HT Interview: BJP’s agenda is to divide, but people are intelligent, says Rajasthan CM
The people of Rajasthan are very intelligent and they know who has worked for them in the last five years, Gehlot said
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has visited over 100 of the 200 assembly constituencies in the state ahead of the November 25 elections and targeted the BJP for what he has described as the politics of hate and “misusing” central investigating agencies against political rivals even as he has talked up this government’s welfare schemes. In an interview with Chetan Chauhan and Sachin Saini, Gehlot spoke about the ED summons to his son Vaibhav Gehlot, the role of the Election Commission, and defended his track record -- as a politician and a chief minister. Edited Excerpts
The BJP has accused the Congress of appeasement politics in Rajasthan and claimed that you are concerned about only one community (Muslims). What you have to say?
There should be honesty in politics. The BJP should discuss the work of our government, point out our mistakes and flaws. We will reply to them. As they have nothing to point out in our governance, they are trying to make a non-issue a political issue. If you see all BJP leaders coming to Rajasthan, you will notice all of them making the same speech. They speak on Article 370, Triple Talaq. It is state election, speak about Rajasthan. Their agenda is to divide people and get votes, not welfare. The people of Rajasthan are very intelligent and they know who has worked for them in the last five years.
The BJP is taking about building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya that the Congress failed to.
They want to fight election on religion in Rajasthan. In the Kanhaiya Lal murder case (the murder of a tailor in Udaipur), we solved the case in a few hours. The accused were close to BJP leaders, who helped them in a property dispute saying they were BJP workers. The BJP is responsible for his killing. Ram does not belong to one person, he belongs to all. But doing politics on religion is not good for the country.
For the first time, you have spoken about your caste, Mali (gardeners). Why?
I am proud that I am from Mali community. I am Mali from Rajasthan and what does Mali do. Mali keeps every garden in India beautiful. There is all type of flowers in a garden, Mali takes care of them. Similarly, people have given me responsibility to take care of all communities, which, I have done. There is only one Mali MLA in Rajasthan assembly and that is me. I have been CM for three terms and worked for different caste and religion without any discrimination. In that context I spoke about being a Mali.
The BJP has not announced a CM face while you are the face of the Congress campaign. How will this impact the polls?
The BJP is saying they are contesting the polls in name of PM (Narendra) Modi in Rajasthan. I want to ask the BJP leaders whether PM Modi will come to Jaipur and decide when and where a college or road has to be built in Rajasthan and whether the PM will be Rajasthan CM. Governance will be given by leaders in Rajasthan and they should tell people, who will be that leader.
Is the BJP’s decision to not declare Vasundhara Raje as its CM candidate helping the Congress?
Vasundhara Raje ji is two-time CM. Now, she has been cornered in the BJP. It is their internal matter I don’t want to say thing much. It is not hurting us.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in rallies that this time Ashok Gehlot’s magic will not work in Rajasthan...
It has always worked for me. From my days in National Students Union of India (NSUI) to being CM. I have no caste base, still I have got so much love from people of Rajasthan and they have blessed me always that I became CM thrice. That is magic. How will they finish the love of Rajasthan people for me? They can’t. PM Modi says he is a fakir. I tell him, I am bigger fakir then you. I did not buy any major asset nor did I buy gold for my daughter’s marriage 20 years ago. As an MP, I got a flat like Advani Saheb (BJP leader L K Advani), in Dwarka. I have a small flat in Jaipur, which is empty. I have spent my life like this and now they are troubling my son (Vaibhav) and issued him a notice and asked him to come to Delhi the following day.
What is the ED case?
They have been making this false allegation for last 10-12 years. Kirit Somaiya levelled this allegation 12 years ago. Nothing was found in 12 years and the allegation has been revived before elections. There is a hotel of his (Vaibhav’s) friend, the ED has made me its owner. We have no investment in it. They gave notice to (State Congress president G S ) Dotasara’s son and reached his home. They have started targeting families of political leaders, which I have never seen before. During (the 2020) political crisis (when his deputy Sachin Pilot and a group ofd MLAs rebelled against Gehlot), we were staying in the hotel and in the basement, an Income Tax raid was going on. The raids were conducted to scare MLAs so that they leave me.
The BJP says your family is corrupt and that the ED has proved this.
For 40 days, MLAs remained with me in hotels. There was offer of ₹10 crore, not even a single MLA left, me. Today, PM Modi and (home minister) Amit Shah have a problem with me because they were not able to topple my government in 2020 and are , therefore, attacking my family. They were able to topple governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka but not in Rajasthan. The Central agencies went after me and my family, raided us for 10 hours and did not find anything. The raids were conducted just to dent my image among people in middle of elections.
Is there a fear of Central agencies?
ED and the IT department have conducted raids at 51 places in Rajasthan in the past few months. You should ask them whether they found anything anywhere. Or are the raids conducted to create election buzz and news? I believe that the three agencies (CBI, ED and Income Tax) are premier agencies to stop economic crimes in the country. They are not doing the work they are mandated to. After Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi left India, have economic offences stopped in India? Is indulging in political witch-hunt, their only work now? If their credibility goes down, it will be loss for the country. I asked for time from the heads of the three agencies 15 days ago but got a message that they will talk (to me) after model code of conduct ends. I want to ask them whether model code is not in force for raids against opposition party leaders in the middle of elections.
You have also raised questions over the role of the election commission in elections?
I have been saying that the Constitution is in danger and there is fear of Central agencies among people. The BJP is crushing opposition by misusing Central investigative agencies. In middle of elections, the ED and Income Tax (department) are conducting raids against Congress leaders and their family members in Rajasthan and other states and the election commission is doing nothing. Isn’t this disturbing the level playing field for all political parties in elections that election commission has to ensure? In middle of elections, the Prime Minister announces extension of food scheme for the poor. Isn’t this violation of the model code? Is the election commission just for opposition parties and not the ruling party?
The People in Rajasthan say Ashok Gehlot has done good but there is anger against your party MLAs and local leaders.
Perception has been built of corruption. Everyone is not corrupt. In every party, some people may be corrupt. When our MLAs were in the hotel and they were being offered money, says ₹10 crore, if they were corrupt, they would have taken it and gone. The RSS-BJP has created this narrative because they have nothing negative to speak about five years of the Congress work. We have worked on welfare schemes for five years. We started with health insurance of ₹10 lakh insurance and increased it to ₹25 lakh. I want to tell you that Ayushman Bharat is not for all. It is only for those covered under social-economic caste survey (SECC) of 2011 but our scheme is for every resident of Rajasthan. Only rich people have to pay a premium of ₹850 per annum.
Do you think your schemes will have a positive impact in the election?
People are appreciating good work done by us. We ask the Central government to implement our schemes and restore Old Pension Scheme. I want to ask the BJP why OPS is not being given to Central Paramilitary Forces like it is being given to those in the armed forces. Why this discrimination? New Pension Scheme is not justified in any way. Central government should come up with Right to Social Security law like Right to Food Security and Right to Education, if India is to really become Vishwaguru (global leader).
Farmers are demanding MSP law and a law to define their rights. What is Congress promise to farmers?
When Narendra Modi was CM of Gujarat, he used to say there should be MSP (minimum support price) law. He has been PM for nine years, nothing has happened. He promised doubling of farmer’s income by 2022, it proved to be jumla (a catch phrase said for effect). Now, they are promising bonus over the MSP in Rajasthan. We used to give bonus of ₹100 per quintal to farmers, it was stopped by the Central government. Why was it stopped? Modi ji should reply. We have waived loans of farmers from cooperative banks and wanted to waive loans from nationalized banks but Central government did not agree. We have waived the entire crop loan from state cooperative banks of ₹15,000 crore benefitting around 2.2 million farmers.
The BJP has repeatedly attacked the Rajasthan government over law and order and crime against women.
PM did not go to Manipur (where there is an ethnic conflict going on). Is Manipur, not part of India. When we raised Manipur issue in Parliament, they spoke about law and order in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Is there any comparison? A civil war is going on in Manipur and BJP leaders are making such statements. In Rajasthan, anybody can register a complaint with police and we are prompt in acting on these complaints. Data shows higher crime against women in MP than in Rajasthan. The important thing is, how fast do the police act when a crime is committed? In Rajasthan, the police act very fast.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about his guarantees for Rajasthan. Do you think, people will believe in those more than the Congress guarantees?
I don’t think people will trust Modi ji. His approach is not correct. I have no personal fight with Modi ji. I want him to discuss our work of five years, which he is not doing. He wants to take election in another direction, that is of religion, which is not right. We have delivered in five years and people trust our guarantees.
It appears that Gujjars are not happy with the Congress over its treatment of Sachin Pilot and are speaking about it. Do you think the Gujjar community will vote against Congress?
The Gujjar community is being misled by the BJP. Everyone knows that 72 Gujjars were killed in police firing in 22 places during the Vasundhara Raje government’s term in 2007. Our government came in 2008. We contacted Colonnel Bainsala, who was sitting on protest, demanding reservation for the community. He withdrew his protest without any police action. I gave them five percent reservation and increased it by another one percent. What our government has done for them, nobody else has done. I don’t think the Gujjar community will go against us.