In a close fight be­tween Congress and BJP, Chief Min­is­ter Ra­man Singh has a slight ad­van­tage as he seeks a third term

India Today - - OPINION POLL - By Jatin Gandhi

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

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