Hindutva and Ram mandir may as well be crafted in hieroglyphics, said Ram Fanoti, a Gond tribal in southern Chhattisgarh, a State ruled by the BJP for 15 years.
Fanoti is equally perplexed by Rafale and defence scams but the Congress aka panja (Congress election symbol) has the advantage of habit during a campaign, marked by a series of violent strikes by the Maoists, who seem determined to impose their boycott of elections this time.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his one and only public appearance on Friday in Jagdalpur (Bastar district) for the first phase of elections in Chhattisgarh where campaigning will come to an end on Saturday.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi will spend two days in these parts and address five public rallies and a roadshow in Chief Minister Raman Singh’s home turf, Rajnandgaon. The Congress had won 12 of the 18 tribal seats in Southern parts of Chhattisgarh where polling is scheduled for November 12 under heaving security. The fear of Maoist boycott has heightened in the last two weeks, despite the deputation of nearly 65,000 security personnel here. The local Congress workers believe that the enhanced threat perception is aimed at keeping its traditional voters away from the polling booths in the interior areas.
“We have asked the Election Commission to fly our polling agents along with the Commission officers in interior areas. We suspect that an atmosphere of fear that is being created, despite heavy police presence, is to stop the traditional Congress supporters from casting their votes,” said Rajesh Tiwari, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh Congress Committee.
Manoj Mandavi, the sitting MLA and Congress candidate from Bhanupratappur Assembly constituency in Kanker district believes that the tribal vote, substantial in Chhattisgarh with an estimated 30 per cent of the electorate hailing from the Scheduled Tribes, will lean on the Congress’s side.
At a small gathering of local Gond tribals in Bhanupratappur, Mandavi, he repeated the Congress’ offer of waiving farm loans and increasing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy. According to both Tiwari and Mandavi, the issues on which the election campaign is focused have little to do with the BJP’s pet ideological themes — Ram Mandir, re-conversion of tribals (ghar vapsi) and Hindutva.
Local governance, development, farm produce prices, health and education facilities are popular themes in this election. The BJP also agreed that issues such as Hindutva and Ram Mandir have no resonance in Chhattisgarh.
“For us, Ram Mandir is to do with our ideology and belief. It is not an election issue,” said Pankaj Jha, a local worker in the Raipur BJP office. The reasons are obvious — Chhattisgarh has a minority population of 3.94 per cent, of which 2.02 per cent are Muslims.
In the southern region of Chhattisgarh, set to vote in the first phase of polls on November 12, prices of farm produce, local governance and public distribution system are major issues on which the campaign is based. In a State where the margin of victory between the ruling BJP and the Congress was just 0.75 per cent, every seat is being contested on local issues and credibility of the individual candidates.