Chhattisgarh Assembly election dates are yet to be announced but BJP leader and former chief minister Raman Singh, who suffered a massive jolt in the 2018 Assembly elections after three consecutive terms, has turned on the campaign mode. With corruption as his main poll plank, Raman Singh has laid a number of alleged scams, allegedly running into lakhs of crores, at Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s door.
In an exclusive interview to News18, Singh, popular as ‘Doctor Sahab’ in party ranks, explained that the BJP has never declared a chief ministerial face in Chhattisgarh, but questioned why the Congress has not declared its incumbent CM as its election face. Raman Singh also claimed that, as per BJP’s frequent internal assessments, the saffron party’s projected seat count rises after every public interaction by Baghel.
In the interview, Raman Singh also accused the Congress of “enabling” Naxalism in the state for electoral gains.
You have been one of the longest-serving BJP Chief Ministers. Will you come to power in Chhattisgarh this time?
Before the BJP government was formed, Chhattisgarh was struggling with starvation and migration. We ensured that 58 lakh poor families of the state receive rice at Rs 1 per kg. Our PDS system became a benchmark for the country. But unfortunately, today, the Bhupesh Baghel government has indulged in corruption to the tune of Rs 600 crore in the same PDS scheme. Let alone in the state, they have also indulged in corruption worth Rs 5,000 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana funds coming from the Centre.
Chhattisgarh used to be the only state to fulfil 14% of the country’s target in skill upgradation during the BJP rule. But today, the CGPSC (Chhattisgarh Public Service Commission) scam is unfolding here, and government jobs are being sold. Even after demonstrations by the youth, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is unmoved.
In the last Assembly elections, tricked by big promises of the Congress, the public voted for them with the belief that the pace of development would be faster. But after seeing the current plight of Chhattisgarh, the state will end this misrule of the Congress. The people of the state have prepared to elect a BJP government with full majority.
What is the main election issue for your party in the state this time?
The BJP has 15 years of achievements in the state and nine years of achievements during PM Narendra Modi’s tenure at the Centre, and we will go to the public with these. The Congress is nervous. After all, what are their achievements to take to the people’s court? Coal scam worth Rs 540 crore, rice scam worth Rs 600 crore, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scam worth Rs 5,000 crore, Gauthan scam worth Rs 1,300 crore, cow dung scam worth Rs 229 crore, CGPSC scam worth lakhs of crores to name a few. Now the ED has presented evidence that suggests that people close to the Chief Minister’s Office are involved in the safe operation of the Mahadev app. No wonder, this time, the Congress is preparing its manifesto behind closed doors.
Were you surprised when the BJP Central Election Committee (CEC) meeting was called so early? What was the thought process behind such an early release of names?
There is no surprise if the meeting is held so early given how the BJP functions. The seats where candidates have been declared are those where the BJP did not receive the required number of votes in the last election. This time, there are many new faces projected in such constituencies. In all these seats, the candidates get more time to prepare and they can connect with the common people as much as possible. These 21 names have been announced earlier with the aim of conveying to them the vision of the Prime Minister. They will be victorious with the public’s support and blessings in the days to come.
When can we expect the full list?
There is not much time left for the elections, so definitely the complete list will be released soon. At present, the Congress is scared of this list of 21 names and I assure you that the upcoming list will also be such that it will be recorded in the history of Chhattisgarh. For now, let the Congress recover from the pain of the first list. If we release the second list immediately, then their pain will increase further.
Right now, even Bhupesh Baghel is in panic mode after knowing about the candidature of Vijay Baghel from Patan Assembly constituency because this is the same Vijay Baghel who had previously defeated him.
How many seats does the BJP internal assessment say the party will win in Chhattisgarh?
The BJP keeps conducting surveys from time to time and ground reports also keep coming in. Let me tell you a shocking thing — the BJP’s seat count is increasing after every public event by Bhupesh Baghel. After each of his interactions, the public wrath is increasing as well. Given how every section of the society has been betrayed by various scams, you can very well estimate the Congress’s total number of seats in this election.
There was a lot of tussle between Bhupesh Baghel and TS Singh Deo, and it still lingers on. Do you think the BJP could capitalise on it?
The Congress is a dynastic party and the order of the family is supreme. Their internal squabbles have left the state in shambles in the last five years. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel did not allow 16 lakh houses of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for the public, after which TS Singh Deo resigned from the post of Panchayat Minister.
With the Congress not fulfilling 36 major promises from its manifesto, TS Singh Deo has decided not to join the manifesto committee. The allegation of misappropriation of Rs 7 crore in DMF funds has been made by their party’s former state president Mohan Markam. Meanwhile, MLA Shailesh Pandey says that Chhattisgarh Police should put up a ‘rate-list’ (for bribes) outside police stations. Even state Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu ji has been rendered powerless and side-lined. This is the condition of the Congress in Chhattisgarh.
Bhupesh Baghel recently said that the BJP has no face in the state, only CBI and ED. How do you react?
In Chhattisgarh, to date, we have never contested elections by declaring a chief ministerial face. After elections, the legislative party decides its leadership within an hour. Now, as far as the statement of Baghel is concerned, he should be worried about himself. His central leadership has also clearly stated that the 2023 Assembly elections will not be fought with Bhupesh Baghel as the CM face. Rather, it will be fought under the collective leadership of the Congress party.
His statement calling the ED and the CBI the “face of the BJP” is ridiculous and also proof of Bhupesh’s double standards. This is the same Bhupesh Baghel who used to write letters to the ED requesting investigations and now questions the credibility of the same agency. His bureaucrats have been in jail for seven months. Will he now call the judiciary the face of the BJP too?
We have seen the MP government announce a lot of freebies and schemes like the Ladli Behna Yojna. In Chhattisgarh, the AAP has promised 300 units of free electricity every month. Are you considering making similar promises?
The BJP doesn’t believe in distributing revadi (freebies). Distributing revadi while looting through corruption is not the policy of the BJP. Having said that, the Ladli Behna Yojana of Madhya Pradesh that you are referring to is very commendable. It is being run with the vision of empowering the women of the state. There is a difference in distributing freebies and bringing sections to the mainstream of development by giving support.
As far as Mr (Arvind) Kejriwal’s promise is concerned, he has also promised to make power cuts vanish. Let me remind him that Chhattisgarh became a zero power-cut state long ago during the BJP’s tenure.
Is Naxalism still an election issue in the state, particularly in areas like Bastar?
Naxalism in Chhattisgarh is not only an election issue, but a major problem. Today, due to the unclear and ineffective policy of the Baghel government and negligence towards the security apparatus in Naxal-affected areas, the situation is even more grim. Countless lives have been lost. But for Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, there is nothing more important than his political gain in Bastar.
In the last six months, six BJP leaders have been killed and targetted killings of BJP leaders continue because Naxals know that if the BJP government comes back, they will be weakened again. The Congress is enabling Naxalism in the state.
How would you rate Bhupesh Baghel’s tenure in the last five years on a scale of 0 to 10?
I would not like to give any score to the tenure of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. But in Chhattisgarh, the way exploitations, corruption, and illegal recoveries have taken place … senior officials of the CM are embroiled in gambling. They stand exposed. The misdeeds of these ’40 choron ke sardar’ have made the people of Chhattisgarh call them ‘do numberi’ now.