Heading into polls, Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda compares his state with Gujarat to underline that his state is No. 1. Rubbishing charges concerning Robert Vadra, he adds it is for the Gandhis to decide Priyanka’s role.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda: A lot of progress has happened in Haryana (under the Congress government)… It was No. 14 in 2005 and is the top state now. After the Lok Sabha results, I tried to analyse the reasons (for the Congress’s performance) in not just Haryana, but the whole of North India. The conclusion I reached was that nobody knew the economic policies and programmes of the Bharatiya Janata Party. According to me, people voted not for the party but for the individual. An environment and an impression were created that one particular person carries a magic wand, and that if he comes to power, all problems will be solved in one stroke. Especially because the main issue in the Lok Sabha election was price rise. But what happened? Three months is a very small period but it is enough to see what direction the country’s economic policy is taking under this leadership. Consider price rise. They hiked diesel prices as soon as they came, then freight rates, sugar. And I have heard that there is a plan to increase the price of LPG by Rs 10 a cylinder every month, but that the government has decided to implement it after the elections.
The hopes and aspirations raised in people’s hearts are slowly turning into hopelessness… I have held 60 meetings in Haryana since the Lok Sabha polls. From the response I got — and I have seen it in people’s eyes and their body language — I can say that the Congress is going to form a government in Haryana for the third time.
When Narendra Modi was canvassing for the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, he said that the basic parameter of development of any state is its annual per capita income. He told the people of UP that the state had not been taken care of and that’s why its per capita income was a mere Rs 33,000, while the per capita income in Gujarat was Rs 75,000. I am in total agreement with him, Modi is right that per capita income is the basic parameter of a state. And the per capita income in my state of Haryana is Rs 1,35,007. So Haryana is undoubtedly the No. 1 state, way ahead of Gujarat.
Manoj C G: Modi’s image has not diminished in the past three months. So he remains a factor. Adding to that is anti-incumbency against your government, while the Congress is a divided house. How will you tackle all this in the elections?
There is always a difference between the voting pattern for the Lok Sabha elections and the state Assembly. For example, in 1999, the Congress lost all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, but in the Assembly polls in February 2000, we won 22 seats. In the Lok Sabha polls in 2009, the UPA got a majority, but in Gujarat, Modi was elected chief minister. I don’t see any anti-incumbency against the Haryana government. There can possibly be anti-incumbency against a particular elected representative or MLA, but not against us. All sections of the people are totally satisfied. And no, the Congress is not a divided house. It is a democratic party. For those who have left the Congress, I can say, as a partyman, good riddance! Those who have lost anyway and defected have no strength to win again from any other party. In fact, it is an opportunity as they were blocking the future of young people. The Congress is strong in Haryana and it is a united house.
Manoj CG: There can be anti-incumbency against some MLAs. Will you give them tickets?
I have already said this on record, that no sitting MLA should be sure of getting a ticket. This time, the sitting-getting formula won’t work.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: In the first three months of the Modi government, has Haryana proposed something that the Centre has agreed to? The Prime Minister mentioned time and again in his election campaign that he will work together with the states.
We put forward some proposals, like giving a bonus to the farmers. It’s a drought-like situation, we need support to deal with that. There are many issues we are raising with the Centre.
Rakesh Sinha: The PM has spoken of strengthening the federal structure, but do you foresee any friction between the Centre and the Opposition in states?
It is very difficult to say at this moment. But the federal structure should be strengthened because the country can’t develop otherwise.
Manoj CG: We have already had one instance of the Centre stepping into state domain. The Union Home Ministry wrote to Haryana on the separate gurdwara committee.
I don’t know why they wrote the letter, because it is the state government’s prerogative. The Sikhs in Haryana are getting their fundamental right and the Act has already been passed by the Assembly. I don’t want to talk more as the matter is subjudice in the Supreme Court.
Ruhi Tewari: Will this have any effect on the elections?
Acts are never made in the light of elections… (A separate SGPC) is the fundamental right of Haryana Sikhs. It was their demand. They had been agitating for it for several years. Even before I became the CM, we mentioned this in our manifesto when I was the PCC president. In 2009 too, it was in our manifesto.
Liz Mathew: There have been statements in the Congress recently that Rahul Gandhi should take over and Sonia Gandhi continue as a leader. Do you think there is a division between the leaders?
No, I don’t think there is any difference. Sonia Gandhi is president, Rahul Gandhi is vice-president.
Liz Mathew: Janardhan Dwivedi made a statement that a leader should be able to listen to the party workers.
Congress presidents always listen to party workers. Any leader must listen to party workers, naturally.
Liz Mathew: Who, according to you, will be the the Congress’s main opponent in the coming Assembly elections?
It is very difficult to say at the moment. Because they have not decided their coalition partners. Sometimes they say they will form a coalition, sometimes they say they will break up. At times, the INLD says Om Prakash Chautala will contest, sometimes they say his wife will contest… So, they have not decided yet. Main opposition wahi rahega jo second number pe aayega (The main opposition will be the one that comes second).
Abantika Ghosh: Is there a sense among Congress leaders that Priyanka Gandhi should step in?
That is their decision.
Abantika Ghosh: Do you want it?
It’s a family decision. Sonia Gandhiji is president, Rahul Gandhiji is vice-president. That is a decision of the family.
Parth Phiroze Mehrotra: You spoke about how the government’s move to increase diesel prices will lead to inflation. But it was UPA II that started the increment in diesel prices. Are you against this policy?
Before coming to power, people in the BJP had said ke aate hi, diesel ka bhaav Rs 40 ho jayega (the price will go down to Rs 40). I was only saying that the expectations they had raised are turning into disappointments. In the Uttarakhand by-elections, the BJP won no seats; the Congress took all three. Everything is before you.
Raghvendra Rao: In the past, while speaking about differences in your party in Haryana, you had said that leaders are ambitious and they have a right to be ambitious. You now say it is good-riddance that they left. What has led to this shift in stance on internal party politics?
Ambition is good. Everyone has to have an ambition. But pure ambition leads to frustration. They have become frustrated.
Raghvendra Rao: What was your experience sharing the stage with Narendra Modi? Because he never tried to come out and calm down the crowd when you were being booed.
The Prime Minister is not the prime minister of a party; he is the PM of a country. The institution has its own conventions, its own place. I respect both the institution of the PM and the PM. But undoubtedly, (the disruption) was all pre-planned by the BJP. After that, I blamed the BJP and said that if this behaviour continued, I will not go again. One cannot politicise a government function. Congress PMs also used to go to non-Congress-ruled states. In Kaithal (Haryana), this was pre-planned, maybe by some local BJP units there. Because elections are round the corner, the ticket-seekers brought in the crowd. Every ticket-seeker came with 100-500 people. That is not good. I am sure the PM must have also felt it.
Raghvendra Rao: So did you meet the PM?
He called me for tea. I respect him. As the CM of Gujarat, he sat with me (at Centre-convened meetings of chief ministers) for 10 years. We discussed many issues.
Raghvendra Rao: Did he call you or did you seek an appointment?
This is between two persons. If someone calls, I go. After all, it’s an institution. The BJP has done this to us, but I will never allow my workers to do this. This is not a good thing for the federal structure of the government.
Raghvendra Rao: Do you think the PM should say something about this?
That is for him to decide. I can’t say, but if my partymen do something in my presence, it will affect me too. So it must be affecting him too because he is the Prime Minister.
Liz Mathew: Do you think other Congress and non-BJP CMs should boycott the Prime Minister’s functions?
It is not a question of the Prime Minister; it’s a question of the party. I am sure it was pre-planned by people in the party. At what level, I don’t want to discuss. It should not happen, because if it does, nobody would want to go. It should not happen in any government function. I was there as the Chief Minister of the state and I have to follow protocol. When the PM comes, the state’s CM must come. But (after the disruption) I had said that if this attitude continued, I won’t go (to functions attended by the PM).
Kaunain Sheriff M: The Congress was in power for 10 years, but couldn’t get BJP CMs on board to pass the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Now, the situation has reversed. The BJP has to now get Congress CMs on board. Will you support GST?
I don’t know. But, from what I have read in the papers, even the chief minister of Gujarat had not supported GST. That’s all I can say.
Kaunain Sheriff M: But would you support the GST, now that the BJP is in power?
I never opposed it.
Manoj CG: On Independence Day, the PM spoke about dismantling the Planning Commission. As a CM who has to interact with the Planning Commission, do you think it’s a good idea?
The Planning Commission is an institution which keeps the balance of the states. Without the Commission, I think there will be too much imbalance of Central funds. I would like it to continue.
Ruhi Tewari: The government is looking to make certain amendments to the land acquisition Bill that they say will be industry-friendly. Are you in favour of this?
Despite the Bill and its intention, there are often requirements that come about during its implementation. So there is always scope for improvement in any policy. It should be further improved.
Sandali Tiwari: The criticism against you is that development in Haryana is lopsided and most of it has happened in Rohtak.
These are allegations made by those with narrow thinking. There has been inclusive development. The metro is now going to Faridabad. In Panchkula, we’re making the National Institute of Fashion Technology. The second NID, after Ahmedabad, is coming up at Kurukshetra… Tell me, where’s the discrimination? When people make roads from Delhi to Sirsa, a six-lane road, it passes through Rohtak. It’s not going to benefit the people of Rohtak, it will benefit the people of Punjab and the people of Sirsa. Railway lines from south Haryana pass through Rohtak to go to Jhajhar.
Manoj CG: How do you react to allegations about your proximity to Robert Vadra?
What is wrong with it? I can say one thing — as chief minister, I have never favoured anyone. The matter has gone to the Supreme Court.
There’s no end to these lies. Someone from the Opposition says that Robert Vadra has been given land… I am sitting here in your office and stating on record that if even one inch of land has been given to Vadra, I will quit right here. I will quit politics.
There are two things the government is concerned about. If I sell you land, the stamp duty should be collected, and second, the government is obliged to give licence as long as the licence fee is paid.
Lokesh Arora: You have had two terms as Haryana chief minister. What’s next? Do you aspire to be PM in 2019?
This is not the proper time to answer this question. There is no vacancy at the moment.
Pragya Kaushika: A lot has been said about the BJP’s spending on its ads. But there have been some ads of yours too. What is your budget?
This is not part of my job. The budget you’ll get to know during the declaration of budget allocation.
Maneesh Chibber: You have been chief minister for nine-and-a-half years. Is there any work that should have happened and hasn’t happened and which you will do on a priority basis if you get another chance?
I can’t say that. But we have created the foundation for a golden future. For instance, we have constructed IMTs (industrial model townships) and we have taken steps for employment of youth. In our future manifestos, we will promise to open skill and information centres so that the youth get jobs. The infrastructure for our education hub is in place. Haryana is going to be the hub of education, not just of national standards but of international standards. Also, sports. Haryana is the first state to come with a sports policy. I have built 220 stadiums across the state, each costing about Rs 70-75 lakh. I have also started a policy of talent hunts. Even in the case of the Army, every tenth Army man is from Haryana. I don’t want to compare, but we have raised the award money for recipients of the Paramvir Chakra to Rs 2 crore; Gujarat gives Rs 22,500. The pension for freedom fighters in Gujarat is Rs 6,000; I give Rs 25,000 a month. I give farmers electricity at 10 paise per unit, Gujarat gives it at more than 10 times this rate…These are the parameters people are concerned about.
Raghvendra Rao: What are the issues on which the Assembly elections will be fought?
When I took over, power generation in Haryana was 1,587 MW. Today, it is 5,300 MW… I don’t want to pass comments on other states. Punjab is in a mess. But the media hasn’t been concerned about any of these things.
Kiran Bedi tried to establish her credentials as a secular, pro-women candidate.