Speaking to News 18, the longest reigning BJP CM ever also reflected on his time in office and said there was still a lot of work left for him to do. Chhattisgarh is heading to state assembly elections towards the end of 2018, along with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram.
“Our straight fight is with the Congress. There is no other opposition party in Chattisgarh. Jogi may have an impact, but it won’t be enough. Ajit Jogi will become a problem for Congress, whether he stays with them or not,” the Chief Minister said.
Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh since 2003, just two years into the formation of the new state, Raman Singh is now the longest reigning BJP Chief Minister in history with 5,239 days in office as of Monday. He is followed by Narendra Modi, who served as Gujarat Chief Minister for a total of 4,610 from October 2001 to May 2014.
When asked what he thought his greatest achievement in the last 15 years was, he said, “My biggest achievement is the effective implementation of the PDS system. That is one scheme I look back at with most pride. That has made a big difference. It has made a big difference to the problems of malnutrition, hunger and exodus of people out of villages. They didn’t have food to eat. Now people get grains like rice very easily. We gave rice, salt and grams. That has made a big difference to people’s health.”
With elections looming, Singh has made fresh promises to the people of the state. This includes an ambitious plan to electrify every house in Chhattisgarh. When asked if there was something he was yet to accomplish as CM, he said, “There is still a lot of work left to do. The next step is electricity to every village. This will be done by June. There are 6,40,000 (6.4 lakh) people left in Chattisgarh who still don’t have electricity. In places where we can’t give electricity connections, we will give solar panels to the people.”
On Saturday, Singh accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Naxal-affected Bijapur district, where the Prime Minister launched the Ayushman Bharat scheme and also announced a slew of sops for the sensitive South Bastar region. These included a train connecting Jagdalpur to Raipur, a new health and wellness center in Bijapur and the Bastar Net Programme, which will connect villages of Bastar with the internet. The move is being seen as an attempt by the BJP to woo voters in the region, who swung towards the Congress in 2013. The Congress won 8 of the 12 Vidhan Sabha seats in the Bastar region. This time, however, Raman Singh feels confident the BJP will do better. “I think we will perform much better than before in the Bastar region. I can’t give you an exact number of seats yet, but you will see that we will do very well here.”
Reflecting on the situation in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, where Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP left the NDA, he said no regional coalition would be able to challenge Narendra Modi in 2019. “Equations are made and broken before every election. We, too, lose allies sometimes. Modi is very popular among the people, I don’t think anyone can challenge his leadership,” he said.
He added that the BJP’s recent back-to-back bypoll losses in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were not indicative of a larger trend. “Bypolls should not be seen as an indicator of larger politics. Every Vidhan Sabha seat has its own equation. During 2019, the people will decide. On one side, BJP is united behind Modi. On the other hand, opposition has six PM candidates,” the CM told News 18.
When asked if he thinks simultaneous elections are possible, he said, “I am in favour of simultaneous election. Who wouldn’t be? It would be great if there is one election from Panchayat to Parliament. It is definitely possible. During panchayat elections, people vote for multiple posts. Add two more booths, for MLA and MP.”
(The reporter was in Raipur at the invitation of the Chhattisgarh government.)