Chhattisgarh polls: Crucial phase for Raman Singh as 72 seats vote today

VotingPolling officials at a distribution centre in Raipur on the eve of 2nd phase of polling in Chhattisgarh. (PTI)

The 58 Vidhan Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh's central plains are where the state's political heart beats. This chunk of constituencies lies at the centre of the 72 that go to polls on Tuesday. It's a battle in which the Congress fancies its chances.

In 2008, the Congress won 30 of the 58 seats in central Chhattisgarh, including sweeping two districts, Dhamtari and Mahasamund, entirely. The BJP won 26; BSP two.

Of the total 72 seats going to polls, the BJP and Congress won 35 each in 2008. One of the two BSP MLAs has since joined the Congress.

BJP leaders are candid in conceding that they are unlikely to be able to repeat their 2008 showing in the primarily rural and tribal south Chhattisgarh areas that voted on November 11. The BJP won 15 of those 18 seats in 2008, a showing that ultimately ensured Raman Singh returned as chief minister.

Since then, the Congress has only increased in strength in the plains and urban areas. It has won the majority of urban bodies elections here in recent years. Raipur and Bilaspur, the two biggest cities, have women mayors from the Congress. For Raman Singh and the BJP, a third straight victory will come only if they are able to improve their performance in the second phase enough to offset the widely expected setbacks of the first phase.

The prosperous central plain has been the political nursery for Congress stalwarts like the former state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, former chief minister Ajit Jogi, and the Shukla and Vora families. This is the region where agricultural activity and rice production is concentrated; it is also where most industries are located. While the BJP claims to have improved farmers' lives by streamlining rice procurement, the Congress has dominated elections.

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