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Raman Singh plays it safe, skirts controversial issues

Aarti Dhar

Focus of poll campaign is on development and achievements


Rice scheme for BPL families is seen as a major achievement of the government

Raman Singh is fighting against Uday Mudaliyar of Congress


RAJNANDGAON: This small town, often referred to as the biggest village in Chhattisgarh, is suddenly drawing everyone’s attention. Ever since the chawal wale baba, Raman Singh, decided to contest the Assembly elections from here, people’s hopes have been raised. For the Chief Minister has brought about a change in his hometown Kawardha and adjoining Dongargaon, from where he won the elections earlier..

Dr. Singh, who became a member of the Lok Sabha after winning Rajnandgaon on BJP ticket in 1999, quit the seat after having been asked to stay put in Chhattisgarh before the 2003 Assembly elections.

It is the popularity of the Rs. 3 a kg rice for below the poverty line families that is being touted as one of the main achievements of the Raman Singh government. Its popularity graph went further up after the Bharatiya Janata Party announced in its election manifesto that rice would be sold at Re.1 a kg under the Antyodaya scheme and at Rs. 2 for others. This offer was in response to the Congressannouncement that rice would be sold at Rs.2 per kg for those below the poverty line. It was after this announcement of Re.1 per kg rice that Dr. Singh was crowned as chawal wale baba.

Dr. Singh has been avoiding emotional and controversial issues such as Hindutva, conversions and Ram temple. Instead his focus is totally on development and achievements, and promises of a better life for the people. Even his poll campaigners have ensured to project more of Dr. Singh instead of the national leaders who sparingly figure in the posters and banners.

Pitted against Dr. Singh is the sitting MLA Uday Mudaliyar of the Congress who also enjoy enough goodwill in the constituency. Probably his biggest achievement has been bringing together of all warring factions of his party, whether led by Ajit Jogi, V.C. Shukla or other leaders, the sole aim being, of course, to defeat the Chief Minister.

The challenge for the Chief Minister is not just winning the seats but winning with a huge margin. In the 2004 by-election from Dongargaon, he was given a tough fight by the former State Minister Gita Devi Singh and the difference was a mere 12,000 votes. It is with this is mind that the Chief Minister has now camped in Rajnandgaon along with his family for a last-ditch effort to garner as many votes as possible. He is holding road shows and will end his campaigning on Thursday after meeting people personally. Electioneering came to an end on Wednesday for the first phase of polling to be held on Friday.

Rajnandgaon district has six Assembly seats with five in BJP’s kitty and one with the Congress. Campaigning here is likely to influence voters in the neighbouring Kawardha, Durg and Bhilai that also go to polls on Friday. The Congress wrested the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha seat in the by-election after it fell vacant after BJP’s Pradeep Gandhi was disqualified following the cash-for-query scam. Mr. Gandhi had been given the Lok Sabha seat after he vacated the Dongargaon seat to make way for Raman Singh.

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