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Chattisgarh Election: How Crucial Are Tribal-Dominated Bastar And Surguja For Congress And BJP?

In the 2003 and 2018 elections, both parties had a big victory in the regions of Bastar and Surguja. At that time, the BJP had won 19 seats out of 26 while Congress got 25 out of 26.

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Voters show their Id cards standing in queue to cast their vote at polling booth. Chhattisgarh, 2013
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After the formation of Chattisgarh state, the first Assembly election took place in 2003. BJP won 50 out of 90 seats and formed the government with a full majority. However, Congress could only win 37 seats out of 63. After 15 years, history took a turn, and Congress came to power with a huge majority with 68 seats in the 2018 Assembly elections.BJP could only win 15 seats out of 49.

In the 2003 and 2018 elections, both parties had a big victory in the regions of Bastar and Surguja. At that time, the BJP had won 19 seats out of 26 while Congress got 25 out of 26.

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Bastar and Sarguja Divisions are considered to be the key to political power. According to statistics, the party that receives the maximum seats in the region forms the government with a majority. Both parties are trying their best to get that key to success in the elections.

Understanding through statistics

Chattisgarh is divided into five divisions. Bastar is on the south of Chattisgarh, while Sarguja is on its north, which is a tribal dominant region. Plain divisions of the state include Raipur, Bilaspur and Durg. Tribals constitute 32 per cent of the state population, and 29 seats have been reserved for them. Bastar and Sarguja have 26 seats, out of which 20 are reserved for the tribal, i.e., 11 at Bastar and 09 at Sarguja.

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In 2003, the BJP found the key to political power through both these regions. BJP had won 9 seats out of 12 at Bastar and 10 seats out of 14 at Sarguja. Notably, all the seats won by the BJP were reserved for tribals. BJP had won 25 out of 29 seats reserved for the tribals.

It was obvious the tribal voters were close to BJP and distant from Congress. BJP ruled for three continuous terms and was able to maintain its grip over the regions of Bastar and Sarguja. In 2008, BJP was able to win one more seat: 11 at Bastar and 09 at Sarguja. In 2013, though BJP’s grip on the tribal belt eased, but did not get weak. During the elections, the party could win only four seats at Bastar and seven seats at Sarguja. In 2008 and 2013, of the tribal reserved seats, the BJP won 19 and 12 seats, respectively. If we look at the vote percentage through the years, we will find that in 2003, the BJP was at 39.3 while Congress was at 36.7; in 2008, BJP was at 40.3 while  Congress was at 38.6; in 2013, BJP at 42.3 and Congress was at 41.6; and in 2018, while BJP came down to 33.6 per cent while Congress vote share increased to 43.9 per cent.

Will the Congress repeat its performance in the tribal belt?

The BJP retained most of the seats it had won in the tribal belt of Surguja and Bastar in 2003, till 2013. As a result, the BJP came to power for three consecutive terms by winning 50 seats in 2003, 50 in 2008, and 49 in 2013. The Congress got an unprecedented victory in the region in 2018 by winning 25 of the 26 seats. Congress won 25 tribal reserved seats. Now, the question is whether the Congress will be able to repeat its performance in the region of Surguja and Bastar in 2023.

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Senior journalist Alok Prakash Putul says, "Look, there is a difference between the tribals of Bastar and Surguja. Therefore, one can neither judge Bastar on the basis of Surguja nor Surguja on the basis of Bastar. However, one thing is clear: Congress has a lot of challenges in the region. In Bastar, the BJP is losing six seats, including that of Antagarh, Kondagaon, Jagdalpur and Dantewada. Similarly, in Surguja, it can lose 05 to 06 seats. There is a reason for this, from sitting Congress MLAs to anti-incumbency, MLAs being denied tickets and now their rebellious attitude. However, in Bastar, BJP has given tickets to those candidates who are very active in the region and are a stronger candidate than the Congress.”

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Bastar

Alok Prakash also says that in the recent few years, the BJP has made 'conversion' a big issue. Tribal votes will thus get divided. A major chunk of these voters will vote for BJP. The tribals of the state have been divided into three different categories - the first ones are those who neither consider themselves Hindus nor Christians; the second are those who believe in Hinduism; and lastly, the ones who follow Christianity. According to the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, there were 380 cases of attacks and harassment of Christians in the first three years of the Congress government. If experts are to be believed, Congress will not receive the full vote of the Christian tribal population. In such a situation, the tribal votes can go with other parties (non-BJP and Congress) in the election. According to the 2011 census, there are 4.90 lakh Christians out of the 2.55 crore population of the state.

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Poonam Masih, who is covering Bastar elections, says, “There are many Christian voters in the Assembly seats who have been voting for Congress. However, it appears that they will not be voting for Congress this time. They are very angry with Congress. This anger can be felt the most at Narayanpur. They will either vote for CPI candidate or the candidate of Aam Aadmi Party. BJP is more active in this region as compared to Congress. The Congress may also suffer losses on account of denying tickets to their MLAs.” Poonam Masih, too, feels that BJP can win six seats in the region.

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Sarguja

Congress has made many important decisions for farmers. Decisions such as loan waiver and purchase of paddy from farmers at the rate of 20 quintals per acre are included. In the last two weeks, Congress has made some big announcements in the state. The party is of the opinion that if they come to power, they will waive the loans of the farmers, provide houses to 17.5 lakh people; they will increase the amount of medical insurance to 10 lakhs from 5 lakhs. Labourers will be given an annual amount of 10 thousand instead of Rs 7000. Government schools and colleges will provide free education. Four thousand rupees will be given to tendu leaf collectors every year.

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Harsh Dubey, a political commentator, says that it is a fact that Congress has done some good work, but in Sarguja and Bastar areas, it will be tough for it to perform in the manner in which it performed in 2018.

Harsh Dubey says, “BJP is doing well at both Sarguja and Bastar this time. It has also to be seen that last time, Congress had won 14 seats at Sarguja. It does not seem plausible this time around. Last time, people had cast their votes for TS Singhdev as CM. People of this region want to see him as the CM. However, this did not happen. People were disappointed and Congress might lose votes on account of this.”

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Harsh further adds, “People are angry about the distribution of tickets and denying tickets to the sitting legislators. On the other hand, BJP has given tickets to strong contestants in this area. Two prominent tribal faces have been given tickets from here. Union Minister and Surguja Lok Sabha MP Renuka Singh is contesting from Bharatpur-Sonhat, while former minister and former Rajya Sabha MP Ramvichar Netam is contesting from Ramanujganj constituency. These might affect the elections and Congress might have to suffer losses. The rebel leaders of Congress might create a problem for the party.”

(translated by Kaveri Mishra)

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