People do not like aggressive politicians in Chhattisgarh... Honestly it is not in my nature, says the Chief Minister

It was all downhill for the BJP after the first phase of polling in the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections held on November 11, says Chief Minister Raman Singh in a candid interview to Suvojit Bagchi in Raipur. He revealed how an imminent defeat was turned into an emphatic victory.

Reports after phase-I of polling suggested a defeat for the BJP and you held emergency meetings

Yes, we realised that we were trailing on the basis of various reports. The situation was different from 2008 and decided to fire on all cylinders wherever we were behind by 2,000-3,000 votes. We focussed on 40-45 out of the 72 seats. (The BJP won 15 out of the 18 in Bastar and Rajnandgaon in 2008 and six in 2013.)

You attended 60 public meetings in five days?

102 in two phases. Called the party workers from Bastar or Rajnandgaon where polling was over and stationed them in those seats (40-45). Told them, this is the time to perform, it was like ‘cluster bombing’ (laughs)…The BJP’s central leadership also backed us. Modiji came twice, Sushmaji, Jaitleyji, Advaniji everyone gave us time.

The RSS also gave you feedback...

It did. The Sangh was involved in a big way and finally we got more than what we expected in eight days and (we) turned it around. Balance is important for politics in this country.

It is believed that the primary reason for the BJP’s victory is your image. What is in your image that worked?

When you work in an area for long and remain in touch with the people they trust your programmes. When 56 lakh ration cards are given to the families in the name of women, they felt important. Depositing money for the young girl when she is 18 or a health insurance scheme makes a family feel that the government is concerned [about their welfare]. Personal attachment through government programmes is what worked, I think.

Besides, are you the least aggressive and liberal politician, compared with others?

People do not like aggressive politicians in Chhattisgarh... Honestly it [aggression] is not in my nature. Lot of people instructed me to change myself, but I could not, and people eventually liked the way I am.

But how did you adjust in a conservative party like BJP with a liberal image?

I learnt everything from the party. I have seen Atalji closely. He influenced my political life. He was never acerbic about his rivals. Actually, a balance is important for politics in this country, and also in Chhattisgarh. There could be differences between us and the Congress, but why do we need to fight on everything? We should talk and agree on issues like development that generates the best result.

Post-victory, your first announcement was to buy forest produce. Why?

There is a huge fluctuation in the rural market of forest produce. Villagers may get Rs. 20 now and Rs. 5 tomorrow and lacks control. We want to ensure a minimum support price to give a steady income to villagers and will do so from January.

The BJP has done badly in tribal areas, its tally coming down from 19 to 11.

Anti-incumbency was a factor as we could not change many candidates. But there is no overall anti-BJP sentiment; there will be an improvement in the Lok Sabha election outcome.

Perhaps, the defeat has forced you to buy forest produce from tribal areas

Forest produce will be a factor.

Do you think Salwa Judum [an anti-Maoist vigilante movement] is a factor for the BJP’s defeat in tribal areas?

People spontaneously came out to participate in Salwa Judum but they got identified and there were heavy losses… More people opposed them [Maoists], thus increasing the number of incidents. We told them to oppose but the procedure should change. Salwa Judum was a naturally evolved people’s movement, which was difficult for the locals to sustain indefinitely. Development projects are being implemented and will impact lives slowly.

Did Salwa Judum affect the party’s performance in Bastar?

It started 10 years ago and we had won all the elections since then… No impact of Salwa Judum on voting.

You flagged another programme — bonus for paddy farmers. But only eight lakh big farmers (out of 32 lakh farmers) can sell their produce as they have surplus. Rest, 76%, are small farmers who are not benefiting.

Since the government provides food, so farmers sell the surplus. Now, we get 90% of the total produce. Since farmers get several things free, like power, or interest-free loan, things have changed.

But 40% of Chhattisgarh’s population is below poverty line, even after 10 years of BJP rule…

Tribal areas are earning more as they are growing multiple crops. Crop diversification has changed things in the State.

What will you say about journalist Sai Reddy’s murder by Maoists recently?

He was a capable journalist who also wrote against the government and had no alliance with the naxalites. But the naxalites have this policy of creating an atmosphere of fear by killing people…

But you said it was not possible to settle the Maoist issue in any near future

Six States have been affected [by Naxal violence]. A coordinated approach is necessary to curbing Naxalism, which is still absent, and it is difficult to manage [the problem], unless we have coordination among us. There is not much help coming from the Government of India. Hope the NDA will form the next government and then we will be able to do a much better job [of curbing the insurgency]