Chhattisgarh: Jogi-Mayawati alliance flatters to deceive

Contrary to the opinion of pollsters and poll pundits, the alliance appears to be receiving much less traction than anticipated on the ground

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Chandrashekhar

On paper, the alliance forged by Ajit Jogi’s three-month old Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) appears formidable. In a state with virtually 43 per cent of the population comprising Scheduled Castes (SCs) (11.6 per cent) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) (31.8 per cent), the alliance between Jogi, who claims himself to be a tribal which is disputed, and Mayawati could well harbour the ambition of gaining a majority on its own win sufficient number of seats to be able to bargain after the election.

The tantalising possibility has influenced both pundits and pollsters alike in their assessment. While a survey by Lokniti-CSDS projected the alliance garnering 15% of the votes, not enough to form a government but enough to allow the alliance to bargain, BJP leaders in the state also appear elated at the prospect of the alliance hurting the chances of the Congress, which has been the principal opposition party in the state since 2003 when it lost power. Indeed, Chief Minister Raman Singh told an interviewer that the Jogi-Mayawati alliance would potentially influence the outcome in 30 of the 90 Assembly constituencies.

On the flip side, in the last election, BJP had won 9 out of the 10 seats reserved for SCs here. INC had won just one. Therefore, if the alliance does dramatically well in these seats, it is more likely to hurt the BJP.

What is also working in favour of the Congress is the dramatic switch in favour of the party by Guru Baladas and his son, who are said to enjoy considerable following among the Satnamis, who constitute a strong group among the SCs. The Guru had supported the BJP in 2013, had campaigned extensively in a helicopter lent to him by the party and had in fact fielded 15 Satnami candidates, who chipped away at traditional Congress votes.

This time round, the Guru is campaigning for the Congress and despite BJP president Amit Shah calling on him, he has come out openly in support of the Congress and was seen at every rally addressed by Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

The return of Arvind Netam to the Congress fold has also bolstered the party’s prospects. Netam has been an acknowledged leader of the tribals and had been responsible for constitutional guarantees for tribals under the fifth and the sixth schedule. On paper at least, he appears to be a more formidable tribal leader than Ajit Jogi. True, Jogi was the first CM of the state but the former bureaucrat-turned-politician can scarcely compete with the connect that Netam has with tribal voters.

What is even more worrying for the alliance, not only its workers on the ground but even some of the candidates fielded by JCC have been deserting the party. The alliance already looks in disarray and by the time, the final round of polling takes place on November 20, it will not be surprising if it finds itself in tatters

BSP candidate from Saraypali surprised everyone by appearing at a public meeting addressed by state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel and joined the INC. The alliance had fielded Jamuna Devi in Dongargaon but she shocked BSP and joined the BJP. Local BSP leaders and workers appear to have been upset over the alliance with Jogi.

However, in several general seats like Khairagarh, Durg, Bhanupratappur, Takhtpur, Kota and Akaltara, the alliance has turned the traditionally bipolar contest into triangular contests. Which party it finally ends up damaging remains to be seen but the consensus is that it is not in a position to win them.

The highest number of seats won by BSP in the Assembly was just three, way back in 1998. Its tally had declined to two in 2008 and went further down to one in 2013. In terms of votes, however, BSP has been polling between four and six per cent of the votes and it does enjoy a large following in several parts of Bilaspur. Significantly, all the seats won by BSP in the state so far have been general seats.

Ajit Jogi’s daughter-in-law Richa Jogi has been fielded by the BSP from Akaltara even as Jogi himself and his wife Renu are contesting the election as JCC candidates. His son Amit Jogi, an outgoing MLA, however is not contesting this time.

Pollsters and pundits seem to have underestimated the high anti-incumbency undercurrents running in the state against the BJP government which has been in power for the last 15 years. Besides, Jogi’s own friendly relations with Raman Singh and his past conduct strengthen the suspicion on the ground that his real agenda is to help the BJP scrape through. JCC candidates are also struggling to communicate that they are not representing the ‘Congress’ but the ‘Janta Congress’.

All said and done, indications are there that the alliance has been grossly overestimated.

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