Five Forty Three

Revolutionizing Indian Election Analysis

The Eighteen trumpeters of Bastar – Chhattisgarh Phase 1

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For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

(New Testament, Corinthians 14:8)

As the eighteen warzone assembly seats of the tribal heartland of India began playing the trumpet today for the battlefield of 2014, this ancient nation awaits with baited breath for a judgment that shall decide her future and the jurors shall be her unwashed masses. It is indeed the irony of Karma that this godforsaken land that all of India has forgotten for more than six decades – so much so that Maoists and Naxals control the destiny of her people – should now possess the eighteen trumpeters who shall announce the battle for India.

Not only do these eighteen assembly seats hold the key to the next government in Chhattisgarh but also possibly to the throne in Delhi. BJP was able to form a government in this tribal state because it was able to win a vast majority of these seats in both 2008 as well as 2003, whereas Congress has remained organizationally weak in this region. The dominance of BJP is so total that it has a whopping gap of about 9% and Congress is a distant second. Thus, of the 18 seats, BJP has won 15 and Congress merely 3 in the last election of 2008.

Bastar-RajnandgaonUsually, about 20% of the vote share in this region is accrued to the “others” and that should either remain mostly unchanged or may see a slight increase this time around. A 1 to 2% swing away from BJP and towards Congress would mean a commensurate swing of two assembly seats in the same direction. In the case of 3 to 4% swing away from the BJP, about 5 seats can potentially shift to Congress and others. Thus it is safe to conclude that any negative swing of 3% or more away from the BJP (in the first phase poll) would put the Raman Singh government in an extremely vulnerable position.

Is there a possibility of a swing away from the BJP in the Bastar-Rajnandgaon region in today’s election? In order to answer that question we shall have to consider 6 important signals preceding this election:

  1. Micro-anti-incumbency and local rebellions are hurting the BJP far more than the Congress, which has in fact set its house in order for most part and has found an upper hand as far as ticket distribution goes (at least in the Bastar division) – for instance, BJP is in a very delicate situation in Khujji (Rajnandgaon dist.) where former minister Rajinderpal Singh Bhatia is contesting as a rebel and has the support of a large number of party cadre
  2. Dr. Raman Singh’s popularity is still intact although the “chawal wale baba” has lost some of the sheen of the PDS magic which is being seen as an achievement of the past
  3. There is a sympathy factor for the Congress, which is more pronounced in the villages where a section of the tribal populace is angry with the daylight murder of Congress-Salwa Judum leadership in May this year by the Maoists – but how many will gather the courage to actually go out and vote is questionable
  4. The fact that the Modi rallies of last week were thinly attended (less than 4000 people) which apparently forced BJP to cancel his Dongargarh public meeting and Rahul/Congress’s ability to garner much higher crowds (almost triple at about 12000) at the same venue is being seen as a sign of definite anti-incumbency
  5. The Ajit Jogi factor may cancel out all the positives for the Congress as a large section of (Congress) voters may not be inclined to have another Jogi-regime which reminds them here in Bastar of an extremely oppressive government
  6. Another worry for both the national parties is the presence of “others” (especially the left parties) in certain key constituencies which has made the contests triangular. For instance; a polling booth level survey conducted by the RSS had suggested that CPI candidate Manish Kunjam (who played a crucial role in the release of Sukma district collector, Alex paul Menon) was enjoying a slight edge over both BJP and Congress in Konta as of late last month.

Now that we have determined that there could most definitely be a negative swing against the ruling BJP, we must try to work out as to the extent of this swing.

As it is the complexities of Indian elections in their simplest form can still baffle even the best of analysts, which get compounded many fold in a Naxal affected regions like Bastar where ordinary politicking is almost impossible to practice. Consider this; 2 out of 3 polling booths in these districts is either classified as “sensitive” or “hypersensitive” – of the 4142 polling booths, 2828 were in the sensitive/hypersensitive category.

In constituencies like Antagarh, Bastar, Bhanupratappur, Chitrakot, Dantewada, Kondagaon, Keshkal, Kanker etc. campaigning was possible only in about 50% of the urban areas and political parties did not even dare venture into the villages due to Maoist fear. The situation in Bijapur, Naryanpur and Sukma was even more distressing as campaigning was possible only in about 30% of the areas. It must also be stressed here that political parties do not even nominate their polling agents in 50% of the polling booths.

So how does one gauge the mood of the voters, or understand the swing in such hopeless circumstances? How does one conduct surveys or opinion/exit polls without the ability to reach out to the voters? How does one even reach out to these people when only 1 out of every 5th man and 1 out of every 9th woman possess a mobile phone in this region?

TurnoutsOne factor that can give us a superficial inkling into the minds of the voters here is the turnout. In 2008, the total polling percentage in this region of 18 assembly seats was 67%, despite the boycott call by the Naxals and the threat of violence. In fact, in the last 3 elections in these 18 seats, increased turnouts have been directly proportional to BJP’s improved performance and inversely proportional to that of the Congress party. A decade ago, increased voting percentage almost always meant anti-incumbency, but these days there is no such hard and fast rule. Thus we can superficially assume that a voter turnout of under 60% is beneficial to the Congress, whereas above 60% is BJP territory (especially optimum in the 65 to 68% band). This relationship of low turnouts helping Congress is also borne out by 3 of the 5 individual seats that the party has managed to win in the last 2 BJP wave elections – Konta, Bijapur & Dantwada all produce very low turnouts.

This time the provisional turnout figures till late evening suggest voting percentage of 67%, which is almost equal to the turnout of 2008. Usually this is a good indicator of a status-quo election, to that extent Dr. Raman Singh can breathe a sigh of relief.

In order to further understand the trends and the swing factor, we have to look at the 10 battlefield seats and see if there are any discrepancies from the overall turnouts, which can potentially give us a clearer picture. These 10 battlefield seats have been picked by adhering to the following three criteria;

  • Less than 5% victory margins in 2008
  • Closely contested seats (5% margins) in either of the last two elections
  • Changed political scenario this time due to either a third strong candidate, internal rebellion or visible anti-incumbency against sitting MLA

Battlefield turnout

The individual turnouts of the ten battlefield seats give us a clear picture of a more-or-less status quo election, except for Dantewada, Antagarh and possibly Khujji. Increased voting in Dantewada could be due to the sympathy factor for Mahindra Karma, where his widow is the Congress candidate. Forest minister, Vikram Usendi, widely believed to be facing huge anti-incumbency in Antagarh (a seat he had won narrowly in 2008) also seems to be in a bit of trouble.

Khujji is possibly seeing a rise in the turnout because of a strong triangular contest necessitated by BJP rebel Rajinderpal Singh Bhatia. Bastar is the odd one out with lower turnout which could be due to a certain level of fatigue. Bhanupratappur also seems to be suffering due to ticket distribution and internal rebellion issues of BJP.

Bottomline: Dr. Raman Singh seems to be definitely walking on the razor’s edge as far as phase 1 is concerned, for BJP is now vulnerable in about 5 seats and may end up losing a minimum of three. Can BJP recover some of this lost ground in phase 2 remains to be seen. Although Congress has possibly once again failed to convert favorable political atmosphere into an anti-incumbency wave, it can still head into the next phase with a lot more confidence than in 2008 when it was wiped out of the Bastar region.

The trumpets for battlefield 2014 have been blown from the tribal heartland and the sounds that are emanating from them are the sounds of uncertainty. How can Modi or Rahul be prepared for the battle ahead amidst such ambiguity will be the test of character that India shall witness. For Rahul Gandhi, the task is an uphill one to rebuild a party from the ashes of a nationwide anti-incumbency. Whereas Narendra Modi should try and realize that battles are not just won by a massive social media campaign or huge political rallies, getting the quotient of local politics right is essential for any electoral victory. Chhattisgarh phase 1 is another example of why 50% of all elections in India are local in nature.

[Data sources: http://eci.nic.in/ and http://www.indiavotes.com ]

{Updated at 9:00 hours on 12-11-2013 after new turnout data became available}

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Author: Dr Praveen Patil

A story teller and aspiring writer with special interests in Indian electoral politics

4 thoughts on “The Eighteen trumpeters of Bastar – Chhattisgarh Phase 1

  1. bjp may lose 3 to 4 seats in Bastar region but it will retain it’s 4 seat in Rajnandgaon district and may win Mohla -Manpur which was won last time by Congress . Khujji seat may go to bjp rebel

  2. Sir,
    Are you saying it will be another Uttrakhand experience?

    • Will have to wait and watch, phase 2 is crucial for both BJP & Congress, especially the 55 seats of central Chhattisgarh where OBCs will play the crucial deciding role. There are reports that Modi will address half-a-dozen rallies here (maybe BJP is getting nervous). Also it remains to be seen how Rahul/Sonia handle Ajit Jogi here.

  3. Hope, NAMO is on top of it. Can not afford Shri Raman Singh same fate as Shri Khanduri.

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