Friday, November 14, 2008

Can the Congress make a comeback?

The first phase of polling in Chhattisgarh will decide the fate of Chief Minister Raman Singh from the Rajnandgaon seat. Singh became the Chief Minister in 2003, after the BJP defeated the Ajit Jogi-led Congress government.

The BJP won 50 seats in the November 2003 elections. Ajit Jogi had been in power since the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000.

Polling will be held in five districts of Bastar region - Rajnandgaon, Kawardha, Durg, Mahasamund and Dhamtari. The state has a total of 90 seats and polling for the remaining 51 seats will be held on 20th November.

Development being his poll plank, Raman Singh is relying on his administration’s welfare measures such as selling rice at Rs 3 per kilo to the poor.

On the other hand, the Congress has made corruption, law and order and killings of tribals its campaign theme. Ajit Jogi is contesting from Marwahi, which will go to the polls in the second phase of elections.

Fearing disruption by Maoists, Chhattisgarh has stepped up security in the 39 constituencies, including those contested by chief minister Raman Singh and opposition leader Mahendra Karma
Twelve of the 39 constituencies are in the Bastar region where the Maoists are particularly active.

Unlike in other constituencies, polling in these will begin at 7am and end at 3pm to enable poll officials to complete the process before sunset. In the other constituencies, polling will begin at 8am and end at 5pm.

The Bastar region has seen at least 1,100 deaths since 2004 in violence attributed to Maoists.

Chief minister Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting from Rajnandgaon, and Congress partys Karma is contesting from Dantewada in Bastar. Singh became chief minister in 2003 after the BJP defeated Ajit Jogi-led Congress party that had power since the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000.

In the previous election, the BJP had won 52 seats, Congress 34, and the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party one each.

The incumbent, Singh, is banking on his administrations developmental initiatives and welfare measures, including populist ones such as selling rice at Rs3 a kg to the poor. The Congress, on the other hand, is seeking a vote for change.

The first phase polling will decide the fate of Chief Minister Raman Singh from Rajnandgaon seat, leader of the opposition and Congress candidate Mahendra Karma from Dantewada and assembly Speaker Premprakash Pandey from Bhilai.

Some 6.4 million of Chhattisgarhs 15.2 million voters are expected to cast their ballots in 8,883 polling booths on Friday, according to data released by the Election Commission of India.

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