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Faction feud costs Cong in close fight

Raipur, Dec. 8: For most of the day, Chhattisgarh was not a place for people with weak hearts.

In the end, Raipur’s throne went back to Raman Singh for the third time in a row but till late afternoon, it would have taken a brave man to predict the winner as the trends swung back and forth.

The Congress and BJP party offices were almost deserted till 2pm. Then the supporters of former chief minister Ajit Jogi began bursting crackers when initial trends suggested the Congress was ahead.

But around 4pm, the mood changed and the BJP office came alive. Chief minister Raman Singh emerged from his home, smiling and declaring “a victory for the people”.

The Congress was up against not only a strong rival but also a divided leadership whose factions wouldn’t mend fences even after Maoists wiped out many of the state Congress’s top-rung leaders a few months ago.

One of the camps was led by Jogi, the other housed all the remaining senior leaders who had escaped the May massacre.

In contrast, the BJP rebels who left the party and contested the polls seem not to have substantially hurt Raman’s prospects. Nor did the newly floated front, Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch.

Both the Congress and the BJP suffered reversals in their strongholds. About 40 sitting MLAs lost; of them 27 were from the Congress. That offset the defeats of nearly half-a-dozen BJP ministers. Two other ministers scraped through.

The BJP rides back to power with a razor-thin margin of less than 1 per cent votes, initial data available with the state election commission suggest.

With a tad over 41 per cent of the votes polled, the BJP has won 49 seats in a House of 90, one less than its 2008 tally. The Congress, with a little more than 40 per cent votes, has bagged 39 seats to raise its kitty by one. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and an Independent (actually a BJP rebel) won one seat each.

Bastion switch

Although the final tally looks almost like a playback from the previous two elections, there’s an intriguing subtext: the rivals have traded strongholds.

As the Congress stormed the BJP’s tribal citadel in the south and north — Bastar and Sarguja — it gave up ground on the Other Backward Class-dominated plains at the centre, where it was once invincible but which it seemed to have taken for granted this time.

“The Congress has been undone by its excessive focus on regaining the tribal vote. Perhaps a few erroneous choices of candidate worsened the situation,” a party insider said.

The first round of polling, for 18 seats in the Bastar region and Rajnandgaon district, took place on November 11. The BJP had won 15 of these seats and the Congress 3 in 2008; this time the Congress won 12 and the BJP 6.

Eight days later, the second phase of polling for 72 seats took place. The BJP and the Congress held 35 of these seats each. This time the BJP won 43 and the Congress 27.

Over 10 per cent of the votes have gone to Independents and the smaller parties, while the BSP has retained its vote share of a little over 4 per cent. Around 3 per cent of voters chose the “None of the Above” (NOTA) option.

Sabotage hint

Jogi, who has consolidated his position with gains in home district Bilaspur and the tribal areas of Sarguja and Bastar, said: “We will play the role of an effective, strong, and constructive Opposition.”

His wife Renu and son Amit have won their seats in Bilaspur.

State Congress president Charandas Mahant took “full responsibility for the defeat” but suggested “someone within the party spoiled our chances” in what seemed an allusion to Jogi.

“We will analyse why 27 of our sitting MLAs lost,” Mahant said.

Some of the defeats appeared inexplicable. For instance, the Congress had never lost Patthalgaon before but six-time MLA Rampukar Singh, who would have been a contender for chief minister had the Congress won the election, lost this time.

Mahasamund, a district where the Congress had never lost, saw the party lose all the three seats.

Mahant has left for New Delhi with party veteran Motilal Vora and central observer B.K. Hariprasad to explain the defeat to the high command.

Selective sympathy

A “sympathy factor” helped some of the family members of the Congress leaders killed in the Maoist carnage.

Slain state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel’s son Umesh won from Kharsiya by 39,000 votes. Devti Karma, widow of Salwa Judum hero Mahendra Karma, won from Dantewada.

But Alka Mudaliar, widow of Udai Mudaliar, lost by a huge margin to Raman Singh in Rajnandgaon; and Anita Sharma, widow of Yogendra Sharma, lost in Dharsiva by 150 votes.

Among the big losers from the BJP is home minister Nankiram Kanwar, women and child welfare minister Lata Usendi, and agriculture minister Chandrashekhar Sahu.