Chhattisgarh is among the developed states

Interview/ Raman Singh, chief minister, Chhattisgarh

17-raman-singh Raman Singh | Sanjay Ahlawawt

A few months back you undertook a state-wide campaign—Lok Suraj Abhiyan; now, it is Vikas Yatra. Are these done with the approaching assembly elections in mind?

It is a means to address the people and give them a report of the work done [by the government] in the last five years. Foundation stones for development works worth Rs 30,000 crore are being laid. We are distributing bonus of Rs 700 crore for tendu leaf farmers. Over 12 lakh house registration papers are to be distributed. The yatra is also to thank people and seek their blessings for the future.

You adopted online transfer of bonus money to bank accounts of people who come to your rallies.

Are your development programmes reaching areas dominated by the Naxals? Roads are being constructed there under police protection. Now, the Naxals are restricted only to some parts of Sukma and Bijapur. This is our victory that we are able to construct roads, schools and bridges. Now, people started realising that Naxals are opposing development. The people of Bastar are with us.

We transfer money to people through a click on a laptop. We are distributing bonus worth Rs 1,700 crore. It is a matter of great enthusiasm for the farmers, as we are transferring their dues to their accounts [live during the rally], at the rate of Rs 300 per kilogram for paddy. Similarly, bonuses for other beneficiaries [worth Rs 250 crore, that include scholarships to students, and freebies like bicycles and sewing machines] are also being distributed.

So, what will be your election plank?

Development, development, development. The work we have done. We have created a web of roads across Chhattisgarh, [achieved] 100 per cent electrification, and every person has been given health card worth Rs 5,000. Nearly 80 per cent of the population have ration cards. We have built 5.40 lakh houses, and we have over 35 lakh beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. Now, prime minister’s health scheme would benefit people. We are introducing ‘Sky Yojana’—a programme for distributing 50 lakh smart phones for free, in the next four months.

Who will be the beneficiaries of this scheme?

All college students, women and people under the poverty line. Five lakh students will benefit from this scheme.

These appear to be populist measures. The opposition party is saying you are using government money for distributing freebies before elections.

We have given bonuses even before. We give bonus for tendu leaf collectors every year. We will have more Vikas Yatras.

You have narrated many achievements. Yet, the state is still perceived to be lagging behind others in development and other social indices, and are infested with Naxals.

Chhattisgarh is among the developed states. You won’t find similar roads anywhere else in the country. The kind of infrastructure we have, you won’t find anywhere else. Even our social infrastructure has been very strong—we have IIT, IIM, and AIIMS.

Naxalites are there in some areas. But, we have been able to contain them. Soon we will be able to clear them [out].

There appears to be a change in strategy in dealing with the Naxals. Earlier, you advocated strong-arm tactics. But, recently, you have been asking them to come forward for talks. Is this because of elections?

I have never shut the door for a dialogue. I have been asking their top leadership to come forward for talks.

What is your strategy to root out Naxalism completely?

We are using twin measures—through development and by using police force. As they stay among the tribals, we cannot undertake any step that could cause harm to our people. It takes time to solve the Naxal problem. We are doing it with patience, there is no undue hurry.

There are often allegations of high-handedness and human rights violations in the state. How do you respond?

Naxals are doing the maximum human rights violations. They are kidnapping people, girls, and even children. They often beat up villagers. What else can be a bigger human rights violation in the world?

Who is your biggest challenger—the Congress or Ajit Jogi’s Chhattisgarh Janata Congress party?

Our competition is with the Congress.

So, Jogi is not a factor?

Jogi is also a powerful force.

Do you think Jogi’s good showing in the elections would be beneficial for the BJP?

If there is a division in the vote share of the Congress, then it is a good thing for us.

The Aam Aadmi Party has also announced its decision to contest on some seats.

They do not even have a councillor. They have no presence here.

Based on arithmetics of 2013 elections, if the Congress and the BSP form an alliance, then they should get more seats than the BJP this time.

There has never been such a division of votes. Only four to five per cent votes go to others. It is difficult for them to influence. If they come together, then we will also change our strategy.

How will you beat anti-incumbency? Will tickets be denied to some sitting MLAs?

I am going to all areas of the state. I am assessing the work. The BJP has a different way of candidate selection. We do continuous screening. I have done half the work, while other leaders in the organisation are also doing it. Even party president [Amit Shah] will be here. Some new people may be given tickets.

The RSS has been very active in the state, particularly in the tribal areas. How far will they help the BJP in the elections?

They have a very strong presence, and their influence indirectly helps the BJP.

In terms of social indicators, the record of Chhattisgarh is still far from perfect.

We have achieved a lot, be it infant mortality rate [improvement] or maternal mortality ratio. Malnutrition has been tackled. No other state in India has seen improvement in the way Chhattisgarh has witnessed.