T S Singhdeo, two-term Congress MLA from Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh and Leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha, is widely considered one of the party’s chief ministerial hopefuls. He speaks to The Indian Express on why he believes Congress will win the polls and how Ajit Jogi is helping the BJP. Excerpts:
All three elections in Chhattisgarh were very tight affairs. What makes you believe the Congress will win this time?
One, the perception of the people, the USP (CM) Raman Singh was enjoying. The face of Raman Singh as a nice guy, as someone who may be able to deliver. The face of Raman Singh that came after the Ajit Jogi era. That has faded in 15 years. The BJP has not been able to deliver. Raman Singh has gone back on his promises. So the people are willing to opt out. They are more than willing to go with the Congress today. The biggest thing is 15-year fatigue, too much bureaucratisation, and lack of delivery.
But the Ajit Jogi-BSP combine are also ostensibly offering an alternative. The Congress said he used to damage the party internally. Is he now doing that from outside?
There were supposedly 12 MLAs who were supposed to be in the Jogi group. Except four, if we include Mrs Jogi, they all stayed with the Congress. MLAs would be the best judges of whether they can win if they go with Jogi. So the first indicator of how strong Jogi is is how many of his people stayed with him. His target has been to promote his son and harm the Congress. He is not fighting the election to win or form the government. He is fighting the election to damage the Congress.
In a state where the vote share difference in 2013 was 0.7 per cent, all one needs to do to damage the Congress is win 20,000 votes in a seat. People say Jogi’s votes are Congress votes. Is it as neat as that?
In 2003, the vote share of the Congress and BJP was 76 per cent, in 2008 it was 79 per cent, and 81 per cent in 2013. So increasingly, with Jogi playing truant or sabotaging, the vote share remained between these two. Whoever wins this election is the party that gets the larger share of this 81 per cent. How much per cent of the votes are we seeing Jogi taking? Let us say he takes 10 per cent of the vote. Is he winning seats? The balance 71 per cent, anybody who gets half of this 71 per cent is more than all the votes that are left. There is no arithmetic that gives an alternate government, either the Congress or the BJP. I have always held that Jogi is hurting the Congress more than the BJP because he was compromised.
There was a lot of talk of a coalition with the BSP strengthening the Congress. Is the failure problematic?
It is never simple like that. The Congress would have faced a situation which the BSP is facing today. Or the Jogi Congress is facing today. I went to Premnagar Vidhan Sabha seat and the Jogi Congress block president joined the Congress. Any number of senior BSP persons are in touch with us, and are very disappointed with Behenji that she did not stand with the Congress or on its own, and did so with someone of doubtful integrity… 4.4 per cent of the BSP votes were neither the Congress or BJP votes. If any of the 19 per cent comes to the Congress or the BJP, it is a plus. If they don’t come or form any other alignment among themselves, it doesn’t hurt the Congress or the BJP. So we may have lost a gain, but we have not lost our capital.
Over the last month, there have been suggestions of videos floating around indicating discord. Are there too many competing CM faces in the Congress, including yourself?
A couple of months back we had a meeting with Rahul ji (Gandhi). He had asked 20-24 senior Congress leaders to come. We had a clear discussion, where he said clearly that we will not be portraying anybody as CM candidate. And if anybody projects himself as one, the sense we got was that consider yourself out of the race. We are to fight as a team, run the government as a team… These tapes I am presuming have been initiated by the BJP again. Had they had worth in their development agenda, they would not have had to play these games. It is obvious they don’t have the support of the people.
You declared 18 candidates on the last day of filing nominations. Is that not a sign of a confused ship?
It is a sign of a careful organisation. They did not want to make mistakes…
What are the issues the Congress will use to win this election?
One will be bureaucratisation. Raman Singh and his machinery have been having meeting after meeting, where you have seen large crowds. And suddenly when you go to elections, they are not getting a crowd of more than a thousand. Even in his own area… When you work with this bureaucratic support and not with people, this is what will hit the BJP. Second is lack of delivery. You have been promising things, whether it is the farmer, or electricity, or youth, or employment, of women welfare, forest rights, tribal rights, level of education, healthcare. You have gone on saying Bastar in control, in two years Naxalism will be over. When Chhattisgarh was formed you had 5,000 forces there, today you have 40,000, and you are saying you have gone beyond the problem. You will never be able to get back the credibility.
There are Maoist attacks, allegations of fake encounters. Have you thought of a solution?
Within the pale of the Constitution, unconditional talks. There must be an open channel. If a collector is kidnapped and there is a channel that can get him back unharmed, there are channels that can make avenues to make improvements of the situation on the ground. One simplest thing is to get Naxalites into the mainstream. That doesn’t seem to be happening. The other thing is to get people into the mainstream, get development. The third is you do all this together, unconditional talks within the Constitution, seek the people’s support through job opportunities and employment. And third, if you have to use force, do it in a planned manner where you are not creating corridors, you are creating areas of clearance. Today, you have created a highway but beyond the highway in the evening when your forces come in, the area beyond is not in your control.
Are you sure the Congress is winning this election?