NEW DELHI 15 MAY 2018: Congress president Rahul Gandhi will launch his election campaign for Chhattisgarh with public meetings at Sitapur and Gaurella-Pendra on May 17, two days after the Karnataka results and nearly six months ahead of the assembly elections in the tribal-dominated state, in a move that analysts say reflects the Congress’ new-found drive.
During his two-day visit, Gandhi will attend a conference on Panchayati Raj in Raipur on May 18. Chhattisgarh, along with Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, will go to polls in November-December. Apart from holding a road show and a bike rally, Gandhi will also interact with the booth-level office bearers at Durg and Bilaspur divisions.
Gandhi led the Congress’ campaign from the front in Karnataka, speaking in 40 rallies and around 60 other meetings. He spent 24 days in the state over the past few months.
Out of power in Chhattisgarh since 2003, the Congress will be hoping to dethrone the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and three-term chief minister Raman Singh. In 2016, the Congress suffered a major setback after its senior leader and former chief minister Ajit Jogi quit the party to form the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh.
Congress leaders say Jogi could hurt their party’s chances by dividing anti-BJP votes, although the former CM has pitched his new party as the main challenger to the BJP and dismissed the Congress as a third force.
Prior to Jogi’s exit, the party’s entire front-line leadership, including Nand Kumar Patel, Mahendra Karma, Gopal Madhavan, Uday Kumar Mudaliar and VC Shukla, was wiped out in a deadly Maoist attack in May 2013.
The opposition party has a new team in Chhattisgarh with the appointment of PL Punia as All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge; he will be assisted by Chandan Yadav.
The challenge for the team will be to revive and strengthen the Congress at the grassroots level and build a new leadership in the state. However, party leaders are confident of ousting the BJP this time, arguing that only 1% vote share separates the two parties. In the 2013 elections, the BJP had a vote share of 41.04%, while the Congress secured 40.29%. Of the 90 seats, the BJP won 49, the Congress, 39, the BSP 1, and 1 seat we- nt to an independent candidate.
Political experts say Gandhi’s visit will set the agenda for the upcoming polls. “For the first time in many years, we are seeing Congress workers charged up. The Congress has already activated its booth level workers, which is again a rare instance in the party which used to get into the election mode just before the polls. Rahul Gandhi’s visit will certainly help the Congress in galvanising party leaders and cadre,” Raipur-based political analyst Parivesh Mishra said.