The Congress should have been riding the anti-incumbency wave to power. Ashhar Khan travels across the state to discover why the party is floundering
Of the scores of rallies that Jyotiraditya Scindia has addressed so far in Madhya Pradesh, the one held at Morena on 1 September stood out. On that day, the sleepy town was transformed into a fairground. People turned up in huge numbers to get a glimpse of their ‘Maharaj’. The Scindia scion’s helicopter had landed 2 km away from the Ambedkar Stadium where he was to speak. Waiting for him on stage were Congress seniors, including former chief minister Digvijaya Singh.
Scindia’s convoy finally reached the spot 90 minutes late. The 42-year-old climbed the stage to a rousing cheer by the 1 lakh strong crowd. Apologising profusely to his colleagues for the delay, he asked for the speeches to begin. One after another, Congressmen took to the dais and addressed the crowd, which was getting restless. They had come to hear their ‘Maharaj’ speak and did not feign patience as they rooted for him each time someone stood up to speak. And each time, Scindia had to ask them to keep calm and allow for the speaker to complete his address.
The Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls are undoubtedly a two-horse race between the ruling BJP and the Congress. With the Opposition in disarray,Shivraj Singh Chouhan looks all set to lead the BJP to a third straight victory. In a candid chat with Ashhar Khan, the CM makes a case for his return to power
What makes you confident that the people of Madhya Pradesh will repose faith in you once again?
We will be elected back to power on the basis of development and public welfare. When the Congress was in power, they had turned MP into a BIMARU state. People have not forgotten those times when there was no electricity, water and roads. The BJP government has done work, which is visible to the public. We have rolled out several schemes for all sections of the society.
Last month, a PIL was filed in the high court, which cited cases of corruption against 11 serving and former ministers and 50 officials of the Civil Services being probed by the Lokayukta for the past eight years. The accused include Urban Development Minister Babulal Gaur, Medical Education Minister Anup Mishra and Cabinet Ministers Kailash Vijayvargiya, Laxmikant Sharma, Ajay Vishnoi and Jayant Mallayya. The court has asked the government to respond to these allegations. What is your stand on this case?
The Congress has nothing to show. That’s why they are hurling allegations. They can go to courts and file PILs. This is the only thing they can do.
The Congress is a house divided, but the BJP’s bid for a third term may not be all that easy. Brijesh Pandey reports
Ever since Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 2000, the politics of the Congress party in the state has had an unmistakable imprint of ‘divided we stand’. For want of unity, the Congress lost the state in the 2003 Assembly election, and again in 2008. Now, the party could well lose the upcoming Assembly polls in November, again because of the divisions within its ranks. As a senior Congress leader put it, “It is not the BJP that wins Chhattisgarh, it is the Congress that loses.” Even BJP leaders admit this in private.
Within undivided Madhya Pradesh, the region that became the state of Chhattisgarh had always been a Congress bastion, boasting of stalwarts like Shyama Charan Shukla, three-time chief minister of MP, and his younger brother, Vidya Charan Shukla. Though the BJPand the RSS had a presence in Madhya Pradesh, the people of Chhattisgarh had almost always backed the Congress.
Aiming at a third term as chief minister, Raman Singh has been on a whirlwind tour of the state since the past six months. He tells Priyanka Kaushal that the massive public response to his Vikas Yatra proves that the people appreciate the good work done by his government
What have been your achievements in the previous two terms and what remains to be done?
The massive public response to our 6,000-km Vikas Yatra was because of the successful implementation of the government’s schemes, including food security, paddy bonus, tenduleaf bonus and footwear distribution. The Chhattisgarh Food Security Act helped the government reach out to 56 lakh families. 19 crore was distributed as bonus to 8 lakh farmers. We were also successful in ensuring growing participation of women in the municipalities and panchayats.
How is Chhattisgarh’s Food Security Act different from that of the Centre?
If the Centre really cared about the public, they would have taken this step long ago. We have been providing grains at cheap rates through the PDS since a long time. While the Centre promises to provide only 25 kg grains to each family, we provide 35 kg. We are also giving salt for free. We distribute free gram in the tribal regions and pulses in the plains. The state is spending Rs 1,600 crore to provide food to the people. This is real food security. The Centre’s scheme is flawed. The public won’t accept it.
Many observers trace the divisions within the Chhattisgarh Congress to the high command’s decision in 2000 to appoint Ajit Jogi as the first CM of the state. In a conversation with Brijesh Pandey, Jogi rubbishes all talk of factionalism and says the Congress is on its way back to power
What are the challenges before the Congress in Chhattisgarh?
There are many challenges, but we are sure to win hands down and with a comfortable majority. The people have already made up their mind. They are fed up with Raman Singh’s government. They have seen how the Maoists have spread across two-thirds of the state, how their natural resources have been sold at throwaway prices, how corruption is at its worst. Nothing gets done without money. They have seen how the bureaucracy dominates everything. The RSS workers have been harassing officials in the state administration. Because of all this, the people of Chhattisgarh want this government to go, and it will go.
The Chhattisgarh Congress is not in a good shape. What are the reasons for the divisions within the party?
This perception has been created by vested interests, including some sections of the media. In the Congress, we always fight until the tickets are distributed. I fight for my people, somebody else will fight for his people. It’s a big party, a democratic party, and everyone has a right to demand tickets. This makes everyone think that not all is well with the Congress. But once the decision is taken and Sonia Gandhi puts her signature on it, then all the differences vanish and we get united under one umbrella: the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.