Chhattisgarh heads for final showdown

    By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

    Raipur : The second and final phase of polling for the remaining 72 seats in the Chhattisgarh legislative assembly will be held Tuesday amid reports that the state may he heading for a photo finish.

    Over 13.9 million voters, including 6.83 million women, will be eligible to exercise their franchise in 18,015 polling stations to decide the fate of 843 candidates, 75 women included.

    As many as 3,000 cameras will be installed at the polling booths to ensure free and fair polls.

    The main battle is predictably between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has governed Chhattisgarh since 2003, and the Congress.

    Political pundits and reports from interior areas say that the race for power is wide open.

    The BJP could score a hat-trick or the Congress, which headed the first government after the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, could stage a comeback.

    The Congress has been out of power in the mineral rich state since December 2003 when the Ajit Jogi-led government suffered a crushing defeat.

    Chief Minister Raman Singh, the BJP’s poster boy in Chhattisgarh, says the people are determined to give one more chance to his party in a bid to accelerate the pace of economic development.

    “In the past one decade, the BJP government has put development in top gear. The march for development must continue in the state. I feel in my campaign across the state that people have already made up their mind to continue with the BJP regime,” the Ayurvedic doctor-turned politician Singh told IANS.

    He added: “There is no anti-incumbency feeling in the state anywhere despite a decade of governance of the BJP.”

    Jogi, the face of the Congress in the state despite the party’s refusal to project any leader as the chief ministerial candidate, claims that the Congress is set to stage a grand comeback in Chhattisgarh.

    “Ask anyone in rural or urban areas, the honest reply is that the Congress is all set to make a comeback. Actually, people are fed up with the BJP’s gross misrule and scams besides a massive rise in Maoist militancy during BJP Raj,” Jogi said.

    Opinion polls carried out by various agencies in recent weeks however say that the BJP would get a third five-year term in Chhattisgarh.

    Election data shows that the second phase polling for 72 seats, of which 17 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes and nine for Scheduled Caste, are spread out in 19 districts.

    Saraipali in Mahasamund district has just five contestants, which is the lowest figure among all 72 constituencies.

    The maximum number of candidates, 38, are contesting from Raipur South in Raipur district where BJP heavyweight and PWD Minister Brijmohan Agrawal is seeking his sixth consecutive victory.

    In the first phase of polling, 18 seats, a majority of these located in Maoists strongholds, saw polling Nov 11.

    (Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])