By Parivesh Mishra
Raipur: If the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister is asked for his reaction to the announcement of Team Rajnath, a smile on his face perhaps would be the most truthful response. Raman Singh has reason to feel good about the names of top office-bearers just announced by the party president.
The two-time CM of Chhattisgarh, known for his closeness to Rajnath Singh, has succeeded in keeping the dissidents in the state unit from getting any place in the national set-up. Well, almost. However, the length of his smug satisfaction would depend a lot on the deftness with which he manages the aftermath.
The backroom Team Thakur of Rajnath Singh and Raman Singh, with the strong backing of the RSS functionaries looking after the state – the national organisational secretary Ram Lal Singh, his next in command Saudan Singh and the state chief Ram Pratap Singh – have sent out a signal loud and clear: no pin-pricks and distractions would be encouraged for the chief minister who is all set to lead the charge in the elections to the state assembly later this year.
Observers in the state have not actually been surprised by the omission of names like Ramesh Bais, Dilip Singh Judeo, Nand Kumar Sai and Karuna Shukla. Bais, a six-time member of the Lok Sabha from Raipur and once a colleague of Raman Singh in the Union cabinet, is a Kurmi. The Kurmis along with the Sahus form the bulk of the other backward castes communities in central Chhattisgarh.
The Sahus, who were one of the main reasons behind the BJP’s victories in 2003 and 2008, started having second thoughts about their support when their leader and four-time legislator from Durg, Tara Chand Sahu, was expelled by the party. Sahu contested the by-election as an independent and succeeded in cornering more the 22, 000 votes in the constituency dominated by his community. Sahu has died since, but his party—Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch, now headed by his son— is a potential magnet for Sahu votes. With Tarachand Sahu gone, the glue between the Sahu votes and the BJP has vanished.
This increases the dependence of the BJP on Kurmi votes. The Kurmi votes the party garnered in the wins since 2003, however, have remained by and large with the party, with Ramesh Bais to be more specific. The Congress tried to demolish the vote bank by fielding Bhupesh Baghel, another Kurmi and an ex-minister and a senior state leader, from the Raipur Lok Sabha seat in the last parliamentary election. However, the community preferred sticking to Bais. Baghel lost heavily and his party was shown its place by the community.
If reactions to the press are any indication, Ramesh Bais is not too happy with the announcement of the national team by Rajnath Singh and his omission from it. This should worry the leadership.
Dilip Singh Judeo – an ex-Royal in Northern Chhattisgarh – has ensured a win for the BJP in all three assembly seats – Tapkara, Jashpur and Bagicha (now two, after the delimitation). These seats are in the area of his erstwhile Jashpur kingdom. He himself fought and won elections for himself and his son from constituencies away from home. A high profile and only mass leader in the party after the formation of the state in 2000, Judeo was a strong contender for the chief ministership after the 2003 win. The slot, however, went to Raman Singh. A sitting member of the Lok Sabha, Judeo has reasons to feel left out yet again.
Nand Kumar Sai is arguably the tallest tribal leader the party has in the state. A Sanskrit scholar and an ex-MP from Raigarh and Sarguja Lok Sabha seats, Sai is known for making his displeasure with the state government known every time he has reason to do so.
He has recently been in the news when his daughter-in-law accused him and his wife of labelling and torturing her as a ‘Tonhi’ – a witch craft practitioner. Supporters of Sai suspected an official hand behind the campaign. Sai, in the recent past, has been in the company of PA Sangma and Arvind Netam on the issue of tribal solidarity.
Karuna Shukla, an MP and an active functionary at the national level, has been left out too. A niece of Atal Behari Vajpayee, she loses prominence after the elevation of Saroj Pandey, another Brahmin, to the national level. The Brahmin vote bank of the BJP might be headed for fragmentation. A promising leader, she could be a potential challenger to the chief minister for the top job in the state.
Raman Singh might have used his equation with the party chief to ward off dissidents, but with too many unhappy souls around the worries for Raman Singh might have become heavier.