Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel speaks to Manoj C G on the state’s fight against Maoism, its relations with the Centre and the rumblings within the Congress.
You had a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah recently. You urged him to increase employment opportunities in the Bastar region to end the Maoist problem. How are you tackling the issue? There is surely a dip in attacks.
Naxalism has not ended. Its impact is still there. But there has been a decrease in the number of incidents. There have been surrenders. And some of the big Maoist leaders have either been arrested or killed in encounters. That is an ongoing process. At the same time, there is a need to provide job opportunities and other facilities like road connectivity, electricity, mobile towers, health and educational facilities to the people there (in Maoist-affected areas) like elsewhere. Our government has been trying to address those issues despite limited resources. There is a need for more resources and I brought all those issues to the attention of the Home Minister. His response was very positive. He asked me to send separate proposals so that he can write to those departments.
You said his response was positive. But there have been tensions between the Centre and Opposition-ruled states on a number of issues, the recent being the Bills passed by Congress ruled states to negate the farm Bills passed by the Centre.
Problems arise when you try to curtail rights and powers of states and take decisions without taking them into confidence. That creates conflict. Look at the agriculture Bills. They called it agriculture Bills but brought agriculture marketing Bills. So it becomes a central subject. But the farmers are affected and impacted. So the Centre should have taken the states into confidence and discussed with them…but that didn’t happen. And because of that many states are opposing. On the other hand, the CBI had been continuously misused. And central agencies, be it ED, NIA or Income Tax, are misused in states where the BJP is not in power.
But many of the non-BJP-ruled states like Odisha, Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu did not oppose. And not just the farm Bills… on many other issues…these states have not taken a very strong position. It gives an impression that the opposition by the Congress is political.
They will also do it tomorrow, if not today. It is not that Vidhan Sabha is the only forum to register a protest. They will also do it. We thought we should stand with the farmers against the anti-farmer policies of the central government….so we have passed the Bills. There is no politics in it. Every state has different issues and interests. Look at the Badals… they were with them… Shiromani Akali Dal…they have left. So there have been many instances when they (the other parties) remain silent and at times oppose and walk out…so they all are also feeling the pressure. That is clearly visible. Who is able to talk openly?
You had set up a commission to review cases lodged against people in Maoist-affected districts. What is the status?
That process is on. There is a committee headed by Justice (AK) Patnaik…we are continuously reviewing. We will take speedy action soon. We have had meetings of all officers at the DG level and taking into consideration all aspects we will soon act. Our officers are looking into the cases of those who have been arrested or detained in the name of Naxal…there will be results soon.
What is your view on plans by some BJP-ruled states to bring laws against “love jihad”? Such laws can have inter-state ramifications.
I cannot say much unless I see the provisions of these Bills. In what form are they bringing these Bills? And what is it all about? But I would like to know in which category will those BJP leaders and the children of those BJP leaders who have married people from other religions fall. Will they come in the love jihad category? I can give many names. Will they all come under the ambit of love jihad?
As chief minister of an opposition-ruled state, do you have a working relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi? How was coordination with the Centre during the Covid period?
See the Prime Minister is always busy. When I tried to meet him initially after I took over as chief minister… he was travelling abroad. I am completing two years as Chief Minister… but I have only met him twice, that too in one day. When the Niti Aayog met for the first time after he took over as the Prime Minister for the second time… I met him at his residence… and then met him at the meeting. As far as coordination is concerned, our demands during the Covid period were not met. The Centre has not paid us our GST dues. We are in November and yet to receive GST dues this financial year.
In political conversations…we often hear about Kerala model, Bengal model, Gujarat model and all…Why is it that no Congress-ruled state emerges as a model state?
There is much talk about the Chhattisgarh model nowadays. Be it the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana or Godhan Nyay Yojana…and be it arrangements we made for people who returned to the state during the Corona period… the issue of forest rights or minor forest produce… or the fight against malnutrition… our state is number one. Our performance on providing jobs under MGNREGA during the corona period is also much talked about. In this time of economic slowdown when GDP growth is on the decline and GDP size is shrinking…when other states are lagging in GST collection…Chhattisgarh registered a 24 per cent growth in GST collection in September and came second in the country. In October, Chhattisgarh was ranked No. 1 in the country in GST collection with a 26 per cent growth and shared the top slot with Andhra Pradesh. There is a slowdown across the country but not in Chhattisgarh.
Can you elaborate?
For instance MGNREGA. We scaled up MGNREGA during the lockdown and money started reaching the hands of the people. Then we launched Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana on May 21 and started depositing money in the accounts of farmers…Similarly during the lockdown..we made arrangements for procurement of minor forest produce ..tendu leaves, mahua, tamarind…so money reached the hands of the tribals. We ensured that money reached the hands of farmers, workers and tribals. And we have topped in steel and coal production and in procurement of minor forest produce. We have come second in providing jobs under MGNREGA during the lockdown. Chhattisgarh has seen record sales in motorcycles. That shows money has reached the hands of the people. And there is record coal and steel production because we did not allow mines or plants to shut down.
Talking about Congress…the party performed poorly in Bihar and in Assembly bye-elections.
People have high expectations from the Congress. We won Punjab with a two-third majority, won Chhattisgarh with a three-fourth majority, we won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, we are in government in Maharashtra. In one or two places, we perform weakly….but that is discussed widely but when we win…that is not talked about.
In Maharashtra you came fourth.
But we won in Jharkhand. We fought the elections in an alliance and won and the Government is running successfully.
As a senior leader ..a former state Congress president and now chief minister, don’t you feel there are shortcomings in the Congress?
See, ups and downs are natural in politics. With time there will be a change. In times ahead… our performance can be good. We cannot rule out that possibility.
After every election defeat, there are calls for introspection and change. Then there will be a war of words between leaders. After some days, everything becomes business as usual. The same sequence of events repeats after another defeat.
Why would we face defeat? I have just told you the names of states where we had won. We win some, we lose some. Is the BJP winning everywhere? How did they perform in Goa or Karnataka? Yes they formed the government through backdoor…breaking parties…but how did they perform? Even in Bihar…they just scraped through. They managed to get just three seats more than the halfway mark. They have 125. Are they comfortable? It is not a clear-cut majority… Just scraping through is not enough. The question is how much the people appreciated your policies and programmes.
So you believe there is nothing wrong in Congress?
It is not like that. There is always scope for improvement. We will improve and there will be change.
But you as also Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot hit out at Kapil Sibal when he spoke about the state of affairs in the party after the recent election defeat. Why do you view comments calling for change in the party so negatively?
It can be said in the party forum. The CWC meets regularly. Ghar ki baat toh aap bahar main thodi na karenge. See… if there is some issue between father and son at home… it has one meaning and if they take it outside… it will have a different meaning.
Congress is a political party. A political party works amid the people…you seek votes from the people. It is not like a house or a company
Then talk about our policies and programmes. Introspection should be done within the party. It should be done at party forums…..ya sadak main karenge. He is a senior leader, a senior lawyer…was a senior minister. He should have been careful.
In your view, what should Congress do to win back the confidence of the people?
I will give my opinion when there is a discussion in the party. I will give suggestions to my leaders.