BJP's plan to finish opposition will make India a dictatorship: Former CM Prithviraj Chavan
Former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan on the immediate and long-term future of Congress and Indian politics
Even though he is busy gearing up for a triangular fight in the Karad South assembly constituency, the larger battle between his dying Congress party and the ascendant BJP is never far from former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's mind. While he blames BJP for its 'vicious efforts' to obliterate Congress from India's political landscape, he does not spare those who defected to BJP either.
Chavan says the defectors have not joined the BJP and Sena for the betterment of the public as they claim, but merely to escape the punitive action the government threatens them with for alleged financial irregularities in institutes these leaders have been controlling for decades.
The technocrat-turned-politician also alleges that the BJP wants to turn India into a one-party, one-leader dictatorship. Campaigning in the sugarcane belt and hilly areas with contrasting prosperity and poverty, Chavan finds time for mid-day to discuss his thoughts on the present and the future of Indian politics.
Why are you not contesting the Lok Sabha by-poll from Satara against Udayanraje Bhosale?
He joined the BJP on the condition that by-polls will be held with the assembly polls. The election was declared within 15 days of his resigning, which is illegal. Mr [Sharad] Pawar asked me to contest the by-poll and said the NCP will ensure a win. I told him I was prepared for the assembly polls but not very comfortable in running for MP. I asked him to meet my high command, who said I could contest provided there was no risk. My supporters in Karad told me I must not leave them. Also, the options that were offered for Karad (South) in case I vacated the seat were not palatable. All this is in the past now. The NCP had second thoughts over giving us Satara. They chose Shriniwas Patil.
Former chief minister and Congress candidate Prithviraj Chavan campaigns in Karad
Will Udayanraje Bhosale be defeated?
I'm confident of Patil's victory because of the stronghold NCP-Congress has. The BJP wants to wrest the seat anyhow, but hasn't factored in the dissent voters have for defectors. Mr Pawar, who feels slighted, hurt and humiliated because he fielded the same man (Udayanraje) in May 2019 Lok Sabha against local MLAs' wishes. Mr Pawar thought the man was a Maratha icon and could be paraded in the rest of Maharashtra for mobilising support. The BJP should be ready for a great shock.
Why have so many of your colleagues left the Congress and NCP?
It's BJP's design to finish off the Congress and like-minded parties. They targeted the leaders, especially NCP's, who diverted money from their institutes for achieving their individual ambitions. This is more pronounced in Western Maharashtra where co-operatives and educational institutions exist in large number. There was a time when political leaders promoted co-operative office bearers in exchange of support in the elections. Later, leaders realised they could do both — run the cooperatives and politics too. When they illegally diverted money, they left a paper trail. The previous [Congress-NCP] governments took a lenient view of irregularities but the BJP government studied irregularities and used it to pass on a message: either join us or face the consequences. Action against Mr Pawar and Mr Chidambaram gave out a bigger and clear message that however big and influential you are, the BJP is not going to spare anyone who does not toe the ruling party's line.
The desertions will not affect us because only the leaders have left. The core group is still intact and fighting it out with the help of committed voters. People vote differently in state polls. See what happened in MP, Rajastan, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Gujarat. Voters will not fall for the BJP's divisive agenda that doesn't talk real issues.
What are the real issues?
Sustainable farming, management of rapid urbanisation and creation of jobs. The country is in deep economic crisis. Unemployment is the highest in 45 years. Bank frauds increased seven-fold in the past five years. Economists appointed by Mr Modi have left, disappointed. Mr Modi runs external affairs by flying out to different countries. Mr Amit Shah runs internal affairs and controls agencies that work under Home and Finance ministries. I don't understand who runs the country's economy. The minister in-charge Nirmla Sitaraman is raw at best. She blames millennials for less consumption but she doesn't understand that the young workforce is not guaranteed permanency in jobs, hence they don't buy things that create a financial liability. Millennials are spending more on experiences like food, entertainment and travel. The weekly budget — roll-backs, perks, tax sops, etc — won't help. This country needs certainty in economic policy. Traders and corporates are upset but don't raise their voice because they are scared. They say they will vote for us, because the Congress policy, at times flawed, was best for a diverse country like us. [RSS chief] Mr Mohan Bhagwat says there is nothing to worry because our growth rate isn't yet zero. This is their economic vision.
What do you foresee?
BJP's divisive agenda and its attempt to finish the Opposition by using all means available will lead to a dictatorship. We have examples in Western countries. Putin, an intelligence chief, is one such example. I foresee India's intelligence chief, a highly ambitious man, or some leader from the BJP, taking up the dictator's role sooner or later.
How has Maharashtra fared after you left office?
Maharashtra was once the country's financial capital but that honour has gone to the National Capital Region. The BJP is spending on a thoughtless bullet train project when the state needs money for other sustainable projects. The CM's priorities are wrong and he doesn't have the depth of leadership to run all departments. Ministers who faced corruption charges were protected by the CM. Probe reports were hidden from the public. Does denial of ticket eradicate corruption?
Didn't you pave the way for Fadnavis's style?
My friends (read NCP) misconstrued my action in the MSC Bank and water resources department. MSC Bank was probed by NABARD and the RBI asked for superseding the board because the apex cooperative bank, the backbone of rural economy, didn't have a business license. RBI denied license because the bank was in heavy losses. The subsequent action brought the bank into huge profit and it is become rock solid yet again. My asking for a white paper in delayed irrigation projects and escalated cost wasn't political vendetta against NCP. I have suffered a lot because of this but I still stand by my decisions. The NCP pulled out of my government in 2014 and parted ways after which we lost power. But now we are all together with a sole purpose of defeating BJP.
Tell us about the challenges in Karad?
Karad (South) has two segments – a rich sugar belt where water is in abundance and a hilly area where rainfall is higher but the water cannot be stored for farming. It was here in the hilly tracks that the Mathadi Kamgaar (workers who physically transport things) movement was started. A majority of Mathadis work in Mumbai and send home money every month. I have worked hard for this region and I tell the people about it.
Period during which Prithviraj Chavan was CM of Maharashtra
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