If a 280-km bus ride through vast stretches of land and forest from Chhattisgarh's capital Raipur to Jagdalpur with 100-odd passengers from various castes, and different professions and economic strata is any indication, then the BJP has an upper hand in Bastar, probably the worst Maoist-hit region in the state.
The constituency goes to polls today amid calls for a boycott by Maoists. The Election Commission is taking no chances; 80 per cent of 1,7,97 polling stations have been declared sensitive and nearly 40,000 troopers have been deployed to ensure a peaceful election. Election officials have been airlifted in many places to avoid potential landmine blast casualties.
But despite the spectre of violence, the busload of passengers is eager to cast their franchise. Harender Kumar Diviwedi, a 28-year-old school teacher, says he had gone to meet a prospective wife in Raipur, but hopped on to the bus immediately after the meeting. "I have to get home to vote on April 10. It is going to be Modi this time," Diviwedi tells dna. He pauses, and then blurts out: "Actually, we have a choice between a robber and thief. And the benefit of doubt goes to the thief only."
As the bus passes through Dhamtari, Charma, Lakhanpuri and Makdi en route to Bastar, others in the redesigned 60-seater, semi-deluxe bus add to the conversation. "In Bastar, it is a fight between the Congress and BJP. With Modi wave, BJP has an edge," says Bhuvan Yadav, a 32-year-old driver, also returning home to cast his vote.
A mini-survey reveals that most are keen to see a change in the power structure in Delhi. Without knowing the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's model or even the party's manifesto, a majority passengers propose: "He (Modi) should be given a chance."
Eight candidates are in the fray from Bastar constituency.
The contest, passengers claim, has always been between BJP, which has won the seat since 1998, and the Congress. But the Congress' Deepak Karma might see an upswing due to sympathy for his father, who was brutally killed in a Maoist attack last year. The Aam Aadmi Party's Soni Sori is bringing a novelty factor to the contest. The tribal rights activist, out on bail by the Supreme Court and accused of being a Maoist sympathiser, is struggling to get their full support. Maoists, the passengers say, will have an impact only in the far interiors of Bastar — remote areas that many candidates have stayed away from.
CRPF personnel and local police at a post at Bastar's entry point are frisking bikers. They allow the bus to pass through though. "There will be some violence tomorrow. It happened even during the assembly elections (in November 2013)," says bus driver Pranesh.
As we alight at Jagdalpur, Diviwedi offers a parting shot: "You should also vote for Modi."