The biggest surprise in Sunday’s assembly poll results came from Chhattisgarh where almost everyone was predicting a repeat government of Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress.
However, it seems there was a silent but strong anti-incumbency wave against the ‘powerful’ government. This, together with magic of prime minister Narendra Modi working unabated in Hindi heartland, ensured the undoing of the Congress in the tribal-dominated state.
Practically all opinion and exit polls had predicted a comfortable win for Congress. A few months ago, the BJP state leadership and the cadre were considered in total tatters and poorly equipped to take upon the Congress led by an aggressive Baghel. Also, the various welfare schemes of the Congress government aimed at farmers, rural people and women and its push to Hindutva projects seemed like a plus for the ruling party.
Even the initial counting trends on Sunday indicated so. However, the tables turned after a few rounds with the BJP leads crossing the majority mark of 46 in the 90-member assembly and adding several more. At 3 pm, the BJP leads/wins tally stood at 54 against 33 of Congress, sending shockwaves in the Congress camp in the state and stumping the political watchers in the country.
Seven ministers including deputy chief minister T.S. Singh Deo and home minister Tamradhwaj Sahu and state Congress president and member of parliament Deepak Baij were trailing. Speaker and Congress campaign committee chief Charandas Mahant, who was also trailing initially, however, gained a comfortable lead later.
Even chief minister Bhupesh Baghel remained locked in a neck and neck race against BJP’s MP Vijay Baghel for a few initial rounds but acquired a comfortable lead of over 10,000 votes at the time of filing of this report.
Most interesting trend was the trailing of two powerful ministers, Ravindra Choubey and Mohammad Akbar from Saja and Kawardha constituencies respectively. The BJP fielded Ishwar Sahu—father of a youth killed in communal riots—against Choubey while Vijay Sharma – who was made an accused in a communal flare up—was pitted against Akbar in Kawardha. Sharma was leading by over 20,000 votes at the time of filing of this report, while Sahu was leading by 3,889 votes.
Also, BJP was doing very well in the Bastar division where it lost all the 12 seats last time. Bastar also saw communal tension between Christian converted and other tribal people leading to violence in the run-up to the polls.
Home minister Amit Shah had time and again raised the issue of communal flare ups in the state and alleged that the Congress government was engaged in appeasement of the minority section.
Also, BJP promise of the Rs 1000 per month Mahtari Vandan scheme on the lines of Ladli Behna scheme for women in Madhya Pradesh, seemed to have worked in favour of the party.
Ex-chief minister Raman Singh, who recorded a massive victory in Rajnandgaon constituency, said that despite tall claims by Congress leaders, his prediction of Congress getting below 38 seats and BJP crossing 50 seats mark came true. He said that guarantees by PM Modi became a big factor and a double-engine government was about to be formed in the state. He also said that the Mahtari Vandan scheme impacted the women voters.
There was no comment from any of the Congress leaders yet.
Senior political analyst Rashid Kidwai, while talking to THE WEEK, attributed the surprise results in Chhattisgarh to an undercurrent in Hindi heartland in favour of Modi-led BJP that rode over the welfare measures of both Baghel government in Chhattisgarh and Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan.
However, a local political watcher, on condition of anonymity, told THE WEEK that there was strong anti-government sentiment in the state, but everyone, especially the voters, remained silent because of pressure from a 'powerful' government. He said that even the Congress workers were upset over the centralization of power by CM Baghel and the system being entirely run by officers of lower ranks. Dependence on these officers led to Baghel losing connection with the people on ground level and often those asking uncomfortable questions at the interaction programmes with the CM were harshly hushed down.
Senior political commentator Diwakar Muktibodh said that though apparently things looked in favour of Congress till the last, probably the failure of the party to implement the ambitious schemes fairly on the ground alienated the voters, apart from the BJP core agenda working in its favour in the state.