Soon after taking the oath of office as Chhattisgarh Chief Minister for the third time on Thursday, Raman Singh said the Congress lost the elections in the State because of its vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

“More than the Congress. it is Rahul Gandhi’s defeat,” he said.

At the beginning of his 45-minute press conference, Mr. Singh said Chhattisgarh “rejected Rahul Gandhi” and voted for a government that “can deliver on promises.” However, he did not attack his rivals in the State. Mr. Singh also outlined his plans for more welfare programmes. He said he had written to the Prime Minister, requesting a 50 per cent increase in the minimum support price of paddy.

But his main target was Mr. Gandhi, who even after “the best of his efforts” could not take his party to victory. “Rahul Gandhi took a personal interest [in the Chhattisgarh elections] and nominated his own candidates…; but nothing worked as people preferred development to any other thing,” he said.

Comparing the elections to a “nerve-racking match,” the Chief Minister said: “When the results were getting declared, it was like watching a nail-biting cricket match … Rarely have I seen such a seesaw battle.” “Finally,” it was a vote for development. “People have established that higher polling percentage is not necessarily against government; it could be a pro-incumbency vote too.”

And to appease electors in tribal areas, where the BJP has not performed well, Mr. Singh said: “Till now, the government is buying paddy from farmers. Now it will buy forest produce as a majority of this State, from Bastar to Surguja, depend on forest produce. He also listed the items that the Chhattisgarh Minor Forest Produce Federation will buy from the tribals. “Imli [tamarind], Mohua and Chironji Kosa-cocoon [for silk saris] will be purchased to prevent middlemen from exploiting the people.” In case of loss, the government will subsidise the federation.

The Chief Minister said the government would also distribute foodgrains a kilogram at Re. 1, one rupee less than what the cost was in the previous government. Earlier, foodgrains costing Re. 1 a kg was distributed only to the poorest of the poor. As for the Naxal issue, Mr. Raman Singh sounded less optimistic. “If Naxalism was an issue, I could have promised to put an end to it. But it is a national issue… However, we will find out a solution.”

The Chief Minister looked relaxed and happy, unlike at press conferences before the elections. He even took a dig at journalists when they asked him whether he would cut growing liquor consumption in the State. “That will largely depend you [the journalists],” he replied.