Witnessing the irony of people's power

Raman Singh shares lessons of his hard-fought victory, vows to spur growth

ajay

Ajay Singh | December 13, 2013



A knock at the window of my air-conditioned car shook me out of my reverie.

I was mesmerized by the scale and grandeur of the swearing-in ceremony of chief minister Raman Singh in Raipur on Thursday. Sitting in the press gallery my ears were attuned to the melodious music that accompanied the ceremony, which lasted for barely two minutes as governor Shekhar Dutta administered the oath to the newly elected chief minister. The culmination of the hour-long preparation was a bit too abrupt. And that was why I was still in a trance when the knock at the window by a woman and her five-year-old son shook me to a new reality.

“Can you give me some money?” she beseeched, betraying a sense desperation and urgency.

Before I could respond, the driver pressed the accelerator and moved on from the melee of hoi polloi that thronged the sprawling police parade ground which hosted the function – euphemistically called ‘the celebration of people’s power and triumph of democracy’. But barely 50 yards away from the podium, thousands who attended the function lunged and fought for packets of rice and dal. Obviously, the certainty of a frugal meal is a more attractive proposition for them than the celebration itself.

I was among the ten-odd journalists from Delhi at the event. We flew to Raipur and went straight to meet Raman Singh who appeared quite confident. “We need to focus on certain works which got us people’s confidence,” he said while appreciating the fact that his third victory did not come easy. “In fact, we were quite demoralised after the first round of the polls which apparently went in the Congress’s favour,” he said.

“But we fired all our cylinders, campaigned vigorously for the second round and geared up our organisational machinery to the optimum,” he said, adding that the victory is largely thanks to better management of the polls and social equations. Asked if he funded the Satnamis, a significant chunk of the scheduled caste population, to contest elections in order to divide votes, he wryly commented, “In elections, it is difficult to predict who contests on whose behalf.”

Raman Singh seems to have had his agenda cut out for the next five years. He is building a grand capital city of new Raipur which is expected to be an unparalleled model of urbanisation in the country. Spread over 80 sq km, this new city would match any European city in terms of facilities and infrastructure. Singh is equally focused on reviving the growth of industry and infrastructure which have been passing through a critical phase.

What appears to have hit Chhatisgarh hard is the ban on mining in the tribal pockets of the state. In fact, the industries have suffered on account of the growing influence of Maoists in certain mining areas and the hurdles created by the environment ministry. “Our energy production has dwindled drastically and it has become very expensive,” he pointed out. According to Singh, growth can only be spurred by developing infrastructure and facilitating industry to exploit its full potential. “This is the only way to reduce unemployment and poverty,” he prescribed.

On the face of it there is hardly any marked difference between this prescription of Singh and that of prime minister Manmohan Singh when it comes to curing the ills of economy. “Manmohan Singh only plans while we intend to do it,” the chief minister clarified, making it obvious that the economic agenda of reforms and liberalisation would be pursued more vigorously by him than the Congress.

That Singh intends to walk his talk became evident during the swearing-in ceremony. Jet-setting leaders and industrialists thronged the nearly 100-metre long podium from where ‘the government by the people, of the people and for the people’ was sworn in.

Not far from it, oblivious to this hullaballoo, thousands seemed celebrating the occasion merely by munching an ordinary meal of dal and rice. Indeed, the irony was too stark to be missed.

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