THE THIN RED LINE
In a close fight between Congress and BJP, Chief Minister Raman Singh has a slight advantage as he seeks a third term
The sun is shining on the mill chawl, a quiet settlement of small houses with brightly coloured walls and slanting roofs, in Rajnandgaon’s ward number 15. A batch of drum beaters waits by the Ram Manas temple there. On cue, their leader starts playing a film tune on his clarinet as a mini cavalcade of four SUVs comes to a halt near the temple. A tall young man dressed in a blue shirt and dark jeans steps out of one as passengers from the other vehicles scurry to keep pace with him. He takes his shoes off, enters the temple and offers a brief prayer. A group of men wearing BJP scarves shout, “Dr Raman zindabad”, as he emerges from the temple. The young man is Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek Singh. The 32-year-old
MBA goes door to door, seeking the residents’ blessings and their votes for his father.
“My family and party workers are campaigning here. I told them ‘you take care of my constituency, I have to take care of 89 others’,” Raman Singh tells INDIA
TODAY at his home in Rajnandgaon shortly before leaving for a public meeting in Jagdalpur. Campaigning here is low key. The mill area was once busy. But after the Bengal Nagpur Cotton Mill shut down in 2002, when Singh was the minister of state for commerce and
industry in the NDA government at the Centre, things changed. An estimated 4,500 people lost their jobs. Many nurse a grouse against him for not having prevented the mill from closing down. “But it is not easy to defeat a chief minister in his constituency,” says Hanumantha Rao who moved here from Visakhapatnam in 1973 to work as a power-set operator in the mill. That was his last job. Unemployment remains a major issue and can impact the
BJP’S poll prospects. According to the India Today GroupORG poll, 19 per cent voters feel that not generating employment is the government’s biggest failure.
Singh is otherwise seen as the man who has led a performance-oriented government for two consecutive terms. According to the opinion poll, 57 per cent voters believe he would make the best chief minister. But the election in his constituency is expected to be an emotional one. Pitched against him is Alka Mudaliar, the widow of a former Congress MLA, Uday Mudaliar, who was killed by Maoists in May. Former BJP MP and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla has added to Singh’s troubles by campaigning for Mudaliar.
The BJP and Congress’s fight appears closer than it was the last time. BJP has won the state twice but the margin in votes polled by the Congress and the BJP in 2008 was 2 per cent. While Singh is firmly in the saddle, he is up against 10 years of anti-incumbency. “The vote here in Rajnandgaon and all over the state will be cast on the issue of development,” says Singh, asserting that he is all set for a third term. “We have given the country a model for running the
PDS without pilferage and corruption. We have gone beyond the Congress’s food security plan and delivered nutrition security to 3.2 million satisfied families,” he says.
There are 12 constituencies in the Maoist-populated south Chhattisgarh region. Of these, BJP holds 11 while the Congress’s lone gain here was the Konta seat. In the rest of the state, the difference between the two was of one seat. Clearly, the region is a deciding factor and the Raman Singh government’s record in tackling Maoist terror will affect the outcome. According to the opinion poll, 58 per cent voters feel that the state government has not handled the Maoist issue well. A shift in this region can change the game. The close contest is illustrated by the fact that the victory margin was under 200 votes in two constituencies. Also, the anger in the region against the Congress might have been considerably reduced with the death of party leader and chief of the Salwa Judum, Mahendra Karma, in the May 25 Maoist attack in Jhiram Ghaati that wiped out most of the party’s state leadership. Karma’s wife, Devati, is now in the fray in his constituency, Dantewada, hoping to win sympathy votes.
BJP was unable to deny tickets to certain ministers against whom there are serious allegations of corruption. Congress has been demanding that ministers Rajesh Munnat, Amar Aggarwal, Ram Vichar Netam and Brij
“I looked at the Congress manifesto a