP in a position to make a significant dent in the Congress tally here in Bastar?

The fact that Congress has opted to repeat its winning candidates indicates a certain degree of confidence, say observers who believe that the party is poised to do reasonably well in the first phase. “It is possible that Congress may lose one or two seats in view of three-cornered contests, low turnout etc. but the loss, if any, in the first phase will not be significant,” says one of them.

The first phase will seal the fate of two other BJP ministers in Raman Singh’s ministry, forest minister Mahesh Gagra (Bijapur) and Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur)

The first phase will, however, witness two key contests. At Rajnandgaon chief minister Raman Singh is pitted against Karuna Shukla, a former BJP worker and niece of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The other key contest at Khairgarh is because of the presence of Devvrat Singh, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Khairgarh and the richest candidate in the fray with declared assets of ₹119 crore, who has been fielded by Ajit Jogi’s fledgeling Janata Congress. Singh’s presence makes the three-cornered contest here close and the outcome uncertain.

CPI candidate Manish Kunjam at Konta has also made the contest here three-cornered. Kunjam had hogged the headlines by assisting the Government in rescuing the Collector Alex Paul Menon, IAS, who had been abducted by the Maoists. Congress has fielded Kavasi Lakma here. Lakma is one of the few survivors of the Maoist ambush at Jiram Valley in 2013, which had wiped out the entire top leadership of the Congress.

Devti Karma, widow of Mahendra Karma killed in the Maoist attack of 2013, has again been fielded at Dantewada, which has witnessed several Maoist strikes of late in quick succession, in one of which a Doordarshan cameraman was killed and in another a bus was blown up, killing five people. Some observers believe the strikes may lead to low voter turnout, which in turn might affect the result.

The first phase will seal the fate of two other BJP ministers in Raman Singh’s ministry, forest minister Mahesh Gagra (Bijapur) and Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur).

Jagdalpur, the only general constituency in Bastar, will witness a direct contest between BJP’s Santosh Bafna and Rakhchand Jain from Congress.

Two other contests which will be eagerly watched are Kanker, where Congress has fielded a former IAS officer Shishupal Souri, and Bhanupratappur, where Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has put up Komal Upendi.

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Published: 11 Nov 2018, 5:30 PM