Even as it battles the ruling BJP’s “poaching prowess”, the Congress is hoping to leverage anti-incumbency sentiments and the rising agrarian crisis in its bid to oust the 15-year-old Raman Singh-led government in Chhattisgarh, in the two-phased elections to the 90-member assembly later this month.
Congress veteran and Leader of Opposition T.S. Singh Deo firmly believes Chhattisgarh is all set to end 15 years of the BJP’s “misrule and anti-people” policies.
“The agrarian crisis, exploitation of tribals and a downward spiraling economy with no jobs are the hallmarks of the Raman Singh government. Reeling under 15-years of misrule, the people, especially farmers and tribals, will vote the Congress to power in the state,” Singh Deo told IANS in an interview.
Widely considered as one of the party’s Chief Ministerial hopefuls, Singh Deo has been leading the Congress campaign in the state that promises complete waiver of farm loans and Rs 2,500 as minimum support price for paddy.
“Under the BJP, Chhattisgarh has consistently been among the top states to account for most number of farm suicides. Annually, more than 1,200 farmers and agriculture labourers end their lives. In fact, the government admitted in Parliament that there have been nearly 2,400 farm suicides between 2014-2016 in the state,” said Singh Deo, highlighting the deepening crisis in the agriculture sector in the state.
“Its the farmers and tribals who will vote Congress to power,” said the MLA from Ambikapur.
Notwithstanding Singh Deo’s assertions, the Congress is faced with a stiff challenge in the state which, for the first time, will witness a three-way poll battle with arch-rivals Congress and BJP wrestling it out with Mayawati’s BSP, which has aligned with the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and the CPI.
Still recovering from the snub by Mayawati, the Congress received a jolt when its state working president and prominent tribal face Ramdayal Uike joined the BJP. Soon after Uike switched loyalties, the BJP allegedly approached Chintamani Maharaj, the Congress MLA from Lundra, offering money and a ministerial berth to quit the party.
Since the 2013 Maoist attack that wiped out its top leadership, including then state unit chief Nand Kumar Patel and party veteran Vidya Charan Shukla, the Congress has been facing a leadership crunch that was further compounded in 2016 when Jogi quit to form his own outfit.
Adding to the problems, Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel has been charge-sheeted by the CBI for distributing a pornographic CD allegedly featuring a state minister. He was arrested in September and is now out on bail.
Singh Deo, however, asserted there is no leadership crunch and exuded confidence of the people putting their faith in the Congress.
While the Congress leadership, including President Rahul Gandhi, has refused to read much into Mayawati’s alliance with Jogi and the CPI, Singh Deo admitted the BJP’s “poaching prowess” is a big hurdle.
“The BJP is brazen in using money and muscle power in its bid to decimate the opposition. They have mastered the art of subverting the democratic process. It exposes their political bankruptcy,” he said, adding that it was good for the Congress to have lost an “opportunist” like Uike.
“Going by BJP’s way of fighting by by-hook-or-crook, but its the people who would give a befitting reply,” he said asserting the Congress has been able to reach out to farmers, tribals and the youth who have been the biggest victims of the BJP’s “misrule”.
Asked if the Mayawati-Jogi alliance was a threat to Congress’ plans on winning Dalit votes, Singh Deo asserted that both were insignificant players in the state.
“Compared to the Congress securing 40.3 per cent of the vote share and 39 seats in 2013, the BSP got only 4.27 per cent and could win only one seat. Our vote share difference with the BJP (41.04 per cent) was just 0.75 per cent. The people realise that it’s only the Congress which is the alternate and they will vote for us. The BSP-Jogi combine is only bidding to hurt our chances,” he said, asserting that the Congress will come to power with an absolute majority.
Hitting out at the BJP government over the rising Maoist violence, Singh Deo said that bringing the rebels into the mainstream through dialogue and appropriate policies was high on the Congress’ agenda.
“Like in other fields, the BJP government has been a complete failure in tackling left- wing extremism. For 15 years, the state has been deprived of any development and even basic amenities like water and roads. Raman Singh is only known for making promises and not fulfilling them. Dialogue with the Maoists and an effective surrender policy will be our way to tackle the issue,” said Singh Deo.
Polling to the 90-member assembly will be held on November 12 and November 20, with the first phase covering 18 seats, spread across the Maoist-affected districts of Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Sukma, Kondagaon, Kanker, Narayanpur and Rajnandgaon. The second phase will cover the remaining 72 seats.
The Congress has fielded a mix of youth and experience with prominent faces including Baghel, Singh Deo and senior leader Satyanarayan Sharma.
Among the main candidates in the first phase is Devati Karma, widow of former state minister Mahendra Karma and founder of the controversial anti-Maoist Salwa Judum militia.
Besides reaching out to the people at the grassroots, the Congress is actively running a digital campaign to appeal to both urban and rural voters.
Using social media to reach out to the youth, the party has also been targetting voters in the hinterland, particularity farmers and tribals.
“We have been running a campaign called the ’15 saal kayi sawaal’ (15 years, many questions) across the state, particularly in rural areas, highlighting how the Raman Singh government has paid only lip-service and all its promises to farmers have remained unfulfilled,” said Naresh Arora who is spearheading the digital campaign.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])