It is a difficult time to be a Congress leader in Maharashtra, but that does not stop Prithviraj Chavan from raising important issues. The former chief minister is hopeful about issues like farm distress and lack of jobs making an impact in the state elections. Excerpts from an interview:
Q/ You were in talks with the Samajwadi Party and the Vanchit Bahujan Agadhi (VBA) for an alliance.
A/ The VBA’s pre-condition that we should not ally with the NCP was not possible. So, we are not very sure whether he (VBA’s Prakash Ambedkar) is putting on a show or serious about not dividing the opposition votes.
Q/What is the Congress’s main campaign plan for the elections?
A/ The campaign plan at the time of Lok Sabha election was farmers’ agitation. This time it will be joblessness, slowdown in the economy, the overall sense of drift and the government losing control over the economy. Our campaign will be based on the national economy tanking. The Maharashtra economy is also doing bad—dropping rank in ease of doing business, slowdown in the industrial growth rate, the job losses happening in the auto sector, and the completely frozen construction sector.
Q/ The chief minister said he has succeeded in giving a corruption-free government.
A/ He has succeeded in managing our leader of the opposition. We were small in number and, as a result, we got very little time in the assembly. That time was cornered by the leader of the opposition, who was completely compromised. We raised it outside, but the media was not allowed to report negative news. So, the only way to bring out corruption was to raise it on the floor, which we could not do. In the MP Mills compound case, I had pinned (former housing minister) Prakash Mehta down on a 0800 crore scam. He was found guilty and was removed from the government. But, why has no FIR been filed against him? There were many such cases.
Q/ The opposition camp seems demoralised, with several key leaders moving to the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
A/ They are trying to finish the opposition by inducing and threatening people to change party. The CM’s favourite phrase is saam daam dand bhed [cajole, reward, punish, divide]. So we are seeing a mass exodus in western Maharashtra.
Q/ Are the leaders leaving because they see no future in the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s leadership?
A/ I do not agree with that position, but you have a point of view. That may be true for the Lok Sabha elections. But, there is no Rahul Gandhi here in Maharashtra. There is no Narendra Modi also in Maharashtra. I am hoping that people have learnt to distinguish and differentiate between state issues, which the Congress is much better at handling.
Q/ What is the biggest failure of the government?
A/ Economy, definitely, leading to joblessness and farm crisis. Now the chief minister is suddenly saying that let us take floodwaters and transfer it to deficit areas. He is talking about a water grid. The amount of money required for that kind of project, if at all feasible, will be in lakhs of crores. If you need that kind of money to save Maharashtra from future drought or future impact of climate change, then is a Rs1 lakh crore bullet train a priority? The priorities are wrong.