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, cgwall.com, 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.