As Chhattisgarh enters its final phase of polling, former three-time chief minister of the state, Raman Singh, speaks to Mint about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) debacle in the assembly elections and its chances in the ongoing polls. Edited excerpts:
What do you think the BJP’s chances look like, given the recent drubbing it faced in the assembly polls?
After the Vidhan Sabha elections, the ambience has changed and if you see the 2014 elections, you must know that not only are the patterns different, but the issues also vary greatly. This time the question is who will be the Prime Minister. In places even like Bastar, because of the brand of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the voter turnout was close to 60%. So we are hoping that the result of the Lok Sabha elections will be good for us.
Do you think the Modi wave continues, despite the recent assembly elections?
Between 2014 and now, the ambience continues to remain charged because of Prime Minister Modi.
Out of the 11 Lok Sabha seats, how many seats do you think the party is likely to gain in these Lok Sabha polls?
We feel we are likely to win at least seven seats in these elections. We are in a strong position in the state.
The party has dropped all sitting members of Parliament (MPs). Do you think this is the time to introduce new faces to the people?
A collective decision was taken to revamp the poll strategy. And the new faces that we have fielded does not mean that these people don’t work for and within the party. These people have been working tirelessly for about 20 years and we think the strategy will be successful.
What do you think went wrong in the assembly elections?
See, we had worked tirelessly for 15 years for the people of the state. There was a sense of anti-incumbency among the people, definitely. They had been demanding parivartan (change) in the state. But today, we know that the people know that they ushered in the wrong government.
Areas such as Bhilai, Durg and Raipur have very different issues from Bastar. How are these issues being addressed by your party in the ongoing elections?
In Bastar, the Congress has revoked the salt and chana schemes. They have stalled the universal healthcare scheme and even Ayushman Bharat is no longer reaching the people of Bastar ever since the Congress government came to power. People have stopped getting pensions and salaries. The current government is failing the people. Naxal violence has suddenly gone up in Bastar—there have been a few episodes of big attacks by Naxals as well. It raises the question on whether or not the Congress government is hand in glove with the Naxals. In Bhilai, Durg and Bilaspur, the issues pertain more to how the government will fare in terms of development. In Bastar, there are primary concerns of security alone.
The Congress party seems to have made good progress with the party claiming that it has fulfilled 18 out of 36 promises. Your thoughts?
What promises? The Congress had promised that it would rid the state of alcoholism. That has not happened and it’s only growing. The youth were to be provided unemployment benefits. But that has not happened either. Contractual employees were supposed to have been regularized but that has also not happened. The loan waiver programme also has loopholes in it because only parts of it have been fulfilled because the loans taken from nationalized banks have not yet been waived. Salaries and pensions are not being paid. So what promises are they talking about?
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