RAIPUR: In Chhattisgarh, where less than 1 per cent swing vote affects the fate of a political party, the Congress on Thursday recoursed to social engineering ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls by appointing dalit, tribal and OBC candidates in key party posts.
The All Indian Congress Committee (AICC), besides appointing PL Punia, a dalit and Rajya Sabha member from UP, as the party incharge for Chhattisgarh, has designated Kamleshwar Patel, an OBC candidate, and Arun Oran, a retired IPS officer with ST background from Jharkhand, as secretary incharge.
The decision of the Congress came a month after the BJP national president Amit Shah, during his three-day visit to Chhattisgarh, set his eyes on winning 65 seats target by winning over the ST and SC, both sections not traditionally seen as BJP voters.
In the 90-seat Chhattisgarh Assembly, 10 seats are reserved for the SCs and 29 for tribals. The OBCs form the major chunk of votes in the state with around 48 percent of the state’s 2.55 crore population. In the bipolar politics of the state, the OBC community are more or less equally divided between the BJP and Congress.
Political observers believe the caste and tribal equation would determine the fortune of the parties. Punia’s appointment by the Congress was seen as an apparent move to woo the SCs and Patel's, and Oran's appointment as an attempt to grab the major OBC and ST vote.
Punia could also be a potent political force to counter his batch mate and another IAS-turned politician Ajit Jogi whose political outfit Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (J) has made its presence felt in the political arena. Jogi quit Congress in June 2016 and floated his regional outfit.
Parivesh Mishra, a senior political analyst, said, “Amit Jogi and Punia are reported to be in good terms as against his predecessor BK Hariprasad who had burnt all the bridges. This might prove useful in case some sort of understanding is required at a later stage. The SCs would welcome a SC face in the Congress - something that might be difficult for the BJP to match.” PL Punia, after taking over the new responsibility, said, “I have a strategy for the 2018 Assembly elections.”
With 16 per cent schedule caste and 32 percent tribals in Chhattisgarh, the Congress has taken a chance in the state where it was just 0.77 per cent behind the ruling BJP in votes secured in the Assembly elections in 2013.