As the 25 constituencies in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur division go to polls on November 17, the Congress and the BJP would be slugging it out in this belt which sends nearly a third of MLAs to the 90-member State Assembly.
Among the five administrative divisions of the State, the Bilaspur division, located in the central region, has the highest number of 25 Assembly constituencies which will play a crucial role in deciding the winner this time.
Notably, this was the only division which the Congress did not sweep in 2018, while the BJP, which faced a rout elsewhere, won nearly half of its State-wide tally in this region.
The division had 24 seats in 2018, of which, the Congress won 12 while the BJP won seven. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won two and the then Ajit Jogi-led Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (Jogi) three.
After the new district of Sarangarh-Bilaigarh was created, the Bilaigarh seat, earlier in the Raipur division, was included in the Bilaspur division. Bilaigarh was won by the Congress in 2018.
The BSP, which was in the second spot in two seats in 2018, has entered into an alliance with the Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP) this time. The Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray.
Both the BJP and Congress deployed their top guns for campaigning in the Bilaspur division this time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi held rallies in the region.
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The division consists of eight districts: Raigarh, Korba, Bilaspur, Janjgir-Champa, Sakti, Mungeli, Sarangarh-Bilaigarh and Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi (GPM).
Out of the 25 seats in the region, five seats each are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs).
Rampur, Pali-Tanakhar, Lailunga, Dharamjaigarh and Marwahi are ST seats, while Sarangarh, Bilaigarh, Pamgarh, Mungeli and Masturi seats are reserved for SC candidates.
Chhattisgarh BJP chief and Bilaspur MP Arun Sao claimed that as per internal surveys, the saffron party may win 20 of the 25 seats.
Mr. Sao, who is himself in the fray from Lormi, said the party has fielded both fresh faces as well as senior leaders from the division.
Leader of Opposition Narayan Chandel (Janjgir-Champa seat), former IAS officer O P Chaudhary (Raigarh), two members of the family of BJP stalwart late Dilip Singh Judev — Sanyogita Judev (Chandrapur) and Prabal Pratap Singh Judev (Kota) — are among other key BJP candidates in this division.
On the Congress’s part, it is aware that it did not perform too well in the division last time.
The party, therefore, did elaborate planning for campaigning in the division, said Sushil Anand Shukla, chairman of the media cell of the state Congress.
“We won the state with a three-fourths majority last time, but could not do well in the Bilaspur division,” Mr. Shukla told PTI.
Top leaders like Mr. Kharge, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi aggressively campaigned in the region this time, he pointed out.
The region is also a prominent agricultural belt, and procurement of paddy at ₹2,600 per quintal by the Congress government in the last five years and its NYAY scheme will help the party in the polls, Mr. Shukla said.
The Congress has also promised to hike the paddy procurement rate to ₹3200 per quintal and waive agricultural loans if it retains power.
These promises and Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s image as a farmer-OBC leader will also help the Congress, he said.
“We will recover the last time’s losses,” Mr. Shukla asserted.
But tripolar or multipolar contests could be the deciding factor in many seats in the region where Chhattisgarh’s first Chief Minister late Ajit Jogi had considerable influence.
Both the national parties, however, claim that the contest will be bipolar.
“Almost 95% of leaders of the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (Jogi) have joined the Congress,” said Congress MLA Shailesh Pandey.
Mr. Pandey, incumbent MLA from Bilaspur, is facing the BJP’s Amar Agrawal, a four-time MLA and former minister. Mr. Pandey had defeated Agrawal in 2018.
Assembly Speaker Charandas Mahant (Sakti seat) and State Ministers Umesh Patel (Kharsia) and Jaisingh Agrawal (Korba) are among prominent candidates from the ruling party in this division.
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