Close on the heels of Congress’ landslide victory in Karnataka, a mood survey carried out in poll-bound Chhattisgarh shows that the trend might continue for the grand old party.
In Chhattisgarh, voters are in favour of the incumbent Congress government, the findings of the Peoples Pulse mood survey suggest.
A month-long ground study conducted in June, covering all five administrative zones and all 33 districts in the state, has shown that Congress could retain power without breaking a sweat.
The survey, carried out five months before the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, shows that the incumbent Congress government under Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel is expected to win 53 to 60 seats. Much like in Karnataka, the BJP is set to be placed a distant second with 20 to 27 seats.
Chhattisgarh has a 90-member Assembly, and 46 is the mark for a simple majority.
According to the mood survey, the Congress is set to retain power with a vote share of 46 percent, which is eight percentage points more than the BJP’s 38 percent. Other parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and independent candidates are projected to win a couple of seats.
What is working in Congress’ favour?
The popularity of Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel is a big factor in the pro-Congress sentiment in Chhattisgarh, the study found. The regional identity and regional pride cards highlighted by Bhagel are working for Congress.
The sub-nationalist “Chhattisgarhiya” narrative built by the Congress is pitched against BJP’s national narrative and Hindutva. Icons and symbols like Chhattisgarh Mahtari (Mother Chhattisgarh), use of local dialect in government campaigns, slogans like “Gadhbo Nava Chhattisgarh” (We will make a New Chhattisgarh), etc, are part of the narrative.
Even sports and culture events like the Chhattisgariya Olympics, a state song, Arpa – Pairi ke dhar, released by Bhagel on a regional plank, coupled with a Hindutva push, are working in favour of the Congress, the survey said.
Schemes like Godhan Nyay Yojana where cow dung is purchased by government from cattle herders to make organic vermicompost — a first of its kind initiative in the country — too has struck a chord.
Delivery of welfare schemes, Bhagel’s visit to villages and towns with “Bhent Mulaqat” to address people’s grievances, has enhanced his public image, the study said.
Choice of chief minister
When respondents were asked who they preferred as the next chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel was leading by 10 percentage points over his predecessor Raman Singh. The elevation of TS Singh Deo recently as as the deputy chief minister has quelled dissent in the party to an extent, the study found.
Asked about the “Performance of the Chief Minister”, 45 percent respondents said Good, 15 percent said Okay, 30 percent said Bad, and 10 percent chose Can’t Say.
Asked about the work done by the Congress government in Chhattisgarh the last four-and-a-half years, 20 percent of the respondents were Fully Satisfied, 31 percent were Partially Satisfied, 17 percent were Fully Unsatisfied, 21 percent were Partially Unsatisfied, and 11 percent chose Can’t Say.
When asked which party is better for development, 48 percent respondents said it was the Congress, 40 percent said BJP, one percent each said JCC and BSP, and 10 percent said None.
To the question whether the Congress government should be given another chance, 47 percent said Yes, 40 percent said No, and 13 percent said Can’t Say.
There is a perception among common voters that since BJP was given three chances, and since the current government of Congress is doing good work, it deserves another chance.
The main issues, as identified by the mood survey, were price rise, unemployment, infrastructure/roads, health care, and corruption.
Region-wise preference and mood
Chhattisgarh is primarily divided into three regions — North, Central, and South.
The north region, also called Surguja, is dominated by the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). There are 23 seats in the region. In the 2018 elections, the Congress swept this region as there was a possibility that TS Singh Deo would become the chief minister.
However, he was denied the chair, which left voters of this region dissatisfied. The BJP is likely to improve its performance here this time while Congress would lose some seats compared to 2018.
The central region is not only the most urbanised and populous zone with 55 Assembly seats, but is also the Scheduled Caste (SC) belt of the state and almost all SC seats of Chhattisgarh fall under this zone.
The highest concentration of Muslims in Chhattisgarh is also in this region, where Chief Minister Bhagel too hails from.
The BJP is quite strong here and, despite a bad performance in the 2018 Assembly elections, more than two-thirds of its seats were won in this region. BJP is likely to improve in this region, but Congress is still ahead of it.
Southern Chhattisgarh — also called the Bastar region — is primarily an ST dominated region and 11 out of 12 seats are reserved for ST candidates.
It used to be a BJP stronghold, but in the 2018 elections, the Congress swept the region winning 11 of the 12 seats.
The Congress is likely to lose some here seats but will still be the biggest party in this zone due to the popularity of its schemes like MSP on forest produce, land pattas to poor people, and influence of its leaders like Kawasi Lakhma, Santram Netam, Lakheshwar Baghel, Dipak Baik, Vikram Mandawi, etc.
Demography and preference
General voters in the state are mostly centred in big cities. While their votes are divided, they seem slightly more inclined towards the BJP.
OBCs are the biggest voting block of the state and have influence and presence across all regions. This community, to which Bhupesh Baghel belongs, is divided in their vote preference.
While communities like Kurmis, Panika, and Marar are inclined towards the Congress, the Sahu, Kalar, Devangan, and Yadav communities are more inclined towards the BJP.
The SC population in the state is mostly concentrated in the central belt. Satnami — the biggest and most influential SC community of the state — is inclined to Congress, as are Harijans and Mahars.
The ST community, mostly concentrated in the north and south regions, is also divided. The Gond community vote is divided between various parties like the Congress, the BJP, Sarv Adivasi Samaj, etc. Kanwar, Pahadi Korbas are inclined towards the BJP. The Khairwars, Oraon, and Halba communities are inclined toward the Congress, while Muriyas and Bhatras are divided between the two parties.
Muslims and Christians are both inclined toward Congress, the mood survey suggests.
Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad-based political research organisation, conducted a Mood Survey in Chhattisgarh for one month from 1 June to 30 June with a sample of 3,000.
Twenty research scholars in five groups covered the North, Central, South regions, travelling over 5,000 km across Chhattisgarh, speaking to people, and collecting responses to structured questionnaires.
Some 35-40 samples were collected from each Assembly constituency. The sample reflects the situation in terms of caste, religion, community and age as they exist on the ground. Gender was given equal representation.
Four researchers from each group conducted the Mood Survey based on open-ended, free-wheeling conversations with respondents to elicit their views on a host of issues, interspersed with the question related to the specific study.
The respondents were chosen through purposive sampling and employing a qualitative inferential method.