Raman Singh is the longest reigning BJP chief minister in the country. The mild mannered and non-controversial minister of state in Atal Behari Vajpayee government was sent to Chattisgarh when BJP won the first assembly elections of the newly formed state in 2003. The party had ended the 10-year rule of Congress in the region and Singh, a non-tribal, became the chief minister of the tribal majority state.
He won the next two assembly elections in 2008 and 2013. Now in his fourteenth year as the head, Singh faces turbulence from within and outside. BJP president Amit Shah's core team is debating whether Singh would be an asset or liability in the 2018 elections.
Known as Chawal Baba (rice baba) among his admirers after his generous scheme of food grain distribution to the state's population, Singh, however, has never been successful in rooting out the Maoist insurgency, which has gripped the tribal heartland of erstwhile royal state of Bastar. There have been repeated attacks on central police forces and in the latest attack in Sukma last month, 24 jawans were killed.
The repeated attacks have raised question marks on the iron will of the Narendra Modi government in using its muscular security policies. Comparisons are being raised on how other chief ministers viz., Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and Rajasekara Reddy in undivided Andhra Pradesh, had wiped out Maoists in quick time.
However, the forests are more dense in Bastar than in the other states and further tribal recruitment is very high.
Secondly, the Singh government says all the Maoists from Bengal and present Telangana are operating in Chattisgarh.
Thirdly, human rights activists are vigorously active in Chattisgarh than Bengal where the government made a quick surgical strike against Maoist supreme Kishanji in Jangalmahal region and wrested the tribal population to Trinamool Congress.
Unlike Mamata, Singh's big failure has been his inability to politically win back the tribals siding with Maoists. The BJP and RSS have been ineffective in doing their work in inaccessible areas. The Congress tried hard through the powerful tribal leader Mahendra Karma. Known as the Bastar tiger, he had organized vigilante army against Maoists, but was killed in a Maoist ambush in 2013 along with a dozen Congress leaders. The Congress is now dormant in Bastar.
But even if BJP wants to replace Singh, there is no obvious strongman to take his place. His party critics blame him for not allowing a second leader to develop. Yet, Modi and Shah know Chattisgarh is not a shining jewel in the necklace of 18 states where the party is ruling directly or through coalition.