Opinions

Karuna Shukla and the Untold Chattisgarh Story

Indomitable courage and sacrifice are indispensable for fighting a battle.

In 2014, I was instrumental in persuading Karuna Shukla, Atalji's niece, and my relative, to leave BJP and join Congress.

Karuna Shukla, who has been an MLA, member of Parliament and a skilled leader/organizer from BJP,  walked into Congress at a time when the party was not doing well. The entire leadership of Chhattisgarh, including NK Patel and Vidya Charan Shukla, was wiped off in a  'Naxalite attack', which, according to people's opinion, was sponsored by the ruling  dispensation of the time. 

In 2014, Karuna Shukla contested the Lok Sabha election as a Congress candidate from Bilaspur. Despite the Modi wave, she secured 3,75,000 votes and stood second. That year, Chhattisgarh gave 10 out of 11 seats to BJP. The opposition was miserably defeated.

At this crucial juncture, Karuna Shukla shared the essence of her organizational experience in the BJP with BHUPESH BAGHEL, the current CM and the then President of Chattisgarh Congress. 

This led to four important developments: 1. Training camps for workers. 2. Development of the 'Jujhaaru' agitation based strategy aimed at organizing demonstrations/protests on each issue against the Raman Singh/BJP Government. 3. Adivasi-Dalit-OBC-Kisan outreach. 4. Forming committees at Block and Booth level.

Congress was not engaged in the politics of agitations for a very long time. Continuous defeats since 2003 had dampened the spirit of grass root workers. RSS had created an aura around its work for the tribals. Raman Singh had projected himself invincible due to his money power and influence on Corporates.

It was perceived that the BJP reign would run for 50 years in Chattisgarh.

History is replete with instances where the myth of a purported 'great power' is dispelled only by an insider, aware of its workings and  maneuverings. 

This is what Karuna Shukla did in Chhattisgarh. 

BJP'S AUTOCRACY/MONEY-MUSCLE POWER

Prior to 2018 elections, Raman Singh ran an autocratic Government, notorious say, of picking up opposition members before they could stage a ‘Dharna' or demonstration. Police used to enter Congress offices and thrash workers. 

In the matter of Atalji's Asthikalashs, the BJP misbehaved openly. 

Atalji's Asthikalshs were  lying unattended in BJP office. That was the moment when Karuna Shukla led the party to the BJP office to protest  against  the disregard shown to Atalji’s ashes. 

A message went across the State and the country that Raman Singh manhandled Atalji’s niece and his Asthikalashs. 

Each time, Raman Singh used to buy out his opposition in Rajanandgaon, his assembly constituency.  In the elections of 2018, Raman Singh, BJP and many pollsters in the country were convinced of BJP's victory. Raman Singh was sure that he would be able to buy the opposition candidate from Rajnandgaon and thus, would be free for campaigning in the entire state . 

After challenging Raman Singh, Ajit Jogi had already retracted. Despite looking good on paper, his alliance with Mayawati had little political connect. 

In 2018 assembly elections, Karuna Shukla could have chosen an easy seat according to her stature. Or could have waited for a Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha nomination. But she had made up her mind to first, overthrow the Raman Singh Government in Chhattisgarh.

She knew that Raman Singh would spend more than 25 crores to win Rajnandgaon whereas  Congress was facing an acute fund shortage/crisis. But if Raman Singh was given a real fight in Rajanandgaon, then he would be confined to his constituency and won’t be able to campaign in the entire state. And the Congress will benefit by at least 20 seats. 

As a bonus, a message would be delivered/conveyed  that Atalji's legacy is standing with the Congress.

KARUNA SHUKLA AND RAJNANDGAON

I had gone to Rajanandgaon for the election campaign. People were saying that 'elections were being held here for the first time here...it used to be a one-sided contest so far'. 

It was clear that because Karuna Shukla was contesting, a large chunk of BJP cadres and followers in the entire state were voting for the Congress. 

This was the turning point in Chattisgarh. 

SANATANI IMPACT IN A DALIT-ADIVASI BELT

Chattisgarh is a Adivasi-Dalit-OBC State. Out of 90, there are 29 STs and 10 SC seats. 

Ajit-Jogi-Mayawati strategy was to concentrate on these seats to emerge as the Third Front in Chattisgarh. SC/ST combined population is 40%, almost equal to the OBC electorate (42%). Upper castes and Muslims constitute the rest. 

Notwithstanding the current Maoist influence, Chattisgarh, ideologically, has a deep Sanatani-Brahmin impact. It was the political heartland of the Shukla family, which, under the direct influence of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, cultivated Adivasis and Dalits as a solid unit. RSS was kept at bay till the Shuklas were dominant. DP Misra, the father of Brijesh Misra, too occupied the CM's chair in combined Madhya Pradesh that included Chattisgarh. He also followed the Nehru-Shukla line. 

Since the formation of Chattisgarh as a separate State in 2000, Congress was identified by the anti-Sanatani Ajit Jogi. 

Earlier, Digvijaya Singh, as the last ruler of combined Madhya Pradesh, had taken outmost care to nurture the huge, Sanatani network of Sadhus and Sants in Chattisgarh. 

Adivasis, Dalits and OBCs of Chattisgarh are organised in quasi-Sanatani, Satnami and Kabirpanthi sects. Singh took care to reach out to them as well. 

But Ajit Jogi's tenure alienated the Brahmin-Sanatani mindset. That was the major reason behind BJP's victory in 2003. Raman Singh and RSS, of course, had little sympathy with Sanatan Dharma. But they were masters of posture and used Chattisgarh's milieu, where Dalits and Adivasis were heavily 'Sanatanised', to their advantage. 

POST-2014 PHASE

Before Karuna Shukla joined Congress, the party's leadership was dominated chiefly, by well meaning OBC figures. TS Singh Deo was also seen as a good leader of Thakur origin. But none of these were able to appeal to the Sanatani impact on Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. Sahus and Kurmis, the two powerful OBC social groups, were represented in Congress. NK Patel was a Kurmi; so is Bhupesh Baghel. 

But devoid of a major Brahmin presence with a pan-region, 'Virat' appeal, Congress, despite its pro-poor politics and a support base among the underprivileged, stood alienated from Adivasis, Dalits and Sanatani OBCs. BJP always enjoyed that 1-2% edge over Congress. 

As mentioned earlier, Karuna Shukla remained active between 2014 and 2018 reviving Congress' Sanatani appeal. Bhupesh Baghel performed with the neccesary, anti-status quo aggression. Both complimented each other. 

SANATANI ROLE IN COMBATING REPRESSION

In the name of fighting Maoism, Raman Singh had created a xenophobic, hysterical, anti-Left, anti-liberal atmosphere in Chattisgarh. It was the Sanatani cover provided by Karuna Shukla, that helped Bhupesh Baghel to articulate a line that spoke against brural State repression in Maoist areas and advocated a socio-economic solution to the problem. 

On 11 December, Karunaji defeated Raman Singh in several rounds of counting. This kept   Raman Singh  busy  trying to save/secure his own seat first. He not able to rig the rest of the seats. 

Raman Singh used to win by over 35,000 votes every time. This time, he had to struggle hard  to win by a margin of just over 14000 votes. 

In the entire state BJP got reduced/contained to 18 seats only. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Congress bigwigs were engaged thoroughly; despite this, Congress won by a thin margin. But in Chhattisgarh, where mostly local leaders were involved, Congress won almost, by two-thirds majority. 

The respect that was bestowed on Karuna Shukla by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, is incomparable. 

As a result of the sacrifice made by Karuna Shukla, she will play a major/significant/critical role in Chhattisgarh and the Center. In 2019, in order to defeat Modi, the message has to be sent across the country that Atalji's legacy is entirely with the Congress.

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