This is the time of political marathons. On April 28, Pawan Chamling of Sikkim surpassed the record held by Jyoti Basu as the longest-serving Chief Minister of India. His two other counterparts—Dr Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh (the longest-serving CM from the BJP) and Naveen Patnaik (Odisha’s longest-serving CM)—are racing to clinch fourth and fifth terms in their states.Chamling, the 67-year-old CM of Sikkim, quietly beat the title held by Basu, the late monarch of long rule in the country. Chamling has been at the helm of the tiny Himalayan state in India’s northeastern corner since 1994. Basu held that position in neighbouring West Bengal from 1977 to 2000.
Lovers of literature named him ‘Kiran’ (ray of light). Ecologists know him as the Green Crusader who brought the primacy of Nature back to a land once ravaged by corruption. Social scientists call him a reformer who has obliterated Sikkim’s feudal past and empowered the people through his progressive governance. Now, for political scientists, he is a case study as the paragon of non-stop power who has crushed anti-incumbency in his five consecutive terms.
Farmer-poet Chamling started his political journey in 1973 when he joined the popular revolution against the Sikkim monarchy. In 1982, he was chosen the president of Yangang Gram Panchayat unopposed. Three years on, he became an MLA. In 1989, he won the Assembly election with a record 97 percent of the total vote cast and became a Cabinet minister in the Nar Bahadur Bhandari ministry.
In 1993, Chamling founded the Sikkim Democratic Front that secured a majority in the Assembly polls the next year. Since then, he has seen only success—in 2009, Chamling’s popularity was so high that he won all the 32 Assembly seats and the lone Lok Sabha seat.
The “greenest chief minister of India” led Sikkim to become the first state in the country to start a green mission. He managed to increase the state’s forest cover and made Sikkim India’s first organic state. Under Chamling, Sikkim is one of the fastest growing states. Between 2011-12 and 2016-17, its GSDP expanded at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.05 percent to $2.93 billion whereas the Net State Domestic Product grew at a CAGR of 11.30 percent to $2.58 billion.
“Sikkim is steadily moving towards being a 100 percent literate state,” Chamling said last week, presenting the extraordinary feat that his government has set up 26 colleges and seven universities in the past two years to provide students with quality education. He announced that a medical college and a veterinary college would be set up where Sikkimese students will be given free education. Clearly, his initiatives are helping him gain praise. Union minister Maneka Gandhi who recently visited Gangtok called him “probably the best Chief Minister in the country”.
Chamling’s counterpart in the east, Naveen Patnaik, has been scripting success, election after election. He has been continuing his chief ministerial run since May 5, 2000. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo, who won his fourth term in 2014, is the longest-serving CM of Odisha.If the current mood in the state is any indication, Patnaik looks all set to win an unprecedented fifth term in 2019. In February, the BJD registered a thumping victory in the Bijepur Assembly bypoll by defeating the BJP. The Bijepur result—seen as a precursor to the 2019 elections—proved again Patnaik’s popularity despite an aggressive campaign by the BJP. “I am humbled by the love and trust of the people of Bijepur for giving BJD a massive victory. BJD lives in the hearts of the people of Odisha,” said Patnaik. The party also swept to power in two Notified Area Councils early this month.
The 71-year-old Patnaik, who reluctantly came into politics in 1997 following the death of his legendary father Biju Patnaik, is arguably one of the most charismatic leaders of India. The bachelor Patnaik, who was first elected to the 11th Lok Sabha in 1997 in a bypoll from Aska, his father’s traditional seat, later became a Cabinet minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
In 2000, Patnaik came back to the state to lead the BJD-BJP coalition government. He also led the coalition to victory for the second time in 2004, before snapping the ties with the 11-year-old ally in 2008 over the Kandhamal communal riots. In 2009, the BJD won 103 Assembly and 14 Lok Sabha seats on its own. But the victory in 2014 was more resounding, when the BJD thwarted an anti-incumbency and a Modi wave to clinch 117 constituencies in the 147-member Assembly and 20 of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha seats.
Patnaik claimed his government’s pro-poor programmes helped his party achieve a spectacular win. Also, the evacuation of almost a million affected during Cyclone Phailin in 2013 and later reconstruction of the devastated region got his government worldwide praise. Odisha, once one of the poorest states of India, has become a modern, industrial, agricultural, and cultural power under Patnaik. The real per capita income has grown by 400 percent. Poverty rates fell from 61 percent in 2004-05 to 36 percent in 2011-12—the fastest in India. Investments brought in have led to large-scale industrialisation. Smart City projects in capital Bhubaneswar and skill development initiatives are turning the state into a resource and e-hub.
In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Dr Raman Singh is the longest-serving BJP CM, having been in office since December 7, 2003. The 65-year-old ayurvedic doctor has broken Narendra Modi’s record as the CM of Gujarat from October 7, 2001, to May 22, 2014, before he became the Prime Minister on May 26, 2014.
Dr Singh entered public life in 1976-77 with the BJP. In 1983-84, he was elected the municipal councillor of Kawardha, and in 1990 and 1993 was an MLA in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. Elected to the 13th Lok Sabha, Dr Singh was the BJP MP from Rajnandgaon, a constituency he had won in 1999, and a Minister of State in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. When his party needed him to helm the state campaign, Dr Singh gave up his seat. Since then, during all his three campaigns in 2003, 2008 and 2013, the CM has focused on the issues of his state rather than ideology.
All through the three terms, his emphasis has been on development and the stellar track record of his government, along with promises of improving the living standards of the people. Chhattisgarh’s GSDP has jumped from `47,000 crore in November 2000 to `3,25,644 crore (estimated for 2018-19 at current prices). By stressing measures to generate both employment opportunities and skilled manpower, the government boosted the per capita income from nearly `12,000 in 2003-04 to around `92,000 now.
Chhattisgarh has 5.87 percent agriculture growth rate, higher than the national growth rate of 4 percent. The state has been receiving Krishi Karman awards for the last four consecutive years. Naya Raipur promises to be a resource hub with all-round modern facilities.Now, Dr Singh is poll-ready. Last week, he announced a two-phase campaign called Vikas Yatra for the Assembly elections due by the year-end. The long-distance runner he is.