Populist moves and divided Congress give BJP the edge

Populist moves and divided Congress give BJP the edge
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First Published: Mon, Dec 08 2008. 11 04 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Dec 08 2008. 11 04 PM IST
New Delhi: In Chhattisgarh, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power bucking anti-incumbency thanks to chief minister Raman Singh’s populist measures while the opposition Congress failed to remain a cohesive force due to internal squabbles.
The BJP retained 50 seats in the 90-member assembly and the Congress won 38 seats; it had won 37 seats in 2003.
According to Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to the office of the commissioners of the Supreme Court, who has worked on the state government’s ambitious food security scheme in Chhattisgarh, Singh has “overcome the anti-incumbency factor with the rice scheme he had introduced for the poor”. Under that scheme, the government provided rice at Rs3 a kg for nearly 3.6 million below the poverty line familes in the state.
“I think the rice scheme has helped him to be an extremely popular chief minister. Also his image as a relatively clean politician went in his favour,” Patnaik said.
Singh had sought vote on the basis of his five-year performance and didn’t focus on any of the national issues such as inflation and terrorism.
“We seek votes on the basis of the performance of the BJP government. For us, “gaon, garib, kisan” (villages, poor and farmers) of Chhattisgarh are as emotive an issue as terrorism and inflation,” Singh had told Mint on 11 November.
Another local political observer, who did not want to be identified, said: “Raman Singh was a cleaner leader than Ajit Jogi (former chief minister and a Congressman) in the state and he has managed the possible anti-incumbency factor by replacing 20 sitting legislators with fresh faces.”
“Infighting in the Congress also became a boon for the BJP in the state. Jogi allegedly worked against Congress candidates he did not want to win,” the observer added.
The results also showed that the Congress was unable to win back its support among the tribals in Chhattisgarh.
Although there was discontent among the non-governmental organizations as well as activists and several tribals against the BJP government’s support to the Salwa Judum, a state-backed militia formed to fight Maoists (or Naxalites) in the region, the Congress appears to have failed to cash in on it.
In fact, the Congress was divided on the issue. Mahendra Karma, the Congress leader in the assembly, was instrumental in creating the Salwa Judum, while Jogi opposed it.
While Singh rode on his government’s welfare measures for the poor and the girl children in the state, the Congress state unit could not even project the people-friendly steps taken by the party-led UPA government at the Centre.
“Let us not forget that it’s the central government’s pro-poor policies (that) helped everybody...those states which used the money effectively have been rewarded,” said Prithviraj Chavan, minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, without elaborating.
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First Published: Mon, Dec 08 2008. 11 04 PM IST