Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said that there is no real challenge before Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While questioning the Opposition's attempt to lay siege to Modi's seat, he said that the prime minister's magic will only be further enhanced ahead of the next election.
Referring to the efforts of the Centre and the state government for the development of Naxal-affected areas, Singh said that 'we are ready for talks with the top leadership of Naxalites'.
During an interaction with Firstpost, he talked about his government's plans for the development of Naxal-affected areas and the challenges that lay ahead.
He said, "There is no challenge in Modi's path anymore. The Opposition is so divided that there is no real challenge in today's date."
Singh questioned Congress president Rahul Gandhi's attempts to unite the Opposition parties against Modi. Similar efforts are being made by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
"If you think that the Congress can put up a challenge, (then I can say) it will place fourth in Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, it will place third or fifth. And, it won't have an existence in West Bengal," Singh said.
Singh, while taunting the unity of Opposition parties, said that many in their ranks were already 'suited up' to be in power even before winning anything. "On one hand, there is Modi as prime minister, on the other, there are six contenders. The people don't know who is up against Modi... whether it is Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, Mamata or Rahul," he said.
However, when asked about BJP's defeats in the recent Lok Sabha bypolls in many states across the country, he said that those contests are completely different from the General election.
This year, Assembly elections will be held in Chhattisgarh in October-November. Singh, on the face of it, appears confident. He has faith in his government's development work. But, he is also wary of former state chief minister Ajit Yogi.
During the conversation, Singh accepted that if the third force (Ajit) falls in the field during the Assembly elections, then its direct benefactor would be him. He said: "Our direct fight is with the Congress. There is no other fight here. But, Ajit will remain."
In the last Assembly elections, the Congress won eight out of 12 seats in the Naxal-affected Bastar region, but the chief minister is confident that this figure will change this time. "This time, there will be a very good result (for us). They are scared to speak on the figures before the election," he said.
His claim to regain seats in Bastar is also based on his government's development agenda in the region. At a recent rally in Jangla of Bijapur, in the Naxalite stronghold, Modi had launched the Ayushman scheme in Bijapur division of Bijar, raising hopes of development.
Although this is just the beginning, he said. "Six lakh forty thousand people still have no electricity in their homes. But, we will complete this goal by June." In areas where providing a direct electricity connection is not possible, due to the influence of Naxalites, solar power units are being given out.
Due to the fear of the Maoists, solar units are being handed out to schoolchildren – as their parents shy away from collecting them directly.
"The battle over electricity and roads is currently underway. Roads worth Rs 800 crore are being built currently. This also means that we are faced with a double challenge... making the road and protecting the road workers. This is what we have done in 14 years," Singh said.
Talking about his government's plans to walk on the path of development, he said that the PDS scheme has been their biggest achievement, under which grains are provided to all the poor families, including tribals. "This has made the difference in the state's nutrition levels and hunger (elimination). At first, people had to go to Andhra Pradesh to earn money. But, now they are guaranteed food to eat here," he said.
After the electricity and road construction, the government now plans to give smartphones to all college students, he said. "Under the Sky scheme, every college student will be given a smartphone. All college students will come to Chhattisgarh to study. In addition to post-graduate courses, all medical and engineering colleges will also have smartphones in their hands."
The government's plan is to initiate the Sky Scheme by the end of May this year. Right before the Assembly elections, the government is trying to appease the youth by targeting students.
The government has had to face a great deal of difficulty in building roads in Naxal-dominated areas. About 150 kilometres of national highway in the state are still gravel roads. Explaining the reason behind the delay, Singh said: "It took time to construct a national highway in this area. We brought in BRO (Border Road Organisation) but the BRO ran away after eight years,"
"In pursuing the BRO, our time was wasted. It builds in the North East but here it gave up," Singh said, "... working here is a tough fight."
He added: "Fighting face-to-face at the border is easy... you are looking at their post. Your uniform is different, the enemy's uniform is different. The range is different. You can fire indiscriminately. But here it is different. Even when we know that Maoists are in a particular area, you cannot blow all of them up as there could be civilians with them. There is no way to distinguish. Naxalites can be sitting in the middle of a village. They are known to keep women and children all around them. This is the biggest challenge."
The geographical conditions of the Maoist-affected areas are also such that by carrying out operations is not easy. Although, Singh expressed confidence that the Naxalite's edge can be dulled under the path of development.
Nevertheless, he did not deny the possibility of holding talks with Naxalites. "There are talks at the administration level. But talking to people at the district level will not make any difference. It can only work if the top leaders from both sides sit down. Because this is not a problem of a particular district. They have spread to many states. Their leaders are in Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, etc," Singh said.
In fact, Modi had also accused the Naxal top brass of misleading tribal youth. Which could be why Singh is advocating negotiations with top Naxalite leaders. There is no point in talking at the lower level, he reiterated.
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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2018 17:54:51 IST