OPINION: Can Raman Singh beat anti-incumbency this time around too?

Ajay Singh

File photo of Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh. (PTI Photo)

File photo of Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh. (PTI Photo)

With 72 assembly seats going to polls in Chhattisgarh, it will bring closure to electioneering in a state riven by Maoist insurgency and social cleavages. Chhattisgarh is an important political bastion which the BJP would be as much keen to retain as the Congress would try to wrest.

The reason is obvious. Given the high concentration of mineral and natural resources in the state, the state is quite a critical link to the economic prosperity in the country. At the same time, it has always been an intense ground for ideological contest action between the BJP espousing Hindutva and the forces claiming to represent secular and progressive political impulse.

Whatever be the result, there is one discernible trend in the first phase of voting that people had overwhelmingly reposed faith in the democratic process. The large turnout in the first phase of the polls was apparently repudiation of Maoist’s dictum that “power flows through the barrel of the guns”. Despite the lurking shadow of guns and threat of violence, the impressive turnout is a cause of celebration. The brisk polling in the second phase in areas less affected by insurgency is also reaffirmation of people’s faith in democracy.

There is no doubt that an uninterrupted reign of 15 years by chief minister Raman Singh would be heavily weighed down by anti-incumbency factor. But Singh has proven to be in the past, a skillful politician who ducked this factor in the nick of the time. In 2013 assembly elections too, Singh was literally pushed into a tight corner from which he wiggled out his space and won the election by projecting polarising personality of Ajit Jogi to his advantage.

Ironically the Congress without Jogi would be new political entity to deal with. Apparently the Congress seems to have focused on winning over tribals by giving primacy to tribal leadership and desperately tried to neutralise the hostility of the urban voters by projecting a post-Jogi Congress leadership. Whether this gamble would succeed and garner votes is still in the realm of speculation. Yet there is no doubt that the strategy is politically sound.

On the other hand the alliance between Jogi and BSP chief Mayawati is a new factor whose influence on voters is too tricky to gauge. There is no doubt that the BSP attracts Dalit voters, its impact on tribals is quite marginal. Jogi who claims to represent tribals on account of his association the aborigines of the region is not particularly popular across the tribal society. His area of influence is limited to certain pockets. There is no doubt that the combination of Mayawati-Jogi would eat into votes of the Congress and the BJP.

Jashpur: Voters stand in a queue at a polling station to cast their votes for the 2nd phase of Assembly elections, at Kunkuri in Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh, Tuesday, Nov.20, 2018. (PTI)

Jashpur: Voters stand in a queue at a polling station to cast their votes for the 2nd phase of Assembly elections, at Kunkuri in Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh, Tuesday, Nov.20, 2018. (PTI)

Given the fact that the victory in Chhattisgarh is often determined by a swing of small percentage of votes, the outcome of the elections would be precariously poised. It can go either way. The BJP has tried to duck anti-incumbency by replacing sitting candidates who were unpopular. The party has been finding it vast organisational network assisted by the RSS’s various organs working for the welfare of Tribals as a great advantage over its rivals. Raman Singh is a shrewd strategist too and is known for keeping his ears rooted to the ground.

Irrespective of the outcome of the polls in the state, there is no doubt that the enthusiastic voting by people in this predominantly tribal state is a clear index of reaffirmation of their faith in the democratic process. Though the region is highly industrialised with workers from across the country settled in various parts of the state, the people’s rejection of pernicious ideology of Maoism to divide people on caste and ethnic line is quite palpable. In the second and final round of Chhattisgarh voting , this message seems to have gone home more than any other aspect of the electioneering.

- Ajay Singh, Editorial Director, Governance Now