Chhattisgarh could well have been a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP, and both parties would have been feeling a lot more comfortable. But spoiling everyone’s party is Ajit Jogi, who even after quitting the Congress, was never negligible, and after joining hands with Mayawati, has become a threat.
The seat tally of Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh and Mayawati’s BSP will likely not be in double digits. But in a state where the vote-share difference between the Congress and the BJP has always been narrow, those seats could make all the difference.
Jogi’s appeal is multi-pronged: A former IPS and IAS officer, he was the first CM of Chhattisgarh, and many still look at him as a man who can bring development to the state. He is a tribal (he had to fight a court battle to prove this), and many claim his grandfather was a Dalit who embraced Christianity. This makes him popular among the tribals, Dalits, and religious minorities. His own personality — he has been a paraplegic since an accident in 2004, but has not let it hinder his public life — adds to his popularity.
Joining hands with Mayawati has raised hopes of him winning over Dalit votes. Though the BSP won only one seat in the 2013 Assembly polls, its vote share was not insignificant.
The JCC-BSP have played their cards well, fielding candidates after calculating the caste arithmetic of each constituency.
Their manifesto makes attractive promises: farm loan waiver, increase the Minimum Support Price of paddy to Rs 2,500 per quintal (something Congress has also promised), ending “outsourcing” of work in government jobs and giving “reservation” to local youth for them, free electricity to agriculture pumps with a capacity of up to 5 horsepower.
These promises were made on a stamp paper — Jogi says this is a guarantee that he will fulfill them, or he can go to jail.
Jogi was left a paraplegic after an accident in 2004, but that has never held him back. (Photo: Ajit Jogi/Facebook)
Populism is likely to pay in Chhattisgarh: the incumbent CM Raman Singh is called ‘chawal wale baba’ because of his government’s rice subsidy scheme.
At first glance, it would appear that JCC-BSP will harm Congress more, as Dalits, Tribals and minorities tend to vote for it. However, Dalits in the last election had backed the BJP, and some of these votes could now migrate to the new alliance. Also, in several seats, the alliance had fielded candidates who belonged to the caste/community of the BJP candidate.
Congress, on its part, has been bravely claiming that Jogi would work as a saboteur within the party, and his new alliance has “exposed” that he is the BJP’s B team.
Every vote the JCC-BSP win will harm the two national parties, locked in a close contest. Adding to the uncertainty is Jogi’s own unpredictability — in case of a hung verdict, no one knows which way he might choose to turn.