Game spoilers : Sahus for BJP, Satnamis for Congress

Bastar, often described as the key to power in Chhattisgarh, did not hold as much significance this time. Despite winning 8 of the 12 seats in Bastar, the Congress could not come to power in the state

Among the five states that went to the polls, the position of the BJP was said to be the weakest in Chhattisgarh. As the results began pouring in, it seemed that the BJP and the Congress were neck and neck. For hours, no one was in a position to say anything with certainty. But as counting progressed, ‘Chawur Wale Baba’ (Baba who gives rice) Raman Singh’s magic began working and the BJP ended up winning 49 seats in the 90-member Vidhan Sabha, The Congress’ hopes of returning to power were dashed. It won just two seats more than the last time and its tally got stuck at 39. One seat went to an Independent and another was won by the BSP.

Congress’ edge lost

Bastar, often described as the key to power in Chhattisgarh, did not hold as much significance this time. Despite winning 8 of the 12 seats in Bastar, the Congress could not come to power in the state. In the 2008 polls, the BJP had annexed 11 of the 12 seats in Bastar. The last time the Congress could only win the Konta seat in Bastar. This time the Congress had concentrated its energies on Bastar. Its efforts bore fruits and it swept Bastar but it could not replicate its performance in other regions of the state. It could not win back the confidence of the Satnami Dalits in the plains and that was one of the reasons that kept it away from power. The X factor  was a new pre-election formation, the Satnam Sena led by Dalit priests. Reportedly supported by the BJP, the Sena fielded Satnami candidates in all key Dalit constituencies, thus eating into the Congress votes and allowing the BJP to come up the middle and win.

This time the Congress had worked harder in Chhattisgarh and its seats tally has also improved. Among the four states, the Congress is best placed in Chhattisgarh. There are many reasons for this. To begin with, the party gave tickets to better candidates. The various factions were given due weightage. Still, there was discontent in some constituencies. The Congress did not re-nominate 4 of its 39 MLAs. Of the 35 who were re-nominated, 27 lost. The son of Congress national treasurer Motilal Vora was given the Durg ticket despite losing from there thrice in a row. This time, Arun Vora managed to win and save his father’s reputation.

Because of Vora, the ticket due to Shivraj Usare, the Congress MLA from Manpur Mohla, was cancelled and an almost unknown woman Tej Kunwar Netam was made the candidate. In fact, she won, but unrest in the party was amply clear. To cut a long story short, the Congress did manage to get the tribals behind itself, but it alienated its traditional vote bank. It did not get any support from either the Satnamis or the Muslims. The Satnamis play a crucial role in ensuring power to any party. Barring the tribal seats, Satnamis are present in each of the assembly constituencies of the state;  out of the 90, there are 10 in which they have a direct bearing. In these areas, no election can be won without getting Satnamis on board. These include Mungeli, Mastoori, Nawagarh, Ahiwara, Dongargarh, Bilaigarh, Arang, Sarangarh, Saraipali and Pamgarh. This time the Congress could bag only one out of the ten seats.

Two top Muslim Congress MLAs, Muhammad Akbar and Badruddin Qureshi, lost despite being very active. The senior-most legislator Ram Pukar Singh and Bodh Ram Kanwar too had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. The leader of the opposition in the assembly Ravindra Chaubey suffered the most unexpected loss in the Bemetra district of Chhattisgarh. Amitesh Shukla, nephew of former undivided MP chief minister V C Shukla, also lost from the family’s stronghold of Rajim. All these Congress stalwarts lost from seats where the brand-new Satnam Sena contested.

BJP scrapes through

The BJP retained power but it seems the confidence of many of its supporter castes and tribes is shaken. The Sahu caste is a case in point. The OBCs constitute 27 per cent of the state population in Chhattisgarh.

The Sahus have emerged as the most organized among the OBCs. The members of this community are present in a sizeable number in 34 out of the 90 seats. And out of those, the results for 24 seats are directly decided by this community. According to the government figures, there are 27 lakh Sahu voters and it is around them that electoral equations are set in these 24 seats. The Sahu community has always supported the BJP but now because of a prominent woman leader of the BJP itself, it is maintaining a distance from the party, and this was quite visible in these assembly elections. Besides, when Late Tarachand Sahu left the BJP and formed a new party, the Sahu community moved away from the BJP. Despite the weakening of Tarachand Sahu’s Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch in these elections,  only two BJP Sahu candidates, Ramshila Sahu and Ashok Sahu, could register victories. Minister Chandra Shekhar Sahu tasted defeat.

Similarly, the return of the former assembly chairman Prem Prakash Pandey and former minister Ajay Chandrakar should initiate new power relations. Businessmen-turned-legislators have tightened their grip on the Chhattisgarh BJP. Besides powerful MLA Brijmohan Aggarwal, Amar Aggarwal, Roshan Lal Aggarwal, Santosh Bafna, Rajesh Moonat, Gauri Shankar Aggarwal, Labhchand Bafna, Vidya Ratan Bhasin, Srichand Sundrani and Shiv Ratan Sharma are among such MLAs.

The reality is that caste-based changes in the political equations in Chhattisgarh will not be restricted to the assembly election but they will acquire a larger pattern and will visibly impact the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. So there is no doubt that the changing caste-based equations can favour or upset the calculations of any of the parties. Who will gain and who will lose – and how much –remains to be seen.


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