Jogi’s JCC-BSP alliance will cost the BJP at least as much as the Congress

Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh will divide the votes of both Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2018 legislative assembly elections. Sonu Mehta / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
Sudiep Shrivastava Translated from Hindi by Vishnu Sharma
19 November, 2018

Since the formation of Chhattisgarh in 2000, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have been neck and neck in each election. But in the 2018 legislative assembly elections—the first phase of polling for 18 seats took place on 12 November and the second phase for the rest of the 72 seats is scheduled for tomorrow—thereis a new entrant. Ajit Jogi, who claims to be from the Kanwar community, listed as a Scheduled Tribe,was the first chief minister of the state from the Congress between 2000 till 2003. Two years ago, Jogi left the Congress and established a new political party—the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh. In October, JCC formed an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, which the Communist Party of India joined not long after. The alliance is contesting all 90 seats in the state, with 55 seats for the JCC to, 33 for the BSP and 2 for the CPI.

The alliance is expected to impact the vote shares of the two national parties. While for 15 years the BJP’s Raman Singh has led the state government, the difference in the two parties’ vote shares in the state has always been around two percent. In the 2013 state assembly elections, this came down to 0.75 percent. Paradoxically, for each seat, the margin of between the winning candidate and the runner-up is high—whichever seat each candidate won, they won comfortably. Moreover, sitting MLAs lost their seats quite often—last year, 26 sitting MLAs of the Congress were unable to retain their seats. So while the vote-share difference is less, the real challenge for political parties in Chhattisgarh is to fight anti-incumbency.

In June 2018,, a Hindi news portal in Chhattisgarh, and the 4th Dimension Digital Studio, a private organisation, conducted an election opinion poll called Mood of Chhattisgarh. I lead the team that conducted this poll. With policy failures marring BJP’s ongoing tenure in the state, the state election first seemed likely to pivot in Congress’s favour—it has a stronghold on a few constituencies and is playing off the anti-incumbency sentiment. But after the JCC-BSP-CPI alliance was announced in mid-October, political commentators changed their forecast and predicted that the tie-up would cut the Congress’s votes. However, an understanding of the state’s communities, its history of anti-incumbency deciding electoral outcomes in some constituencies and a closer look at the seat distribution shows otherwise—the alliance is as much of a threat to the BJP as it is to the Congress, if not more.

The actions of the BJP-led central government have made Singh’s government vulnerable to losing votes to the alliance. Between 2003 and 2013, till the Congress was in power at the centre, the state government was able to successfully implement schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. In 2014, the BJP was elected to the centre and funds for these schemes were cut down. Then, demonetisation and the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax made the BJP’s core vote bank—the middle-class and the business class—furious.

The BJP has also not found favour with the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, which comprise 12 and 32 percent of the state’s population, respectively. In the past 15 years, development schemes have had negligible impact on their lives. The BJP’s attempts to dilute the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and its lack of action against increasing atrocities against minority communities has cost it the support of Dalits and Adivasis.

On the other hand, the JCC has the advantage of being helmed by Jogi. He enjoys a significant popularity among Scheduled Caste communities—some allege that this is because Jogi’s grandfather was Dalit and converted to Christianity—especially the influential Satnamis and others such as the Suryavanshi and the Ganda communities. Till he was a part of the Congress, Jogi assured for the party a sizeable vote bank in these communities, but neither party saw him as a candidate for chief minister. In 2016, Jogi’s son, Amit, was expelled from the Congress for carrying out “anti-party” activities. Consequently, Ajit Jogi also left the party and formed the JCC. The JCC knew that it will not be able to make a dent in the elections as a new, stand-alone party. To secure votes from Dalit communities and attract other minority communities as well, the JCC stitched an alliance with the BSP and the CPI.

The votes from these communities, which would otherwise have likely gone to the Congress, will now be split between the party and the alliance. Aware of the likelihood of this outcome, the Congress has been trying to break into voters from Other Backward Class communities, who have traditionally supported the BJP—the OBCs comprise more than 45 percent of the state’s population. Within the OBC communities, the Sahus are the most powerful, followed by the Kurmis and the Yadavs. For five years, the party has consistently organised agitations on farmers’ issues. This year, the two leaders driving Congress’s election campaign are also from OBC communities—Bhupesh Baghel, the president of the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee who hails from the Kurmi Community, and Tamradhwaj Sahu. Although Baghel’s image has been affected in urban areas—he was charged in relation to a case regarding the alleged circulation of a video of Rajesh Munat, the state public-works department’s minister —it remains intact among rural voters.

In around 10 assembly constituencies, the Congress has fielded candidates weaker in comparison to the alliance. For instance, in the Lormi constituency, the JCC-BSP alliance has given the ticket to Dharamjeet Singh who served as a Congress MLA for three tenures and was formerly the deputy speaker of the legislative assembly. The Congress has fielded Shatruhan “Sonu” Chandrakar, the vice president of the panchayat of Mungeli district, who has much lesser experience, against him. In Khairagarh, the Congress MLA is facing anti-incumbency and his opponent is a powerful feudal lord belonging to a tribal community.

For the state’s Dalit voters, the alliance has emerged as an alternative to the BJP. In around 8 seats, the alliance has strategically fielded candidates that share the caste or community of the BJP candidate, or belong to communities that generally vote for BJP.

In Bilha, the BJP’s state president Dharam Lal Kaushik is up against Siyaram Kaushik from the alliance. In Sakti and Baikunthpur, both have fielded candidates from the Sahu community, or the Rajwade community, also classified as OBC, respectively. In Patan, both have fielded Sahus who will be up against Congress’s Baghel, a Kurmi, but nevertheless a strong contender for the seat.

The BJP has fielded Devji Patel in Dharsiva, who says he is a Kurmi, against the JCP-BSP-CPI alliance’s Panna Lal Sahu. The latter can severely dent BJP’s vote bank as Sahus are more dominant in Dharsiva. During the BJP’s ticket distribution for Rajim, the Sahu community demanded the party field a candidate from their community. However, the party ended up giving the ticket to the constituency’s MLA Santosh Upadhyay again. The JCP-BSP-CPI alliance has strategically fielded Rohit Sahu in the constituency.

For the seat of Lailunga, reserved for Scheduled Tribe, both the BJP and the alliance have fielded Rathiyas, from a dominant tribal group. The Congress has fielded a candidate from the Sidar community, which is considered subordinate to the Rathiya community.

While these seats may cut the BJP’s votes, they can arithmetically not lead to alliance’s victory on the state-level—Dalit votes alone will not decide the fate of Chhattisgarh. In around 30 constituencies situated in the plains of Chhattisgarh, there are 15–30 percent voters from the Scheduled Caste communities. In these constituencies, votes of the OBCs and the general category will be decisive; the battle will mainly be between the Congress and BJP.

Although Congress leaders have accused Jogi of colluding with the BJP to cut their votes, the former might just get windfall gains. While Dalit voters are aggrieved by the BJP, the JCC-BSP-CPI alliance, is not a safe bet. On 7 November, five days before the first phase of polling, Guru Bal Das, a Satnami leader joined the Congress party, along with his family and many of his supporters. That he chose the Congress over the alliance speaks volumes about the tumultuous community dynamics of the state, and how these can impact its electoral outcome.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the JCC-BSP-CPI alliance will widen the vote share between the BJP and the Congress. This has been corrected to reflect that the alliance will impact the votes shares of both parties. The Caravan regrets the error.