BJP today posted a hat-trick of wins in Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, thwarting a spirited comeback bid by Congress which failed to wrest power in the state after a decade despite a sympathy factor following the massacre of its top leaders in May this year.
After a see-saw battle through the day during which Congress at times appeared coasting to victory, BJP managed to retain the mineral-rich state winning 49 seats in the 90-member House.
BJP's tally, despite being in power for 10 years, fell just one short of the identical number of 50 seats it had won in 2003 and 2008 under Raman Singh.
Congress, which won 37 seats in 2003 and 38 in 2008, marginally bettered its performance bagging 39 seats this time.
Chief Minister Raman Singh, the soft-spoken BJP satrap, with his assiduously cultivated image of a moderate leader, won the day for the saffron party largely on the strength of his work for the poor, though Narendra Modi effect also appeared to have come into play.
BJP's prime ministerial contender had carpet-bombed the state with scores of rallies during his high-pitch campaign.
The landmark food security law enacted by Raman Singh government, the first anywhere in the country, poll watchers feel, provided the bedrock for Ayurvedic doctor-turned- politician's return to power for a third time.
Under the Chhattisgarh food law, the state government has been providing 35 kg of food grains per month to 42 lakh poor families at Rs 1-2 per kg, earning Singh the epithet of 'chaur wale baba' (The Rice Man).
Chhattisgarh's scheme outdoes the Central law under which 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals would be provided every month per person at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Re 1, respectively, to 67 per cent of the country’s population.
"It is a historic day and I express my gratitude to the people of the state for showing faith in the development done by the BJP," Singh told reporters as his party was poised to secure a majority after a closely-contested battle.
Though Congress marginally improved upon its previous performances, it proved grossly inadequate to edge BJP out of power in the state, tribal parts of which have been continually in the grip of Naxalite violence.
The Maoist menace in Chhattisgarh shook the nation when 27 Congressmen including the party's state president Nand Kumar Patel, one of the tallest tribal leaders Mahendra Karma and once powerful former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla were gunned down at Darbha valley in Sukma district in May.
Congress leaders had vehemently flagged Raman Singh government's failure to prevent the attack during the campaign, but the sympathy factor did not cut ice with the voters beyond tribal Bastar region where BJP performed miserably.
Of the 12 seats in Bastar, Congress won eight. BJP had secured 11 of these seats in 2008.
Kawasi Lakhma, the sole Congress MLA from Bastar in the last elections and one of the survivors of Darbha massacre, retained his seat, while Mahendra Karma's wife Devti wrested Dantewada from BJP.
The defeat of the Leader of Opposition Ravindra Choubey, prominent tribal leaders and several sitting MLAs in the plains rocked the Congress boat.
Choubey, a six-time MLA from Saja, lost. Prominent tribal leader Rampukar Singh, a 7-term MLA from Patthalgaon, fell by the wayside and so did another party stalwart and a tribal leader Bodhram Kanwar.
Similarly, another popular tribal leader Premsai Singh Tekam lost to BJP state President Ramsewak Paikra from Pratappur.
Son of former chief minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh Shyamacharan Shukla and sitting Congress MLA from Rajim constituency Amitesh Shukla too bit the dust.
Reacting to the defeat, Union Minister and state Congress chief Charandas Mahant said an "internal sabotage" might have led to the defeat of prominent party leaders.
"This is democracy and we consider it our bad luck that our big leaders about whose victory we were sure had to face defeat. It also indicates some internal sabotage," he said.
He also rejected suggestions that the poll outcome was a result of the 'Modi effect'.
Though Raman Singh scored an easy victory from Rajnandgaon, at least six of his ministers and both Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly lost.
While Speaker Dharamlal Kaushik lost to Siyaram Kaushik of Congress from Bilha constituency, Deputy Speaker Narayan Chandel was humbled by Congress’ Moti Lal Dewangan at Janjgir-Champa.
Prominent ministers who lost included Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar (Rampur), Agriculture Minister Chandrashekhar Sahu (Abhanpur), Water Resources Minister Ramvichar Netam (Ramanujganj), Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Hemchand Yadav (Durg City), and Sports Minister Lata Usendi (Kondagaon).
Health Minister Amar Agrawal won Bilaspur seat, Housing and Environment Minister Rajesh Munat (Raipur city west), Forest Minister Vikram Usendi (Antagarh), Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Dayaldas Baghel (Nawagarh), School Education Minister Brijmohan Agrawal (Raipur city south) and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Punnu Lal Mohile (Mugali).
A high-profile Congress victor was Amit Jogi, son of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi. Amit trounced Sameera Paikra of BJP by 46,250 votes from Kota. Renu Jogi, wife of Ajit Jogi, Chhattisgarh's first Chief Minister, also won from Kota.
Veteran Congress leader Motilal Vora's son Arun too emerged victorious from Durg city.
Meanwhile, Congress' richest candidate in Chhattisgarh Tribhuneshwar Sharan Singh Dev, who has declared his assets worth over Rs 560 crore, defeated BJP's Anurag Singh Deo by a margin of 19,558 votes.
Scion of royal family of Sarguja, 61-year-old Dev, who is popular as TS Baba, bagged 84,668 votes while his rival managed 65,100 votes.
Incidentally, Dev had earlier beaten Anurag in the 2008 Assembly Elections by mere 948 votes.
Veteran Congress leader Motilal Vora's son Arun managed 58,645 votes and defeated BJP's Hemchand Yadav by 5,621 votes at the Durg constituency.
Slain Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nand Kumar Patel's son Umesh won at the Kharsia constituency beating BJP's Jawaharlal Naik by 38,888 votes. Umesh secured 95,470 votes while his rival managed 56,582.
BJP also secured the Kawardha seat, home town of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh.
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