Forest pitch: The Hindu Editorial on the 2023 Chhattisgarh Assembly elections

In Chhattisgarh, the ruling Congress has built an election plank with a mix of regional pride and welfarism. The Bharatiya Janata Party, its principal opponent, is targeting the government on corruption and non-fulfilment of election promises made five years ago. The Congress’s attempts to build a narrative around Chhattisgarhi sub-nationalism have made regional identity a key electoral theme for the first time since the State was formed in 2000. The party is also relying on its direct benefit transfer schemes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana or the Godhan Nyay Yojana, or higher prices on minor forest produce that cover a major chunk of the rural and tribal populace. Rural housing is another issue that has been hotly contested with both sides accusing the other of being ineffective and insensitive in this regard. A government survey that has pegged the share of Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the State’s population at 43.5% forms the backdrop to the Congress’s special focus on the social group. The BJP has fielded OBC representatives in nearly two-thirds of the general seats. In the 90-strong Assembly, 10 seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 29 for Scheduled Tribes. Nine of 13 candidates announced by the Congress for general seats are from OBCs. Both parties exhibit their commitment towards OBCs, and tribes people who form nearly a third of the population seem to get less attention.

The BJP has accused the government of large-scale corruption. The Enforcement Directorate is conducting a multitude of probes that entangle bureaucrats and other individuals linked to the government or the Congress party, including Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s close aides. The Congress dismisses these allegations and accuses the Centre of running a witch-hunt against it. By fielding the father of a young man who died in communal riots and another riot accused against the lone Muslim face of the Baghel cabinet, the BJP has indicated that it is aiming at polarisation. The party is facing disenchantment among its workers who complain that too many old faces have been fielded again. The Congress, in its first list of 30, has dropped eight sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly and can expect some rebellion in the ranks too. Both parties claim credit for the reduction in violence in the insurgency-hit Bastar region, but a new political entrant, the Hamar Raj party, is hoping to harness tribal discontent against both. A rejuvenated Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the declining Janta Congress Chhattisgarh founded by the late Ajit Jogi, and the Bahujan Samaj Party are also in the fray, but the contest will likely remain between the Congress and the BJP.