Congress President Rahul Gandhi with senior leaders of the party's Chhattisgarh unit | PTI
Congress president Rahul Gandhi with senior leaders of the party's Chhattisgarh unit | PTI
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Chhattisgarh shows the way.

In the analysis of the results of five state assembly elections, Chhattisgarh is being treated as a sideshow, an outlier. It’s a small, tribal-dominated, conflict-ridden state. Yet, it is Chhattisgarh that has thrown up the most interesting and unexpected result.

For starters, when was the last time the Congress won any election with a landslide, 2/3rd majority? In Chhattisgarh, the party won 68 of 90 seats. Its vote share increased only a bit, from 40.3 per cent in 2013 to 43 per cent in 2018. But crucially, it was good at seat-conversion with the right kind of candidates and the right strategy.

The BJP’s vote share in the state was 41 per cent in 2013 and 49 per cent in 2014. It has now dropped several notches to 33 per cent. Most of this lost vote share seems to have gone to Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC). But the Congress was able to make the most of it with its right caste strategy, shifting its prime focus from tribals to OBCs.

It is often wrongly presumed that Chhattisgarh is tribal-dominated, when in fact 45 per cent of the state’s population is OBC. This section is most likely to comprise farmers, who are most affected by agrarian distress. The Congress’ promise of farm loan waiver and increase in minimum support prices, along with its strategy to woo OBCs, helped it win 68 seats.


Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s dream team is made of old people


Winning a high number of seats with just a marginal increase in vote share is the sort of thing the BJP usually achieves. It reflects good ticket distribution and effective campaigning.

In July this year, when the Congress’ new president Rahul Gandhi appointed the Congress Working Committee, he inducted Tamradhwaj Sahu as one of its members. It is to be noted that many senior leaders such as Digvijaya Singh did not find their place in the CWC. Sahu is the Congress’ lone Lok Sabha MP from the state; the BJP had won 10 of the 11 seats in 2014. Sahus are said to constitute 16 per cent of the state’s electorate. Tamradhwaj Sahu was one of the party’s main campaigners in the state and had a say in ticket distribution. Sahus are small traders and have traditionally been BJP voters.

The other big focus was the Kurmis, who are 20 per cent of the state population. In October 2014, a Kurmi, Bhupesh Baghel, was made the president of the state unit. Baghel has earned his chief ministership by aggressively playing the opposition to Raman Singh, and over-seeing the expulsion of Ajit Jogi and his son from the party. Ajit Jogi, a tribal leader, was jokingly called? the fourteenth member of the Raman Singh cabinet.

The Chhattisgarh model

It is not just Chhattisgarh alone where OBCs are the largest demographic group. And OBCs aren’t just one or two large, dominant groups, they include countless small communities.

The lesson for the Congress from Chhattisgarh is to promote OBC leadership in every state. This has been a large part of the BJP’s success. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is himself from a small OBC community. As is Ashok Gehlot, who is from the Mali caste.

Part of the reason why the Congress didn’t wither away in Rajasthan the way it did in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is that in Rajasthan, the Congress smoothly transitioned from upper caste leadership to OBC leadership. Fortunately for the Congress, there is already a next-generation OBC leader ready in Rajasthan: Sachin Pilot.


Also read: 5 reasons why Rahul Gandhi picked Ashok Gehlot over Sachin Pilot


It’s the same story with Siddaramaiah in Karnataka. We have now seen the Congress in Chhattisgarh develop an OBC constituency for itself. This is a huge achievement for a party often incapable of any ‘social engineering’ in elections. Key to making this happen is the direct interest taken by Rahul Gandhi in ticket distribution, and not letting that be decided by who is close to which Congress Darbari in Delhi.

In Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath has earned his chief ministership too. But he’s a Brahmin, and the party may need to be careful about its OBC positioning in a state that was ruled by an OBC, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, for 15 years.

Be it Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat, Haryana or Bihar, the BJP’s electoral success largely comes from the OBC vote. If the Congress adds ‘OBC, OBC, OBC’ to its chant on ‘farmers, farmers, farmers’, it may be looking at very bright prospects in 2019. As Chhattisgarh has shown, even a small shift in the OBC vote causes a tectonic jolt to the BJP. The Chhattisgarh model is waiting for all-India replication.

For ThePrint's smart analysis of how the rest of the media is doing its job, no holds barred, go to PluggedIn.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. 1. Argument that it would be possible to replicate poll strategy used in Chhattisgarh Assembly election in next year’s Lok Sabha election is a far-fetched argument. 2. Two probabilities after the Lok Sabha election are: (a) BJP and rest of NDA do not get a clear majority (wins less than 200 seals) and the Congress manages to win about 180 (b) Regional parties in UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal and Telangana together win about 200 seats and the Congress wins 100 seats. Question is this: would the regional parties join UPA and accept Shri Rahul Gandhi as their leader in either of the above two scenarios?

  2. Congratulations to Rahul for his skills in selecting candidates from the right group. BJP which was formed by Brahmins and was Brahmin dominated till late 80s of last century have gone in for OBCs in a big way. Congress/Rahul have learn it now and act fast. Of course, Congress always stood for dalits and obcs. But the article speaks about leadership.

  3. Last Provincial Elections took a big shine off Modi mania.

    Modi lost three states in the Hindi belt in the recently concluded state elections on various local matters, he is also facing a Congress Party continuing noise on the Rafale deal even though the Supreme Court has ruled in his favor. Federal elections are due in four months – he needs to rejuvenate his party and party base to the same point as he did it in 2014. Congress Party is hoping to stage the same comeback as they did in 2004, ousting popular PM Atal Vajpayee with clever moves on falsified evidence of corruption in military purchases. Besides, they focussed on lack of jobs and lack of trust in ‘India Shining’ propaganda by ruling Vajpayee.

    All round corruption in government from 2004 to 2014, also incumbency factor and a very cunning moves of political strategist, Prashant Kishore won Modi the day in 2014. He also had managed to unite the splintered Hindu votes into one, denying Congress Party a major share of these votes under false pretenses of secularism. Post elections, Modi slogan of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ succeeded in many other provincial elections but not any longer.

    In India, if the media could be controlled to your favor, especially the web media, then the job of winning elections is made easy. At the moment web media together with mainline electronic media is not favoring Modi. They favor left oriented, dynastic based Congress Party, hence the task of winning 2019 elections is doubly hard.

    Everybody recognizes that Modi has impressively improved India’s international standing, mostly vanished China’s influence from the Indian Ocean, trying his best in spite of reluctant and inefficient Indian bureaucracy to order military hardware from abroad to leap frog the enemies capabilities in the neighborhood, brought the very lethargic modernization of Indian infrastructure development into a higher speed, forced the black money out into the open, systematized the very cumbersome interstate tax structure with GST etc., still he lost the recent three Hindi belt state elections.

    The Congress Party head honchos facing poor quality leader in Rahul Gandhi could still upset Modi dream of Congress Mukt Bharat. The foregoing could happen for many reasons and this analysis will extend for months, but there is an immediate need to rejuvenate his own party’s election planning and execution process. That he must do right away.

    Where is Prashant Kishore? Modi should be looking for him to reinvent the voters wheel, another strategist is needed to coalesce the Hindu vote back to Modi, which Congress Party has chipped away. Also, he has to win back allies like Shiv Sena and TDP. He should deny the Congress Party propaganda value of cow related politics and if possible the Ayodhaya Ram Temple related issues be brought to a logical conclusion. Ram temple construction will bring him back to the Hindu votes he has lost. Clever strategy to bring back youth votes as Prashant Kishore recommended should be followed in earnest etc.

    I am afraid if left unattended the Hindu and more likely youth vote will be either taken away in big numbers by the Congress Party moves. They are already promising falsely big number jobs to the youth. Also Congress Party be denied non issues like Lingayat, Rajput Sena, tribal belt votes, etc. Action is needed now. Any delay and 2019 elections will be a different affair, altogether.

  4. Shame on media. BJP’s hindutva is divisive but congress’s caste based politics is strategy? In fact, caste based intolerance is older than religious intolerance, more frequent and violent. Using caste a tool to get elected will only perpetuate this. With creation of Pakistan there is some justification for Hindu leaning India.

  5. If Congress wants to follow the Chattisgarh model, first they have to support Maoists in other states, take full support of paid medias, pseudo seculars, liberals and full of lies propoganda, anti nationals etc

  6. The same strategy may not work in a similar way. But aspect is sure Rahul Gandhi has done his SWOT analysis perfectly well
    He has very good idea of different states geographical contours and social groups and also catalysts.He has his band of advisers St different levels and also investigators on the field. He knows almost streghts of all candidates that proxies. His cross stratified engineering giving dividends. He is prepared to lose something inorder to show his inner strength to others who is suspicious of his abilities. That is whye did not budge for BSP alliance both in MP and Rajasthan.

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