In a State with a predominantly tribal population, it’s the Dalit vote that can potentially decide the next government. The Dalit vote has become decisive with the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, led by Ajit Jogi, tying up with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India.
“We have upset their [the BJP and the Congress’s] apple cart,” says Amit Jogi, the patriarch’s son.
The alliance targets consolidation of the 12% Dalit votes that the Congress, the BJP and the BSP had been sharing so far. The BSP used to get the largest chunk. The Dalit vote has influence in at least 40 constituencies.
“In 1998, in undivided Madhya Pradesh, the BSP had a 12% vote share in the 90 Chhattisgarh seats and four MLAs,” he says emphasising the latent strength of the alliance.
Since then, the BSP’s vote share has been sliding. Post-2003, it has swung between 4.29% and 6.12%. In the current Assembly, it has only one MLA. But it had impact in many other seats to.
The alliance is eyeing 13 seats — eight in the Jangir Champa Lok Sabha constituency and the remaining in the Bilaspur belt. Jangir Champa is where BSP founder Kanshi Ram started his electoral career, fighting his maiden Lok Sabha election in 1984. In 2013, of the eight Assembly segments of the constituency, the BSP won only Jaijaipur and was runner-up in Chandrapur and Pangarh. Amit Jogi’s wife, Richa Jogi, is fighting from Akaltara in this belt on BSP ticket.
“Our hearts should beat as one. There should be total transfer of votes,” he said.
The alliance is fighting on the slogan of “Chhattisgarh ka bal, hathi aur hal”, or “Chhattisgarh’s strenght is elephant (BSP’s election symbol) and plough (Janata Congress Chhattisgarh’s symbol).”
In the reserved constituencies of the State, the BSP is a force to reckon with. Much like the Jatavs in Uttar Pradesh here, the Satnamis, or followers of the Satnami sect, are firmly with the BSP. The question is can the BSP ensure transfer of the Dalit vote in favour of the other parties in the alliance.
“Hum toh haathi jaane hai, Jogi nahi (We know elephant, not Jogi),” Ramlal Deheriya from the Dharsiwa constituency says. A clutch of men standing next nod in agreement.
It is in the seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes that complaints against the Raman Singh government are more vocal. They include failure to reimburse expenses on construction of toilets under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan or the cost of LPG cylinders, making the Ujwala Yojana ineffectual. “Kisiko bhi vote denge par BJP ko nahi (We will vote for anyone but not for BJP),” says Ghulab Singh Bhagel of Sundravan village in the reserved seat of Kasdol.
A section of the local Congress leadership was in favour of a tie-up with the BSP, but the talks failed.
“The Congress wants support from everyone, but wants to give nothing in return. We submitted a list of 20 seats, which was our due. After all, we have helped the Congress in many States, including Karnaraka,” BSP State chief Om Prakash Bajpai said.
The Congress now is putting up a brave front, saying consolidation of Dalit votes will affect the BJP rather than it. In 2013, the BJP managed to better its performance in seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes, from holding four in 2003 to five in 2008 and nine in 2013.
“Currently, the BJP holds nine of the 10 reserved seats. So should a Dalit consolidation happen, it is the BJP which should be worried and not us,” T.S. Singh Deo, Leader of the Congress Legislature Party, said.