‘For me, both Hindutva and secularism mean working without any bias against the majority or minority community’

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Shivraj Singh Chauhan | 54 | Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh
Shivraj Singh Chauhan,  54,  Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh

You have undertaken a marathon tour across Madhya Pradesh. Are you afraid of losing the state
Once you are elected, you tend to forget the people who voted you to power. I make it a point to visit as many villages and districts as possible and interact first-hand with villagers, gram panchayat leaders, etc. Most of India is rural and you cannot reach out to the people there via social media or the Internet. I have been doing this (undertaking tours) ever since I came to power. The fact that I have been in touch with those at the grassroots will certainly help the party during the polls; there is no denying that. All I’m saying is that those who have been monitoring my work will know that I’m not doing this for the polls; it’s not in my DNA to publicise my work.

The skewed sex ratio and power outages are seen as the two most pressing problems in MP. Although your government claims to have been successful in providing power across the state, you have had to rely on generators while hosting important functions.
There is a lot of myth-making happening in MP, courtesy an active Opposition that is working overtime. Since 2003, 18 districts (out of 50) have been receiving 24-hour power supply. When Digvijaya Singh was the chief minister, the state generated only 2,900 MW. By the end of this year, we will be generating nearly 14,000 MW.

MP claims to have spent crores on the girl child, but the sex ratio remains skewed against them.
This is not something that can be changed overnight. Till date, we have transferred funds to 14 lakh accounts under the Ladli Laxmi Yojana. But you can’t change people’s mindset just by spending money. There is a mindset prevalent in rural India that is against the female child, and MP is no exception. The criticism is valid, but we can’t stop families from having boys. It’s a pan-India problem; there is no magic wand that can change this.

Digvijaya Singh looks all set to make a comeback in MP and that seems to have ruffled feathers. Incumbency, internal rivalry and corruption charges are some of the issues that he is likely to use against you.
Go ahead and ask the people; you will realise the true extent of Digvijaya Singh’s popularity among the masses. Will he have any answers when the people ask him about the dismal performance of his government? The Congress itself is facing internal squabbles. On corruption, can they prove any case against me or my government? Let them at least come out with the charges, we will reply with facts and not assumptions.

There is a feeling that MP could see a repeat of the Karnataka situation considering the increasing rebellion within the BJP. Recently there was an internal survey that was reported in newspapers, apparently done by your own government, which suggested that 25 of your ministers would not be able to retain their seats.
There are indeed some issues within the BJP, but they are minor. Even in a family, two brothers fight; and this is a political party. My detractors have nothing against me, so when they can’t take up an issue, they talk of sitting MLAs and their inability to retain their seats. Yes, there are MLAs who have not been performing well and there have been complaints against them. Show me a state that does not have such issues. The comparison between Karnataka and MP is not valid. We will tide over all such issues. If the BJP thinks that some MLAs and ministers have not performed, action will be taken.

So you don’t see a Karnataka spillover in MP?
Was the BJP expecting a victory in Karnataka? No. None of our senior leaders had any illusion that the party will retain Karnataka. The writing was on the wall. After what happened in Karnataka, be it corruption or the Yeddy factor, there was no way we could have won. But understand one thing, I have presided over a clean and transparent government that gives equal attention to all.

You have taken to Twitter with a vengeance. And people have started comparing you with Narendra Modi. In fact, there seems to be a Modi vs Chauhan battle in the BJP.
We have realised that Twitter is an important medium that can be used to spread awareness about the government’s schemes. It has been an effective tool in getting feedback from the common man. Narendra Modi is like an elder brother to me and he is an efficient leader. There are insinuations being made but I would not like to get into it. I don’t see myself in a Modi vs Shivraj race. He is a good leader and what people think of him is reflected in the BJP Parliamentary Board.

But what do you make of the pan-India image that you have acquired with your governance style. In fact, even your critics call you a Sanghi with a Marxist heart.
(Laughs) I think they want me to take offence. The bottomline of all ideologies is equal rights for all, and that’s what I believe in. We can’t just be projecting high GDP growth and talking about investment when the poor are discriminated against. Because you have allegiance to the Sangh does not mean that you discriminate against the poor and on the basis of religion. You can’t talk of big industrial houses investing in your state when the poor are dying of malnutrition. If that makes me a Marxist, then I don’t mind being called one. One of my biggest achievements is that Muslims in the state have reposed faith in me and see me as an inclusive chief minister who will safeguard their lives and rights.

But fingers are being pointed at the Sangh for being too political or interfering in the BJP’s matters, making it difficult for the party to function.
I don’t think there is any difference between the RSS and the BJP leaders. In fact, most of the BJP leaders owe their career and ideology to the Sangh. Having said that, it would be wrong to accuse the Sangh of interfering in the BJP’s internal affairs or trying to influence the decision making process. Yes they do guide, and what’s wrong with that? During my term as chief minister, the RSS has never forced me to take a decision.

After Atal Bihari Vajpayee, there seems to be some kind of endorsement for you as a national leader courtesy what the Sangh believes is your image.
To be honest, none of us can even claim to be anywhere close to Atalji and his work. He was a cult figure. I’m glad that the Sangh loves my work, but I’m not going to boast about it. I’m a humble man and I don’t want to sound arrogant singing my praise. I’m trying my best to work like Atalji and Advaniji, who have been strong pillars of support for us. Now to see it as an endorsement or to aspire to achieve the same status as them would be arrogance on my part.

Even if one leaves aside the RSS, the BJP is in disarray — leaders have been expressing their anger and dissatisfaction in the open, while some are self-anointing themselves as PM candidates. At a crucial juncture when they should have taken the UPA head on in the Coalgate, Railgate, etc, they are busy fighting internal battles.
The BJP is a far more democratic, or rather, the only democratic party in the country. Rajnath Singh has made it clear that nobody will speak out of turn at inappropriate forums or vent their anger or ambition to the media. We have a parliamentary board that takes decisions and that’s precisely why I have stayed out of controversy. I don’t go around giving unnecessary statements. It’s not needed. Our party sees our work. Having said that, compare the BJP to the Congress; nothing is imposed on us, we are free to air our views. Personally, the likes of Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and Advaniji have been terrific national leaders who have given a befitting reply to the UPA government.

But in his latest blog, Advani has blamed the BJP’s infighting for the Karnataka loss.
I haven’t read his blog, so I don’t know. But Advaniji is a seasoned politician and whatever he speaks will be in the party’s interest. The BJP stands united and decisions taken by our senior leaders and the parliamentary board should be taken in the right spirit. I work in a transparent manner and don’t feel the need to show or use my proximity to a leader to my advantage. This image-building exercise will only last you a few days; what will matter eventually is the work you do for your people.

On the road The MP CM stays in touch with people by undertaking regular yatras, Photo: Reuters
On the road The MP CM stays in touch with people by undertaking regular yatras. Photo: Reuters

Have you ever thought about taking up a bigger role at the national level?
Right now, my priority is to take MP on the path of development. It’s been a tough task to take a state that was called a ‘Bimaru’ state to the level it has reached today. Especially a state that is not blessed with natural resources. The people of MP need me and I need to work for them, and on the basis of the work that the BJP has done, we are going to make our comeback to power. Please don’t see this as my arrogance; it’s a result of the work we have all been doing collectively.

So you are looking at a hattrick so that you may compete with your competitors for the PM’s candidature?
(Laughs) There is no such thought. If the party asks me, I will humbly excuse myself. It’s not the time for me to move out of MP, at least not now. Now is the time to take forward the projects we have undertaken.

You spoke about Vajpayee and his vision. It was during his tenure that the relationship between India and Pakistan was taken to a new level. Nawaz Sharif has emerged a winner in the Pakistan elections. Do you think Sharif should be invited and the process of dialogue with Pakistan be started again?
It’s always good to have a healthy relationship with our neighbours, but not at the risk of our own security. But you saw what they did earlier. We won’t tolerate them playing any games with us like the way they did with Kargil. One may not want to go ahead seeing what had happened during Kargil, but yes, we have to be cautious with both Pakistan and China. They said Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai and stabbed us in the back. I’m not staying we should stay with the past and be stuck with it, but any decision on our neighbours should be well thought out, keeping the interest of the country as priority. That’s what Atalji had sought for the country.

BJP leaders, especially its CMs, face this dilemma over Hindutva and secularism. How do you see it?
For me, both Hindutva and secularism mean working without any bias against the majority or minority community. It’s about inclusive development, education and health for all, not being divisive in your policies, not giving an image that you belong to a certain class or caste of people and will only work for them or speak in their interest.

And anybody who does not fit this cannot be seen as leading the country?
It holds true for everyone, including grassroots workers, chief ministers, the president or the prime minister.

rana@tehelka.com

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