Exit polls have predicted a slight edge for the Congress in Chhattisgarh, where polling for the 90 Assembly seats is seen as a contest between the grand old party and the ruling BJP, with the alliance of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress hoping to make it a triangular contest.
While the BJP would be looking to form the government for a fourth consecutive term, the situation for Congress is vexing. In 2016, the party had expelled Ajit Jogi along with his son for anti-party activities. Now, Jogi, along with Mayawati’s BSP, has vowed to fight the Congress tooth and nail.
As much as the Congress would be relieved after the exit polls predictions started to pour, the fate for the state would be sealed by three important things: tribals, division in SC votes between Congress and Ajit Jogi, and finally Congress's ability to pull OBC votes from the BJP.
Importance of Tribal and SC Seats
During the 2013 elections in Chhattisgarh, the Congress won a majority of the tribal seats in north and south of the state, grabbing 18 of the 29 seats. This was eight more in comparison to 2008 when the part only won 10 tribal seats.
In 2008, BJP had won a majority of ST seats in these areas. That the Congress was able to wrest tribal seats from the BJP indicates that the party has made strong inroads in the tribal constituencies and could further gain more seats in these areas.
On the contrary, the BJP has succeeded in strengthening its hold on Scheduled Caste seats in Chhattisgarh. The party won9 out of 10 in the in 2013 against the 5 it won in 2008.
However, this increase in seats in the SC constituencies may not sustain this time around for the saffron party, thanks to the alliance between former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and Mayawati. Both have a considerable influence on the SC votes and are expected to dent the BJP's influence in these seats.
That’s why, perhaps, this alliance forced the BJP to change tack and splicing the voter categories by wooing the OBCs. In this election, the BJP gave 14 more tickets to people from the OBC community this election.
Marginal Gap in Vote Share and Victory Margins
Vote share of both the Congress and the BJP in the Chhattisgarh indicate the contest will be very close. In 2013, BJP's vote share was 41% while the Congress followed close behind with 40%.
The story was similar in 2008 also. BJP's vote share was 40% and Congress' was 39%. Further analysis of the election data show that since 2003, the gap in the vote share between the Congress and the BJP is narrowing fast.
In 2003, the BJP’s vote share margin was 2.5%, but a decade later, in 2013, it reduced to 0.75% – a clear indicator that the Congress is not that far behind.
The party is also fighting an anti-incumbency wave of 15 years. A mere 1% swing in vote share could call for curtains for the BJP.
The other deciding factor in Chhattisgarh could be the constituencies where the candidates won with a margin as low as 5%. In 2013, almost 31 constituencies were those were a victory margin as less as 5% was recorded. Other 25 constituencies recorded a victory margin between 5% and 10%.
What could tilt scales in Chhattisgarh would be Congress's ability to attract OBC votes in three divisions of Raipur, Durg, Bilaspur.
Jogi has been a polarising figure in the state politics. With former state CM out of the Congress, the party’s performance would largely depend on exploiting the OBC vs Dalit faultlines in its favour.
Done in conjunction with loan waiver announced for the farmers- a large section of which are from intermediary castes- may finally decide the arithmetic of the new Chhattisgarh assembly.