Chhattisgarh 2023: BJP scripts stunning victory, Congress faces ED heat; Naxals strike big

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai during a meeting, in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai during a meeting, in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023

Raipur: The BJP’s triumph in the assembly polls, considered by many a foregone conclusion in favour of Congress, series of ED actions, including in the Mahadev betting app case, a deadly Naxal attack, and nude men protesting over jobs dominated the events in Chhattisgarh in 2023.

Though elections were held at the end of the year, poll mood prevailed in Chhattisgarh throughout with top leaders of BJP, Congress and AAP making frequent visits to the state for rallies and meetings, and chalking out their strategies.

The BJP wrested power from the Congress in a decisive mandate after a high-octane campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the state with a large tribal population.

Vishnu Deo Sai, a prominent tribal face of the saffron party, became the new chief minister in December, while first-time BJP MLAs Arun Sao and Vijay Sharma were appointed as deputy CMs.

Amid increased focus on politics in an election year, Naxals killed ten policemen and a civilian driver on April 26 by blowing up an MUV in Dantewada district, their biggest strike on security forces in Chhattisgarh in two-and-a-half years.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) stepped up the heat on the Congress with raids on the premises of many of its leaders, businessmen and bureaucrats in the then Bhupesh Baghel government over alleged coal levy, liquor, and Mahadev online betting app scams.

In the two-phased polls in November, whose results were declared on December 3, the BJP won in 54 constituencies, marking its highest seat tally ever in the 90-member assembly and leaving the Congress in a considerably weaker position with only 35 seats.

The BJP crafted its narrative by weaving together corruption plank, Hindutva, a string of populist promises and PM Modi’s charisma to beat pollsters’ predictions and make a dramatic comeback. BJP’s tally had plunged to 15 in 2018 despite being in power in Chhattisgarh for three consecutive terms since 2003.

The Congress showcased the then Bhupesh Baghel-led government’s welfare schemes on which it claimed around Rs 1.75 lakh crore was spent, ‘Chhattisgarhiyawad’ (regional card) and Baghel’s popularity as a son-of-the-soil leader to woo voters.

The Congress held its 85th plenary session in Raipur in February which saw the presence of top leaders like party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. It also reshuffled the party organisation and cabinet to stem infighting in its state unit.

Minister in the previous government TS Singh Deo, who was locked in a turf war with Baghel, was appointed as deputy CM in June. In July, Congress appointed party MP Deepak Baij as its state chief replacing Mohan Markam, who was later inducted into the cabinet. Singh Deo, Baij and Markam lost in the elections.

During campaigning, the Congress and then CM Baghel also came under heavy attacks from the BJP top brass, including Modi, Shah and party president JP Nadda, over the Mahadev betting app case and alleged irregularities in the selection and evaluation processes of the state public service commission.

Ahead of the polls, the ED cited a forensic analysis and a statement by a “cash courier” to claim that Mahadev betting app promoters paid about Rs 508 crore to CM Baghel so far and “that these are subject matter of investigation”. The ED also raided his political advisor Vinod Verma’s premises in the Mahadev app case.

The ED also arrested IAS officer Ranu Sahu, liquor businessman and Congress leader Aijaz Dhebar’s brother Anwar Dhebar, and excise department special secretary Arunpati Tripathi in separate cases.

As part of its campaign, the BJP also extensively highlighted the communal violence in Biranpur village in Bemetara district in April. It also fielded Ishwar Sahu, whose son was killed in the violence, from Saja seat. Sahu defeated minister and influential Congress leader Ravindra Choubey.

This election also saw the decline of the influence of former CM late Ajit Jogi-founded Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the state as both the parties failed to open their account. In 2018, the JCC (J)-BSP combine had won seven seats. This time BSP contested the polls in alliance with the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GPP), which won just one seat.

While late Ajit Jogi’s wife and MLA in the previous assembly Renu Jogi lost from Kota, his son lost from Patan. Ajit Jogi’s daughter-in-law Richa Jogi faced defeat in Akaltara.

The Aam Aadmi Party once again drew a blank in the state like in the 2018 polls.

Despite boycott calls by Naxals, the first phase of elections in 20 constituencies in Maoist-hit Bastar division and four other districts recorded a turnout of 78 per cent.

According to police, 25 security personnel and 41 civilians were killed in Naxal violence in the state till November of 2023. The figure was 10 and 36 respectively in 2022. Similarly, 19 Naxalites were killed in encounters with security forces till November, which was 30 in 2022.

In January, the state was in the news when tribals protesting alleged religious conversion vandalised a church in Narayanpur district and injured its superintendent of police after he and other police personnel tried to stop them.

In July, a group of naked men staged a protest in the capital Raipur, demanding action against those who allegedly got government jobs using fake caste certificates.

Rajesh Vishwas, a food inspector from the state, hit national headlines in May after he drained over 40 lakh litres of water from the cistern of a reservoir’s waste weir in Kanker district to retrieve his phone that he had accidentally dropped into. Vishwas and a water resources department official were suspended over the colossal waste of water, and a case was registered against them.

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