Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party at a rally on March 15, 2018. Photo: AFP/The Times of India/Pritam Thakur
Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party at a rally on March 15, 2018. Photo: AFP/The Times of India/Pritam Thakur

Despite having five months to go before assembly elections in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, poll fever seems to have gripped the state.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has targeted 65 of the 90 seats, in a campaign dubbed “Mission-65.” The Indian National Congress party, meanwhile, which has been out of power for 15 years, has also started campaigning and is aiming to win 55 seats.

Both parties have been organizing rallies, meetings and road shows – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, BJP President Amit Shah and other big names have already done road shows.

However, a lot of interest is focussed on the Bahujan Samaj Party, with many wondering whose side the party will take if a coalition has to be formed. Some senior Bahujan Samaj Party figures are not in favor of a coalition, while others believe that even if the elections are contested post-coalition, the situation can change at the last minute. The party is preparing to contest every seat.

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati has appointed five people from Uttar Pradesh to lead the Chhattisgarh election campaign, and they have been continuously touring the state. Meanwhile Bhupesh Baghel, the Congress party president in Chhattisgarh, has been busy trying to get the Bahujan Samaj Party to agree to a coalition. Baghel has offered the Bahujan Samaj Party an alliance on various public forums, but the party is staying mum about it’s plans.

Keshaw Prasad Chandra, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s only Member of Legislative Assembly, or MLA, for Jaijaipur in the state assembly, told Asia Times: “Our party has been contesting assembly elections for most seats since becoming a state. There are at least 30 seats where we are in a better position. Initially, there have been discussions on an alliance with Congress, but the final decision will be made by our top leaders.”

Former Bahujan Samaj Party legislator Kamda Jolhe agreed, saying the decision was being left to senior leaders.

The BJP, however, believes a coalition will not jeopardize its vote bank. Party President Dharamlal Kaushik, told Asia Times: “The Congress is weak in its own way, and whoever is weak, has to bring parties together. This party is trying to save itself with coalitions. But the Bharatiya Janata Party is ready to get 65 seats this time.”

State Chief Minister Raman Singh also appears unconcerned with the possibility of a coalition. On speculation of a Bahujan Samaj Party-Congress coalition, he said: “Dashanan may have 10 heads, but one Ram is enough.” H was referring to the Hindu legend of Lord Ram, who battled a 10-headed king.

‘Alliance will land BJP in trouble’

Political analysts believe that if the Congress-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance is formed, then problems will arise for the BJP. In the 2013 election, the BJP won 49 of the 90 seats in Chhattisgarh and 39. One seat went to the Bahujan Samaj Party and one was taken by an independent candidate.

The BJP, which is aiming for a fourth consecutive term, knows a victory will not be easy as it managed to win by a very narrow margin – 0.75% votes – in the last elections. If Congress forms a coalition with the Bahujan Samaj Party, forming a government will not be easy for the BJP.

Chhattisgarh has not been a stronghold for the Bahujan Samaj Party, but in the plains of the state, Dalit votes have always been a deciding factor. The Bahujan Samaj Party has always had a good base in these areas. The party’s strength can also be assessed by the fact that its founder, Kanshi Ram, fought the first Lok Sabha election in the Janjgir-Champa area of Chhattisgarh in 1984. Since then, the Bahujan Samaj Party has continued to grow steadily in this area.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, which has a lack of resources, has never won more than two seats.

In the undivided Madhya Pradesh, then-Bahujan Samaj Party state president Dauram Ratnakar had a chance to become an MLA three times from Pamgarh. After the formation of Chhattisgarh, the Bahujan Samaj Party finished third with 13 seats – a total of 4.45% of the votes.

In the 2008 elections, the party again managed to win two seats from Pamgarh and Akaltra, finishing third again with 36 seats. In 2013, the party did not perform well. They lost many leaders, who left for different reasons, and won only one assembly constituency, in Jaijaipur. The percentage of votes this year has come down to 4.27% and the party remains at number two in three seats and third in nine seats.

Slim chance of coalition: experts

Political analysts see the possibility of a Congress-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition in these seats. Alok Putul, a senior journalist and political analyst from Chhattisgarh, said in the last election, there were at least 11 seats where if the votes for Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party were combined, the BJP would have lost with 38 seats and the Congress-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition could have won with 51 seats.

Putul said: “Vote percentages from the last elections show that the BJP got 41.04% of the total votes. Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party got 40.29% and 4.27%, respectively. If there was a coalition, this figure would have been 44.56%.”

However, he added that if the history of the Bahujan Samaj Party is looked at, then there is slim chances of such a coalition, but nothing is impossible in politics.