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In this, the fourth of a five-part series analysing the recent Assembly election results in five States, Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, look at the verdict in Chhattisgarh. The field work for the post-election survey was coordinated by Baba Mayaram.
THE ASSEMBLY elections in Chhattisgarh invited media attention for all the wrong reasons. In the same manner, the verdict of these elections is likely to invite analysis of the wrong sort. In politics, nothing fails like failure, specially an electoral defeat. It will be no surprise if analysts start finding fault with everything that the Congress did or did not do in Chhattisgarh: its record in government, its choice of the Chief Minister, its electoral strategy, its choice of candidates, and everything else.
It is important, therefore, to note what the Congress defeat is like in Chhattisgarh. Unlike in Madhya Pradesh, you are not looking here at a massive wave of popular resentment. In a 90-member Assembly, the Bharatiya Janata Party managed to get a bare majority. It won 49 seats and polled 39 per cent of the votes.
The Congress secured 37 seats with 36 per cent of the votes. There was a significant "exchange" of seats in this election with both the major parties losing seats to each other. Of the 37 seats the Congress has won this time, 19 are those it had won last time, and it has snatched 15 seats from the BJP. Similarly, of the 49 seats the BJP has won this time, 20 are those won by it last time. In addition, it has snatched 27 seats from the Congress. It is a reversal of the 1998 Vidhan Sabha elections. Last time, the Congress had won 48 seats in this part of the then Madhya Pradesh, compared to 36 seats won by the BJP. But in terms of votes, the Congress had only a one percentage point edge over the BJP. The Congress had a very thin victory to defend. Eventually, there was a swing of 4.3 percentage points against the Congress that caused its defeat. But unlike even in Rajasthan, there has been no surge of popular support for the BJP. In fact, there has been a swing of 1.1 percentage points away from the BJP in these elections.
That gives us a clue to understanding this verdict. We should not be looking for reasons for the BJP's increasing popularity with the voters, for that did not actually happen. We should focus on where and why the Congress lost votes that did not go to the BJP. A quick look at the vote share picture brings out the first reason for the defeat of the Congress. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) did not win too many seats for themselves but successfully damaged the Congress' prospects. The NCP managed to win only a single seat but got 7 per cent of the votes. Of the 49 seats won by the BJP, in 12 seats the NCP's votes are higher than the BJP's victory margin vis-à-vis the Congress. The social profile of the NCP vote shows that its voters did not come only from the upper castes, as the Congress strategists had hoped. The NCP took a slice of votes from among the other backward classes (OBCs), adivasis and Muslims as well. It took only a negligible proportion of the traditional BJP votes, but a greater chunk of the Congress votes and floating votes that could have gone to the Congress. If the NCP had had done less damage to it that it has, the Congress could well have gone ahead of the BJP in terms of seats.
Contesting in 54 seats, the BSP polled 4.4 per cent of the votes and won two seats. The BSP's vote share was lower than it was last time, and there does seem to be some evidence on its part to help the Congress. Yet, its votes were quite significant in the Bilaspur region and cost the Congress six seats.
A look at the region-wise pattern of the verdict brings out the second big factor that cost the Congress this round of elections. Unlike in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress did not lose all over the State.
In fact, compared to the last elections it gained two seats in the plains, in an area that was expected to become the Waterloo for the Congress. Both the Congress and the BJP lost votes here to the NCP and the BSP, but the seats tally did not change very much. The northern area with a significant tribal population also did not see major damage being inflicted on the Congress. It lost five percentage points in terms of votes but only three seats. Ordinarily, the Congress would have hoped to make up for this loss in the southern tribal regions, comprising mostly the old district of Bastar, a Congress stronghold. And it is this region that proved to be Ajit Jogi's Waterloo.
Defying all expectations of a low turnout owing to the naxalite threat, the region voted heavily against the Congress. In term of votes, the Congress lost as much as 11 percentage points in this region, which cost it 10 seats. The BJP picked up these 10 seats. In the final analysis, these 10 seats made all the difference between a Congress victory and defeat. The alienation of the adivasis from the Congress can also be seen from the fact that the BJP won 24 of the 34 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, a gain of 13 seats compared to the previous elections. The social profile of the voting pattern as gathered by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in the post-election survey confirms this reading.
The BJP had a significant lead over the Congress among the upper castes and the OBCs. The Congress retained its traditional support base among Dalits and Muslims. The greatest surprise was the division of the adivasi vote. The survey suggests that 36 per cent of the adivasi voters each voted for the Congress and the BJP.
If you look at the voting patterns of the poor and the rich, the poor are still with the Congress. Among the very poor, 44 per cent voted for the Congress and only 30 per cent voted for the BJP. Furthermore, the BJP secured a substantial lead over the Congress as far as young voters were concerned. Among young voters, 44 per cent voted for the BJP and only 30 per cent for the Congress.
Both parties retained an overwhelming majority of their traditional voters. While the BJP retained 85 per cent of its traditional vote, the Congress retained 71 per cent. But what seems to have tilted the balance in the favour of the BJP is the shift of the floating vote. Of the total number of voters, 16 per cent were non-committed voters, and of these 38 per cent voted for the BJP.
But what about the Ajit Jogi Government and Mr. Jogi's own personality? The CSDS post-election survey confirms what many observers believed: the voters were not very unhappy with the developmental record of the Congress Government. As many as 57 per cent of the voters were satisfied with the work of the Congress Government. This is no doubt less than the rating of Sheila Dikshit's Government but certainly better than that of the Digvijay Singh Government in Madhya Pradesh.
The survey findings also indicate that unlike in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the voters were also happy about the state of various infrastructure facilities in the State. Large proportions of voters felt that the supply of drinking water and electricity and the condition of roads improved during the tenure of the Ajit Jogi Government. Yet this was not enough for them to vote enthusiastically for the Congress.
Clearly, this unusual behaviour on the part of the voters has something to do with Mr. Jogi's personality and the style associated with him. Although he led all his rivals in the overall ratings for the Chief Minister's position, all was not well with him.
The findings of the survey suggest that 60 per cent of the voters in Chhattisgarh regarded the Congress Government as having been corrupt. This negative image cuts across party lines. Even among the Congress voters, 37 per cent considered the government to have been corrupt. Besides, 39 per cent of the voters believed the allegation that Mr. Jogi had obtained a false certificate as his being an adivasi. On the other hand, only 16 per cent disbelieved this allegation and the rest did not express any opinion on this matter.
Perhaps this is why the Congress could not benefit from the Dilip Singh Judev scandal. The popular opinion about the allegations against Mr. Judev, the BJP leader and former Union Minister, was equally divided. But the whole affair does not seem to have caused any major change with regard to the people's voting intentions. The Congress also failed to benefit from the formation of the State. There was an overwhelming 86 per cent support for the formation of the new State, but 43 per cent of the voters gave credit to the BJP for this. Only 30 per cent mentioned the Congress in this regard.
The Chhattisgarh results are in a sense a repeat of the popular verdict in Uttaranchal in 2002: the Government inherited by the new State was thrown out in the very first elections, that saw a considerable fragmentation of votes. But there was a difference here. This was an election that the Congress, which was the ruling party, could have won.
Timely attention to any one of the three factors mentioned above, such as the vote division, the adivasi factor and Mr. Jogi's image, would have been enough to turn this defeat into a victory for the Congress. Political analysts would have been busy writing a very different story then.
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