New Delhi: The Congress on Tuesday staged a massive comeback in Chhattisgarh by winning/leading in 67 of the total 90 seats and wresting the state from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), showcasing its best sign of resurgence in the 2018 assembly elections.

The BJP was reduced to only 18 seats while the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh Jogi-Bahujan Samaj Party (JCCJ-BSP) combine won seven, including that of former chief minister Ajit Jogi.

The Congress was in power in Chhattisgarh, one of India’s youngest states, when the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000 till 2003. Its comeback also signals the end of the era of Raman Singh, the longest-serving BJP chief minister of any state, whose personal image and popularity could not offset the wave of anti-incumbency.

The intensity of the anti-incumbency in Chhattisgarh could be gauged from the fact that Raman Singh himself won by a relatively narrow margin of 15,899 votes for a serving chief minister from Rajnandgaon constituency. In the 2013 election, Raman Singh had a victory margin of 35,866 votes. Only one minister won from the outgoing government, senior BJP leader Brijmohan Agrawal.

The Congress had not named a chief ministerial candidate in this election, a gamble that seems to have paid off for the party like in other two states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where it has defeated the BJP which had clear chief ministerial candidates. The newly-elected legislators will meet on Wednesday to elect the chief minister.

Frontrunners for the chief minister’s post are Congress veteran T.S. Singh Deo, Congress member of parliament from Durg Tamradhwaj Sahu, who also heads the All India Congress Committee’s OBC cell and who was fielded by the party at the last minute from the Durg Rural constituency, Chhattisgarh Congress Committee chief Bhupesh Baghel, and Charandas Mahant.

Also, in a remarkable first in the 18-year-old electoral history of the state, the Congress bucked the trend of close contests, polling 42% votes, a substantial 10 percentage points more than the BJP. This is unlike the 2003, 2008, and 2013 elections here which saw marginal differences in vote shares. Jogi’s JCCJ polled 7.5% votes and the BSP got 3.4%.

The Congress had won 39 seats in the 2013 polls and the difference between the vote share of the BJP and Congress was just 0.75%—the BJP winning 49 seats with a 41.04% vote share and the Congress 39 with 40.29%. In 2008, the BJP won 50 seats with 40.33% vote share and the Congress got 38 with 38.63% vote share. In 2003, which was the first election after the state was formed, the BJP won 50 seats with 39.26% vote share to the Congress’ 37 seats from 36.71% share.

Anti-incumbency, rural distress and the fatigue factor with a large number of BJP ministers swung the pendulum in favour of the Congress. Farmers, farm activists, and BJP leaders say the party “heavily" underestimated rural distress and also the discontent among urban voters, especially small traders, over demonetization and implementation of the goods and services tax.

Also, the spectacular Congress performance is evenly distributed across the state, unlike in 2013 when it did better than the BJP in south Chhattisgarh, especially the Bastar region, but lost out in the rest of Chhattisgarh.

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