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Will have different strategy for opposition alliance, Ajit Jogi to harm Congress: Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh

Raman Singh will resume the second leg of his Vikas Yatra across the state soon. In his interactions with people, he highlights the achievements of the state and central governments and the schemes for all sections of the electorate.

chhattisgarh elections 2018 Updated: Jun 18, 2018 07:20 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Tmes, Raipur
strategy,opposition alliance,Ajit Jogi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh at an event in Bhilai to distribute laptops, certificates, cheques etc. to beneficiaries under various schemes.(PTI)

Raman Singh took over as the chief minister of Chhattisgarh in December 2003, and has continued to rule the state for nearly than 15 years. The longest-serving chief minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Singh will be the party’s face in this year’s assembly elections and is banking on his clean image to win his fourth assembly election in a row.

Singh returned to Raipur last week after a more than a month-long Vikas Yatra that will gain momentum ahead of the assembly elections. He spoke to Kumar Uttam about his plans, the challenges before the BJP with opposition parties coming together, and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Edited excerpts:

You completed the first phase of your Vikas Yatra on Thursday. What did you tell the people?

There were three main issues. The work that we have taken up in the last five years is showing and the inauguration or foundation-stone laying of projects worth Rs 30,000 crore took place. I call it a social audit of the promises that we made to the people.

We held public interactions and the aim is to cover each and every assembly constituency. People compare the Chhattisgarh of 2018 with what it was in 2003. During the yatra, I even asked questions to people about their opinion on development works. It is fine that power situation has improved, roads have got better; but our main strengths are our achievements in the social sector.

Did the Congress ever think about giving rice, insurance cover, LPG cylinders, housing facilities beyond Indira Awas, and other such facilities to the poor? We try to communicate this difference to the people — the BJP government and its plans, and what the Congress has delivered in 50 years. The Chhattisgarh that was known for migration, hunger deaths and insecurity is now talking about development, infrastructure, and new institutes.

We are distributing a bonus of Rs 1,700 on MSP (minimum support price) for paddy and Rs 700 crore for tendu leaves. Land deeds are being given to 12 lakh people. A scheme worth Rs 250 crore has been announced only for labourers. Chhattisgarh is entering a new era with over 50 lakh people getting smartphones.

We thought about internet connectivity in Bastar, and 6,000km of optical fibre has been laid at an expenditure of Rs 2,800 crore. Nine thousand panchayats will have internet connectivity. People could never imagine this. There will not be a single person in the state in the next four months who will not have electricity supply to their house. We went into the Vikas Yatra with a big aim and we discussed all these things with them.

You will go on another leg of the yatra soon. What target have you set for yourself keeping this year’s assembly elections in mind?

In the first phase, I visited about 55 assembly constituencies (out of a total of 90). I have never seen such a positive mood in the past 12-15 years. From Dantewada (in the south) to Koriya (in the north), I saw a huge turnout of women. They were about 60-70% of the crowd — even in temperatures of 46-47 degree Celsius. They came with enthusiasm and waited for one-two hours for the event. In a way, it is their endorsement of the development works of the government.

Is is true that the BJP has decided a mission to win 65 assembly seats this time?

The BJP president Amit Shah has said 49-50 seats would not do this time. He has asked to strengthen the structure and mobilise the party at the booth level to win at least 65 seats. So our target this time — we have been out of our homes for last three months — is to mobilise workers and to go to people again and again with the list of our achievements.

We have seen an effort by the opposition to regroup and form an anti-BJP alliance. The Congress may be discussing an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Chhattisgarh. What impact will such an alliance have on the BJP’s prospects?

There is a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress in Chhattisgarh. The BSP, generally takes about 4-5% of the votes in an election. If the Congress forges an alliance with the BSP, then certainly we will have a different strategy to counter it. But, here the fight is between BJP and Congress.

This time, Chhattisgarh may witness a three-cornered contest with former CM Ajit Jogi floating his own party and deciding to contest the elections on his own.

If we factor in the preparedness of Jogi ji for the assembly elections, and that he has been with the Congress, and that his vote bank is the same, we feel he will inflict damage to the Congress.

Do you see any possibility of Jogi’s return to the Congress?

Nothing is impossible in politics. So far, he is not returning. I cannot predict what will happen in the future.

You have been a chief minister for more than 14 years. Do you think there will be anti-incumbency against your government? How will you deal with it?

Our campaign will continue from now till the elections. All MLAs, MPs, ministers and I did a padayatra (march on foot) in rural areas before the Vikas Yatra was rolled out. We went to every village with our schemes. Anti-incumbency sets in because of administrative issues such as electricity, water, and other such works. We have tried to solve those problems at the micro level through a mass contact programme. We received 30 lakh applications (related to different issues) during the Lok Suraj Abhiyan.

Two months later, I went to every village and addressed those issues. We had put in our entire energy. And this is a big experiment of the country, which only Chhattisgarh does. This time, I asked everyone (BJP leaders) to march on foot. All of them were in their constituencies for about a month. They spent nights at villages and spoke to the locals. Any matter that came to our notice, we tried to address it to neutralise anti-incumbency.

We have seen protests by farmers in some parts of the country. The opposition is accusing the BJP-led government of not fulfilling its promise of jobs. Do you have to find a long-term solution for this?

The Prime Minister has spoken about a mechanism to decide the MSP that will help double the income of farmers. We have tired to neutralise (farm unrest). We provide farm loans at zero interest through cooperative banks. Seven thousand five hundred units of electricity are given for free.

A Rs 300 bonus is provided. Arrangements have been made to procure the entire paddy produced. We procure every grain under the MSP. We try that the input cost is kept low and procurement is done. We have developed an additional support system in Chhattisgarh. A few small protests have happened here, but most of the farmers are happy.

How do you look at the BJP’s prospects in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

I can say with full confidence that Narendra Modi will become PM again in 2019, and the BJP will form the government with a majority. There is no alternative to him. There was an era when people used to talk about the TINA — there is no alternative — factor about the Congress. Today, there is no alternative to Narendra Modi. Given his personality and work, I don’t think he has any challenge before him for the post of prime minister.

Some people allege that it will be an ‘India Shining moment’ for the BJP in 2019 — even in 2004, there was no problem with the image of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but the BJP had a rural disconnect?

We are people who are connected with villages. We are grounded. Our entire focus is on tribal areas of Bastar and Sarguja. We are closely connected with villagers. There is no question of any gap here.

What is BJP’s biggest strength and its biggest challenge in next year’s Lok Sabha election?

Narendra Modi and his schemes are BJP’s biggest strength. We will work on the basis of our strength.

Do you see any challenge?

There is a challenge, because this is a big country. Every state has a different situation. But when the election for the Lok Sabha will be held, the PM’s personality will overshadow everything. The work he has done will be a strength for us.

The Telugu Desam Party has left the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). The Shiv Sena has announced it will contest the 2019 election on its own. Some other allies too have certain issues. Why is there a strain in the relationship between the BJP and its allies?

Local parties have certain concerns. Everybody fears that the BJP’s expansion will pose a threat to their existence. This is a fear in their minds. But the BJP has shown in the past that it can run a coalition government. Even this time, despite a majority, there is no compromise on the share of the allies. They have a share everywhere. Things will improve with better understanding.

First Published: Jun 18, 2018 07:20 IST