Raipur (Chhattisgarh): In Chhattisgarh, late prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) icon Atal Bihari Vajpayee stands heads and shoulders above all, as the state his government carved out of Madhya Pradesh 18 years ago elects yet another assembly.

Chief minister Raman Singh, the BJP’s longest serving chief minister, is also the party’s only serving CM who was in a Vajpayee cabinet. As he seeks a record fourth term, Singh frequently invokes Vajpayee, who passed away in August, as much as he does Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election campaign.

Campaigning for BJP nominee Tesu Dhurendhar at Balodabazar on Tuesday, Singh recalled how “Shraddheya Atalji" fulfilled the “developmental aspirations" of the people from Chhattisgarh when he created the state.

“When Chhattisgarh region was part of Madhya Pradesh and Congress party ruled the state, it was an extremely backward region which the Congress party ignored. Atalji put the region on the path of development when he created the state," Singh said. He added that the BJP government since 2003 had tried to realise Vajpayee’s vision for development of the small state.

Singh also invoked the famous slogan Vajpayee made in 1980 at the BJP’s foundation convention in Mumbai and which has become an anthem of sorts for the later generations of BJP leaders including Modi—Andhera chhatega, suraj niklega, kamal khilega (darkness will fade away, the sun will rise, the lotus will bloom) to claim the BJP would win 65-plus seats in Chhattisgarh. (Abki baar, 65-paar is the BJP slogan in Chhattisgarh this time around). In the 2013 elections, the BJP had won 49 seats in the 90-member assembly.

But the BJP knows the target is tough, and is hence using the goodwill for Vajpayee and the charisma of Modi. Capital Raipur and other prominent cities are dressed up with huge cut-outs of Singh with Vajpayee in the background. Months before election, the BJP came out with an “Atal drishti patra" (Atal vision document), a sort of blueprint for the development of the state till 2025, according to Chhattisgarh BJP spokesperson Gauri Shankar.

“What the BJP rule has done for Chhattisgarh in 15 years is there before the people. We have tried to realise the vision of Atalji in all these 15 years and today’s Chhattisgarh is a tribute to Atalji. The vision document talks about the future course of development in Chhattisgarh which will have the imprint of Atalji’s vision," Gauri Shankar said in an investor.

Meanwhile, in Singh’s Rajnandgaon constituency which went to polls in the first phase on 12 November, the Congress had fielded Karuna Shukla, niece of Vajpayee who was in the BJP for 34 years and who joined the Congress in 2014.

The BJP has also dedicated its election manifesto, which it calls “Nava Chhattisgarh Sankalp Patra" to Vajpayee. The document presents a favourable comparison between the development indices of Chhattisgarh in 2003 (the Congress ruled Chhattisgarh from 2000 to 2003 under chief minister Ajit Jogi. Now, Jogi has formed his own party and tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party in the current elections) and in 2018 after the 15-year-long BJP rule. It says Chhattisgarh’s GSDP has increased to 3.25 trillion in 2018 from 39,000 crore in 2003 and the per capita income has grown from 10,808 to 92,000.

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