With a week to go for the first phase of polling in Chhattisgarh, including his seat, Rajnandgaon, Chief Minister Raman Singh tells The Indian Express why he doesn’t believe voter fatigue is a factor, why Ajit Jogi will have an impact, and why the best middle path to the Ayodhya issue would be a swift judgment from the Supreme Court. Excerpts:
In 2008, you were known as the ‘Chawal-wale Baba. In 2013, there was the farmer bonus. What are you offering the people this time to make the BJP win?
The 2018 election is centred on all-round development of the state. We have made this a basis in 15 years, made a foundation. Roads, electricity, railways, internet and air connectivity…the dream to build a new Chhattisgarh.
In 2013 you had promised minimum support price for paddy at Rs 2,100, and a bonus of Rs 300. The Congress billboards now say the party, if it comes to power, will give bonus every year, and compensate for two years that this government did not pay it. Is this issue hurting you?
We are giving bonus, and this time we decided to give it immediately with the procurement of rice. For the first time in the country, paddy procurement is at Rs 2,050 and Rs 2,080 per quintal. We have given bonus and will continue to do so.
After 15 years, there is a sense of voter fatigue. How does the BJP intend to combat this?
The anti-incumbency that is talked about now was said in 2013 as well. But people think that change has taken place in 15 years – a new Chhattisgarh is being built, good roads have been laid, which people wanted. A person wants electricity to reach his village. He doesn’t care if Raman Singh has been there (in power) for 10 years or 12 years. He knows that in his village a road has come up, electricity has come, drinking water problems have been addressed. A new school has come up – all things they had not even dreamed of.
The development of these 27 districts is a big issue. Because in 2001 or 2002, during the Congress tenure, the people saw darkness. There was no electricity or roads, there was fear, there was no procedure for paddy procurement. Today all that is there, and there is also a health security scheme, Ayushmaan Bharat.
When I just travelled 12,000 km, this is what they (people said) hoped from a government. This is why I believe after the elections you will see there is no anti-incumbency.
Ajit Jogi is a new factor this time. The Congress says he is working for the BJP, but eventually it will be a two-horse race. The BJP says he will cut into Congress votes. How do you see this playing out?
Look, this (Jogi and Mayawati’s BSP fighting together) cannot be totally ignored. You cannot close your eyes on this. This is a third force. BSP has a 4-5 per cent votes, Jogi has 2-3 per cent votes. It may seem big big (individually), but if 5 or 6 per cent votes go to one side, it will leave its effect the elections. The impact of this will be on around 30 constituencies – it will definitely have an influence.
Chhattisgarh and Maoist violence have been synonymous. What is your government’s record on this front?
I think the start we made in 2003, and when I look at it now in 2018, I have a sense of satisfaction that we have done well. Surguja has become all right, a large part of Bastar as well. There are some patches where they (Maoists) have influence, but the people of Bastar are with the government on the path of peace and development. The development work in Bastar is because of people’s faith (in administration).
We have laid roads in Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, (where earlier) people could not dream of it. Big interstate bridges have been built on Andhra Pradesh and Odisha border. This has changed the economy of the area. (There have been) medical colleges and irrigation…I believe people are with us.
In Rajnandgaon, you are pitted against Karuna Shukla, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece. She says you have betrayed Vajpayee.
Being from Atal-ji’s family is a different subject. In opposition to Atal-ji’s views, she has held the Congress’s hands. The ideological difference that Atal-ji had was on the issue of Ekatma Manavad…the difference was with the Congress. He could never be on the same page with the Congress. That is why Karuna-ji cannot speak of herself in the same breath as Atal-ji.
After ticket distribution, infighting has broken out in both the Congress and the BJP. Will the party that controls this the best win the election?
Definitely, the party that keeps its workers satisfied, and will fix the foundation, will win. We are on this job – to fix the organisation, and by and large most work on that front has been done. Not too many argument are left within the BJP. Some candidates have been counselled as well. All party workers are on the ground.
Our organisation has a different work style. Saudan Singh-ji is sitting in Bastar and working on getting the organisation there right. Anil Jain-ji is here and I am doing it as well. So with teamwork we are working on different aspects. I think infighting has more or less ended (in BJP).
The BJP has painted the Congress as a corrupt party – an allegation the opposition has also levelled at you. Both at the government level, or the issue of Abhishek or Abhishak Singh [the CM’s son] having an offshore investment.
The allegation they put on the BJP, or the CM’s family, is a constant. This happened in the Vidhan Sabha; they went to High Court, the Supreme Court. If someone has any documents…in 10 or 15 years, has something happened at any court anywhere? This is a political issue they raise only at the time of elections…. There is absolutely no basis in any of these allegations.
BJP president Amit Shah has set a target of Mission 65 in the 90-member House. For this, you will have to turn to places where the Congress has a lead – such as Bastar, Surguja or Rajnandgaon.
We were behind in Bastar, and in Rajnandgaon as well. This time we have left no stone unturned in putting the organisation’s strength (at these places). I can say that in Rajandgaon and Bastar, where we only got four and two seats (respectively, out of 18 seats, all of which vote on November 12). We will win around 14 seats this time.
Issues of price-rise, and specifically the rising prices of gas, petrol and diesel, are being debated across India. Are these national issues affecting the election here?
These (issues) fluctuate. Petrol (price) first rose, then it came down by Rs 6-7. We also brought it down by Rs 5. So it balanced itself out in the last 20 days or so. Therefore, there will be no effect of it in the election. Even the Congress is not saying anything on this (rise in prices of petroleum products).
There is a lot of discussion on Ayodhya and Ram temple nationally. BJP ministers are suggesting there could be a law. Why is this not an election issue in Chhattisgarh? Also, what is your opinion on the temple issue?
This (Ram temple) is not an election issue in this state – that is clear. Yes, it is an emotional issue. Every person in Chhattisgarh wants a mandir to be made at the same place. There are no doubts that a mandir will be built there in Ayodhya, at the same spot. It is (only) a matter of procedure now — whether it will happen through the court’s decision, or a law (will be made), or an ordinance in Parliament.
I think among the three options, the middle path is that it will be best if the court’s decision comes as soon as possible.