Raman Singh, former chief minister of Chhattisgarh and BJP national vice-president, has always tried to stick to the image carved out for him by his party. With no serious challenge to his leadership in the state BJP unit, he is chalking out plans to give the ruling Congress party a run for its money.
In a special interview to The Wire, Singh talked about a range of issues concerning Chhattisgarh’s politics at a time when Bhupesh Baghel’s government completes 2.5 years in the office. He touches upon various issues and calls the Baghel-led government a failed one, as just in the last 2.5 years, it has accumulated a debt burden of Rs 36,000 crore while the BJP, he claims, in its 15-year rule, had borrowed Rs 34,000 crore.
What do you think of the new health policy of the Chhattisgarh government of providing incentives to the private sector for opening hospitals in rural areas?
It is doing so when everything else has failed as we have seen through its pandemic mismanagement. Health is not a sector that can be run by the private players through incentives. They will take the incentives and vanish. Education and health are crucial sectors of governance, especially in a state like Chhattisgarh where hand-holding is required.
We (the previous BJP government) had put in a lot of effort to build government infrastructure in rural areas. All district hospitals were shifted into new buildings with advanced equipment. In most cases, primary health centres (PHCs) also got new buildings and equipment. I had personally taken interest in creating new posts for rural health services. It takes a long time to build such a network. Unfortunately, we lost in 2018, and I could not finish the task.
But in the past two years, they have not even been able to recruit doctors and staff to man these hospitals, and now, they want to shift the burden to the private sector. When the government, which pays close to Rs 80,000 to a doctor in rural areas, is unable to recruit, how will the private sector sustain it?
But chief minister Bhupesh Baghel has introduced the Khoobchand Baghel Swasthya Sahayata Yojana to help the poor get good treatment free of cost.
That is nothing but the renaming of the Union government’s Ayushman Bharat Yojana (AB-PMJAY). You can give whatever name you want, but people will still call it the ‘Ayushman card’. It is not as if these were not available for the past so many years. With time, the amount per card has increased from Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000.
But that brings me to my original point. We built health infrastructure alongside providing e-cards and empanelling private hospitals, but those services have now stopped totally. Soon people will have cards, but still, they have to pay for their treatment.
Also, the pandemic has shown that our best hospitals are AIIMS Raipur-based state medical college and hospital and district hospitals. Private hospitals certainly did their bit, but they are too expensive for ordinary citizens even those with an e-card. The state government’s duty in the health sector cannot be passed on to the private sector.
Why has this happened? Even health minister T.S. Singh Deo is opposing privatisation.
It only shows the fissures in their government and the lack of consensus. But, it is happening because of a deeper problem. The state government is left only with 12% of its entire budget for development, and this includes every sector from PWD (public works department) to education to health. The government claims to have distributed more than 1.35 crore e-cards, but despite the pandemic, only 5 lakh people have been able to use them so far. Is there enough money to pay the hospitals?
This is what the latest CAG [Comptroller Auditor General] report reveals, and this is evident from the total lack of investment in development projects over the past two and half years. The state has an annual budget of roughly Rs 80,000 crore. Of this, nearly Rs 72,000 crore is spent on salaries, which means just running the government. What can you do with Rs 8,000 crore? The flagship scheme Narwa-Garwa-Ghurwa-au-Badi has failed miserably because of this. No planning and no funds to back up the village-level initiatives. Hawa Hawai yojnayen hawa ho jaati hain.
But chief minister Baghel remains popular among farmers with his Rajiv Gandhi Nyay Yojana?
This only time will tell. So far, they have just about managed to pay the difference of Rs 650 between the MSP and the promised Rs 2,500 in four instalments for the kharif season of 2019! The kharif procurement for 2020 is over and still the money remain hasn’t been disbursed to farmers. And this will probably be done only by 2022 by which time the MSP itself will be almost at par (It is Rs 1,950 for 2020, up from Rs 1,840 for 2019). You can fool the farmers for a couple of years, but soon they will see the truth.
We had promised a bonus of Rs 300 which was achievable and reasonable as events have shown. But they managed to hoodwink people with an attractive slogan of Rs 2,500 per quintal. Now they are struggling to pay it, and in fact, giving an incentive of Rs 10,000 per acre for not cultivating paddy.
If T.S. Singh Deo rebels like Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, what would be your reaction?
I don’t think Singh Deo has the numbers or the intention. He has been fooled by his leadership if, as he says, he was promised two and a half years as chief minister. He has not come to us. His leader has also not shown any interest in installing him or listening to him just like Scindia and Pilot. Same people have held on to the organisational posts in the state Congress over the past 20 years. These same people have been made chairmen of boards and corporations. So, there is bound to be unrest.
But even the BJP leadership has failed in containing rebellion in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand? You were an in-charge observer when former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat was replaced in Uttarakhand.
I don’t think the leadership has failed. Can any other party take such quick decisive steps if it senses a change in leadership is required, as the BJP had done in Uttarakhand? My role was limited to giving feedback while the party decides who it wants from those eligible for the post.
Unlike Congress, BJP leadership has shown that it is willing to listen to internal voices and is alert to developments. In Uttar Pradesh, it has decided to stay put with the present chief minister, who is doing well as the Zila Panchayat results have shown. Congress leadership has the habit of ramming down decisions on state leaders.
But, in 2.5 years, the state BJP has not been able to mount a serious challenge to chief minister Baghel who has had a free run.
These have been tough years, with COVID-19 taking centre stage. We ourselves have taken a decision to avoid congregating in large numbers to avoid infections. Otherwise, we have been active in the state assembly and public forums, and the message has gone down. But, yes, in normal times, we would not have allowed such blatant extortion from the public as this government has been engaged in. Very soon, we will take to streets to physically resist it.
Extortion? What do you mean?
I have received complaints from various trade unions like transporters, miners, those in the excise and builders that they have to pay hafta to ply their trade. This is done under the protection of some government officers who claim they have directions from above. We are in the process of verifying these claims, and very soon, we will launch a Jan Andolan. People are already tired and sick of this exploitative regime and biding their time. What can we expect of a government which officially supplied people with liquor at home throughout the lockdown period after it had promised a ban on liquor?