Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh expects major realignments in the political scene both at the Centre and in his State, where Assembly elections are due
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh is fighting a tough battle to win a third term in office. In the course of his Vikas Yatra across the State, Mr. Singh spoke to The Hindu about his governance record, state of the opposition, and national politics.
Elections in Chhattisgarh are eight to ten weeks away. How do you assess your prospects?
In Chhattisgarh, we are taking government schemes and achievements to the people. We are aiming to defeat anti-incumbency. To neutralise inflation, we are offering rice for Re.1 or Rs.2, irrespective of what the government in Delhi can or cannot do. We are giving salt, pulses, and grains. Food security is supplemented with nutrition security for 42 lakh families.
To 56 lakh families, we are giving health security through a smart card with a limit of Rs.30,000 which can be availed at any government or private hospital. For seven lakh workers, we are giving sewing machines, cycles, a kit. Our Growth Enrollment Ratio has increased from three to 20 per cent. From 1.5 lakh, now 5, 60,000 children go to college. From three, there are now 13 universities. Chhattisgarh has 1,560-unit per capita power consumption when national average is 660 units. Gujarat and Chhattisgarh rank the best in terms of power generation and distribution. People are coming in large numbers to the Yatra. There will be a positive wave for BJP.
Opposition leaders have alleged that you have sold off the State’s resources, encouraged crony capitalism, and there is skewed growth.
We have no right to grant leases for mines containing major minerals like coal and iron-ore. This is Delhi’s subject, not our work. The PM heads a 16-member committee, which distributes resources. Whatever applications we get, I send it to them. The committee then considers who has investment, who is a serious player, and they decide. Ninety per cent of Chhattisgarh’s iron-ore and coal is with PSUs, with Government of India, not me. The day we get the right to do it, it will be good for me and we will distribute it to the right person. We have made a larger policy — value addition within the State. Iron ore from here should not go to China, Japan, or Korea. Plants should be made here.
Many people in Chhattisgarh say one pays bribes, yet work doesn’t get done. Do you accept there has been a surge in corruption?
This is political rhetoric. 42 lakh families are given rice under PDS. Not one person can say there is leakage. 140,000 teachers and 40,000 police personnel have been recruited, but no questions have been raised. Job opportunities, procurement have been transparent. There are checks and reform. If a patwari is taking five rupees somewhere, we take action. There is some at the lower level, but this will be corrected.
Your party is criticising the UPA for using public resources for Congress propaganda at the Centre. But aren’t you doing exactly that with this Yatra?
Today, I distributed 4,000 ration cards, 2,000 saris, 1,000 cycles, 500 sewing machines. This is a government scheme, for which CM and ministers will come. Party workers will raise slogans.
What do you think of the Congress as an opposition party?
Congress has an important role here. It is one of the two strong forces. In the last few elections, we have done well. Congress is busy with its own internal conflict. What can we do about it?
There is a perception you have stoked the internal conflict in Congress. Both sides accuse each other of collaborating with you.
(Laughs) People say Ajit Jogi met me, Charan Das Mahant [State Congress president] met me, Ravindra Choubey [leader of Opposition] met me. They are all friends. They are not enemies. There is no enmity in politics. But how can one collaborate with Congress?
But their internal battle is good news for BJP, isn’t it?
If the party weakens, BJP will obviously gain. Why not? There is benefit.
There are reports of a third front emerging in your State.
Earlier too, Vidya Charan Shukla fought as a third force. This happens before each election. But they don’t get more than six per cent of the votes. BSP, Communists, independents are present. They have no base in the villages. Chhattisgarh will remain bipolar for sure.
At the national level, do you see any party getting 272 seats?
Given current conditions, BJP will emerge as the largest party. We will be number one. Congress will not reach 100. There is a chance, a future for National Democratic Alliance [NDA].
So you accept that allies will be important?
Tomorrow, if there is polarisation, then BJP will move forward. But the role of allies is important, will remain important, 100 per cent.
Then is it a matter of worry that NDA is shrinking, instead of broadening?
Let elections come, new forces will come. With time, there are changes. After the Assembly elections are complete, you will see a chamatkar. Before elections, and after elections, many alignments will change.
Do you think Narendra Modi should be projected as the party’s PM candidate?
He is already chairman of the campaign committee. The party’s central leadership will decide this question, either before Assembly elections or after.
But what is your view?
It is an internal matter. This is not the time to publicly comment on it.
Your Goa counterpart, Manohar Parikkar, has said that Mr. Modi could not control the Gujarat riots because of inexperience and lack of hold over the administration. Do you agree?
What is the point of debating 11-year-old issues? Then, let us turn the pages of history 15-20 years back. Why did Delhi riots happen? Who was responsible for it in Congress, against whom there has been no action? Who was responsible for killing democracy during emergency? It is important to think forward. People are stuck in 2002, and it is important to get liberated from that.
Let us look forward then. In U.P., the government has denied permission for a VHP programme. Will we see the return of politics of polarisation, on religious lines, in north India?
This is not good. As elections approach, issues come up. BJP is clear politics of appeasement won’t work. How far will you take country forward is the big question? Development is the biggest issue in the country. People are still struggling for roti, kapda, makan. This has been happening from 1947, and it is now 2013. This is the fundamental issue. But instead of talking about this, other issues are being debated.
What is your personal ambition now?
To make a BJP government for the third time in Chhattisgarh.
And after that? Do you see a national role for yourself?
That is all for now. My future role will be decided by the party president. I was a minister in Delhi, and was sent as State president. After the Assembly elections, I was made C.M. The organisation decides our role. I have stayed in Delhi for many years. My priority is, and will always remain, the State. I get enormous satisfaction working here.