Out of the three states in the Hindi heartland that went to the polls, it was in Chhattisgarh that the Congress scored its most decisive and convincing victory ousting the Raman Singh-led BJP government after 15 long years. Unlike neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress only just about managed to dislodge the three-term BJP government from power, the verdict in favour of the Congress in Chhattisgarh was unambiguous.
The party secured a three-fourths majority winning 68 of the 90 seats on offer. The BJP, which got just 0.7 per cent more votes than the Congress in 2013, trailed this time by 10 percentage points. The Congress ended up securing 43 per cent votes and the BJP 33 per cent. What is remarkable is that the Congress was able to achieve this unexpected win despite the perception that its state leadership was weak, and despite the fact that the party was facing a stiff challenge not just from a firmly entrenched BJP but from someone who once used to be part of it: ex-chief minister Ajit Jogi. Jogi’s new party, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC[J]) had entered into an alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and was expected to damage the Congress more than the BJP by attracting a chunk of the Dalit and adivasi voters of the Congress. However, the damage to the Congress in this triangular fight was limited. If anything, the JCC-BSP alliance, which secured 11.5 per cent votes seems to have ended up hurting the BJP far more.
In 56 assembly constituencies, the Congress’s victory margin was more than 10,000 votes whereas there were only nine seats where the BJP won with this huge margin.
Dalits and adivasis were found to be most dissatisfied, which explains the Congress’s higher vote share in SC and ST constituencies.
Higher turnout also seems to have had an impact on the Congress’s victory. Out of 90 assembly constituencies, there were 39 constituencies where the voter turnout was more than 80 per cent and in those constituencies, the Congress has secured a higher vote share than its average vote share. In the 36 seats where the turnout was between 70-80 per cent, the Congress secured 41.4 per cent votes and in seats where turnout was lower than 70 per cent, the Congress’s vote share was 40.9 per cent. Thus there is a clear pattern of higher support for Congress as turnout increases. On the other hand, the pattern is the complete opposite with respect to the BJP. The BJP’s performance in terms of votes secured was slightly better in the constituencies where the turnout was low.
The disaggregated analysis of the result also shows that the electoral wave was in favour of the Congress in all types of constituencies—the ones reserved for scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) as well as general constituencies, but its performance in SC and ST reserved constituencies was spectacular. It won seven of the total 10 SC reserved seats and 25 of the 29 ST reserved seats. The party saw an increase of six seats in SC and seven seats in ST constituencies from the 2013 elections. Even in terms of vote share, the maximum gain came in ST constituencies where it increased its vote share by 11 per cent from previous assembly elections.
The regional pattern of party performance shows that the Congress swept the southern region by winning 12 of the total 13 seats. The remaining one seat was bagged by the BJP. The only region where the Congress saw a decline in its vote share despite winning six more seats than the elections in 2013 was the northern region. Here the party saw a decrease of three per cent in its vote share. Although the BJP saw a decline in seat share across all regions, it was reduced to a mere seven seats in both northern and central regions. The five seats that went to the JCC came from the northern and central regions where the party won three and two seats, respectively.
Though Lokniti’s post-poll survey in Chhattisgarh had grossly under-captured the strength of the Congress in terms of votes and popularity, a deeper probing of the data clearly indicates that there was a huge anti-incumbency sentiment in the state against the BJP-led government and people were not willing to give another chance to the government (see Table 1).
Only a little more than half the voters in the state were satisfied with the work done by Raman Singh’s government. While this does not seem to be a bad figure per se, our past experience tells us that governments that got re-elected have enjoyed satisfaction levels that usually tend to be much higher than this, at 65 per cent or more. Moreover, when compared with the satisfaction rating recorded in the 2013 election survey in the state, the satisfaction level now represents a drastic decline (see Table 2). Back then, over four-fifths of voters had expressed their satisfaction with the Raman Singh government’s performance. Dalits and adivasis were found to be most dissatisfied of all communities, which perhaps explains the Congress’s higher than average vote share in SC and ST constituencies. Significantly, Dalits and adivasis were not the only ones dissatisfied with the performance of the government. About two in every five elite castes and OBCs, particularly the Sahus—who have been the strong supporters of the BJP in Chhattisgarh in the past—were also unhappy with the BJP. Such a stunning Congress victory could not have been possible without support from OBCs who form about 45 per cent of the state’s population.
In all, about half the voters did not want to give the government another chance. In 2013, this proportion had been much less at about one-third.
Discontent among farmers was also a reason for the BJP’s debacle in the state. A strong anti-incumbency sentiment was seen among the farmers who reported that they rarely or never got the right price for their crops. The farmers’ resentment against the BJP was taken as an election issue and Rahul Gandhi spoke about it at his rallies in the state. He lured them by promising them a loan waiver if the Congress was voted to power. Nearly three out of five farmers, who said that they did not get the right price for their crops, were not willing to give another chance to the BJP.
(Jyoti Mishra and Vibha Attri are researchers at Lokniti-CSDS. Shamshad Ansari is the state coordinator of Lokniti in Chhattisgarh.)