Eyeing his fourth consecutive term as Chhatisgarh's Chief Minister, Raman Singh today said it is "good" that his predecessor Ajit Jogi has joined the fray to make it a three-way fight, even as he acknowledged this third force would also impact his party.
Mr Singh, however, added that Mr Jogi's party, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC), would impact the Congress' electoral prospects more than that of the BJP.
Acknowledging that Mr Jogi has also been a chief minister of the state, Mr Singh said the former Congress leader is recognised across the state.
"It is a good thing that his party is fighting election. It will not be a two-way fight (anymore). He will impact both BJP and Congress in this election but his impact will be more on Congress," he said.
Mr Jogi served as Chhattisgarh's first chief minister as a Congress leader from 2000 to 2003, after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh. For nearly 15 years since then, Mr Singh has been the chief minister, while Congress has been his main challenger in all three previous assembly elections.
Mr Jogi's party has allied with Maywati's Bahujan Samaj Party for the upcoming state elections, which will be held in two phases -- for 18 seats on November 12 and the remaining 72 on November 20.
The counting of votes for both the phases will be held on December 11.
Of the 90 assembly seats for which votes will be cast, 29 are reserved for tribals and 10 for Scheduled Castes. The assembly's total strength is 91, including one nominated member.
Besides the Maoist issue, caste equations are also expected to play a major role in the state polls.
Mr Singh said he is "caste neutral" with acceptability across difference castes. He said his own caste, thakurs, accounts for hardly 0.5 per cent of the state population.
"Caste is not that a dominant factor in Chattisgarh as it may be in other states, but I am a caste-neutral person and I am acceptable to all the castes across the state," said Mr Singh.
Mr Singh said the BJP's biggest assets in the state are its organisational strength and a state-wide presence. "Elections here are won and lost on the party's strength," he added.
"It is not easy to take on national parties and find candidates that can get few thousand votes," Mr Singh said, referring to Mr Jogi's party.
The last assembly election was the toughest one, when Congress leaders were killed in a Maoist attack in the Darbha valley, the Chhatisgarh Chief Minister said, adding that his government was questioned at that time.
In the 2013 elections, the BJP won 49 seats while the Congress got 39. The BSP got one seat.
The BSP had got 4.27 per cent vote share in 2013, which was lower than what it had got in 2008 and 2003.
Confident of the party's victory this time too, Mr Singh said there is a "pro-incumbency" wave in the state on the basis of the work his government has done in the agriculture sector and for effective functioning of public distribution system.
The anger for Maoists is still there is the Bastar region and it would be a priority to ensure peace in the region if voted to power again, Mr Singh said.