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The Lok Sabha de­ba­cle be­hind him, Ch­hat­tis­garh CM Bhu­pesh Baghel talks about his pri­or­i­ties for the state

With the Congress win­ning just two of the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Ch­hat­tis­garh this May, just five months af­ter the party swept the state elec­tion with 68 of 90 assem­bly seats, Chief Min­is­ter BHU­PESH BAGHEL has a tough task ahead of him. From man­ag­ing the state fi­nances and work­ing with a bu­reau­cracy that bears his pre­de­ces­sor Ra­man Singh’s im­print to tackling Mao­ism and deal­ing with tribal protests against min­ing by the Adani Group. Known to be a fighter among Congress lead­ers in the state, a trait that en­deared him to Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi, Baghel is plough­ing on. Ex­cerpts from an interview with Group Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor (Pub­lish­ing) Raj Chen­gappa and In­dia To­day (Hindi) Ed­i­tor An­shu­man Ti­wari in Raipur:

Q. How do you ex­plain the set­back the Congress re­ceived in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion af­ter the un­prece­dented man­date it won in the assem­bly polls just a few months ear­lier?

A. We be­gan ful­fill­ing all the prom­ises we made to farm­ers, trib­als and com­mon folk soon af­ter the assem­bly elec­tion. In the BJP, on the other hand, in­fight­ing came to the fore af­ter the elec­tion and the morale of the party cadre was low. The BJP was nowhere to be seen in the Lok Sabha cam­paign. Most po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts gave the Congress 10 or 11 seats, but when the re­sults came, they were un­ex­pected. No one here (in Ch­hat­tis­garh) had imag­ined this. But the re­sults are in front of you.

Q. What do you think were the rea­sons for your de­feat?

A. The rea­sons be­ing of­fered are beyond com­pre­hen­sion. If you say it was na­tion­al­ism aris­ing out of the sur­gi­cal strikes, then why did the is­sue not have an im­pact in states where non-Congress par­ties were pit­ted against the BJP, such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu or even West Ben­gal where the BJP did ev­ery­thing they could but could not pull off a clean sweep? The is­sue is some­thing else, about which we have not been able to say any­thing. And if that is the is­sue, it is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous. If it is the EVM, then it is very dan­ger­ous for democ­racy.

Q. This is a very se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tion you are mak­ing.

A. The vot­ers don’t know what’s in­side EVMs whereas a bal­lot box has all the de­tails of vot­ing within it. Even the ed­u­cated don’t know the in­tri­ca­cies of the EVM, what to say of com­mon peo­ple.

Q. Your critics are say­ing you did not de­liver on your prom­ises and the Lok Sabha verdict is a re­flec­tion on your gov­ern­ment?

A. That is wrong. We gave Rs 2,500 per quin­tal for paddy, above the Min­i­mum Sup­port Price of Rs 1,750. What can be a big­ger de­liv­ery than this? Loans of farm­ers from co­op­er­a­tive banks have been writ­ten off. Be­tween Jan­uary and May, au­to­mo­bile sales in Ch­hat­tis­garh in­creased by 26 per cent when sales else­where were falling. Gold and sil­ver purchases, con­struc­tion of houses, sales of ACs and cool­ers have in­creased. It couldn’t have hap­pened if there was no money in the hands of the peo­ple.

What do they want? To have pres­i­dent’s rule for the next four years? Si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions has been an old BJP agenda; why didn’t they do it in the first gov­ern­ment?

Q. You met Rahul Gandhi re­cently, af­ter he re­signed as party pres­i­dent. What did you discuss with him?

A. The BJP may keep crit­i­cis­ing the Nehru-Gandhi fam­ily but Rahul Gandhi is the only leader who is ac­cept­able to the Congress work­ers. It is true that ex­pec­ta­tions from Rahul Gandhi are very high, but no one in the Congress is an­gry with him. So when I met Rahul Gandhi, I re­quested him to con­tinue as party pres­i­dent.

Q. One of the first is­sues Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi is pur­su­ing af­ter com­ing to power is si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions to the Lok Sabha and state as­sem­blies. What is your opin­ion on the is­sue?

A. There are more states where elec­tions are due later this year. What do they want? Pres­i­dent’s rule for the next four years? They are mak­ing an is­sue out of a non-is­sue. In­stead, they should discuss the eco­nomic is­sues states are fac­ing vis-a-vis the Cen­tre, which we are ready to discuss. This has been an old BJP agenda; why didn’t they do it in the first gov­ern­ment?

Q. What ar­eas are you set­ting as your pri­or­i­ties in Ch­hat­tis­garh?

A. Ch­hat­tis­garh is pri­mar­ily an agrar­ian state. We get rains from two mon­soons, but there is still short­age of wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion. Forty-four per cent of the state is un­der forests and it is in these ar­eas that the prob­lem of ir­ri­ga­tion is the most se­vere as For­est Act per­mis­sion is re­quired to build dams or to bring in elec­tric­ity lines. These would be our fo­cus ar­eas.

Q. Peo­ple say each suc­ces­sive chief min­is­ter pri­ori­tises one or two pro­grammes they think they will be re­mem­bered for...

A. We want to make our vil­lages self-suf­fi­cient and the ‘Narwa, Garwa, Ghurwa, Badi’ pro­gramme is a step in that di­rec­tion. Agricultur­e in Ch­hat­tis­garh is fac­ing a cri­sis ow­ing to stray cat­tle. Fif­teen per cent pan­chay­ats have been iden­ti­fied in the first phase un­der which gau­thans will be made. Ma­nure is be­ing made in the vil­lages and we are look­ing at im­prov­ing cat­tle breed too to make live­stock an as­set. We don’t want the gov­ern­ment to run these pro­grammes, but make the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion self-suf­fi­cient in run­ning them. By cov­er­ing live­stock, agricultur­al fields, ma­nure and wa­ter, Narwa, Garwa, Ghurwa and Badi will cover agricultur­e and the ru­ral econ­omy in a holis­tic way.

Q. How will your gov­ern­ment be different from that of Ra­man Singh?

A. In the 15 years of Dr Ra­man Singh’s gov­ern­ment, there was an in­crease in the num­ber of poor, in­crease in mal­nu­tri­tion and a drop in ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards. School build­ings are miss­ing in Mao­is­maf­fected Bas­tar. Mao­ism has spread from four blocks to 14 dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Ra­man Singh’s home dis­trict. The problems of farm­ers, trib­als, mal­nu­tri­tion and chal­lenges in ed­u­ca­tion are what I am fo­cus­ing on.

There was mis­use of funds dur­ing the Ra­man Singh gov­ern­ment. DMF (Dis­trict Min­eral Foundation, a non-profit trust in min­ing-af­fected dis­tricts) funds were used to in­stal lifts, make air strips. The only con­stant in the past 15 years has been the giv­ing of com­mis­sions. There is no short­age of funds in Ch­hat­tis­garh, yet the previous gov­ern­ment con­tracted a loan of Rs 50,000 crore. About Rs 6,000 crore was spent on the new cap­i­tal, but there is noth­ing to show for it. A sky­walk has been made in Raipur, but it has no users. There was mis­use of funds ev­ery­where. All this takes time to rec­tify. In re­view meet­ings, I tell of­fi­cers that you did this for so many years and pro­duced no re­sults. It’s now time to change all this. We are work­ing on it. If there is a will , noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble. You will slowly see im­prove­ment.

Q. Will the Naya Raipur project of the previous gov­ern­ment con­tinue?

A. When Rs 6,000 crore has been spent, there is no other op­tion but to con­tinue with it.

Q. The bu­reau­cracy has been com­plain­ing of fre­quent trans­fers af­ter you came to power.

A. Trans­fer is not a pun­ish­ment. They have been given a task to ful­fil and if they don’t, they will have to go and make way for some­one who will com­plete it. One per­son cannot let an en­tire scheme be ad­versely af­fected.

Q. Are you look­ing into cer­tain cases of cor­rup­tion of the previous gov­ern­ment?

A. We merely re­moved the dust from some files and a huge up­roar took place. The op­po­si­tion has termed it Bad­la­pur. I have not reg­is­tered these FIRs; I am merely look­ing into cases reg­is­tered then. A lot of cor­rup­tion took place in the previous gov­ern­ment, which will now be looked into.

Mao­ism spread from four blocks to 14 dis­tricts in Ra­man Singh’s ten­ure. They brought no devel­op­ment. We are pro­ceed­ing in a con­sul­ta­tive way

Q. Your ri­vals term you vin­dic­tive. What do you have to say to that?

A. I did not start the case per­tain­ing to Ajit Jogi’s caste sta­tus nor the one against his son, which is in the Supreme Court. Ra­man Singh com­menced the pro­ceed­ings in the Civil Sup­plies Cor­po­ra­tion case (known as NAN or Na­grik Apurti Nigam gho­tala), I am only taking it for­ward. The An­ta­garh tapes FIR was filed in 2014, I have not done any­thing new. The FIRs were reg­is­tered ear­lier, I am only taking them ahead.

Q. A mine al­lo­ca­tion to the Adani Group in Dan­te­wada has sparked a con­tro­versy and led to op­po­si­tion by trib­als. What is your stand on the is­sue?

A. I must clar­ify that no mine has been given to Adani. Dur­ing the UPA gov­ern­ment, there was an al­le­ga­tion that a Rs 1.86 lakh crore scam took place in coal al­lo­ca­tion. Then be­gan the process of auc­tions that gave states Rs 2,300-Rs 3,200 per tonne roy­alty, but it was stopped. It was fol­lowed by al­lot­ments to states and state elec­tric­ity boards, to Ch­hat­tis­garh, Ra­jasthan, Gu­jarat, Ma­ha­rash­tra and Te­lan­gana. Then came the sys­tem of ten­ders and MDOs (mine de­vel­op­ers and op­er­a­tors). Bailadila is a joint ven­ture be­tween NMDC and CMDC. They floated ten­ders for MDOs and the Ada­nis got the ten­der. When the ag­i­ta­tion be­gan (on June 7), we were told that forests were be­ing cut, we stopped it; we also said we will con­duct an inquiry into the crucial gram sabha meet­ing (whose con­sent is manda­tory for any devel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity). The ag­i­ta­tion ended on the ba­sis of these ac­tions.

I wrote to the PM and told him when I met him that the al­lot­ment of mines to states and elec­tric­ity boards is giv­ing us only Rs 100 per tonne as roy­alty while auc­tions gave us at least Rs 2,300 per tonne. In the next 30 years, Ch­hat­tis­garh would lose Rs 9 lakh crore. In case the sys­tem of al­lot­ment is con­tin­ued, the roy­alty should be in­creased to at least Rs 500 per tonne. Since min­ing leads to de­for­esta­tion, dam­age to roads, pol­lu­tion-re­lated dis­eases and in­con­ve­nience to lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, we feel we should be com­pen­sated for it through en­hanced roy­alty.

Q. Your pre­de­ces­sor Ra­man Singh claimed he had kept Mao­ism in check. How do you plan to deal with Mao­ism? A. In the previous Congress gov­ern­ment, only four blocks were af­fected by Mao­ism; now 14 dis­tricts are af­fected. Trib­als have been up­rooted from their homes and are be­ing forced to live in con­di­tions where they face problems reg­u­larly. The previous gov­ern­ment was not suc­cess­ful. It did not have any pol­icy to bring devel­op­ment to places which our brave forces were able to lib­er­ate from Mao­ism. There seems to be no dif­fer­ence be­tween vil­lages that have been lib­er­ated by jawans and those where the Maoist writ still runs. The roads that are be­ing built are for send­ing in forces. The lo­cal pop­u­la­tion should feel that the roads are be­ing built for them. I was in Bas­tar for two days and met jour­nal­ists, civil so­ci­ety mem­bers and trib­als, ask­ing for their sug­ges­tions. We are pro­ceed­ing in a con­sul­ta­tive way.

Q. Are you co­or­di­nat­ing with the Cen­tre, es­pe­cially with the home ministry, in deal­ing with Mao­ism?

A. We are. Re­cently we have asked for Rs 4,400 crore for LWE (left-wing ex­trem­ism)-af­fected dis­tricts, but we have been given only Rs 306 crore. We also raised the is­sue at NITI Aayog and with the home min­is­ter, who said that a meet­ing of CMs and DGPs of the af­fected states will be called in early July.

Q. How is your re­la­tion­ship with the cur­rent NDA gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre?

A. In the NITI Aayog meet­ing as well as in a meet­ing called by the fi­nance min­is­ter, I raised the point that the fi­nan­cial share of states is be­ing in­creased while the cen­tral com­po­nent is be­ing re­duced. In cen­tral schemes, all CMs are de­mand­ing that the Cen­tre fi­nance cent per cent, be it the PMGSY (Prad­han Mantri Gram Sadak Yo­jana) or Swachh Bharat. The fi­nan­cial bur­den of the states has been en­hanced, which is why they are un­able to ful­fil the prom­ises they have made to their peo­ple.

Q. What are the three mistakes of the Jogi and Ra­man Singh gov­ern­ments that you will en­sure you won’t re­peat?

A. It is very easy to find fault with oth­ers, but one should learn from his­tory. We are the cus­to­di­ans of Ch­hat­tis­garh, not its own­ers. They (Ra­man Singh and Ajit Jogi) were treat­ing the state as their fief­dom. Sec­ond, the nat­u­ral wealth of the state should be used for the com­mon peo­ple. In the past 15 years, noth­ing was done to im­prove their lot. Third, all sec­tions should feel that the gov­ern­ment be­longs to them. I al­ways tell of­fi­cers and elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives work­ing with me that we are for the peo­ple, the peo­ple are not for us. The sys­tem is for help­ing the peo­ple, whether trib­als, women, youth, in­dus­tri­al­ists or other stake­hold­ers.

Pho­to­graphs by CHANDRADEE­P KU­MAR

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