Chhattisgarh Chief Minister says he can say with confidence that there is no big allergy against the government.

Raman Singh is seeking a fourth term and speaks on the challenges of anti-incumbency, the policies he is banking on and the emergence of a third force in the State’s polity:

 

You are going to seek a fourth term as Chief Minister. What do you consider your biggest achievement in the last three terms?

The biggest achievement is vishwasniyata, or trust. Whatever I have said, I have tried to implement it 100%. To give the State a direction towards being a developed State. If you want to ask about one particular programme, which is also dear to my heart, that is the Public Distribution System (PDS) which we started for 55 lakh households. It is a programme that has had a big impact on the ground into bringing down levels of malnutrition, maternal mortality rates, infant mortality rates, migration from rural areas. The deep changes that have followed is apparent in the figures, especially if you consider them in comparison with other States, Malnutrition has come down from 52 to 30, MMR from 375 to 170. People got rice, salt, chana; this nutritional security has made a difference and also brought confidence among the people towards the government.

The new policy that you launched, which many say is a long distance to travel in policy terms, is the Sanchar Kranti Yojana (SKY) of free phones and data for beneficiaries. How does that square with basic issues like food security?

There were two issues that were behind this scheme. The first was that connectivity and teledensity reduce drastically when we start travelling from the State capital to say Sukma. So there were black zones with regard to connectivity. The people too didn’t have the capacity to buy phones and be connected. We put up 1,600 towers, and distributed 45 lakh phones, especially among women. For women, it was an important step up in terms of status and to also get access to government programmes and welfare give outs.

It is still a big leap from basic nutritional security.

Let me tell you the genesis of the programme. I had gone to Abhujmad, one of our most backward areas, under the Lok Swaraj Yatra. These are areas that are not even well connected physically via roads, there are 5,000 unsurveyed areas in this zone. While I spoke to people this was one thing that people wanted, whereas I thought it would be roads, electricity or water. It brought home to me the point that people, wherever they are, want to be connected to this new technology. People have that aspiration.

A big factor that is in play in these elections is anti-incumbency. How will you combat that?

For this I travelled 1,200 kilometres, twice across the State, to get a grip on what was it that was bothering people. We discovered that there were irritants like the patwari is not working, taking money, schools are not opening, and we found that if we repeatedly address these issues, we can bring down the levels of resentment against a fairly long running government.

Do you think you have been able to neutralise anti-incumbency then?

I would say to a large extent. Nobody can do that 100% since 15 years is a long time. I can say with confidence though that there is no big anger against the government, there is no allergy towards Dr. Raman Singh’s face, no situation where people tear up posters with my face on them. There was a time when we used to switch off television sets to avoid seeing the faces of certain leaders, I don’t think people feel that way about me.

Almost 38-40% of sitting MLAs have been dropped in Chhattisgarh in ticket distribution. Why is that?

An important factor is survey and feedback from karyakartas. There were many rounds of discussion.

This election will also see a third force emerge, that of the alliance between Ajit Jogi and BSP. Is this is a factor you are worried about looking at the historically narrow margins of victory?

They will affect the election. If you combine the two [Ajit Jogi and BSP], they total up to 7% of the vote. Chattisgarh has traditionally had very narrow victory margins, sometimes even less than a 1% swing. If you look at the 2003, 2008, 2013 elections, that is the story. And I’m not even saying that only the Congress will be affected. There are people who haven’t got ticket from us, who may be fielded by Mr. Jogi, it will affect us; but, a simple calculation is that if they take 4% of Congress, they will take 2% of ours. Ajit Jogi’s traditional voter will go with him, Mayawatiji’s vote is also there, and both bases are similar and closer to Congress. That’s our reading.

Bastar is again seeing violence and naxal attacks and a familiar charge against your government is that you haven’t been able to deal with Naxalism.

If we look at 2018, as compared to the past, the strength of Naxalites has come down. Sarguja has been emptied of Naxals, it was an area that was deeply affected earlier. Here too [other areas of Bastar], government has expanded its ambit of activity, although Naxals are there in certain patches. The violent incidents are a result of panic among them, and they are making these cowardly attacks on our people and trying to disrupt the elections. Our forces will give a befitting reply. The way I see it, they [Naxals] are heading to an endgame in the next two or three years.

The RSS and VHP are demanding a law for the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya after the Supreme Court decided the next date of fixing a bench to hear the case to January. What is your view?

I feel that if we have left it to the courts, it is better to wait. Everyone is attached to the idea of a Ram Mandir, whether Congress or BJP, and we should also try that the court deals with it in a smaller time frame.

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