New Delhi: Rural distress, farm discontent, and “arrogance of power" are being cited as reasons for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s impending debacle in Chhattisgarh where the votes are still being counted but the Congress looks set for a landslide win. Farmers, farm activists, and BJP functionaries say the party “heavily" underestimated rural distress and also the discontent among the urban voters, especially the small traders, over demonetisation and implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
At the last count of votes for the 90-seat assembly in Chhattisgarh, the Congress was leading on 62 seats while the BJP was a distant second with leads on only 13 seats. In the 2013 polls, the BJP had won 49 seats and the Congress 39. The Congress gain in 2018 is also spectacular in terms of the vote share, unlike the previous elections in Chhattisgarh which have been close contests. Trends and leads projected Congress polling a vote share of 43% to the BJP’s 32%. In 2013, the difference in the BJP and Congress vote share was merely 0.76% but it translated into a seat difference of 10. Also, the spectacular Congress performance is evenly distributed across the state, unlike 2013 when it did better than the BJP in south Chhattisgarh, especially the Bastar region, but lost out to the BJP in rest of the state. This time, the Congress has established strong leads across the state, including the Bastar region, confirming that the wave of anti-incumbency held strong throughout.
A BJP functionary in Raipur who requested anonymity told Mint that the party had paid the price for “underestimating" rural distress and farm discontent. “When we started the campaign we knew that there was some sentiment of anti-incumbency. But we attributed it to the fact that we have been ruling Chhattisgarh since 2003. That has proved to be an error of judgement because we seem to have missed the scale of discontent," the BJP functionary said. He pointed out that many ministers were trailing in their constituencies which showed that they had turned “personally unpopular". Asked why the Modi factor or Raman Singh’s popularity as a clear chief ministerial choice (the Congress has not named a chief ministerial candidate) could not help the BJP, this functionary said “what could Modiji or Raman Singh do if the ministers had not performed well."
Rajkumar Gupta, farmer, farm activist and convener of the Chhattisgarh Pragatisheel Kisan Sangh who also floated a political party called Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch that contested the elections, told Mint that “severe farm and rural distress, unrest among the BJP’s core support base of small traders and urban voters over demonetisation and GST, and arrogance" were the factors responsible for the BJP’s extensive loss in Chhattisgarh. “In rural Chhattisgarh, it is the farm discontent that has caused this disaster for the BJP. The scale of discontent could be measured from the fact that even Raman Singh (the incumbent chief minister) is leading in Rajnandgaon by a narrow margin simply because his constituency comprises large rural pockets where farmers have been unhappy with the government policies," Gupta said. A BJP activist in Raipur, who worked for senior BJP leader and minister in the Raman Singh government Brijmohan Agrawal in Raipur City South constituency, conceded that “even the most popular candidate like Agrawal was leading by less than 3,000 votes due to traders’ unrest". “Anti-incumbency has never been stronger in Chhattisgarh. It is mainly because of demonetisation and GST," the BJP activist admitted requesting anonymity.
Another BJP functionary in Raipur who did not want to be named said, the “Congress might have benefitted from a more populist manifesto with promises like farm loan waiver, 50% subsidy in electricity bills for farmers, and a higher minimum support price for paddy". The Congress has promised Rs.2,500 per quintal MSP for paddy, Chhattisgarh’s main crop, in its manifesto and a farm loan waiver within 10 days of coming to power. Mint reported during the campaign that the BJP’s failure to keep the promise of Rs.2,100 MSP was one of the major factors causing farm discontent.