Among the new states, Chhattisgarh’s development figures, at least on paper, look healthier than most. But there’s been a terrible price to pay, in terms of violence, tribal alienation and the Maoist rebellion. As the state goes to polls later this year, BJP CM since 2003 Raman Singh exudes confidence and says he will win a third term. He spoke to Yeshwant Dhote.
The number of party claimants for the CM’s post is increasing by the day as the assembly polls approach.
At the moment, I don’t see any claimant as such. In any case, the next chief minister will be elected by the BJP legislature party, by the elected mlas. In the BJP, there’s never been a tradition of projecting a chief ministerial candidate before elections. I have been entrusted with the job of ensuring victory for the party and I am working towards that.
So, are you a natural claimant for the top job again?
That’s for the party to decide. I wasn’t a claimant even in 2003 when I gave up a Union minister’s berth in the NDA government and became the state BJP chief before the assembly elections.
Coming to the Centre, there’s some friction in the BJP on the PM candidate. Who do you think is better suited, Narendra Modi or Advani ?
Soot na kapas/julahon me lattham-lath (literally: no fibre to fight over, but there’s pell-mell among the weavers). The general election hasn’t even been announced; no political party has announced a PM candidate and yet the media is busy floating names. The BJP parliamentary board will decide the candidate and not the media. The board will take into account leadership ability, age, experience etc before taking the decision.
Will the NDA still hold if the BJP picks a controversial PM candidate?
The NDA is a coalition that has lasted 17 long years. We are here to expose the so-called secular parties, who divide people on the bogey of communalism.
The Congress calls you the wizard of false figures. It says your claim of development is akin to the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ illusion.
They obviously have no clue of ground realities. These development figures are put out by the Planning Commission and the government of India. We have done well, ours is an open book.
The BJP central leadership has warned against your excessive reliance on bureaucrats?
There is certainly a need to strike a balance. Both bureaucrats and party workers are important for running the administration and for winning elections respectively.
There is a perception that a large section of the state’s tribals, Dalits and OBCs have been alienated.
The statements of a handful of political leaders don’t necessarily represent the views of entire communities. Maoist violence is a legacy of past governments, which kept tribals as museum specimens. We have not done that and will never do so. We named the brand- new international stadium in Raipur after the tribal martyr, Veer Narayan Singh. We have also set up the Bastar and Sarguja development authorities to take care of the adivasis (they make up 32 per cent of the state’s population). We have also set up a hostel for tribal students in Delhi, where they can prepare for various competitive exams.
Any regrets from the last nine years ?
Well, I regret that we haven’t been able to completely root out the Maoist violence in the state.
So why this sudden hoopla over cricket, is it an election gimmick?
My friends from Jharkhand were always teasing me, pointing out that though the two states were formed at the same time, Jharkhand has produced an M.S. Dhoni. So we decided to promote cricket in Chhattisgarh too. The two IPL matches and the international stadium are just the beginning.
The political scene in the state is hotting up with you embarking on a ‘vikas yatra’ and the Congress launching its ‘parivartan yatra’....
The best I can do is to quote poet Bashir Badr: Jab se chala hoon main, manzil par hai nazar/nigahon ne meri kabhi meel ka patthar nahin dekha (On this journey my eyes are set on the destination/I have no time to take note of milestones).