As the 25 constituencies in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur division go to polls on Friday, multipolar contests could be a deciding factor for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in a region that sends nearly a third of the MLAs to the 90-member state assembly.
Among the five administrative divisions of the state, the Bilaspur division is located in the central region.
Marwahi, the home-turf of late Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister of the state, lies in the region and his family still holds sway in the area.
The division consists of eight districts: Raigarh, Korba, Bilaspur, Janjgir-Champa, Sakti, Mungeli, Sarangarh-Bilaigarh and Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi.
Out of the 25 seats, five seats each are reserved for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
Rampur, Pali-Tanakhar, Lailunga, Dharamjaigarh and Marwahi are ST seats, while Sarangarh, Bilaigarh, Pamgarh, Mungeli and Masturi seats are reserved for SC candidates.
This was the only division which the Congress did not sweep in 2018, while the BJP, which faced a rout elsewhere, won nearly half of its statewide tally in this region.
The division had 24 seats in 2018, of which the Congress won 12 while the BJP won seven.
The Bahujan Samaj Party won two and the then Ajit Jogi-led Janta Congress Chhattisgarh-Jogi bagged three seats.
After the new district of Sarangarh-Bilaigarh was created, the Bilaigarh seat, earlier in the Raipur division, was included in the Bilaspur division. Bilaigarh had been won by the Congress in 2018.
The region is also known to have influence of the family of Ajit Jogi. In the 2018 assembly polls, Ajit Jogi secured more than 49 per cent votes in Marwahi constituency while his wife Renu won from Kota.
Renu Jogi is contesting from Kota this time too.
The BSP, which was in the second spot in two seats in 2018, has entered into an alliance with the Gondwana Ganatantra Party this time.
The Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray. Both the BJP and the Congress, however, claim that the presence of these smaller parties would not affect the results and the contest will be bipolar.
“Almost 95 per cent of leaders of the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh-Jogi have joined the Congress,” noted Congress MLA Shailesh Pandey.
Pandey, the incumbent MLA from Bilaspur, is facing the BJP’s Amar Agrawal, a four-time MLA and former minister. Pandey had defeated Agrawal in 2018.
Sushil Anand Shukla, chairman of the media cell of the state Congress said the BSP will not hurt his party’s prospects like it did in 2018.
Chhattisgarh BJP chief and Bilaspur MP Arun Sao said the contest in the Bilaspur region will be bipolar.
Both the BJP and Congress deployed their top guns for campaigning in the Bilaspur division this time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra held rallies in the region.
Sao claimed that as per internal surveys, the saffron party may win 20 of the 25 seats. Sao, who is himself in the fray from Lormi, said the party has fielded both fresh faces as well as senior leaders from the division.
Leader of Opposition Narayan Chandel (Janjgir-Champa seat), former IAS officer O P Chaudhary (Raigarh), two members of the family of BJP stalwart late Dilip Singh Judev — Sanyogita Judev (Chandrapur) and Prabal Pratap Singh Judev (Kota) — are among other key BJP candidates in this division.
On the Congress’s part, it is aware that it had not performed too well in the division last time.
The party, therefore, did elaborate planning for campaigning in the division, said Shukla.
“We won the state with a three-fourths majority last time, but could not do well in the Bilaspur division,” Shukla told PTI.
Top leaders like Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra aggressively campaigned in the region this time, he pointed out.
The region is also a prominent agricultural belt, and procurement of paddy at Rs 2,600 per quintal by the Congress government in the last five years and its NYAY scheme for farmers will help the party in the polls, Shukla said.
The Congress has promised to hike the paddy procurement rate to Rs 3,200 per quintal and waive agricultural loans if it retains power. These promises and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s image as a farmer-OBC leader will also help the Congress, he said.
“We will recover the last time’s losses,” Shukla asserted.
Assembly Speaker Charandas Mahant (Sakti seat) and state ministers Umesh Patel (Kharsia) and Jaisingh Agrawal (Korba) are among prominent candidates from the ruling party in this division.
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