What is the most important agenda for Madhya Pradesh in these bypolls?
This is an election for the future of Madhya Pradesh and its people. A Congress government was put in place 18 months ago, it had a Chief Minister who was self-centred and ran a corrupt government. Mr Kamal Nath achieved the impossible task of losing 30 per cent of his lawmakers within 15 months. A person who cannot repose trust in his lawmakers, on his cabinet ministers, has no time for Congress workers…
So, according to you, it was dissatisfaction and frustration that led to the MLAs’ defection?
The 26 MLAs were not able to deliver on the aspirations of people and when MLAs went to Vallabh Bhawan demanding better roads, lakes… even me … we were told paisa nahi hai. When we formed the BJP government, we have been able to do many things in a very short span of six months while battling Covid. We have put in place a statewide blueprint for several schemes, even those that were shut by Kamal Nath.
Will these announcements translate into any real benefit to the people?
They have received technical and administrative sanctions, they have been sanctioned in the cabinet and the foundation stones have been laid.
The state revenues declined since Covid and state has now taken loans for basic works
It is the responsibility of the government to finance development schemes. You have to find innovative ways to finance it. That’s it. Shivraj Singh ji and I have set up a special cell at the constituency level to look at the timely execution of these projects.
Your pictures have been missing from hoardings and the party manifesto. How often do you interact with Chauhan over poll strategies?
We have decentralised the system among all BJP leaders and cadres. But Shivraj Singh ji and I make it a point to talk everyday. Now, my DNA is not about photos… My calling is not about photos, titles and lists but to earn a place in the hearts of the people. I was a minister in the central government for eight years and did not have a lal-batti on my car. Today I am an ordinary BJP worker and I am very happy and content with that.
You call yourself a common BJP worker, is that how you see from earlier being called Maharaj?
All these sobriquets are a part of my illustrious past that I am very proud of. The Scindia family in its earliest avtar was one which served the people. Our family started in a small village in Satara called Kanerkhe and my forefathers were the ‘Patil’ of that village. Patil is essentially the sarpanch after which it all started and our connection is with the soil, everything else came later. That was our beginning even today we are connected to the soil. Dams here were built during that time, a 100 years ago, that still benefit the people. It is less about royalty and title, it more about being one with the soil. The Maharaj bit is only 200 years old.
Is it difficult to adjust to the BJP ideology and the RSS after about 20 years with Congress?
This is a party, in a way, founded by my grandmother. There is a saying in hindi.. “matbhed (difference of opinion) hona bohot zaroori hai par manbhed (difference of hearts) nahi hona chahiye.” There is a very clear distinction between differences and perception and the line that you draw there must be some melmilap after that and not animosity. To me, it’s slightly ironic and funny that the party my father spent 30 years in and the party I spent 20 years in, how come they didn’t speak all the language they are speaking now in the 50 years we were there.
Is this in reference to you being termed a ‘gaddar’?
Not only that, many more barbs and taunts they are making which they never did. It just shows their duplicity, which is fine. And Atal ji once said, “Ki zindai ki daud mein, wo bhi hai toh wo bhi sahi, aur ye bhi hai toh ye bhi sahi.”
What do you have to say about Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar saying that it will take you time to adjust?
What is wrong in what they have said? I fully agree with what they have said. It will take me some time to adjust to the culture there, will it not take some time for the new culture to accept you?
Will your voters, who identified with your secular image, be able to connect?
Why am I not secular if I am with the BJP? Why is talking about Hinduism not being secular? If you are talking about the aspiration of the majority of Indians, including a number of Muslims who have supported the construction of the Ram Mandir, what’s wrong with that?
Isn’t it a way to appease a majority community?
No, it’s not. If you talk about something.. the path for which has been paved by the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court which connects with the aspiration of 99 per cent of all Indians, what is wrong with that? I supported the judgment of the Supreme Court while I was with Congress and supported the abrogation of 370 while I was with the Congress… I am very clear in my stand irrespective of which party I stand with and will talk on what is good for the country.
You lost your own seat in the Lok Sabha elections. How do you think that will play out for voters in the bypolls?
I don’t think there is any direct co-relation, but there is certainly no doubt that I have lost an election and understand and internalise that. But I have also won four and been a four-term Lok Sabha member. Obviously, there must have been some failing. Forget the fact that I lost by the narrowest margin in the whole of north India. My senior Mr Digvijay Singh lost by five lakh votes in Bhopal, Mr Kamal Nath’s wife lost an election. If in 2014, I could win that seat with the Narendra Modi wave, there was no reason why I should have lost that in 2019.
Has hesitation among BJP leaders to accommodate these 25 MLAs given way to infighting?
In the last six months, he (Chouhan) and I along with senior leaders of the BJP, including state president V D Sharma, we have tried to bring about a union of almost about a 1.5 lakh people… The challenge for Shivraj ji and me is to ensure cultural assimilation and its still work in progress; it won’t happen overnight but I think we have achieved a lot. Wo kehte hai na ki cheeni chai mein ghul jaati hai, adhikaansh shetro mein ye ho chuka hai. Aur jaha baaki hai waha Shivraj Singh ji, VD Sharma aur meri koshish jaari hai.
What role does the Sangh play in resolving the differences?
…The RSS facilitates but it’s mainly the initiative of the party.
Do you think the results in these bypolls will determine your future in the BJP and your prospects for a cabinet berth?
My life is not about posts and chairs. If that was the case, I would have kicked up a ruckus after Kamal Nath was made the PCC president or made the Chief Minister but I supported him completely. I would have pushed to become the Chief Minister when the new government of the BJP was formed but I didn’t and Mr Shivraj Singh became the CM. So, my life has not been so in the last 20 years and neither was my father’s.
Are these bypolls a prestige issue for you?
It’s a prestige issue for the people of Madhya Pradesh, less about parties… At the end, 27 out of the 28 seats were Congress seats so the Congress has everything to lose and the BJP has everything to gain.
There is a palpable anger among the people who feel that your decision that brought down the Congress government was uncalled for
I don’t agree with your observation. There was a tremendous amount of resentment against Kamal Nath’s government. People have seen the five months’ development agenda of the BJP government that we brought out as opposed to the 15 months of complete lethargy and inactivity. But at the end of day, the ultimate input will be on November 10.