After sister’s win 33 yrs ago, Gond royal aims to reclaim lost bastion
   Date :03-May-2024

After sister’s win 33 yrs ago 
By Tikeshwar Patel
It was 33 years ago when Pushpa Devi of the erstwhile Gond tribal royal family of Sarangarh in Chhattisgarh was elected to the Lok Sabha from this constituency on a Congress ticket and this time, the party has fielded her sister Dr Menka Devi Singh to reclaim the seat. Singh, a doctor by profession, is pitted against the BJP’s Radheshyam Rathiya in this Scheduled Tribe reserved seat, polling in which will take place in the third phase of elections on May 7. The princely Sarangarh family has been associated with the Congress since pre-Independence times. Menka Devi’s father Raja Nareschandra Singh had served as minister in the Congress Government in undivided Madhya Pradesh from 1952 to 1968. He was also the only tribal chief minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh. Members of this royal family have won Lok Sabha polls from Raigarh four times as Congress candidates since the seat was created in 1962. Also, Menka Devi’s mother Lalita Devi was elected unopposed as MLA in 1969 from Pusaur in Raigarh district. Menka Devi’s another sister Rajnigandha was MP from Raigarh in 1967, while Pushpa Devi Singh won in 1980, 1984 and 1991. A third sister of Menka Devi, Kamla Devi, was MLA for 18 years and served as minister for 15 years in undivided Madhya Pradesh.
Former chief minister Ajit Jogi was the last Congress candidate to win the Raigarh seat in 1998. “Though we did not contest polls for 25 years, we were never away from politics and were serving the people. Our family supported them in different ways. Due to this, my mother got the ticket and she will surely win,” claims Menka Devi’s daughter Kulisha Mishra. Political analyst R Krishna Das says the royal families of Jashpur, Raigarh and Sarangarh hold some sway over voters in Raigarh Lok Sabha seat but their influence is limited to pockets. “History shows the dominance of the Sarangarh royal family in this seat. In 15 Lok Sabha elections held so far in this seat, the Congress has fielded members of the royal family seven times. Pushpa Devi won this seat thrice but also suffered defeat as many times in 1989, 1996 and 1999,” he points out. “After a gap of 25 years, the Congress has once again reposed faith in the family and fielded Dr Menka Devi. She is of humble, polite and accessible nature but the Modi factor and Raigarh being the home turf of chief minister Vishnu Deo Sai are huge challenges for her,” Das says. Jashpur’s erstwhile Judev royal family, which has been associated with the BJP, also gives an advantage to the ruling party, he claims. The BJP has sent Devendra Pratap Singh, a scion of the Gond royal family from Raigarh, to Rajya Sabha, which will also work in its favour, Das adds.
There are 13 candidates in the fray in Raigarh, which has a total of 18,38,547 voters. The Lok Sabha seat, with eight assembly segments, derives its name from Raigarh district, which is an industrial and mining hub of the state, and covers two other districts as well, namely Jashpur and Sarangarh-Bilaigarh. In the 2023 assembly polls, the BJP won from Raigarh, Kunkuri, Pathalgaon and Jashpur, while the Congress pocketed Kharsia, Dharamjaigarh, Lailunga and Sarangarh. In that polls, seven candidates with a royal family connection were given tickets, including the then deputy chief minister TS Singh Deo and two from the Judev family. All seven were trounced. In 1962, Vijay Bhushan Singh, a member of the erstwhile Jashpur royal family, had won this seat as an Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad candidate. Of the 15 Lok Sabha elections the seat has seen, the BJP has won seven times, the Congress six while the Janata Party and the Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad have won once each. In the 1999 elections, Pushpa Devi suffered defeat at the hands of BJP’s Sai, the incumbent chief minister of Chhattisgarh. In 2014, the Congress had given the ticket to Menka Devi but later changed the nominee. Sai represented this seat three more times in 2004, 2009 and 2014. In 2014, Sai was made a Union minister. Janata Party’s Narhari Prasad Sai who won Raigarh seat in 1977 was another MP from this seat who became union minister at the Centre. BJP veteran Nand Kumar Sai won the seat twice in 1989 and 1996. In 2019, the BJP denied a ticket to Vishnu Deo Sai and fielded Gomti Sai, who defeated Congress’s Laljeet Singh Rathia. Gomti Sai was elected to the Chhattisgarh assembly in 2023 polls, after which the BJP gave a ticket to Rathiya this time.