November 23, 2013

CLOSE ENCOUNTER IN C'GARH - PART I


CHHATTISGARH 2013: WILL SINGH BE THE KING?

Courtesy: India TV News

Of the five states that go to the polls at the fag end of the year, the contest in Chhattisgarh is expected to be the closest. The events that have happened here in the last few months just surprises me. About six months back, the odds were in favor of the BJP; it was expected that Raman Singh's clean image and the schemes implemented under his tenure of 10 years would help his party cross the half way mark with ease. However, the unfortunate incident in Dharba which wiped off the entire local party leadership seems to have charged the Congress camp. Recent reports coming out of Raipur suggest a neck to neck contest for most of the 90 seats in the legislature. Like in all of the poll bound states in the heartland, the two national parties are trying their best to garner support, aware that a good show will also reflect in the Lok Sabha 2014.

A doctor in Ayurvedic medicine, Dr Raman Singh commands immense respect in political circles as he is one of the few leaders to have come from the grassroots. Once a municipal councilor from Kawardha, he progressed to become the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry in the Vajpayee cabinet. His big moment, though came in 2003 when the BJP came to power in the first elections held in the newly created state. As the party's CM candidature Dilip Singh Judeo was caught on camera, allegedly accepting a bribe, Raman who was the BJP state president back then was chosen for the top job. Ever since, he has not looked back. Sticking to the development card, he won a second consecutive term in the 2008 polls. Like his counterpart in Madhya Pradesh and much unlike another Dr Singh who heads the country, Raman is extremely popular amongst the electorate, owing to his clean image. In contrast to other BJP leaders, the secular credentials of the incumbent CM have never been an issue of debate. In fact, of all present CMs of the saffron party, Dr Singh is the second longest serving, behind Narendra Modi.

Amongst the various schemes launched during his tenure, the most well known is the reformed Public Distribution Scheme (PDS). Under this, rice is given at a nominal rate of Rs 2 per kg for BPL families. With the aid of technology, the Chhattisgarh regime has made sure that the poor can avail the benefits of this programme. Firstly, the government has provided chip enabled ration cards which when swiped, can tell the details of the family including its income range and the stock that they are entitled to. Besides computerizing kirana shops, the government has also put in stringent measures while selecting PDS dealership. GPS enabled vehicles are used to transport grains to these shops and several steps are put into place to ensure that the public can spot and report malpractices. The whole process is monitored by a central server. The success of the Chhattisgarh system has won praises by both civil society and some members of the Opposition. This scheme has earned Singh a new name - that of 'Chawal wale baba'.

However, in the run up to the polls, cracks have emerged in the saffron camp. In a bid to curtail losses due to anti-incumbency, the party had dropped 13 MLAs while giving ticket to 25 fresh faces. As such, it is not so surprising that disgrunted members have either jumped on to the Congress bandwagon or have entered the fray as independents. Leading this is Karuna Shukla, the niece of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee who quit the party after being denied a nomination. After resigning from the BJP, she is canvassing for Alka Mudliyar who is the Congress nominee from Rajnandgaon - the CM's constituency. Five time legislator and former minister Ganesh Ram Bhagat has filed his nomination as an independent from Jashpur. Rajya Sabha MP Nand Kumar Sai has been an open critic of the Singh government. Considering that even a small margin swing can decide the final outcome of the results in a state like Chhattisgarh, internal fued can deny Singh a third term.

For more on Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2013, click here (Link)