Chhattisgarh Assembly polls: Ajit Jogi not a factor; Raman Singh making farmers, tribals suffer, says Congress' PL Punia

Despite Ajit Jogi quitting the party, Congress is upbeat about its chances in Chhattisgarh as the state votes for a new Assembly in the second phase of polls on Tuesday. PL Punia, the Congress leader who is spearheading the party's effort is basking in confidence that the party would do well. "It’s a direct fight between the ruling BJP and us," says a Punia, All-India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of the state. His party, which has been out of power in the state for 15 long years, is trying hard to bridge the slender vote deficit vis-a-vis the BJP. Punia, a Rajya Sabha member, is certain that the well-coordinated efforts of grassroots workers and the top leadership will ensure a thumping victory for the Congress.

Congress leader PL Punia. Image courtesy Debobrat Ghose

Congress leader PL Punia. Image courtesy Debobrat Ghose

Speaking to Firstpost on the eve of the second phase of polls in the state, he provides a low down of the party’s prospects and rumours dogging its poll campaign. Edited excerpts:

In the last phase of polling for 72 seats, how do you see the prospect of Congress in Chhattisgarh this time, given the fact that the party is out of power for 15 years?

Congress is confident of winning Chhattisgarh election with a comfortable margin. Our party is well prepared to take the ruling BJP by the horns. Right from Chhattisgarh Congress’ top leadership to workers at the grassroots in the state, all are working hard on the ground to achieve this goal.

In the last Assembly election in 2013, the margin between the Congress and the BJP was less than 1 percent. This time our party workers have taken a strong resolve to fight the BJP out of power.

How much dent former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi’s party, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), will cause to the Congress?

The JCC-BSP alliance won’t have any impact on Congress. If one moves around in Chhattisgarh, one will get to know that Ajit Jogi or his party JCC, has hardly any presence across the state and even in public domain, he is rarely discussed. Moreover, the BSP virtually has no presence in this election.

Is there any possibility of Congress willing to enter into a post-poll tie up or take support from Jogi, an ex-Congress leader, or vice versa in forming the government?

No way. It’s out of the question. We don’t need Ajit Jogi. In fact, it was Jogi who had said that he would support the BJP. But when the BSP chief Mayawati said a stern no to it, he backtracked.

Besides anti-incumbency, what’s the most important factor that will ensure Congress’ victory in Chhattisgarh?

There’s not one but several factors. There’s severe discontent among farmers, as the Raman Singh government has reduced the minimum support price (MSP) on several products and they failed to get the bonus promised to them by the state government. As a result, the tribal and farmers are left to suffer. We’ve included the issue of MSP in our manifesto and given top priority to farmer’s issue. Unemployment is on the rise and youth is frustrated. Young people want change. Besides the issue of corruption, small traders have been hit due to demonetisation and poor implementation of Good and Services Tax. As a result, farmers, labourers, youth, students, Adivasis and small traders – all are with us. Even a large section of government employees have expressed their support to the Congress.

But Raman Singh government has been projecting development as a major issue...

Mere construction of buildings and roads can’t be development. Where are the doctors in hospitals, teachers in educational institutions? Moreover, in the name of development, there’s rampant corruption. If there’s so much development taking place, why is there so much unemployment?

During the distribution of tickets, a tiff between you and Pradesh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel made headlines.

When the BJP started feeling that they would badly lose, they started manufacturing lies and began making baseless allegations, spreading fake news and rumours. There’s not an iota of truth in this. At many places, even the government machinery has been used for this purpose. The fact is that the state leadership of Congress along with the AICC in-charge has been working as a team.

But there were voices of dissent within the party after the lists of contesting candidates were announced...

Our distribution of tickets to candidates has been 100 percent better than that of the BJP. At one or two places, there had been some disgruntlement over ticket distribution. It happens in any party. The dissent expressed by some candidates who didn’t get tickets had been an immediate reaction and was temporary. Congress is like a family and there’s no disagreement, I can assure about that.

How do you see the performance of Congress, after the first phase of polling that took place on 12 November?

Out of 18 seats that went to polls in the first phase (in the Bastar division), 12 were won by the Congress in the last elections in 2013. We’re not losing seats in Bastar and are expecting to take the tally to 15 seats this time in the first phase of polling. Let’s keep our fingers crossed till tomorrow’s polling gets over and results are announced.

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Updated Date: Nov 20, 2018 10:21:45 IST

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