The new Chhattisgarh chief minister, true to his reputation, turns out to be outspoken and candid. In one of the first interviews he gave after being sworn in, Bhupesh Baghel tells National Herald that his Government would go back to the people and elicit their opinion on all major decisions, be it the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha or financial grants given by the previous government and the Centre to certain NGOs.
Without mincing his words, Baghel also says that his government would go after big ticket corruption in the outgoing BJP government. Excerpts from the interview with Pramod Agarwal:
How did the Congress fare so well? Why did the voters reject the BJP?
The credit goes to Rahul Gandhi. He has been involved with everyone in the party from the word go, be it the booth-level worker or senior leaders.
I say this with confidence and pride that this was the first time that inputs from every stakeholder, no matter how small or big, were factored in while framing our election strategy. Everyone was kept onboard about every major decision. I also believe that we were better than the BJP in employing social media to our optimal advantage and reaching out to the masses, particularly the youth.
At the time of writing the election manifesto, opinions were sought from farmers, tribals, small traders, women, youth, employees of both private and public sector and labourers. Our manifesto reflected voters’ aspirations. The end-result was for everyone to see. The voters reposed their faith in the leadership of Rahul Gandhi as they chose the Congress to lead the state for the next five years.
As far as the reasons behind BJP’s defeat go, I believe that voters were disgusted by the arrogance that had crept in the ranks after being in power for 15 years. They had started to believe that they could control the outcome of elections through their deceptive ways, hateful rhetoric and tall and fake promises. Fortunately, the voters saw through their lies.
How do you plan to fulfill your election promises?
We have already fulfilled our key election promise of granting farm loan waiver. Besides, we want to conserve the state’s traditions of home farming, animal husbandry and work towards developing grazing fields for cattle. Towards the end of water conservation, we want the water flowing in the drains to be utilised for agricultural purposes as well.
We want our state to go ahead with the motto of sustainable development. We want to develop an environment-friendly model. There will be a fixed policy for grazing lands. We will start an investigation into cases of lands notified for grazing transferred to private players under the previous government.
In every other country, cow gives milk. Here in India, she also gets votes. Certain political actors have been exploiting cows for their devious political ends but we will treat her like an animal which is an essential part of our life.
How will your government tackle the threat of Naxalism?
The previous government has been rather unsuccessful in putting an end to the threat from left-wing extremism.
The previous government’s focus was just on increasing the number of paramilitary troops. The effect of that was counter-productive, with threat from Naxals also increasing in equal measure.
It is our belief that Naxalism is not just a law and order problem, but an economic and developmental issue. There have to be some long-term solutions, which must be devised after taking in views from victims, social activists, intellectuals, journalists and public representatives among others. Violence can’t be the answer to violence, which the previous government failed to realise for 15 years.
The next challenge for the Congress is winning the Lok Sabha elections. How are you preparing for that?
We have won the state election with a thumping majority. The next mission is to win all the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh. We will go to the people while choosing our candidates and ensure that only the most deserving get the ticket.
Recent years have witnessed a rise in instances of hate crimes and communalism. What’s the solution to that?
Despite what’s been happening in other states, Chhattisgarh has largely been successful in maintaining its communal harmony. Having said that, there have been some fringe elements which have tried to vitiate the atmosphere in the state.
But, by and large, Chhattisgarh has remained largely peaceful, mainly because secularism and living in harmony have been in our DNA.
The state witnessed several controversies during the tenure of the previous government, including the ₹36,000-crore PDS scam in the distribution of rice, the CD that surfaced at the time of Antagarh Lok Sabha bypoll and the Indira Priyadarshini Bank case. How will your government go about probing these cases?
The recording of the narco-analysis test in the Indira Priyadarshini Bank case hasn’t been made available in the court yet. We will ensure that the CD gets presented in the court. The controversial CD that surfaced at the time of Antagarh Lok Sabha bypoll will be investigated, as it was a blatant attempt by the BJP to undermine democracy and constitutional norms.
We will speed up investigation into the PDS scam as well, in which there were allegations of wrong-doing by the Chief Minister himself.
Chhattisgarh is rich in natural resources, including forest wealth, minerals and energy. How do you plan to utilise that?
The Centre has allocated resources to certain NGOs and private institutions, against the sentiment of the local population. We believe that people are paramount and any resource allocation from the state exchequer should have the consent of local communities.
We will go back to local communities and ask them how they feel about certain decisions of the previous government. If need be, we will reverse certain anti-people decisions of the previous government.