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The Mad­hya Pradesh chief min­is­ter on the Lok Sabha verdict, the lead­er­ship cri­sis in the Congress and the chal­lenges he faces

The drub­bing the Congress got in Mad­hya Pradesh, winning only one of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in the state, has put Chief Min­is­ter Ka­mal Nath on the back foot. His task is cut out—to de­liver on the prom­ises made in the party man­i­festo and re­vamp the state ad­min­is­tra­tion. Though Nath has han­dled var­i­ous port­fo­lios at the Cen­tre, this is his first shot at run­ning a state gov­ern­ment. From his sand­stone-clad, fifth-floor new of­fice at the mantralaya, Val­labh Bha­van, atop a hill, Nath has a near 360-de­gree view of Bhopal—as he would like to have of the en­tire state. In an ex­clu­sive interview with Group Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor

(Pub­lish­ing) Raj Chen­gappa, Nath spoke about the Lok Sabha verdict, the lead­er­ship cri­sis in the Congress, his agenda for MP and the chal­lenges he faces. Ex­cerpts:

Q.The Lok Sabha re­sult must have come as a shock. The Congress won only one seat out of 29 in MP. Is this a verdict against the state gov­ern­ment? No, the verdict was en­tirely on the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. Even the most naïve voter knew this elec­tion was about the Cen­tre. Just like in the assembly elec­tion, Mr Naren­dra Modi cam­paigned ex­ten­sively, but to no re­sult, be­cause the peo­ple knew it had noth­ing to do with Mr Modi. Sim­i­larly, they knew this elec­tion was Mr Modi’s elec­tion and had noth­ing to do with the state gov­ern­ment.

Q. Did you not con­sider re­sign­ing and seeking a fresh man­date be­cause of your party’s huge de­feat in MP?

Not at all be­cause this gov­ern­ment was sworn in on De­cem­ber 25, and I had (only) 75 days to work (to show). The code of con­duct came into ef­fect, and what we ac­com­plished in those 75 days has ar­guably not been ac­com­plished in any state. So there was no ques­tion of re­sign­ing. Had I been in of­fice for three or four years and this had been the re­sult, maybe I would have thought about it.

Q. Do these back-to-back de­feats of the Congress, get­ting only around 50 seats, sig­nal the death of the party? Has the Congress be­come ir­rel­e­vant as a na­tional party?

Well, I was in Par­lia­ment when the BJP had just two seats. These things hap­pen and I feel this (out­come) works in in­verse pro­por­tion. The big­ger the man­date, the faster you go down be­cause the expectatio­ns are very high. Peo­ple start think­ing they have been duped. In this elec­tion, we could not counter the is­sues that had noth­ing to do with Mr Modi’s per­for­mance or his prom­ises.

Q. What were these is­sues?

Mr Modi brought in the is­sue of na­tion­al­ism and I was sur­prised be­cause the BJP can­not name a sin­gle per­son in their party—now or in the past—who has been a free­dom fighter. They don’t have a sin­gle one. And they are talk­ing of na­tion­al­ism. They were suc­cess­ful in their art of con­vey­ing to the peo­ple what is not.

Q. It has been re­ported that Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi said senior party lead­ers, such as Ashok Gehlot, P. Chi­dambaram and your­self, didn’t re­ally work and focused more on the elec­tion cam­paigns of their sons. Did you give your 100 per cent?

I was in Ch­hind­wara for a day. Peo­ple have voted for me for 40 years, and be­ing the long­est-serv­ing MP in the coun­try, I didn’t need to spend time there. There is no ques­tion of fo­cus­ing on get­ting my son elected. I cam­paigned all over the state, every day. And when Mr Gandhi was here, I was with him in all his pro­grammes.

Q. The other crit­i­cism is that Rahul Gandhi felt lead­ers like you didn’t use the slo­gan ‘chowki­dar chor hai’ in your pub­lic meet­ings and did not carry for­ward the Congress cam­paign. Was there any par­tic­u­lar rea­son?

This ‘chowki­dar chor hai’, we all said it, but the fact is the theme does not de­pend on just one slo­gan. Mr Modi had to cover up his non-per­for­mance of five years, his prom­ises to the farm­ers, and how do you do it? He was suc­cess­ful in di­vert­ing from the real is­sues, such as jobs and eco­nomic growth, which he had no an­swers to. He picked up some other is­sues that peo­ple got in­duced into ac­cept­ing.

Q. Rahul Gandhi has in­di­cated he would like to step down as Congress pres­i­dent.

I think Rahul Gandhi should stay on as Congress pres­i­dent be­cause, as a pres­i­dent, when you are down, you must stay and when you are up, you must think of go­ing. Now that we’re down, he must not say he is go­ing. He says, it’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity; it’s ac­tu­ally ev­ery­body’s re­spon­si­bil­ity. The elec­toral at­mos­phere was built on is­sues that we were not able to counter. Their (BJP’s) cam­paign theme was en­tirely dif­fer­ent from ours and the peo­ple ac­cepted their theme.

Q. If Rahul Gandhi in­deed steps down, should Priyanka Gandhi suc­ceed him or should it be a non-Gandhi leader? So far, I have not thought of the Congress mi­nus Rahul Gandhi, so let’s see. I have not even ap­plied my mind to that till now. Q. What should the Congress do to be­come rel­e­vant again?

The most im­por­tant thing is the BJP’s elec­tion ma­chin­ery is far stronger than that of the Congress. They have the RSS, the Ba­jrang Dal, the VHP, the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and 15-20 or­gan­i­sa­tions. We don’t have such or­gan­i­sa­tions. We have to find ways to build our elec­tion ma­chin­ery. We are not wrong on ide­ol­ogy or pol­icy, but how do you com­bat dis­in­for­ma­tion with­out elec­tion ma­chin­ery?

Q. You have claimed at­tempts are be­ing made to desta­bilise your gov­ern­ment in MP. What are you do­ing to keep your flock to­gether? How se­ri­ous is that threat from the BJP?

The BJP keeps trum­pet­ing this to keep their morale high. The first test was the elec­tion of the speaker, which we won. Then they said the deputy speaker’s post goes to the op­po­si­tion. I said noth­ing do­ing. We broke con­ven­tion and held an elec­tion for the deputy speaker’s post—with the same re­sult. The num­bers are clear and the BJP’s hopes of desta­bil­is­ing the gov­ern­ment are far-fetched.

Q. The income-tax depart­ment searched the homes of your aides and there were al­le­ga­tions

I be­lieve Rahul Gandhi should stay on as Congress pres­i­dent be­cause, as a pres­i­dent, when you are down, you must stay and when you are up, you must think of go­ing” The BJP’s elec­tion ma­chin­ery is far stronger than the Congress’s. They have the RSS, Ba­jrang Dal, VHP, Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and 15-20 or­gan­i­sa­tions. We don’t have such out­fits”

of hawala trans­ac­tions.

There were two raids on some of my staff mem­bers, be­sides other raids. One of the raided per­sons, with whom money was found, has said on cam­era that he is from the BJP; he said so trans­par­ently. Money and doc­u­ments were found. Noth­ing was found in the raids on peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with me. But they (the BJP) are not say­ing that. What they are say­ing is that these were the peo­ple raided and this is what was found—with­out say­ing where it was found. I don’t know whether there’s pres­sure or not. But talk­ing about trans­ac­tions, I want to ask the BJP: if they have built an of­fice in New Delhi worth a thou­sand crore ru­pees, where did the money come from? They con­tested the Lok Sabha and the Vid­han Sabha elections with no lim­i­ta­tions of money. Where did the money come from—from sell­ing their wives’ jew­ellery or their property? Let them an­swer this first.

Q. Dur­ing the assembly elec­tion cam­paign, you said cor­rup­tion was a big is­sue in MP and you would ex­pose the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties from the pre­vi­ous regime. What ac­tion have you taken re­gard­ing that?

As I said, I had only 75 days, dur­ing which my fo­cus was to get the state mov­ing again from the mo­rass it was in. There is now an FIR in the e-ten­der­ing scam. Six peo­ple have been ar­rested. If there is evidence, more ar­rests will be made. I think the e-ten­der­ing scam is to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore. The lat­est re­port to me sug­gests that not seven but close to 400 ten­ders were fudged.

Q. Does the Congress lack the BJP’s killer in­stinct when it comes to go­ing af­ter its ri­vals’ wrong­do­ings? I am not tar­get­ing any­one. That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the BJP’s pol­i­tics and the Congress’s. One has to do a proper in­quiry, which is on. Every depart­ment that you touch, stinks. Where do you start? There was so much cor­rup­tion.

Q. What mea­sures are you tak­ing to gen­er­ate em­ploy­ment for the peo­ple of MP?

There are two chal­lenges. One, the youth and se­cur­ing jobs for them or en­sur­ing they are self­em­ployed. The other is agricultur­e. Sev­enty per cent of the peo­ple in MP de­pend on it. Even a ki­rana store-owner in a vil­lage, who may not be a farmer, de­pends on the pur­chas­ing power of farm­ers. Twenty years ago, the challenge was of short­ages; now the challenge is of ex­cess pro­duc­tion, the problem of plenty. How does the farmer get eq­ui­table return on his in­vest­ment? That’s why there are farmer sui­cides. There has to be a new thought process. Ear­lier, we went in for a pro­duc­tion revo­lu­tion, now there has to be an income revo­lu­tion.

Q. Your gov­ern­ment focused in­stead on farm loan waivers. But that didn’t get you Lok Sabha seats as

you had ex­pected them to.

It was not sup­posed to. It was not aimed at get­ting us seats in the elec­tion, but as a first step to­wards al­le­vi­at­ing dis­tress. A farmer is born in debt and dies in debt.

Q. On the loan waiver, PM Modi said Congress chief min­is­ter make prom­ises but don’t de­liver.

Mr Modi de­liv­ered zero. I de­liv­ered: al­most 2 mil­lion farm­ers have had their loans waived; the process for the rest will be­gin soon. If a farmer gets Rs 1 lakh in his account, his pur­chas­ing power in­creases by that much, it gen­er­ates eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. A lot of this eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity is out­side the mar­ket econ­omy and not re­flected in GDP fig­ures.

Q. Where are you go­ing to get the money for this?

We told the na­tion­alised banks that you waive loans taken by in­dus­try. You take a 40 per cent hair­cut for in­dus­try, but what do you do for farm­ers? The state gov­ern­ment can take over the loan and if we refuse to pay it, it’ll be­come NPAs (non­per­form­ing assets) for the banks and hurt their bal­ancesheets. What they do for in­dus­try, they must do 10 per cent more for agricultur­e. The sched­uled banks did this.

Q. Are you think­ing in terms of in­no­va­tive schemes to raise re­sources with­out hav­ing to in­crease tax­a­tion?

There are many schemes but the problem is in de­liv­ery. I will scrap schemes where the de­liv­ery is poor.

Q. Your pre­de­ces­sor of­fered schemes ben­e­fit­ting peo­ple from the ‘cra­dle to the grave’. Are you re­view­ing them? We are re­fin­ing them. How do we im­prove the de­liv­ery of schemes to en­sure they reach the ben­e­fi­cia­ries? It will re­quire an at­ti­tu­di­nal change in the bu­reau­cracy. This con­cept of spend­ing the leftover funds in the bud­get in a hurry in the end has to go.

Q. Talk­ing of the bu­reau­cracy, there are al­le­ga­tions that nu­mer­ous trans­fers have taken place and that money has changed hands in the process.

Let me be blunt. Trans­fers have taken place and will con­tinue. The BJP was in power for 15 years and they tried to saf­fro­nise the gov­ern­ment at all lev­els. There are those who were sidesteppe­d be­cause they did not toe the BJP line; I must give them a fair chance now. That’s what the BJP isn’t lik­ing. Their favourites who would dance to their tunes know there won’t be any tune now and there won’t be any dance ei­ther.

Q. Power out­age is a big is­sue in MP these days. The per­cep­tion is that you are un­able to con­trol the prob­lems in the en­ergy sec­tor.

How the BJP is behind all this has been out in the me­dia. One per­son was ar­rested cutting wires. Q. Do you mean sab­o­tage?

It is sab­o­tage, and the power distri­bu­tion equip­ment pur­chased in the past few years is sub­stan­dard. Also, the BJP gov­ern­ment had sus­pended main­te­nance work ow­ing to elections. We are go­ing to get it done this year.

Q. MP needs in­dus­try. What does the state need to do to at­tract in­vest­ment? In­vest­ment is an ar­ti­cle of faith. It can­not be de­manded, it has to be at­tracted. I have held two round­tables with ex­ist­ing in­dus­try and en­quired about their prob­lems. De­lays in set­ting up projects lead to losses. Speed­ing things up re­quires an at­ti­tu­di­nal change. Our gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus is both on ex­pan­sion of ex­ist­ing in­dus­try and on fresh in­vest­ment. A large num­ber of in­vestors are known to me. They have en­gaged with me in the past, they know things will move in MP now. In­vest­ment should be linked to em­ploy­ment. The ques­tion is, what eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity does the in­vest­ment gen­er­ate? The in­vest­ment pol­icy

The trans­fer of of­fi­cials will con­tinue. In 15 years, the BJP tried to saf­fro­nise the gov­ern­ment at all lev­els. Their favourites, who danced to their tunes, know there won’t be any tune now and no dance ei­ther”

can­not be one­size­fits­all. I have said the gov­ern­ment will ne­go­ti­ate with the in­vestor: what have you got to the ta­ble and what can I bring. That’s how we will func­tion.

Q. Can Mad­hya Pradesh be turned into a hub for agro and food pro­cess­ing?

Ab­so­lutely. One of the first things I did was to create a mithai park. This would gen­er­ate em­ploy­ment for 30,000 peo­ple in In­dore. Why shouldn’t we have MP­branded sweets? The state also pro­duces a huge amount of gar­lic. We need to look at dis­trict­level brand­ing in­stead of na­tional brand­ing. Under the new GST regime, MP, which borders five states, be­comes a nat­u­ral choice for in­vestors.

Q. MP has long been talked of as a po­ten­tial lo­gis­tics hub. Just yes­ter­day I held a meet­ing on lo­gis­tics. Every state has an ad­van­tage. Some have ports, we have a lo­gis­ti­cal ad­van­tage. How we cap­i­talise on our strength is cru­cial.

Q. With your gaushala ven­ture, you seem to have gone a step ahead of the BJP on the cow agenda.

The Congress doesn’t use re­li­gion for pol­i­tics. The BJP uses re­li­gion only for pol­i­tics. Our de­ci­sion has noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics. The BJP built no gausha­las, we are build­ing a thou­sand. The idea was born dur­ing the assembly elec­tion cam­paign. Cows were all over the roads, de­stroy­ing crops, ham­per­ing traf­fic and caus­ing ac­ci­dents. Many vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions have stepped for­ward to help us out. They just want the land and will run the gaushala.

Q. You met Prime Min­is­ter Modi re­cently. What are your im­pres­sions of him and how he is run­ning the gov­ern­ment?

The pur­pose of my meet­ing was to seek the prime min­is­ter’s sup­port for my state. I told him, just as I sup­ported Gu­jarat when I held var­i­ous port­fo­lios at the Cen­tre, he must sup­port MP.

Q. What style of gov­er­nance would you like to bring to MP?

A gov­ern­ment that is re­spon­sive, alert and moves fast. Get it done, move on. Ei­ther you get con­vinced or con­vince the other. There is no other way. Things don’t re­main at a stand­still. If you are not con­vinced and nei­ther is the other, bring them to me. There will be re­forms in gov­er­nance too, which I am also look­ing into.

Q. What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a Union min­is­ter and chief min­is­ter?

There is a huge dif­fer­ence. As chief min­is­ter, every­thing falls in your lap. Even if there is a bus ac­ci­dent, I am asked all the ques­tions. But when you are a min­is­ter at the Cen­tre, you are con­fined to your min­istry. It’s a wide spec­trum in the state; at the Cen­tre, it’s a focused job.

Q. Do you en­joy be­ing the chief min­is­ter of a state?

I’m get­ting to en­joy it.

Q. Do you miss Delhi?

I’m hardly in Delhi, I’m there only for meet­ings. One adopts and adapts to what one is re­quired to do. I en­joy be­ing in Mad­hya Pradesh and Bhopal.

Q. What is your big prom­ise to MP?

I want a new Mad­hya Pradesh that has a right­ful place in the coun­try. We can’t re­main a BIMARU state.

Pho­to­graphs by MANDAR DEODHAR

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