Investing considerable hope in winning a signficant number of the 39 seats that went to the polls on Friday, the Congress gameplan is resting on the calculation that the BJP, which won as many as 30 seats in this region, will be pitted against anti-incumbency. Aware of this handicap, the BJP is hoping that it will be able to offset the anti-incumbency factor after having changed as many as 18 of its sitting MLAs.
The Congress, led by the former chief minister Ajit Jogi, however, is posing a veritable challenge to incumbent Raman Singh. Instead of focussing on issues like Naxalism, which is a major problem in this region, the Congress has decided to go populist, promising to give rice at Rs 2 a kilo if it is voted to power. Violence did mar the first phase of polling as suspected naxalites set off two blasts in Maoist-infested Dantewada district killing one, but it is clear that bread and butter issues will prevail.
Incumbent chief minister Raman Singh, who has succeeded in becoming the focal point of the BJP campaign despite his lack of a tribal background, is certainly not giving up so easily. He is banking on his image as a doer while highlighting that it was his government which initiated the scheme of rice at Rs 3 a kilo for the poor.
Political circles here feel that the contest is a close one, given the absence of a discernible wave in favour of either the Congress or the BJP. The lack of a clear swing, in fact, also poses a tough challenge to the incumbent as well as opposition in other states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and J&K that will go to polls next. The Congress is hoping for a equal share of states, which would then give the UPA enough impetus to go to the Lok Sabha elections before May.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission said here that 55% of the electorate out of the 63 lakh which went to polls in the first round exercised their franchise. Polling in 27 assembly constituencies began at about 8 AM while it started at 7 AM in 12 seats in naxal-hit areasDantewada, Konta, Bijapur, Chitrakote, Narayanpur, Bhanupratappur, Antagarh, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Kanker. Electoral fortunes of 379 candidates including prominent leaderschief minister Raman Singh from Rajnandgaon, Leader of Opposition Mahendra Karma (Dantewada), Assembly Speaker Premprakash Pandey (Bhilai), sitting ministers Hemchand Yadav (Durg) and Lata Usendi (Kondagaon) was decided today. The rest 51 seats in the 90-member House in 8 districts will be going to polls on November 20.