Congress wiped out from Maoist-affected Bastar in Chhattisgarh (Lead)

December 9th, 2008 - 6:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Raipur, Dec 9 (IANS) A near-total rout for the Congress in the sprawling 40,000 sq km hilly and forested stretches of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region — its stronghold for decades — in the 2008 state assembly poll saw the party win just one seat out of 12 in the area and stymied its chances to wrest the state from the Bharatiya Janata Party.Congress leaders claim that it was the result in Bastar, located in the state’s southern part and having 11 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes candidates, which denied the party a chance to stage a comeback.

Iron-ore rich Bastar region comprises five districts - Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Kanker and Bastar, and is under the influence of Maoists, who run a parallel government in the thickly-forested interiors. Since 2004, the rebels have killed over 1,100 persons including 726 civilians.

Congress held complete sway over the region in the 1998 poll but the party was stunned in the 2003 assembly election when it only managed to win only three seats while being defeated on the other nine by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which formed its first government in the state Dec 2003.

However, the 2008 poll was the worst-ever performance for Congress in Bastar, with the party only winning Konta in Dantewada district, where its candidate Kawasi Lakhma won for the third consecutive time, but only by a margin of 192 votes.

Even, the efforts of Congress general secretary and party MP, Rahul Gandhi, who addressed a public meeting at Jagdalpur, the district headquarters of Bastar district, did not help the party avoid the debacle.

“The party has never thought Bastar will hand over such a worst defeat to Congress. It seems unbelievable that people dumped Mahendra Karma, the leader of the opposition and architect of the civil militia movement ‘Salwa Judum’,” Congress spokesman Ramesh Varlyani told IANS.

Karma, who was expecting to register his third consecutive victory from Dantewada, was defeated by his rival from BJP, which won the seat for the first time. He came third, even trailing the Communist Party of India candidate.

The BJP has won 50 seats in the state with Congress settling for 38 while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) bagged two.

“I accept the peoples’ verdict and we will play the role of a responsible opposition party but the most stunning factor of 2008 results is Congress getting wiped out from Bastar,” Ajit Jogi, Congress leader and the state’s first chief minister, told reporters Tuesday.

State Congress president Dhanendra Sahu faxed his resignation to party president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday owning moral responsibility of the party’s defeat. Sahu, who contested from Abhanpur seat in Raipur district — his home turf — lost the election too.

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