Of all Congress’s successes in recent state Assembly elections in India, Chhattisgarh represents the most promising evidence of the electorate’s choice for change.

But a third front led by ex-Congress leader Ajit Jogi may have played a crucial role in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s defeat in the state.

Congress’s winning tally in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh rose slowly on the counting day, but fell a tad short of the halfway mark, while Chhattisgarh was a clear victory soon after the results started pouring in early in the morning on December 11.

The grand old party of India won in 68 of 90 constituencies, a two-thirds majority. It left three-time winner Raman Singh’s-led BJP with only 15 seats and Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) with five seats. Congress gained 29 seats since the previous state election in 2013, with a vote share of 43% – only 3% higher than the earlier 40.29%.

Gaining 29 seats with a 3% spike in vote share was possible for Congress only because voters were seeking change. Many chose to go for a third option and trusted the JCC alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI).

The result, along with that of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, has changed Congress’s fortunes and set the stage for upcoming general elections in 2019.

Analyzing the verdict

Jogi, the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and a former Congressman, was believed to have caused some sleepless nights for Congress and the BJP after he announced the third front joining the fray under his leadership.

Breaking down the 2018 Assembly results, it appears the coalition might just have involuntarily helped the grand old party return to power with a thumping majority.

Going by the data from 2013, the difference in vote share between Congress and the BJP then was 0.75%; this time it was 10%. The BJP had 33% – down from 41.04% in 2013 – of the votes in 2018, but won only 15 seats, while the JCC-BSP-CPI alliance took away about 12% of the vote share, which translated into seven seats – 5 JCC + 2 BSP.

The question is, what caused the 10% vote swing from the BJP to Congress. The third front most likely hurt the BJP’s chances. Notably, in many seats, the option of None of The Above (NOTA) played a spoiler, garnering a total vote share of 2%. Meanwhile, there were Congress seats where the JCC coalition candidate’s votes were more than the BJP candidate’s losing margin.

Again, tribal leader Jogi was expected to have influenced the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) votes, but it turns out that Congress won the maximum number of such seats. In the Bastar and Sarguja tribal belts, the party had a clean sweep.

Differing views

Former Chhattisgarh state election commissioner Dr Sushil Trivedi pointed out: “In 2003, it was Vidya Charan Shukla [who switched loyalties] who co-founded the regional party Jan Morcha, garnering 7% votes, and in 2018, first state CM Ajit Jogi constituted a regional party, which garnered 7.6% votes to change the whole election scenario in Chhattisgarh.”

He said Jogi contributed to the defeat of the BJP, but did not cause the massive wipeout.

JCC media chairman Iqbal Ahmed Rizvi noted: “Our party candidates have been placed in second, third and fourth positions. We conducted our survey and we found that most of the party workers in remote areas, believing that Ajit Jogi is still in Congress, had voted for the hand symbol.

“As a party, we feel that we failed to take our symbol towards remote areas, otherwise, the result could be different and we could have played the role of kingmaker by winning about 15 seats.”

BJP spokespersons for Chhattisgarh Sachchidanand Upasane and Sanjay Shrivastava both said that since an election analysis had not yet been carried out by their party, they could not comment on whether the JCC impacted their vote share.

Shrivastava said: “One point [of analysis] will be the impact of Janta Congress Chhattisgarh. The total study on different aspects will only reveal.”

Apart from the BJP, the BSP turned out to be the other loser in Chhattisgarh due to the alliance; its 3.9% vote share in 2013 plummeted to 0.5% this time.

The JCC had been a formidable competitor in Chhattisgarh elections this year, significantly impacting the outcome of future elections in the state. In most cases, the Ajit Jogi-led party had eaten into the BJP’s vote share, diminishing or eliminating its chances of winning. This, by default, worked well for Congress.

Looking at the vote breakup of some of the Assembly constituencies of the tribal state, it becomes clear how the JCC made a dent in the BJP’s vote share.

For instance, the Takhatpur constituency was won in 2013 by the BJP’s Raju Singh Kshatri, who defeated Congress’s Ashish Singh Thakur by a margin of 608 votes. In 2018, it was a neck-to-neck situation again.

While Congress’s Rashmi Singh won the seat with 52,616 votes, JCC’s Santosh Kaushik had 49,625, only 4,003 votes more than the BJP’s Harshita Pandey, who came in third.

In Durg city, 2013 and 2018 were close calls for the BJP, losing both times by a narrow margin. In 2013, the BJP’s Hemchand Yadav polled 53,024 votes, while Congress’s Arun Vora won with 58,645 votes. Vora won the seat again in 2018 with 64,981 votes, against the BJP’s Chandrika Chandrakar with 43,900 votes. The JCC’s Pratap Madhyani bit into the BJP’s chunk, getting 20,634 votes.

How far the JCC reaches across the state by the next Assembly polls and eats into both the Congress and BJP vote shares will be reflected in the performance of their five legislators elected to the 2018 Assembly.