Chhattisgarh polls 2023: Over to Kawardha – the saffron lab

Infuriated Hindu outfits protested against the Congress government in Kawardha after the violence.
Representational Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president JP Nadda attend the Central Election Committee meeting in New Delhi. (FIle Photo | PTI)
Representational Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president JP Nadda attend the Central Election Committee meeting in New Delhi. (FIle Photo | PTI)

RAIPUR: During a visit to Kawardha assembly constituency, amid the ongoing intensive campaigns by the political parties, one might easily get a glimpse of small groups of Hindu religious gurus moving around in urban and rural areas. They are interacting with the locals, asking them to vote “wisely”.

The assembly constituency, about 120 km from Raipur, with nearly three-fourths rural population is for the first time witnessing an apparent impact of polarisation as a dominant feature in the present political discourse during the campaign. Religious gurus under ‘sanatan dharma raksha manch’ are seen as active.

The attempt to infuse Hindutva sentiments among the people remains evident in the constituency where Mohammed Akbar, the lone Muslim candidate and minister in the Bhupesh Baghel government, remains in a challenging contest against the locally well-known BJP leader Vijay Sharma. Akbar in the 2018 polls recorded the biggest victory margin of nearly 60,000 in the state defeating BJP’s Ashok Sahu.

Kawardha, referred to as ‘Dharm nagri’, with a popular ancient Bhoramdeo temple dedicated to Lord Shiva situated amid mountain ranges, had witnessed communal clashes over religious flags in October 2021. Infuriated Hindu outfits protested against the Congress government in Kawardha after the violence.

Supporters of Sharma say that under the earlier BJP regime, there was no such communal tension and the administration allegedly didn’t act tough against the hoodlums belonging to a particular community for obvious reasons.

With the prevailing effort to rekindle the episode of religious flags issue, a majority of the electorate felt battle lines have been drawn with some parties seeking support to safeguard a particular faith, but they remain silent on how such an atmosphere will impact the unforeseen poll outcome in the region. Akbar however downplays the polarisation factor.

There is an added advantage for Sharma being a local while Akbar is cited as an outsider from Raipur. The BJP leader said that one can assess his acceptance among the people when many are also extending him some financial support during his campaign to fight the elections. The contest further becomes captivating with the entry of Lohana Royal House (riyasat) after 15 years.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fielded Khadag Raj Singh who held sway among the 25% tribal population who are the traditional vote-bank of Congress.The strong presence of communities like Sahu, Patel and Kurmis besides the tribals are said to play a significant role in deciding the fate of the candidate in the fray.

Attempt to polarise voters

With the prevailing effort to rekindle the episode of religious flags issue, a majority of the electorate felt battle lines have been drawn with some parties seeking support to safeguard a particular faith, but they remain silent on how such an atmosphere will impact the unforeseen poll outcome in the region. Akbar however downplays the polarisation factor. There is an added advantage for Sharma being a local while
Akbar is cited as an outsider from Raipur.

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