On a dusty road undergoing repairs in Patan, a slogan reads ‘Is baar kaka par bhatija bhari’ (this time nephew will triumph over uncle), summing up the keenly watched contest in this constituency represented by Chhattisgarh Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel. Vijay Baghel, the BJP MP representing the Durg Lok Sabha seat – Patan is one of the assembly segments of Durg – is taking on the CM, though not for the first time. Vijay Baghel (64) is a distant nephew of Bhupesh Baghel (62). Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) state president Amit Jogi, son of former CM Ajit Jogi, is seeking votes against “family” politics of ‘kaka’ and ‘bhatija’, seeking Patan a triangular contest. “So far, someone from the family (of Baghels) has been winning here,” he says at a public meeting. A total of 16 candidates, including AAP’s Amit Kumar Hirvani, are in the fray in Patan, which will go to polls along with 69 other seats in the second and last phase on November 17.
As Congress’ promises of farm loan waiver and Rs 3,200 per quintal of paddy gain traction, Vijay Baghel is seeking to counter it with what the Centre led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done for farmers. Vijay Baghel and Jogi accuse the chief minister of prompting liquor vends across the state. “Modi ji wants to make farmers self-reliant and not dependant on anyone for freebies,” Vijay Baghel says in his poll speech. The political rivalry between the two Baghels is not new to Patan.
The two have faced off thrice in the past – 2003, 2008 and 2013 – in which the chief minister has trounced Vijay Baghel twice, barring 2008 when he faced defeat for the first time since 1993. Bhupesh Baghel has been representing this seat since 1993 when it was part of Madhya Pradesh. Each time, he has bettered his own record. In 2018, Bhupesh Baghel won with a margin of 27,477 votes. Chhattisgarh was carved out of MP in 2000.
“We parted ways in 2000. Even after the Congress win in 2018 and four ministers from the state government being from the Durg Lok Sabha seat, I got a lead of over three lakh (votes) in the 2019 general elections. In Patan (the chief minister’s constituency) alone, my lead was 30,000,” Vijay Baghel says as he speaks to this reporter in his car. With the campaign fatigue evident, his driver passes on a napkin to wipe the sweat off his face and a comb to settle his ruffled hair.
Vijay Baghel defeated his nearest rival and Congress candidate by a whopping margin of over 3.91 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The Kharun river separates Patan and the capital city of Raipur. The Patan town does not give an impression that it is represented by the chief minister, like the Baramati of the Pawars or any established politician winning the seat five times. But the roads are tarred. The main market is bustling with activity that a small village or town witnesses. As one enters Patan and even the neighbouring villages, large swathes of standing crop of paddy waiting to be harvested indicate that people here are predominantly engaged in agriculture. A part of Patan, Matiya village has a mix of both. Some houses, more than a hundred years old, are made with rocks and earth and plastered with cow dung, while a few are new. One part of the road is done up, though the other requires attention. A section of the village has sewers, while in the other area, the sewage outlet is on the road.
“There is no samasya (problem) here. We have everything here,” says a man, identifying himself as only Verma, sitting outside a house from where the road needs attention.
As Vijay Baghel’s convoy enters Matiya, his supporters greet him with flowers and slogans. Two from the group appear intoxicated with one holding a party flag. The other supporter, seemingly under the influence of high spirit, raises slogans in favour of the other Baghel only to rattle the MP’s supporters. Allegations of graft against Bhupesh Baghel find little resonance on his home turf. Girish Kumar (31), a resident of Akhragaon, works at a dhaba.
He says he is backing the chief minister. For Lal Kunwar Sohri, the battle is not about who wins, but who offers what. “Everyone does what they want. But I would like to vote for someone who waives (farm) debt,” he said. Sohri, who runs a flour mill, has four acres of land where he cultivates rice. As the ‘chaha-bhatija’ face off for the fourth time on November 17, it needs to be seen whether the nephew trounces the uncle for the second time or the uncle betters his own electoral record.