Chhattisgarh elections have always been close. The vote share gap between the Congress and the BJP has been shrinking over the elections from just under 3% in 2003 to under 1% in 2013.

In 2013 elections, 13 out of 90 seats witnessed victory margin of less than 3,000 votes. The exit of Ajit Jogi from the Congress and his alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is expected to further complicate matters for the main players in an already close election.

Jogi is very popular in Chhattisgarh. He was the first chief minister of the state and the only tribal CM till date.

The Scheduled Tribe community accounts for about one third of state’s population. He has significant administrative experience as an IAS officer before joining politics, as CM and MP from the state. He left the Congress in June 2016 and formed the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh. He claims the main fight in the state is between Raman Singh and him.

On the day he formed the party, he was quoted by India Today as saying: "The purpose of forming the party is two-fold. First, I want to resolve a paradox that Chhattisgarh suffers from - the state is rich in resources, yet its people are the poorest. Second, the people are tired of seeing their fate decided by Delhi. They want their decisions taken here in Chhattisgarh. This is an all-India trend, which is why we see the rise of regional forces."

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One would imagine tall claims, but he is not wrong. He is still the most popular leader among Congress/ex-Congress. He is ahead of the current leader TS Singh Deo (14%) and Bhupesh Baghel (11%) in popularity ratings (who is best suited to be chief minister). He is the second most favoured CM candidate in many polls.

In the poll of polls, he gets 20% votes just behind Dr. Raman Singh (42%). He has also significant hold over the Satnami Dalit community which accounts for a big chunk of the SC community in the state.

The party’s strategy is centred around three key vote blocks – women, farmers and youths. It has released a shapathpatra and vowed to implement it in 10 days of coming to power. The promises for women, youths and others were included in the shapathpatra.

1. Women: Jogi has promised 33% reservation in jobs for women folk, complete prohibition in state except for tribal areas and a scheme similar to Ladli Laxmi of Madhya Pradesh government wherein state will put a FD of Rs 1 lakh for each girl child born.

2. Youths: The party’s slogan is ‘tum mujhe satta do, main tumhein bhatta dunga’. Jogi has promised unemployment allowance for youth. Serving up the Chhattisgarhi asmita, his party has promised 90% reservation in government jobs to local residents.

3. Farmers: The party has promised complete farm loan waiver and MSP of Rs 2,500 per quintal for wheat.

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Despite high popularity ratings especially among the tribal and Satnami communities and a good manifesto, his party is struggling in terms of seats and vote share across polls. It is slated to bag five seats in poll of polls.

Factors Why Jogi is struggling

1. CDR Issue

Jogi has a credibility, disability and reliability problem. Some people have concerns over his paralytic status. How can a disable person lead a state? Can he devote maximum hours for the development of the state? Or will it lead to Jogi ruling the state by proxy.

The family has a history of controversies and is still grappling with credibility issue.

• In 2003, Jogi was suspended from Congress after BJP released an audiotape in which he was allegedly heard offering money to buy BJP MLAs, with whom he intended to form an alternative government with Congress support.

• A similar scenario was played out in 2015, with almost the same players too. Audiotapes accessed by media organisations suggested that Jogi and his son had “fixed” the Antagarh by-poll by making the Congress candidate withdraw and providing BJP with an easy win.

A section of people also don’t see him as reliable. The Congress machinery has been somewhat able to make a point to the voters that Jogi is the ‘B’ team of BJP and has floated new outfit to help the saffron party. He has sealed a deal and will support BJP post poll. This is why anti-BJP voters who are not too happy with the Congress either are hesitating to go with Jogi. 

2. People still associate him with Congress

He has been with the grand old party for almost 50 years. It is difficult to get rid of such a long association. Many in rural populace feel he is still part of the Congress, has temporarily broken away and will return.

3. Symbol of ‘hal’ has still not percolated among rural populace

As is the issue with any new party, the biggest challenge faced is communicating its symbol to the village level. Making people aware of your symbol and getting it registered in the minds of voters is an uphill task. Jiten Ram Manjhi who floated his own party Hindustan Awam Morcha in Bihar just before state elections faced a similar problem. Despite being the leader of Mahadalits and ex-CM, his party could just win one seat, where he barely scraped, because many people still thought he was part of JDU.

4. Added confusion of alliance

Jogi’s alliance with Mayawati further complicates matters despite it being a good strategy in terms of social engineering. Jogi’s voters/supporters have to vote for ‘hal’ in 55 seats and transfer their vote to ‘haathi’ in the remaining 35 seats. In addition, the confusion over whether Amit Jogi or Ajit Jogi will contest from family traditional stronghold of Marwah has not helped the party.

To sum up, while Jogi is popular, he is battling issues on many fronts to make true his dream of becoming the chief minister of Chhattisgarh again. How these issues play out and how he strategises to tackle them will determine his fate!


The writer is a former corporate and investment banker who is now following his passion for politics and elections. He is a political consultant and commentator who tweets @politicalbaaba