Vijay Rupani, 60, who became chief minister of Gujarat two months ago, faces many challenges ahead of the 2017 assembly elections in the state. Rupani is an organisation man and is very close to BJP president Amit Shah. Excerpts from an interview with Rupani:
What is your goal as the chief minister?
Obviously, the target is to win [the 2017 assembly elections]. We are confident of winning. There is Narendra Modi’s leadership. People feel for him and his charisma is intact. Amit Shah is an experienced campaigner. We will get the benefit of both. On the other hand, the Congress does not have a leader whom people can trust. The BJP has 4.50 lakh active workers and one crore primary members.
In addition, lots of developmental works have been done during Modi’s and Anandiben Patel’s tenures as chief minister and also in the current times. There isn’t anything that would create dislike in the minds of people for the BJP and love for the Congress.
Under whose leadership will the 2017 elections be fought?
It will be decided by the party’s central parliamentary board.
The elections will be fought without Modi and Shah.
Yes, that is correct. We will keep getting their guidance. There are four Central ministers and senior leaders of the organisation. We will fight collectively. Earlier, Modi used to fight alone. Now we will fight as a team.
What is the government’s stand on reservation for the economically backward class? It has become a joke.
No, it is not so. From the day it was announced there has been a commitment. Unfortunately, the High Court ruling went against us. We moved the Supreme Court. We are happy that our plea has been admitted and now it is before a panel of three judges.
The attorney general has argued that it is not based on religion or caste. It has not affected the existing reservation. We have kept a cut-off level of Rs6 lakh as annual income.
As regards the jobs, we went ahead with the process so that various services are not affected. If the decision comes in our favour, we will recruit 10 per cent more. I am confident that we will get justice.
What if the decision does not come in your favour?
Then we cannot do anything.
There is rising discontent among dalits, the OBCs and Patels in the state. How do you plan to tackle it?
[He does not admit it.] There will be no problem during the elections. As regards the stir by Patidars, we have discussed the issue with them. The Supreme Court guideline says that reservation cannot be given beyond 50 per cent.
The bone of contention in the case of reservation is the cut-off level. In case students falling in the decided category want admission in self-financed colleges, the government pays 50 per cent fees. We have been withdrawing cases against the Patidars. The issue is nearing a closure.
In the case of dalit atrocities [read Una], action has been taken like never before. In other states, more severe atrocities take place. Why single out Gujarat? It is because there is a dalit vote bank in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and an atmosphere in favour of the BJP. There is Modi’s charisma in Uttar Pradesh and hence the focus is on Gujarat.
The victims were given Rs 4 lakh. The guilty police officers have been suspended.
You mean the Una incident was politically motivated?
A CID inquiry is on.
How is your coordination with deputy chief minister Nitin Patel?
It is very good. He has been a minister for several years and has handled various departments. We get his guidance. He is highly respected in the government and takes up responsibility.
Recently, both of you briefed the media on the same issue. Then there was a gaffe over the EBC notification. It was changed within hours.
We were at different locations, but the reaction was the same. As regards the EBC notification, there was a mistake and it was corrected. It is openness of the government.
Modi talked about ‘Aaapnu Gujarat, Aagvu Gujarat’, Anandiben talked about ‘Gatisheel Gujarat’. What are you coining?
I will not coin anything. I will continue with what both of them did. But I have talked about four things—complete transparency, decisive government, sensitive government and progressive government.
You are often referred to as Amit Shah’s puppet. It is also said that important decisions are taken in Delhi. How do you plan to change the image? Does it hurt?
My opponents do not have any work. It is their propaganda. They have nothing to say against me. If you take advice from Modi or Shah, it does not mean you are a puppet and do not know anything. What is wrong in taking their advice?
Comparisons are being made between Modi’s, Anandiben’s and your governments. How does it feel?
Comparing is unfair. Each one has his or her own style and capacity. It is all about not deviating from basic principles. That we all have done and are doing.
Your Twitter townhall experiment failed. Also, Patidars created a ruckus at an event in Surat.
Twitter townhall programme was suggested by Twitter and I agreed to it. It was the first time that a leader had shown the courage to answer direct questions by the public. There were 36,000 questions. I started answering the questions that were picked up at random. The only problem was that the television channel that collaborated with Twitter did not show the programme live and showed it subsequently in the evening. The government is in the process of answering all the questions.
It was unprecedented to have 75,000 to 80,000 Patidars at a felicitation programme. The Congress had decided to create a problem. Their names came out during arrests. We released them. We exercised restraint.
Will you contest from Rajkot?
Yes, where else will I contest from? However, ultimately it depends on the party.
How many hours do you work? Do you get time with family?
I work 15 to 16 hours. Time to relax has reduced and so has the time to spend with family.
How do you prefer to relax?
I love hearing old Hindi songs, including classical songs. I love to listen to Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar.
What is your favourite food?
I love simple food. I love to eat puran poli.
What is your message to the people of Gujarat?
It is of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ [cooperation of all, development for all]. Our intent is not bad.