From losing the assembly election in 1998 to winning a Lok Sabha seat in 1999, from being a central minister in the Vajpayee government to being on the verge of scoring a hat trick as Chhattisgarh Chief Minister – the story of Raman Singh is one of constant rise.
Raman Singh’s journey as the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh is also an example of how fortune favours the brave. Towards the end of 2002, the central leadership of the BJP asked Union Minister and party leader Ramesh Bais to go to Chhattisgarh and lead the party there. Bais refused and the task fell on Raman Singh’s shoulders. He took on the responsibility and executed it brilliantly, shocking everybody with a spectacular win over the Congress in 2003. Singh went on to become the first BJP Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. His first term saw a mini revolt by several regional leaders like the current Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar, Nand Kumar Sahay, Ramesh Bains, Karuna Shukla – Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece, and others but they couldn’t create a strong enough anti-Raman Singh front. The first term also saw a demand raised by Nand Kumar that the CM of Chhattisgarh should be a tribal but this demand too fell flat. A senior BJP functionary says that once Raman Singh was able to deal with such dissent in the first term, he not only gained political weight in the second term but also thanks to a weak central leadership, he emerged as one of the front runners in the new crop of BJP leaders along with Shivraj Singh Chauhan. In 2008, Raman Singh defeated Uday Mudliyar from Rajnandgaon assembly constituency by more than 32,000 votes.
One thing which works majorly in favour of Raman Singh is his personality and the development related work which he has done in Chhattisgarh. It is very hard to find critics of this mild-mannered Chief Minister. Raman Singh also concedes that it is his pro-poor policies like giving rice at cheap rates to the poor – which reaches almost 35 lakh families – that have increased the stature of the CM to a level that when the Central leadership announced its food-for-poor programme, the scheme launched by Chhattisgarh came for special mention and praise.
Another thing which political adversaries of Raman Singh credit him with is the astuteness with which he plays with his rivals or is able to turn an adverse situation to his advantage. The naxal attack on a Congress rally was also one of the biggest security breaches in recent history. The Raman Singh government did face intense criticism for it but within a few days the efficient government machinery was able to deflect the criticism towards the Congress side and the alleged role played by some of their leaders. This can only be seen as a political masterstroke; the issue which had the potential of bringing back the Congress with a thumping majority has now been reduced to a non-issue. Even the Narco CD case in which one of the main accused is seen as saying that he paid money to the CM, the opposition could not convert it into an election issue. And though his own ministers accuse him of running the state through his favourite band of 4 or 5 bureaucrats, they know that not much can be done to dent his position.
His political astuteness is quite impressive, given the fact he has no real mass base and he could hardly lead the party if it doesn’t retain power. But he is still not only among the tallest leaders right now, he is also in the race for a much bigger national role.