New Delhi: Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s tweet on Monday said it all: “When there comes a time for struggle in life, don’t be afraid. Rather welcome it with happiness. It’s the path of struggle that is the surest way to lead us to success…”
He sounded philosophical on a day people were voting in the Dantewada assembly bypoll, necessitated by the death of a BJP legislator.
He put in his best there — like never before in an assembly bypoll — holding roadshows, camping for several days in the constituency, and involving in the campaign former IAS officer O.P. Choudhary, the former Dantewada district collector who had resigned from service to unsuccessfully contest last year’s assembly election.
The results Friday may not mean much to the BJP, which was reduced to 15 seats in the 90-member assembly last December. But there is a lot at stake in this election for Singh, who was the chief minister for 15 years before his party lost the 2018 election and was once seen as a potential prime ministerial candidate.
Reduced to the margins in the party — appointed to the rather ceremonial post of national vice-president — after its loss in the assembly election, Singh may hope for a comeback with this bypoll victory. But a loss could further undermine his stature in the party.
Four visits to Delhi
Since the BJP tasted defeat in the 2018 assembly polls last year, Singh has been spending more time in Raipur than Delhi. In fact, he has visited the BJP headquarters in Delhi only four times since the party won the Lok Sabha polls in May.
After attending PM Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2019, Singh next came to Delhi on 13 June for a meeting of BJP office-bearers. The next visit came in July, to meet PM Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
In August, he held a meeting with BJP president Amit Shah and acting BJP chief J.P. Nadda in Delhi.
Throughout this time, Singh was not seen attending any big party function outside Raipur.
Talking to ThePrint, the former CM said he only comes to Delhi “when there is need of central assistance for any development project related to Chhattisgarh”.
“But look at my schedule in Chhattisgarh where I attended all functions and/or programmes,” he added in an interview before the bypoll. “As of now, I am busy campaigning for the Dantewada by-elections and the public mood there is quite favourable.”
After the BJP lost the Chhattisgarh polls, it was expected that Raman Singh would be rehabilitated in Delhi. Signals from the party high command were unmistakable though.
In the Lok Sabha elections, all sitting MPs, including Raman Singh’s son Abhishek, were denied a ticket. Even O.P. Choudhary, who was brought into politics by Raman Singh, wasn’t nominated.
His detractors such as Rajya Sabha MP Saroj Pandey had more say in ticket distribution, instead. When Modi got a renewed mandate, it was expected that Singh would be inducted in the central government at the Centre. It was not to be.
The former Chhattisgarh chief minister has been left to fend for himself, with the party choosing not to nominate him to the Rajya Sabha either.
Raman Singh’s supporters, however, dismiss suggestions about him being isolated. They claim that no decision is taken in Chhattisgarh against Singh’s wishes, be it appointing a new state BJP president or leader of the legislative party.
A BJP general secretary told ThePrint that Singh continued to be the BJP’s face in Chhattisgarh.
“It is another matter that, right now, there is no work in the BJP organisation that suits his calibre… Still, in politics, no one knows what will happen tomorrow. Raman Singh’s guidance is very important for the BJP to play the role of an assertive opposition in Chhattisgarh,” the leader added.
Raman Singh finds himself in the middle of a revived Antagarh bypoll fixing scandal with a former legislator alleging the former chief minister’s role in a statement before a judicial magistrate.
Singh’s son and son-in-law are also facing charges in different cases. While Singh fights to defend himself and his family in legal battles, he seems to be isolated, with no helping hand coming from the central BJP.