Chhattisgarh went to polls in 2008 soon after the inception of the anti-insurgency operation carried out by state-sponsored Salwa Judum against the Naxalite violence in the region. The odds against the incumbent BJP were many including the violence that had been unleashed by the Salwa Judum and the criticism it garnered and the rate of farmer suicides. Yet the BJP managed to gain a sweeping majority in the state winning 53 out of 90 seats.
Raman Singh, who was a chief minister since 2003, emerged stronger and has retained his position since then. In 2018, as Chhattisgarh went to polls, Singh was confident that his claims of development politics and the fight against red terror will allow him to form a government in the state for the fourth time. Voter fatigue, however, was stronger and the Congress emerged a clear winner in the election.
Born in October 1952, Singh completed his education from Government Ayurvedic College in Rampur. In 1976, at the age of 24, Singh had joined the Jana Sangh as a youth member in Kawardha. By the 1980s he had become a full-fledged politician and was elected to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1990 and 1993. In 1999, he won a seat for himself in the Lok Sabha which he retained till 2003.
The state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000 as a means of empowering the Adivasis who formed the majority of the population in the region and also for giving linguistic autonomy to the people of the region. Since the formation of the state, it has only had two chief ministers, Ajit Jogi being the first one to lead the state and Singh following soon after in 2003 and remaining in the post since then.
However, Singh was not the first choice of the BJP for the chief ministerial candidate. In terms of popularity, there was hardly any other BJP leader in the state who could match the appeal of Dilip Singh Judeo from the Jashpur royal family. However, fortune favoured Singh as Judeo was unexpectedly caught on camera in a corruption scandal right before the date of polling in 2003, washing away his chances to stake claim to be chief minister. Singh emerged as the party’s dark horse and led it to a sweeping victory.
Leading a state that was formed precisely for empowering scheduled castes and tribes meant that development had to be a determining factor for his administration. Despite the fact that in the course of 18 years, the state continues to battle poverty and agrarian distress, Singh’s government has received attention for the number of welfare measures that it introduced in the course of the 15 odd years that it has been in power. Medical care, food security, the Charan Paduka Yojana that entitles people to free shoes, the Saraswati Cycle Yojana that promises a free bicycle to school going girls, and Mukhya Mantri Teerth Yatra Yojana that allows the elderly to go on their desired pilgrimage are some of the benefits Singh’s government has rolled out over the years. Singh’s leadership in the state has won him praise from across the country and abroad. As per an assessment made by the Statistics and Programme Implementation Ministry in 2007, Chhattisgarh stood first in the implementation of the 20-point programme on the development of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Further, the United Nations gave its highest award to the state for its human development model.
Singh’s decision to fight Naxalism through the Salwa Judum though was severely criticised for the human rights violations it led to and in 2011 it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. However, despite the condemnation received by Singh, his fight against red terror continued to win him votes from the people of the state in successive elections.
It is also worth noting that for the most part of the 15 years of Singh’s government in the state, it has remained largely untouched by any major corruption scam. It is only in recent years that Singh came under attack for the public distribution system scam. Lately, he was also been accused of being involved in the AgustaWestland chopper case.
In the days preceding the elections, the mood was mixed in Chhattisgarh. While Singh remained confident of a fourth victory, the anti-incumbency factor built up over three tenures and was well suited to turn the tide in favour of the Congress, which it eventually did. Regardless of the loss though, Singh’s legacy shall remain firmly rooted in the developmental work he has carried out in one of India’s youngest states.