Bastar holds key to new Chhattisgarh government

November 11th, 2008 - 11:46 am ICT by IANS  

Bastar, Nov 11 (IANS) The sprawling region of Bastar holds the key to who will form the next government in Chhattisgarh.Can the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeat the Bastar performance of the 2003 elections or will the Congress pull off a victory? This is the question dominating political discussions in Chhattisgarh.

The battle for Chhattisgarh’s southern Bastar region with 12 seats, including 11 reserved for Dalits, has reached a climax with just days left for the first phase of elections to pick a 90-member assembly.

The Congress is desperate to regain its traditional base in the region, which has witnessed bloody attacks by Maoist guerrillas since 2004, leaving about 1,100 people, including 726 civilians, dead.

The BJP pulled off a stunning performance in Bastar in the state’s maiden elections in November 2003, grabbing nine out of 12 seats.

This time the BJP and the Congress are locked in a close contest. In addition, the Communist Party of India (CPI) has messed up the battle in the Dantewada and Konta constituencies, the areas worst hit by the Maoist insurgency.

“You can say that the Congress loss in Bastar was the main reason for the party’s ouster from power in 2003,” Arvind Netam, a senior Congress tribal leader of the Bastar region and a four-time Lok Sabha member, told IANS.

“Bastar was always the base of the Congress. The Congress has to regain its base if the party has to return to power,” he added.

But a party leader from Bastar who did not wish to be named said the Congress prospects in Bastar looked bleak.

One reason for this, the source said, was the poor selection of candidates. And then the Congress manifesto did not say a single word about how to address the Maoist menace, Bastar’s core problem.

Another party source, however, felt that the Congress would be able to perform “slightly better, probably its tally will go up to five or six”.

But a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) senior activist in Bastar admitted that tribals in Bastar still have strong affiliation with the Congress and have great affection for the Gandhi family.

“The BJP, he said, “has to break this link to secure a place in their hearts.”

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