The Congress under Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is returning to power in the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh riding on a pro-incumbency vote, according to a pre-poll survey.
The Congress may get 57 seats (within a range of 55-60) in the 90-member Assembly with the simple majority mark at 46. That is a climb down of 11 seats from its tally of 68 in 2018.
The BJP is likely to get 28-34 seats. The BSP and Independents may get a couple of seats, while Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh-Jogi (JCC) is projected to pick up none.
The elections are being held in two phases on 7 and 17 November.
Hyderabad-based Peoples Pulse, a political research organisation, conducted the survey between 15 and 31 October with a sample size of 6,120 spread across all the 90 constituencies.
‘Local, accessible, hard-working’
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has created the image of a “local, accessible, hard-working CM coming from the OBC [Other Backward Classes] community and promoting the local Chhattisgarhia values, culture and traditions”, according to the survey.
In the current survey, a majority of respondents across the state said that despite losing a few years to the Covid pandemic when he couldn’t deliver much, Baghel’s government has satisfactorily performed and he is likely to get yet another term this time.
The survey expects the election to be largely a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP. The Congress banks on its performance in the first term while the survey says the BJP’s serious bid to wrest power was severely handicapped by infighting, failure to project a leader in the state, and “worse, the Central leadership literally taking control of the state unit to the point that the latter has begun to lack identity”.
Peoples Pulse: Projected vote shares
The survey reveals the Congress vote share may rise from 43 percent in 2018 to 47 percent.
But the BJP story is intriguing. Its vote share is expected to see a massive nine percent increase, from 33 percent in 2018 to 42 percent in 2023. Its seat share may double from 15 to 31 (with a performance range of 28-34), but that still leaves it far from the simple majority mark.
According to the Peoples Pulse survey results, the BJP is expected to fight well on a seat-by-seat basis, meaning thereby that in a tight contest where the vote difference between the two parties is less than one percent, the result may favour the BJP.
Other regional parties like Gondwana Gantantra Parishad may lose influence. The recently launched Hamar Raj Party, backed by the Sarv Adivasi Samaj is also more or less a spoiler this time though it is likely to get considerable votes — especially in the Bastar region.
Another sub-regionalist party launched by Chhattisgarh Kranti Sena has no concrete influence in any region.
The Janata Congress Chhattisgarh-Jogi (Jogi), launched by former chief minister late Ajit Jogi, contested the 2018 election in alliance with the BSP and got seven seats (BSP 2 and JCC 5).
However, both have weakened over time and JCC is no longer a political challenge after former chief minister Ajit Jogi died. This time, only BSP is likely to get 0 to 2 seats while JCC is likely to get none. Aam Aadmi Party is likely to get zero seats in this election like last time.
The pre-poll survey found an “overall pro-incumbent mood in the state which “seems to be continuing when compared with the findings of the previous round of Mood survey conducted by Peoples Pulse in June 2023”.
The major factors that seem to be contributing to it are the “welfare policies and announcements of the Congress government led by Bhupesh Baghel, the Chhattisgarhiya sub-regionalism, and failure of the BJP as the main Opposition party to build a significant narrative against the Congress”.
Peoples Pulse says the Congress is enjoying the edge in all survey parameters, ranging from development, welfare and community preference, to chief minister choice, and party preference across age and gender.
In the northern part of Chhattisgarh comprising 23 seats, the influence of Deputy Chief Minister TS Singh Deo is on test. Peoples Pulse says that, in 2018, Congress swept this region over a possibility that Singh Deo might be the chief minister.
However, the pre-poll survey indicated that his influence over the electorate “has declined” and denial of tickets to three MLAs in the Surguja Division “allegedly at the behest of Singh Deo, namely Manendragarh, Ramanujganj and Samri, has also created problems for Congress here”.
BJP on the other hand distributed tickets wisely and fielded three MPs in Surguja Division itself, namely incumbent Lok Sabha MPs Renuka Singh (fielded on Bharatpur Sonhat), Gomti Sai (Patthalgaon), and former Rajya Sabha MP Ramvichar Netam (Ramanujganj).
According to the survey, this time the “BJP is likely to do extremely well here and this is probably going to be the region where BJP will make maximum gains in terms of seats”.
Central region trend
The central region of the state is the most populous region with three administrative divisions and the biggest urban centres_— Raipur, Bilaspur and Durg — falling under it. This is not only the most urbanised and populous zone with 55 Assembly seats, but also the Scheduled Caste (SC) belt of the state and almost all SC seats of Chhattisgarh fall under this zone.
Almost all big leaders of the state across parties come from this region, be it Chief Minister Baghel (Durg District), former chief minister Raman Singh (Rajnandgaon district), or BJP state president Arun Sao (Bilaspur),.
The survey shows that this time the BJP, which secured two-thirds of its 15 seats in 2018 from here, my “improve” its tally, though it may also suffer because of the anti-incumbency some of its sitting MLAs currently face.
The weakening of the JCC might lead to the “shifting of its vote base to Congress, which will help the Congress’ prospects”.
Lastly, since this is also the agrarian belt of Chhattisgarh, “the pro-farmer policies and declarations of Bhupesh Baghel government will boost the performance of Congress party — which cut the highest number of tickets of its non-performing incumbent MLAs from this region”.