OPINION: Peter’s principle and Raman Singh

Ajay Singh

File photo of Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh (PTI)

File photo of BJP leader and former Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh (PTI)

To describe Chhattisgarh result as “defeat” for the BJP will be euphemism. It is a total rout in every sense of the term. And if a 15-year reign of the Raman Singh government met this fate, we must have reasons to assume that the government must have committed some “terrible” mistakes to incur people’s wrath.

There is no doubt that people’s anger was not visible at the surface level. At least the Raman Singh government was known for honing the skill of managing a fine-balance between people’s aspiration and the government’s performance for the past 15 years. Given a two-party dominance in the state, the Congress’ victory has never been so spectacular. Historically, Raman Singh mostly managed to scrape through in the past.

But the BJP’s rout is certainly specular. Why is it so? The answer lies in the famous quote of Peter’s principle, “you rise to the level of your incompetence”. That appeared to be so true in Raman Singh’s case. He seemed to be completely out of sync with the electorate, which he assiduously nurtured all these these years.

Raman Singh was one of the shrewdest chief ministers of his generation. The manner in which he cobbled together fragile social coalition in his predominantly tribal state was outstanding. He won people’s heart by offering rice at the lowest minimum price from a very efficient public distribution (PDS) system. He won acclaim even from his ideological rivals for introducing efficiency in the PDS that oversaw food distribution among tribals and rural poor.

This was the precise reason why he was often referred in rural areas of the state as “chawal wale baba (old man who gives rice)”. Given plenty of natural resources that Chhattisgarh possesses, Singh benefited largely by enhancing his government’s resources and spending more on building infrastructure in inaccessible areas of the state. The state boasted of surplus power with rural areas getting electrification in fast pace.

Obviously, Raman Singh filled the vacuum of a powerful regional satrap who is reasonably efficient as an administrator. In the past 15 years, he derived his political legitimacy from a contrast of a thoroughly discredited Congress regional leader Ajit Jogi. In people’s collective memory, Jogi’s tenure as the chief minister was nothing short of disaster. However the moment Jogi was removed from the Congress, Raman Singh lost his perennial political advantage.

In this election, he campaigned as a leader with no rival. The manner in which Jogi allied with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is largely interpreted as a clever stratagem to divide the vote. The Congress avoided projecting a chief minister even though it maintained a pro-tribal slant to counter Singh’s image as a non-tribal. At the same time, Singh’s image of a chief minister who carried on a ruthless fight against Maoists for more than a decade, has not endeared him to tribals. The obvious reason for this alienation is the fact that tribals often bore the brunt of oppression from either side – security forces and Maoists.

Apparently Raman Singh seemed to be banking on old stratagems to win this election in which goal posts were substantially shifted. With Ajit Jogi having reduced himself to a political minion by aligning with the BSP, Raman Singh found a leaderless Congress to his disadvantage. His narrative of development and spending on social sector proved to be old rhetoric that seems to have lost resonance with people. What appears to have hit him more is the fact that in absence of Jogi, Raman Singh appeared to have replaced him (Jogi) in people’s perception. He was seen as a crafty politician who is keen to retain his position by all means – fair and foul.

In his 15-year reign, Raman Singh can claim to have many achievements to his credit. Yet at the end of it, he could appreciate the fatigue-factor associated with continuation of one brand of politics and imagery of a larger-than-life personality of a leader. Perhaps he could have taken a lesson or two from the chief ministerial stints of Narendra Modi in Gujarat, whose continuous re-invention of himself and election campaigning, saw him through in a series of elections. Raman Singh then could have avoided being victim to the Peter’s principle.


– Ajay Singh, Editorial Director, Governance Now