From Mandir to Farms: BJP’s Election Shift in Chhattisgarh Poll Campaign

The key to power in Chhattisgarh is the tribal and farmer votes, an analysis

Bhopal: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not inclined to adopt the ‘mandir wahi banayenge’ (we promise to build the temple at the same spot) theme in Chhattisgarh for the Assembly election. The consecration of the Ram Mandir at the Janmsthan is set to be the BJP’s major campaign theme in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Whereas, Congress’ Bhupesh Baghel government has announced a strategy similar to the one adopted by the party in the 2018 assembly elections, focusing on waiving crop loans for farmers rather than highlighting the revival and development of the Ram Van Gaman Tourism Circuit, which offers devotees and tourists an experience of Lord Rama’s journey. Lord Rama, his brother, and wife are believed to have spent 12 of the 14 years of exile in areas that are now in Chhattisgarh.

In the current election mood, the saffron brigade is not actively promoting the consecration of the Ram Mandir at the Janmsthan due to the Bhupesh Baghel Congress government’s active involvement in initiatives like the construction of the Mata Kaushalya temple, as well as the revival and development of the Ram Van Gaman Tourism Circuit in the ‘Rice Bowl of India.’

The state’s main opposition party is heavily focused on farmers, paddy procurement, and housing for all. Chhattisgarh BJP president and Lok Sabha member Arun Sao, contesting the upcoming assembly polls from Lormi under the Bilaspur district, indicated that his party would address all farmer-related issues and meet their expectations in its election manifesto.

The paddy procurement program for farmers was first conceived in Chhattisgarh by former chief minister Dr. Raman Singh, as Sao told media persons, alleging that ‘the welfare schemes being implemented by the Bhupesh Baghel government are marred by corruption scandals, with money being embezzled under the guise of collecting soil for cow dung.’

The BJP is in no rush to set the theme rolling in the Chhattisgarh assembly elections, where a subtle Hindutva campaign was floated by the Bhupesh Baghel government.

Over the last four years, the Bhupesh Baghel government actively involved in the revival and development of the nanihal (mother’s birthplace) of Lord Ram. Firstly, it brought the Kaushalya Mata Mandir onto India’s religious tourist map by transforming an obscure island temple in Chandkhuri village on the outskirts of Raipur into a bustling tourist destination. Secondly, the government worked on the ambitious Ram Van Gaman Paripath (Ram Van Gaman Tourism Circuit) corridor project to connect all sites where Rama stopped during his exile. It is believed that Lord Ram spent 12 of the 14 years of exile from Ayodhya in the forests of Chhattisgarh (earlier known as Dandakaranya).

According to mythology, Ram during his Vanvas stayed in Dakshin Kosala, which is modern-day Chhattisgarh, as detailed in the book ‘History, Religion and Culture of India’ (in 6 volumes), History, Religion and Culture of Central India (volume 5), written by Prof S Gajrani, published by Isha Books, New Delhi, 2004, Page 5.

The state has identified 75 places where Lord Rama visited and rested for a few moments. Nine of those 75 places will be decorated in the first phase of the project by 2023.

In this election, CM Baghel tweeted about waiving off farmers’ loans: “We will write off crop loans of farmers if Congress is voted to power in the state in the upcoming assembly polls,” Baghel tweeted, sharing his election speech delivered in Shakti district. The chief minister also pledged to increase paddy procurement from the present 16 quintals per acre to 20 for the farmers if his party is voted to power.

The last four assembly elections, after Chhattisgarh was carved out from Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000, remained quite interesting. In the 2003 election, the BJP won 50 seats, including the 25 ST-reserved seats. The Congress then won 9 ST-reserved seats. In the 2008 election, the delimitation reduced the ST reserved seats from 34 to 29 but BJP again formed government, winning 50 seats with the blessings of tribals. It secured 19 out of the 29 ST-reserved seats, while Congress won 10 ST-reserved seats. In the 2013 assembly polls, Congress won 18 out of 29 ST-reserved seats, but its overall tally was limited to 39. BJP bagged 49 seats, including 11 ST reserved seats. In the 2018 assembly elections, tribal voters leaned significantly towards the Congress. Out of 29 ST-reserved seats, the grand old party won 25, BJP-3, and JCC (J)-1. Later, the Congress clinched two more ST reserved seats – Dantewada and Marwahi in by-polls.

Clearly, Tribal votes make or break the government in Chhattisgarh.

In the rice bowl of India, whichever view prevails in the election pitch, the focus on farmers will continue to hold considerable importance in the ballot box.

Anup Dutta

is a multimedia freelance journalist based in Bhopal. He reports on people, politics, policies, health, art and culture.

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