We would have won sitting in our homes without doing any campaigning, if only this issue was let to develop the way it was naturally happening,” Ajit Jogi rued the lost opportunity by the Congress ahead of the 2013 Assembly elections. A marble statue of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi looked passively ahead as the former Chief Minister surrounded by his supporters at his Raipur residence interacted with this reporter.
That was five years back. The top Congress leadership had been eliminated in a Naxal attack in Bastar. The blame game was on—both within and outside the Congress. Jogi was still in the Congress, though no longer the first choice of the party leadership.
In 2018, the first CM of the state of Chhattisgarh is contesting his first elections outside the Congress fold. As such three critical issues may decide the outcome of the state polls and all three is some way or the other is linked to Jogi.
Jogi's influence in Chhattisgarh is broadly confined to the central district of Durg, Bhilai and Raipur which have substantial Dalit-Satnami population.
It is here that Jogi-BSP combine have the potential to damage the Congress party by splitting Satnami votes. Will this benefit the BJP? Arithmetically it may. But then electoral politics does not necessarily work like that.
Contrary to common belief, OBCs and not tribals in Chhattisgarh are the largest voting bloc. This socially cohesive group comprising of smaller backward communities has been at the core of BJP's electoral success in the state.
The caste polarisation in the state generally happens between Satnamis and OBCs. As Jogi remained the dominant political face of the Congress in the first three Assembly polls since the creation of the state, the BJP created and nurtured a loyal OBC constituency for itself.
Now with Jogi launching his own party, the Congress presented itself as a party more acceptable to the OBCs. It gave tickets to prominent caste candidates from Kurmi and Sahu communities.
Most of these intermediary castes are also farmers or tillers of the land. Loan waiver and bonus on paddy minimum support price (MSP) announced by the Congress was laced around the caste calculus to wean away core BJP constituency.
The outcome of Chhattisgarh polls will be determined by the divisions in SC votes between Congress and Ajit Jogi, Satnamii vs OBC polarisation and the Congress’ ability to compensate the loss of Satnami votes from BJP's kitty, especially OBC votes.