CHANDRAKANT Raghunath Paatil, 65, is the first “non-Gujarati” to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, an appointment that came as a surprise to many within the party as well. Forty days after his appointment, in an interview to Parimal Dabhi and Leena Misra, Paatil spoke about his work, vision and goals. Excerpts:
Tell us about how you came to Gujarat and in politics?
My father (Raghunath) was in the police force when Gujarat and Maharashtra were united. So, I am from Gujarat only. I was born in 1955 when my father was posted in Surat. I also joined the police in 1975 and remained in service for 15 years. On 8 December 1989, I resigned and joined the BJP. Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji had given me entry in BJP.
I had a wish to become a corporator, which has still not been fulfilled (laughs).
So, it was not Kashiram Rana (former Union minister and MP from Surat) who brought you into the BJP, as is being said?
No. The person who got me into politics (and BJP) was a corporator called Narendra Gandhi. He was living in the same area (Athwalines) where my police station was . We used to regularly meet. At that time BJP was not in prominence, not even in the Surat Municipal Corporation.
You had led an agitation of police union at that time…
I was vice-president of the state and president of Surat city in the police association then. Back then, the police union had recognition (of the state government). But after our agitation, the recognition was cancelled.
What positions have you held so far?
First I became treasurer (of Surat BJP) for six years. Then vice-president of Surat unit. I also performed various duties in the state unit. In 1995, I was appointed chairman of GIDC (Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation) during the government of Keshubhai (Patel). I was also chairman of GACL (Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Limited) till 2002.
I fought first election in 2009 Lok Sabha elections and then was co-incharge of Bihar state. In 2014, I won with the third highest lead in the entire country. Till date, I am the Lok Sabha MP with highest margin victory. But I have little contribution in it. It was all due to hard work of party workers. We did not do any public meeting, did not invite any leader. I myself did not do any public meeting. But we keep working, stay in touch (with people). It gets us results.
You are a Paatil from Maharashtra, equivalent to a Patidar… how do you see caste playing out in Gujarat’s electoral politics?
Paatil means Patidar. But I am the state president as a worker of the BJP. I have not come from Maharashtra. I am from Gujarat. I have been a worker and primary member in Gujarat for 31 years. I have not been made state president from another state…
If caste was playing such an important role, then I wouldn’t get such a reception (at the BJP headquarter). People do not think on the basis of caste. Some people indulge in groupism for their own reasons — maybe to get ticket or a position. A common worker has nothing to do with caste. For him, only the symbol of lotus is important. It has been proved.
Since 2002, Narendrabhai (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) was from a small (social) group. When he became a leader, people accepted him. Those who do caste-based (politics) never achieve success. I have the stamp of Maharashtra due to my surname. And still, I am getting so much support because people see me only as a worker of BJP. It also increases my responsibility to fulfill their expectations.
You introduced a system of having ministers hear workers’ grievances at party headquarters twice a week. Is there discontent among workers?
Due to lack of time, ministers cannot devote much time to those who go to meet them (at the secretariat in Gandhinagar). So, we requested the CM to have two ministers sit twice a week at the party headquarters. The CM discussed the issue in the cabinet and then took the decision. It is not an informal decision. It has the nod of the cabinet and I’m thankful to the CM.
The ministers send the representations they get to the minister concerned who will respond to the applicant on whether the work can be done or not. There (at the secretariat), people were not getting a response whether the work would be done or not. With this decision, enthusiasm (of workers) has increased a lot.
It is not just for BJP workers, anyone can come.
What if someone who does not identify with the BJP’s ideology and does not want to come to the party headquarters, has a grievance?
People come when they have to get work done. When Congress was in power, were BJP workers not coming to secretariat to get works done? What is important is work.
How does work get done without supporting staff?
We have an office here. Each minister has been assigned two party members who take the requisitions forward.
What is the sense you got from your recent tours, including in Saurashtra region, where you met some veteran leaders?
All were very happy and gave their blessings. They liked the approach I have adopted to eliminate groupism in the party. One more approach I am adopting is not to bring in any Congress leaders. But for that, it is expected that BJP workers work hard to ensure BJP candidates win everywhere. My point is not to let any Congress candidate win (anywhere). My point is (winning) 182 out of 182 (seats in Gujarat assembly). Only if you allow a Congress MLA win, the possibility of drawing them to the BJP arises.
We have a roadmap and a 10-point programme, which we are working on.
It is being said that the target of winning all 182 assembly seats is too ambitious and unreasonable.
Because so far nobody has even imagined or dared to keep such a target. I am planning to achieve the target and I am moving ahead with the support of party workers. If you can win 26 out of 26 (Lok Sabha seats) twice, then why not Vidhansabha? It is possible. I have asked for everybody to ensure victory on their one page (of voters’ list of the seat concerned) . It doesn’t matter if the majority is by one vote.
There has been a trend of the BJP inducting Congress MLAs after their resignations ahead of every Rajya Sabha election. You said that now on, no Congress leader will be inducted into the party. How will this be possible?
Why should it not be possible?
The upcoming by-elections to eight assembly constituencies are result of such resignations of Congress MLAs…
That is for the Congress to worry. A worker is getting elected to such a big post as MLA and yet he resigns from that post with over two years of his tenure remaining. He is resigning as an MLA knowing that now he can be an MLA only if he wins an election. He also knows that if he does not win, his political career will end. If he is taking so much risk, then he certainly thinks that he does not have any future in the Congress. He thinks that if he joins BJP and wins, there is hope for a better future.
The Congress has accused the BJP of horse trading…
They have a habit of making allegations. They should take care of their people. We lost some municipalities recently (due to cross-voting). We immediately suspended those persons. You have to have that kind of guts. You have to give a clear message that indiscipline will not be tolerated. It will have an impact.
In Surat you cancelled a car rally held for your reception, but in Saurashtra social distancing norms were blatantly violated at your rallies… As a leader what kind of message should go out during the Covid-19 pandemic?
In Surat, more than 2,000 cars had gathered. If you count three persons in a car, then also, 6000 people had gathered. Surat was at its peak of the pandemic… If that rally had continued, it could have spread infection. So, I cancelled it.
In Saurashtra, we did it in a staggered manner and limited the number of cars. In Rajkot, a lot of people got onto my open jeep. If I had asked somebody to get off the car, it would not have looked good. Recently, we did a rally in Bardoli and Vyara. We increased the number of cars with clear instructions of not more than three persons in a car.
Videos have gone viral on social media of BJP workers, including MLA Harsh Sanghvi, doing the garba…
That garba happened before my arrival. Sometimes, some people do such things intentionally. Harsh (Sanghvi) was there, but he did not start the garba. Whoever did it, should not have done it. I agree that garba should not have been performed.
What issues will the by-elections to the assembly and the local body elections be fought on?
Even if there is an election of taluka panchayat, people discuss national issues there. People are so much aware due to the media. However, while casting the vote, the issue that weighs in the mind of a voter is local only. So, we will have to focus on local issues and its solutions.
Will you seek votes on the issues of Ram Mandir, abrogation of Article 370 or good governance?
Ram Mandir is indeed an issue in people’s mind because the BJP has fulfilled it. A task that seemed impossible, which nobody had imagined, has been completed. With that, immense work has been done and those issues will play its part.
Will unemployment be an issue in the upcoming elections?
Gujarat has lowest unemployment rate in the country. There are two ways to look at unemployment — one where a person does not get job at all and second is when a person does not get job as per his qualification. There is a difference between the two. The point is that everyone wishes for a government job, which is not possible. In the private sector, Gujarat has maximum jobs in the entire country. In that sense, there is no unemployment.
Surat has a huge migrant population. During lockdown, we saw them facing lot of difficulties. We did not see any politicians coming to their help till special trains were declared. Why?
I have been out on the field since March 24. From 9 am to 10-11 in the night, I have been working. There are 47 people working in my office. The office was not closed for a single day. We made 1.70 lakh kits of 3 kg rice each and formed different teams to provide it to the needy. Surat is the city where maximum number of food packets were made… NGOs may have made it, but the arrangement to send it to the needy was made by party workers. So, I do not agree with the argument that no workers had come out. I can show you date wise record with photograph. In Surat or Gujarat, except for BJP, no worker came out. Did you see any Congressman even getting infected with Covid-19?
In Ahmedabad Congress leaders got infected. One even died…
That must be due to some other reason. He may have gone somewhere… The persons I talked about, Narendra Gandhi, who brought me to the BJP, also died of Covid-19.
You have added an extra ‘a’ to your surname, Paatil? When did you do this?
That was by numerology… some 10-12 years ago.
When did you meet Narendra Modi first?
In 1990, in Surat, during a meeting of Akhil Bharatiya Mahila Parishad.
It is said that you are very close to PM Modi and you have direct access to the Prime Minister’s Office.
As an MP we do meet Saheb (Modi). All the MPs meet him. For saheb, nobody is close to him or nobody (as such). As a pracharak , he might have visited their home, dined there… But I am a party worker and I get as much importance as a normal party worker gets. If a person works more, then he gets more work. It may be possible that he (Modi) might be giving me more work. But nobody can claim closeness (with him). Saheb’s only aim is country… nothing is more dear to him than the country, that is clear.
You were given special responsibilities ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and also sent ‘Namo’ branded saris to the north and eastern states.
There is no special responsibility involved here. Thousands of workers might be working for him, it is like playing the role of a squirrel (in Ramayana while building Ram Setu). It would be only self-deception if a person claims to be helping a man who can get victory on 300 seats. Nobody is required to help him win, he is capable.
Will you be active in Bihar elections?
Now I have responsibility of Gujarat. So, I am active in Gujarat. I have responsibility of Bihar, but I will be relieved of the same.
And what about Varanasi?
I am associated with Varanasi in a different manner; for development of its ghats and some other issues.
BJP is seen as a party of upper castes. There remains a trust deficit in Gujarat among Muslims, Dalits and other underprivileged communities with BJP. When you are talk of winning 182 seats, is there any plan to integrate these communities?
I cannot declare my roadmap for the party. BJP has still been winning elections. It is in power in Centre, (various) states and in Gujarat for the past 25 years. You tell me when we win 182 seats. If we get a single seat less, I will tender my resignation the same day.
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