His official name is Tribhuwaneshwar Saran Singh Deo. In Ambikapur he is called Baba. Even the election commission results of the last elections puts his name down as T S Baba. He has declared assets at just above 500 crores with a yearly income of 7.43 lakhs.
But neither do his income win elections for Singh Deo nor his declared assets. What gets him elected is the intangible asset of being a part of the family that has been a patron to both tribals and non-tribals and his personal goodwill. Die-hard BJP supporters say that were he to step out of the car right now, all of them would touch his feet. And no one, just no one will oppose him to his face. In all likelihood, Baba will call them by their first names and even enquire after their family. A vintage blend of royalty and retail politics.
But it would be wrong to think that Singh Deo has a lock on Ambikapur. The seat became a General Seat in 2008, and it was only then that this son of the former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh and the last official ruler of Surguja became eligible to stand for elections from Ambikapur. Singh Deo fought with the same man who opposes him this time. And he barely scraped through with 980 votes – a margin of .74% against his much younger distant relative Anurag Singh Deo.
Anurag Singh Deo and Baba have a common ancestor, Amar Singh Deo, but while primogeniture ensured Baba the Sarguja estate, Anurag inherited the zamindary of Shankargarh, a town just 40 km north-east of Ambikapur. If the margin between the eighth-cousins was narrow enough in 2008, in 2013 it widened to 19558. This increase is ascribed to Baba’s outreach and Anurag’s absence among the electorate. It is pointed out that the razor thin margin made the erstwhile royal realize republican virtues. And the defeated cousin became more removed.
What is however true of the constituency is that it is the candidate and not the Congress party that is a factor, while the BJP as a party has a visible presence. For the last three parliamentary elections from 2004, 2009 and 2014, the BJP has led by over 10000 votes from Ambikapur. This support for the BJP stems from the crushing of the Maoist fear in the area largely, the locals say, because of S R P Kalluri who served as the SP, Surguja. Also, there is a fear that any potential imposition of the 6th schedule in the area instead of the 5th schedule that presently governs the triabl areas in Chhattisgarh could queer the pitch for the non-tribals, especially in the land market. With the BJP, they seem assured of no such threat, which they see in the likes of Ajit Jogi and the Congress.
The tribal and non-tribal cleavage is best revealed by an anecdote. Talking about what impact the Maoist presence had, a local non-tribal said that people started addressing the rickshaw drivers with the respectful “aap” not knowing which of them could be a Maoist. Interestingly, one of Baba’s street cred happens to be his use of the word “aap” for everyone.
So these elections, it is Baba who is likely to get through. Aided by numerous personal factors. There is the cry that CM kaisa ho, Baba jaisa ho, which is seen as pitching Baba, the leader of the opposition in the Chhattisgarh assembly, for the CM’s seat if Congress manages to catch the anti-incumbency votes. Also, he is likened to a Bargad, who will win, if only to take down the Congress when he leaves the field.
Baba is known to relish cricket. And it may give him comfort that the elections in Ambikapur are being likened to an India-West Indies cricket match. Just like India will win, so will he. Till his hand is in the fray, the lotus will be kept at bay. But it is just him. And with no natural heirs, there is not a political legacy that he can will to anyone. Perhaps then the distant cousin can lay claim to the legacy of leading Ambikapur.