Chhattisgarh’s “Chaurwale Baba”, chief minister Raman Singh, has finally touched his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi’s record – three straight wins for the BJP in the state. And he has done despite the sympathy wave for the Congress, mostly on his own steam.
While Singh’s “Mr Clean” image in the state’s rather murky political scenario has helped, what really worked in his favour were the party’s welfare measures: Dirt cheap rice, free salt and healthcare for the poor.
Singh thanked the people of Chhattisgarh for BJP's imminent hat-trick in the assembly elections in the state and said they had once again shown faith in the development works of his government.
"It is a historic day and I express my gratitude to the people," Singh told reporters as the party seemed poised to secure majority after a closely contested battle with Congress.
In the latest trends tally, the BJP was leading on 48 seats while the Congress was ahead on 40 in the 90-member assembly. Earlier, at one time, the Congress was leading on 49 seats.
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Vote for populist steps is a trend on its way out in the rest of the country. But in a state where getting two square meals a day is an uphill task for a chunk of the population, it worked like a charm. The people have indeed reposed faith in the “Chaurwale Baba” -- as he is known among the rural poor -- and his rice at just Rs 2/3 a kg.
This was not a day envisaged perhaps even by Singh himself, when he undertook the challenge of leading the Chhattisgarh BJP in 2003, after the new state was formed.
The mighty Ajit Jogi, after all, was leading the Congress. And Singh was just a Central minister in then NDA government from the undivided Madhya Pradesh.
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But Singh took the venture to heart. And he has not looked back. Nothing has rained on his parade – neither the civil society criticisms about his Salwa Judum model to tackle Maoists, nor the opposition charges of corruption against his government.
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In fact, even while the opposition targets BJP ministers “as most corrupt politicians” -- state chief secretary Sunil Kumar even going on record saying “most the state ministers are corrupt” -- they are cautious about targeting Singh.
Will this third victory now establish Singh as an alternative to Modi within the BJP, answering the hopes of his ardent supporters ? Only time will tell.