While reconstruction of Chhattisgarh is high on his priority list, chief minister Bhupesh Baghel exuded confidence that Congress, which won only one of the 11 Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2014, would fare much better in 2019.
“It will be our endeavour to ensure that Congress bags all the 11 seats,” said Baghel in a chat with Group Editorial Advisor Mrinal Pande and Editor-in-Chief Zafar Agha on Saturday.
The BJP government in the state during the last 15 years had unleashed a reign of repression, he alleged. Chhattisgarh, he pointed out, has the highest concentration of paramilitary forces outside Jammu & Kashmir. And yet the problem of Naxalism had expanded from just three districts in 2003 to 15 districts in 2018. A large number of innocent people had been imprisoned on charge of being Naxals. Even 12-year-old boys were not spared, he said.
Anyone who spoke against the BJP or the RSS or the government of Raman Singh, he said, were implicated in false cases.
His government would initiate dialogues with the victims of Naxalism in the state, he declared. Villagers, farmers, students, women, political workers, journalists and NGOs in the affected areas would be invited to suggest solutions, he added. “They are in the best position to tell us what to do,” said Baghel while reiterating that Congress believed in Gandhian non-violence.
Describing policemen also as victims of Naxalism, the chief minister said that a committee was being formed to look into the conditions under which policemen are forced to serve in the state. The state government is aware of some of the problems they face and would like to address them as early as possible, he declared.
Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of saying one thing and doing something opposite, he cited the example of MGNREGA. “While the Prime Minister declared in Parliament that the scheme was an example of the failure of Congress rule, outside the Parliament he enhanced the allocation; but in Chhattisgarh payment under MGNREGA has not been paid for months,” he asserted before saying that his government would like to link the wages under MGNREGA with agriculture in the state.
Admitting that loan waiver alone was not a solution to farm distress, Baghel said that his government had already raised the procurement price of paddy to ₹2,500 per quintal as promised in the Congress manifesto.
Not just Agriculture but the BJP government in the state had reduced the rates of forest produce between 9 and 53%, he said. And a lot of effort and corrective action would be required to put the state back on rails.
Asked why Congress remained in the wilderness for 15 long years, he said while he did not wish to take anyone’s name, the Congress contested the last three assembly elections under Ajit Jogi and lost each time. When Jogi left the party, the Congress won, he added with a smile.