Why the Chhattisgarh polls could be an acid test for all future politics

Ajay Singh

File photo of Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh (PTI)

File photo of Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh (PTI)

As the most picturesque but turbulent region of Chhattisgarh goes to the poll, the turnout of voters and and the electorate’s mood would significantly determine the future contours of politics. Though a small pocket in the country, this mineral rich area holds key to the future.

The question arises: how come a small pocket be taken as microcosm of Indian politics? Of course in a diverse country like India, the electorate’s behaviour changes from constituency to constituency. But Chhattisgarh’s Dandakaranya region that largely comprises the bastions of radical left is different. Its beautiful hilly tracts of Vindhya region are not only filled with nature’s bounties but also contains rich spiritual heritage. However the abject poverty in which the aborigines (tribals) live is testimony of failure of civilisation.

Traditionally the area was considered to be the stronghold of the congress. Tribals’ alienation gradually began when they saw outrageous industrialisation in the region as detrimental to their interests. They lost forests and land as modernisation continues to take its toll on the region. The steel authority of India (SAIL) set up its plant and owned several mines of iron ores. Similarly, mining at large scale in the region not only disturbed the ecology but also pushed the aborigines on the margins.

The paradox of Dandakaranya triggered a deep social unrest which found readymade subversive political ideology- Maoism. In the adjacent Andhra Pradesh, this ideology had already found its base and expansion was a logically corollary. At the same time, the region also became a contesting place for religious radicalism. The Christian missionaries continued their proselytizing mission by tapping into the tribals’ gullibility. Of late the RSS mobilised its own unit- Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra- to neutralise the Christian influence and retain the tribals into a larger Hindutva fold.

Apparently the first round of polls in this region would see stratagem and subterfuges employed in politics at its peak to mobilise tribals. The fact that first round of poll is exclusively devoted to ensure peaceful voting in the region speaks volumes about the deep seated social unrest in the area. In this context, today’s turnout of voters would be important for many reasons. It would be indicative of which way political wind would blow.

PTI Photo

PTI Photo

Take for example the fact that Chhattisgarh has an uninterrupted reign of chief minister Raman Singh for the past 15 years. In a politically volatile region, this is not a mean achievement, yet there are plenty reasons for people to get weary of a political constancy. And in the past 15 years, the violence in the region has been escalating without any signs of abatement. There is little doubt that Raman Singh came out with experiments like “Salwa Judum” to counter the Maoist influence and found himself at the receiving end of criticism by NGOs and liberal intelligentsia.

With the BJP at the Centre, the operation against the Maoists in the state entered a critical stage as trained forces started challenging well-entrenched Maoists deep inside the strongholds of Bastar, Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada, the areas which were inaccessible hitherto. This offensive coincided with large scale of development and infrastructure work undertaken by the Centre in the area to facilitate accessibility and bring marginalised people into the mainstream.

Perhaps for the first time the challenge of Maoist insurgency is being faced squarely together by the governments at the Centre and the state. Ideologically, both the governments are on the same wavelength with regard to insurrectionary radical left. This coordinated move has practically cornered Maoists whose front leaders are being eliminated successively. Unlike the past when human right activists and NGOs put up resistance to operation against insurgents, the new dispensation does not carry any such baggage and gives two hoots about the opinions of NGOs or intellectuals covertly favouring Maoists. The battle lines are clear this time and the governments are using all resources at its command to curb Maoism.

At the same time, the government has been offering various schemes to ameliorate the condition of the tribals. Apart from the state initiated scheme of providing rice and ration at cheap rate, the union government has been going out of its way to provide tribals accessibility to amenities like electricity, water and gas. There is a determined attempt to provide medical facilities at the local level to mitigate people’s plight. The fact these basic facilities are denied in this region for decades on end creates dissonance between people and the governance. In the past 15 years, Raman Singh seems to have survived by addressing these issues in his own way. Often he was handicapped by an unhelpful Centre during the UPA regime. But he cannot use this excuse as of now.

As people throng to booths, the turnout in pre-dominantly tribal region would determine the mood of a numerically strong economically and socially marginalised section of the rest parts of the country where assembly polls are scheduled. For instance if the government’s offensive against insurgents, its development schemes and pro-poor measures find resonance among voters, it would set the future trend and fly in face of those presaging doom for the NDA in future politics.

Though in terms of voting percentage, Raman Singh has been winning election by a slender margin for the past three times. Apparently the BJP and the Congress were often equally poised in the assembly elections with the BJP having a slight edge. This is indeed a precarious political situation for the ruling party which faces accumulation of anti-incumbency. However the alliance between Ajit Jogi and Mayawati and their emergence as third force is expected to upset calculation to the detriment more for the Congress than the BJP. Hence the polling in 18 seats of Chattisgarh would represent all cross-currents of Indian politics and could be taken rightfully as a sample for the state assembly polls and eventually the future politics.

- Ajay Singh, Editorial Director, Governance Now