Updated: July 27, 2021 10:18:22 am
Legislative Assembly elections in Goa may still be six months away, but unlike politicians challenging each other to debates that never really take place, power ministers of Goa and Delhi shared the stage in Panaji on Monday, in a face-off much like the US presidential debate.
Amid heavy police deployment outside the Institute Menezes Braganza Hall in the Goan capital, BJP’s Nilesh Cabral, power minister of Goa, and AAP’s Satyendar Jain, power minister of Delhi, made their cases for or against the AAP’s poll promise of free power up to 300 units per household per month in the state. The session was moderated by journalist Rupesh Samant.
On July 14, AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had promised to provide 300 units of free electricity to all families in Goa every month, if voted to power. Kejriwal highlighted that this would ensure “zero” power bills to at least 87 per cent of Goa’s population.
Following Kejriwal’s announcement, Cabral reacted by saying this was not sustainable in the state and that the announcement was aimed at benefiting the people of Delhi who have “second and third homes” in Goa. Cabral then suggested a debate, a challenge which Jain accepted.
The debate, which lasted a little over an hour, saw Cabral dismissing AAP’s promise as “voter bait” that will sink the state into debt. Jain insisted that power up to 300 units can be free in Goa if its distribution system was corrected.
Another aspect debated was whether the BJP could match AAP’s offer to waive pending bills and provide free electricity to farmers.
“AAP is going to give free electricity at whose cost? Nothing comes for free in this world. If we give free (power), we will be in debt in the years to come,” Cabral said. “The Goa government is giving more subsidies on power than Delhi and across sections of society.”
Cabral said Jain’s claims of people in Goa receiving inflated bills was “hearsay”, and the AAP had not explained how it arrived at the number of 87 per cent of Goans receiving “zero” bills.
Jain said that in seven years, the AAP government in Delhi had not taken any loans, to which Cabral pulled out a CAG report pointing to the debt that the Delhi Jal Board had incurred.
Jain said the AAP would ensure 24-hour power supply in its first two years in power. If the party failed, he said, their minister would resign. He said it was “neeyat (intention)” that could make the AAP’s assurance a reality in Goa.
Jain said free electricity was possible if the party completed infrastructure projects before deadlines to bring down the costs. “The power tariff will not be increased for five years if our government comes to power,” said Jain.
He repeatedly jibed Cabral about the BJP “buying and selling MLAs” in Goa instead of using state funds for its people.
Comparisons were made between the geographies, topographies, populations, state budgets and power tariffs in the two states, but the exchange was often peppered with references lost, perhaps in cultural translation between a minister from the national capital and one from a tourism hub.
“Pareshaan kyu hotay hai, main bada hoon aapse umar mein (Why are you hassled? I am older than you),” Jain said to Cabral after his agitated argument against AAP “freebies”.
Minutes later, to Jain’s comment that just like Kejriwal, he had no political background — “Hum rajnaitik nahi hai (We are not politicians)”, — Cabral retorted, “Aap to baap hai,” and quickly added, “He said he is older. What I meant is he is a fatherly figure.”
Jain, who mispronounced Curchorem, Cabral’s Assembly constituency that he visited on Thursday, said, “Goa is beautiful and the people of Goa are very nice, but their politicians, they are third-rate.”
“Aapke jaise,” Cabral said, before Jain ended his sentence.
Jain failed to answer how his party would achieve 24-hour power supply in Goa, a state with challenges like hilly terrains and frequent tree falls.
Jain also skirted a question from journalists about the AAP’s stand on the Tamnar power project — one of the three linear projects in Goa that have been met with sustained opposition from environmentalists — saying he was not aware of it.
After the debate, Cabral told The Indian Express, “I was aware that when you do something like this it can backfire. Some people in the party were also apprehensive, but I said we are accountable to the people so let’t face it (the debate). Facts and figures are before everyone now. At whose cost will they (AAP) give power? Their own budget shows they have loans. Let people decide now.”
Jain, meanwhile, said after the debate, “I am very happy. Everyone has come to know the BJP’s stand. They can give free electricity to ministers but not to the people.”
Chief ministers of Goa and Delhi threw their weight behind their colleagues on Twitter. Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said, “My colleague and Goa’s power minister Nilesh Cabral represented people of Goa today against politics of falsehood, lies and misleading propaganda. He burst the myth of freebies and how it makes people lose out in the long run. On the other hand, Govt of Goa has struck a perfect balance between economic reforms and implementation of welfare schemes.”
Taking offence to Jain’s choice of words, Sawant also tweeted later on Monday, “AAP has always indulged in cheap politics through constant protests and theatrics. But to say Goans are third class politicians is an insult to great sons-of-the-soil like Bhausaheb Bandodkar, Jack Sequeira, Manohar Bhai Parrikar, Rajendra Arlekar or Shripad Bhau Naik. AAP is free to create hype for their political benefits, but to come to Goa and insult our leaders is unacceptable.”
Kejriwal wrote, “Excellent debate between Delhi and Goa power ministers. Good for democracy. Nilesh Bab admitted that BJP failed to provide 24×7 electricity to Goans after so many years of rule. BJP also won’t provide free electricity. Satinder Jain promised free and uninterrupted power to Goa too, like Delhi.”
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