BJP struggles to retain its Bastar parliament seat

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Old 08-May-2011
BJP struggles to retain its Bastar parliament seat

Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh: A tribal politician who has never attended school and can neither read nor write is making Chhattisgarh's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) struggle to retain its ‘safe' Bastar Lok Sabha seat in the state's Maoist stronghold.

In today's by-election, the Congress is hopeful that Kawasi Lakhma, the 55-year-old Gond tribal who has won the Konta assembly seat in the region thrice, will dislodge the BJP that has been representing Bastar in the Lok Sabha for four terms — and with huge margins.

The BJP has been dominating Bastar, tagged as one of the most violence-prone Lok Sabha constituency, for a while. It has not only been winning the Lok Sabha seat but also holds seven of the eight assembly seats from the sprawling constituency. The eighth has been held by Lakhma, who won it the first time in 1998, then in 2003 and then in 2008.

Now, the BJP admits, that the easy ride to power has become a political obstacle course in a region few politicians dare to campaign in.

"No doubt, Lakhma has given us sleepless nights. We were expecting an easy ride till last week but now it's a toss-up between the BJP and the Congress," said a senior BJP leader.

"All credit goes to Lakhma, whose appeal ‘gives me a chance' is making a deep impression on voters across all the eight assembly segments, mainly in vast forested areas. Most leaders of all parties stayed away from campaigning because of fear of Maoists," the leader, who is coordinating the party campaign, admitted.

Based in Jagdalpur, headquarters of the Bastar region, about 300km south of capital Raipur, the BJP leader said the Congress nominee, always in a dhoti and kurta, had seriously threatened the party's poll prospects.

"The discouraging inputs from the interior about the mood of the voters had forced the BJP to put in all efforts and resources to save the tribal reserved Bastar seat, which the party has not lost since 1998."

While BJP leaders fret and fume, Lakhma is remarkably sanguine, even detached.

"I am not much bothered about victory or loss. The party instructed me to challenge the BJP at its stronghold and I am happy to mess up the battle," Lakhma said.

Beginning of the end

"The good thing for me is all Congress factions are united in the battle for Bastar. If I manage to produce an upset here, it will be the perfect beginning for the end of the BJP regime under which poor tribals of Bastar have suffered a lot," Lakhma said, referring to the rise in civilian killings and people moving out of their ancestral villages after December 2003 when the BJP came to power.

The by-election has been necessitated by the death of BJP MP Baliram Kashyap in March. He had been winning the seat for the BJP for the last four elections and the party has now fielded his son Dinesh Kashyap in a bid to cash in on his popularity.

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