BJP banners far outnumber those of the Congress on the 75-km stretch from Rajnandgaon to Pelimeta; the party is putting its might behind the Lok Sabha campaign of Abhishek Singh.
Chief Minister Raman Singh is leaving no stone unturned to ensure his son’s victory in his home constituency. Several key Congressmen in Rajnandgaon, along with supporters, recently joined the BJP. It is seen as part of Raman Singh’s efforts to ensure victory for his son.
Among Congressmen who recently switched over were district party president Vinod Goswami and former MLAs Shiv Usare and Raman Singh Rajput. Congress mayor Naresh Dakaliya has not formally joined the BJP but is already being seen as a BJP man.
There is no perceptible Modi wave in Rajnandgaon. Most posters feature Abhishek and his father, and the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant is either absent or on a small photograph at a corner.
Abhishek tells the crowd in Pelimeta. “Don’t consider me a leader… I am your son, brother, friend.”
With a BE and an MBA from XLRI, he is one of the best educated politicians in Chhattisgarh. “Bahute padhe hue hain,” his supporters tell the crowd.
Abhishek addresses the gathering in chaste Chhattisgarhi. “My qualification does not matter, I speak the language you know. I was born here, played cricket here,” says Abhishek, who is in his early thirties.
Abhishek, unlike sons of other politicians, is a late entrant to politics. Raman Singh was minister during NDA rule and in 2003 became Chhattisgarh CM, but Abhishek did not join the BJP and continued his job with a multinational. “I was in Pune. When I first came to Raipur after he moved to the CM house, guards did not let me in. No one knew me,” he smiles. After his father became CM for the third term, Abhishek continued to keep a low profile.
Rajnandgaon is the most zealously guarded constituency in the state and the CM has thrown his might behind the campaign. Industries Minister Rajesh Moonat is overseeing Abhishek’s campaign. Last week, the CM’s wife Veena Singh canvassed for her son and the Congress complained to the Election Commission saying she used a government vehicle.
The Congress alleges use of money. “Raman Singh is buying our members. Why else do staunch Congressmen after visiting the CM’s house begin praising Abhishek Singh?” says Congress spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Trivedi.
Abhishek insists he is the son of Dr Raman Singh, not chief minister Raman Singh. “My thinking, experiences, my nature defines me,” he says.
However, the ‘CM son’ tag is all too visible. He is treated like a “prince”. Outside his residence, BJP members scramble to shake hands with him, he introduces himself as “son of chaur wala baba”, and has the highest security among BJP candidates in Chhattisgarh. His cavalcade is probably the largest in the state.
Travelling in his bulletproof vehicle, he receives a complaint about a farmer charged with water tax though he had not drawn from the pond. Abhishek tells an aide to call the irrigation department. No other candidate would have such powers.
He gets several calls, gives many telephone interviews. He spells out his vision for Rajnandgaon and how the BJP is the only party fit to rule. The vehicle passes by a shrine. The aide asks the driver to slow down. “‘Chaudla Dham,” he tells Abhishek. “People are demanding that it be made a tourist spot. “This area will be ours now),” the aide says.
According to the MHA, Rajnandgaon is among 26 districts hit by Maoists and borders Bastar and Gadchiroli. The Congress won four of the six seats in Rajnandgaon in the assembly polls and Trivedi says the party is hoping for a LS win. But the Congress seems to have given a walkover to Abhishek.