Chhattisgarh Election Results 2023: Congress claimed a turnaround for the state under Bhupesh Baghel.
Chhattisgarh, a state the Congress considered bagged even before the counting started, unravelled by mid-afternoon today. Within an hour, it presented a picture of complete reversal, with the BJP pulling far ahead.
Exit polls, too, had predicted a Congress victory. An aggregate of nine exit polls indicated that the Congress may win 49 seats -- just above the majority mark of 46 -- while the BJP will bag only 38 seats. But today, at 7.30 pm, the BJP is ahead of 54 of the state's 90 seats -- 39 more than 2018 -- and the Congress on 35 seats, 33 down from five years ago.
What went wrong for the Congress, which claimed a turnaround for the state under Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, presents a picture that's complex.
The results make it clear that the party's biggest blow came in the tribal-dominated areas of the state that is home to a chunk of the country's tribal population.
Of the 90 assembly seats in tribal-dominated Bastar, the Congress won 35 seats, 33 down from 2018. The difference has been pocketed by the BJP, which upped its tally from 15 to 54.
The tribal anger has been brewing for almost three years, when in May 2021, four persons died in police firing during a protest in Sukma district, 46 people were injured and a pregnant woman died in the hospital.
The backlash came in time. As after the farmers' death in Mandsaur police firing, the farmer vote swung towards the Congress, the tribals turned to the BJP this time.
The tribals are also angry over the prices of minor forest produce like Tendu leaves. Unhappy with government prices, Chhattisgarh tribals took their tendu leaves to the open market. Tendu leaves or the "green gold" are the biggest source of income for tribals.
What helped was the BJP's grassroot campaign, which penetrated Maoist-dominated areas of Bastar that outsiders feared to tread. Then, days before the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sweetened the deal, launching a Rs 24,000 crore scheme for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups from neighbouring Jharkhand.
Along with tribals, the Congress has apparently alienated the business community as well with allegations of corruption.
Ahead of the election, a string of alleged corruption cases made headlines -- ones involving the coal levy commission, illegal liquor sales and kickbacks to rice millers in collusion with officials of the state marketing federation.
There was also the Mahadev betting app cases, where the name of the Chief Minister figured. Asim Das, an alleged cash courier, after being caught with 5.39 crore in cash, had apparently told the Enforcement Directorate investigators that he was carrying money sent from Dubai for Mr Baghel for use in elections.
The BJP, in contrast, had come up with a strong manifesto instead of a Chief Ministerial face, letting it speak for itself. The party, whose analysis after the 2018 defeat pinned the cause on a weak manifesto, made populist promises this time, titling it "Modi ki Guarantee 2023".
The promises included procurement of 21 quintals of paddy per acre at Rs 3,100 per quintal, annual financial assistance of Rs 12,000 to married women under the 'Mahtari Vandan Yojana', construction of 18 lakh houses under 'PM Awas Yojna', tendu leaf procurement at Rs 5,500 per standard sack and bonus of Rs 4,500 to leaf collectors and annual assistance of Rs 10,000 to landless farm labourers.