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Bastar holds the key to Congress fortunes

Parikshit Joshi in Raipur | November 28, 2003 14:08 IST

Does the tribal belt of Bastar hold the key to the outcome of the crucial maiden assembly election in Chhattisgarh?

Past record shows that Bastar has been a Congress bastion. The Ajit Jogi government would be banking on this region to maintain a lead in the election to 90-member assembly on December 1.

In the 1998 polls, Congress had in its kitty all the 12 seats offered by three districts of Bastar -- Bastar, Dantewada and Kanker.

The importance of the region could be gauged by the thin margin of victory of Congress, with a mere margin of 0.59 votes over its main opposition BJP in the 1998 polls in the undivided Madhya Pradesh.

Scattered villages in the region and threats by Naxalite groups could be a nightmare for any political party to campaign in the tribal region.

And here Jogi, who claims to know half a dozen tribal dialects unlike his political opponents, could hold a distinct advantage. Jogi can fluently converse in Chhattisgarhi and Surgujia among other dialects.

The three districts of Bastar region can surely tilt the balance in a close contest and it must cause worry in the BJP camp.

Besides this the Congress is said to have a good backing among the backward classes of the State. Scheduled Tribes comprise 34 per cent of Chhattisgarh's population while that of Scheduled Castes is 12 per cent. To break into the traditional Congress votebank, the BJP is making all out efforts to reach in the tribal areas, party sources said.

The BJP is also concentrating on urban divisions of Raipur and Bilaspur to counter the Congress. The Congress had maintained an upper hand in these regions in the past election.

The BJP's tally from Bilaspur and Raipur divisions in the 1998 polls is 13 and 10 seats respectively as against the 23 and 27 of the Congress. The BJP is hoping to make its presence felt in Bilaspur, Raigarh and Korba districts of Bilaspur.

While the Congress is sitting pretty in Jashpur, Sarguja, Koriya and Janjhgiri districts of the region, it is also reportedly comfortable in Raipur division, Mahasamund, Dhamtari and Kawardha.

It is locked in a close contest with BJP in the remaining districts of Durg, Rajnandgaon and Raipur.

But the NCP's decision to contest all the 90 seats could rock the Congress' applecart. NCP may not be able to win in a big way but Congress insiders admit that presence of NCP nominees can affect Congress.

To make the matters worse for the Congress, BSP, which had won three seats in the past elections and was second in 20 others, is contesting nearly 50 seats, mostly targeting its backward caste votebank, political observers say.

The Left Front, which has influence in certain tribal pockets and the Naxalite-affected regions of Bastar can also make triangular contests interesting at a few seats.

One thing that could lift the spirits of BJP, which was hit hard after the cash-on-tape controversy, is the fact that most parties like the NCP, BSP and the Left Front could cut into the Congress votebank.

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