Having successfully shepherded the BJP to its third consecutive Assembly victory, Chief Minister Raman Singh is now the undoubted master of all he surveys in Chhattisgarh. But, things were not always so clear. Earlier this year, during the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches in capital Raipur, there were huge posters of Singh, all kitted out and holding a cricket bat with the tagline underneath claiming: ‘Ready for a Hattrick’. Not one to miss a cue, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh offered his pearl of wisdom: “Only a bowler takes a hattrick.” Batsman or bowler, in an election that went down to the wire, the winner took it all. Now, with just over a week after his win, well-wishers line up outside the chief minister’s door in the swanky Naya Raipur Mantralaya. Newly appointed Home Minister Ramsevak Paikra patiently awaits his turn in the anteroom with a bouquet as officers buzz about. There is ceaseless whispering in the local media that Brijmohan and Saroj Pandey, two of the chief minister’s biggest detractors in the party, have been silenced. Former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi is licking his wounds and PCC president Charandas Mahant is awaiting his marching orders. Digvijaya, perhaps for the first time, has maintained a silence. The BJP leader also managed to put up an NDA show on the day of his swearing-in, where almost all its leaders from Parkash Singh Badal to Uddhav Thackeray were present. Along with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman is seen as the acceptable, affable face of the BJP. Dressed in a cream blazer over a black shirt and trousers, the ‘Doctor’, as he is popularly known, spoke to Neeraj Mishra about his third win, his role in the NDA and what he wants from a BJP-led government in the Centre.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
What now? You seem to have done most of the things you set out to do in your last two terms.
I take my party’s victory as the people’s approval of my policies. The people of Chhattisgarh have appreciated what we have done over the past 10 years. Today the state is more prosperous and organised. There is more food on every plate than ever before, irrigation networks are widespread, roads connect almost every corner and most towns have good civic infrastructure. This is more than ever in the history of Chhattisgarh, more than even when we were part of Madhya Pradesh. However, a lot still remains to be done in areas like employment generation. We have several schools spread over all districts that teach livelihood practices. This is to prepare the youth to work in their chosen field when they enter adulthood. These courses educate them on all government plans and credit policies as well as guide and provide skill-training. We are also going to induct a large number of locals in the police force. A 30,000-strong force is being raised in Bastar as the India Reserve Battalion and that will cover a huge number of households, which will, in turn, break them away from the grip of Naxals. The other great direct employment generators are through the Public Service Commission (PSC) and shiksha karmi (primary teachers). We can ensure the induction into government services, but my focus now will be on creating more self-employment and I urge the private sector to create more jobs.
There has been some concern about the shiksha karmis, who are generally considered below average teachers and improper replacements for actual school teachers in rural areas.
True, it may no longer be the best form of employment for the youth, but it provides a great opportunity to those who want to take up teaching seriously. There are some concerns about the teaching standards, but we have to make do with what we have right now. We have to think about jobs for the present generation before we start worrying about the future.
What about agriculture? Government records actually show a dip in the numbers of people engaged in agriculture and in the actual land under cultivation.
Stats can be misleading. Agriculture is still our biggest sector. The acreage may have reduced, but we produce almost ten times what we produced 10 years ago. In 2000, the total procurement was about 5 lakh tonne of paddy and this year alone, we procured 90 lakh tonne. In 12 lakh hectares, people are now taking up cultivation of crops other than paddy, a first for Chhattisgarh, which has historically been a rice bowl. We will continue to focus on agriculture and improving our irrigation system and train people to become better farmers.
What are your expectations from an NDA government if it comes to power in the Centre in 2014?
Woh ho jaye to sab problem hi solve ho jayenge. (If that happens, then all problems will be solved.) Narendra Modi is currently the mood of the nation. People believe that he could be the key to solving a lot of their problems. What are our grouses with the Central government now? Deliberate delay in implementation of schemes and release of funds and deliberate go-slow in granting licences, forest and mining clearances. We have a severe lack of funds for our Food Safety policy and the Central government wants to give only 25 kg grains per family, while we, at Chhattisgarh, have been giving 35 kg. What do I expect an NDA government to do? It is already committed to do this and much more. We expect a clear-cut policy to be laid out for mining and forest rights. Once that is done, we should all go ahead with it. What is the point of getting lost in ‘go’ and ‘no-go’? My point is simple, let’s make a clear-cut policy and then stick with it. If an industrialist has signed an MOU to produce power in the state and has been given a coal mine based on those recommendations, you can’t suddenly decide to take that away and yet expect him to produce power. Either give him the mine or give him coal linkage or risk losing investment.
But what about the rights of tribals on forest land? You are perhaps the only government that actively encouraged its officers to assist in land acquisition and even rewarded them.
All the active acquisition you are referring to was done under the rules of land acquisition. Once the Centre has approved a mine to a certain industry, it allows for land acquisition under a process controlled by the revenue department. We found that the work was slack and many of our MOU signatories were suffering after making huge investments. Nevertheless, all the acquisition for heavy industry — power and steel — is done. We don’t need any more investment in that area. Of course, sectors like auto and IT are welcome but our natural resources are booked for the next 100 years. We now need the Central government to make an acceptable and implementable policy for their optimal exploitation.
Have you studied the much talked about Gujarat Model?
Yes we have, but our two states are very different. Gujarat has the benefit of hundreds of miles of coastal area and several world-class ports. It has oil and oil refineries. It attracts a huge number of exporters and importers. Chhattisgarh is land-locked and dependent on natural resources, which are, in turn, dependent on equitable exploitation. There are limitations on how much we can develop as an industrial state as compared to Gujarat. The needs of our people are different and we have to make sure those are fulfilled first.
What about your role in the new BJP set-up that is emerging in Delhi?
It remains the same. I am the chief minister and will remain here till my party wants and sees it fit.
What about the internal rumblings after the Cabinet formation?
What rumblings? Everyone has to contribute and work towards what we have promised. I still have to appoint nine parliamentary secretaries and four ministers. It will probably come after the Lok Sabha polls but until then, everyone has to pitch in and make sure that we go farther from where we started.
You already have 10 out of the 11 possible Lok Sabha seats from Chhattisgarh? What can you promise this time as Bastar breaks away from you? After all, the BJP lost eight out of 12 seats in the region.
I have made a promise to the BJP leadership that we will contribute all 11 seats to the BJP kitty in 2014. The Bastar results have been worrying, but not surprising. We made some mistakes in candidate selection. People seem to be voting against incumbency of individuals. Several of our candidates were sitting MLAs for 10 years and that seems to have gone against them. The Congress lost 27 out of 36 of its sitting MLAs, which shows how much individual incumbency was hurting. We also lost 21 sitting MLAs, but won 27 new seats, which is how it should be. We will win all seats in Bastar and Sarguja, where the BJP lost seven out of 14 seats. You will see better candidates and better preparation for the General Election.
So does that mean a change in the Bastar and anti-Naxal policy?
Not at all. We have not lost Bastar because people want the Naxals to be around. I estimate that more than 80 percent people there don’t want them. But, we are not going to make a settlement or peace offering to the Naxals. There’s no question of that! What we will instead do is review our development policies and goals in the region. There have been complaints of corruption in construction and road works. We will see that all policies are implemented and the money apportioned for these works is utilised. The central forces deployed there have come up with several suggestions to improve the lines of communications and I approve of those measures. During the election, it has been proven beyond a speck of doubt that increased security presence in Bastar can push the Maoists back. We will continue pushing them to the limits.
What is the single-most important message to emerge out of these ‘semi finals’, the Assembly polls in the five states?
People want change, but not necessarily of those who they think have been working. The anti-incumbency has reached the individual level and people can now differentiate between those who work for them and those who do not. Look at the number of ministers that have lost in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and here. The voter has become smarter, choosier and rather discerning.
Surely you’re talking about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Delhi polls. Does the AAP phenomenon bother you?
So far, it’s just that: a phenomenon. We will have to wait and see how they proceed from here. They have to prove they can run a government and deliver on their promises.