Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, the only senior Congress leader who has kept the party flag fluttering in western Maharashtra, speaks to The Indian Express about the recent defections in the party and how he plans to retain his Karad South seat.
Many of the elected members in your constituency’s local civic body has recently defected to BJP. Will it impact your election?
I usually don’t take part in municipality elections. It was because of the poor performance of the previous body, which was close to NCP, that we formed an alliance of local units and defeated those in power. Recently, 11 elected members joined BJP. I had personally got them elected but a lot of money changed hands… It was shocking that a leader whom I made a member of the legislative council also left. The BJP strategy was to pick up the key people and weaken me. Though my votes will only get marginally affected.
Is the BJP targeting you?
I am their top target in Maharashtra… particularly, BJP leader Chandrakant Patil is very vicious… The rivals have a policy to use all kind of means to destroy the Opposition.
Should the developments in your constituency be a cause concern for your prospects?
I am not worried, as I am getting credit for development works in the constituency. A MLA gets only Rs 10 crore to undertake development works in five years. But I got a lot of funds during the previous term. I have put up flex boards in villages informing the people about the works undertaken by me through local development area funds. My campaign is focussed on the development that I have managed to bring. I had pumped in Rs 1,200 crore in the area as a Union minister and then CM.
How will you woo voters?
I am using a four-pronged campaign strategy. First is to make the voters compare candidates. Second is to highlight that BJP is pushing for a one-party rule, which is nothing but one-man dictatorship. The third is that the economy has collapsed and fourth is the number of development works undertaken by me.
Why has Congress failed to effectively corner BJP in the last five years?
When Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil was the Leader of Opposition (LOP), we failed to fully exploit the corruption prevailing in the state government. Our LOP was completely compromised and was virtually on their payroll. He damaged the Congress in the state… The state party chief was not able to handle the role of the Opposition.
How will Udayanraje Bhosale joining BJP impact your election?
NCP and Congress are working very closely. Udayanraje, as a NCP leader, had hardly campaigned for me in the last elections. He merely negotiated with the local corporators. He did not campaign and was not popular in the area. In the Lok Sabha elections in May, just to stop BJP, we campaigned for him. Now, he will be defeated in the Satara Lok Sabha bypoll.
You and NCP leader Srinivas Patil were staunch rivals. But now you are campaigning for him in Satata bypoll?
There was a sort of rivalry. He defeated me in 1999 and ended my Lok Sabha term. Then I entered the Rajya Sabha and we were neighbours from Karad in the Parliament. We belong to the same area… we are very close friends. There is nothing personal, there is no bitterness at all.
What is Congress’ future?
Sonia Gandhi is the interim president and will probably hold elections soon. New people would be coming in. Congress exists at some minuscule level everywhere. Today, it appears to be weak. Can a new leader revive it is a million dollar question. If we get an elected working committee and president, there are chances that the party will be revived…
How has the CM performed?
Devendra Fadnavis has been one of the strongest CMs the state has seen in the recent past. Strongest in the sense that he doesn’t have a deputy and held important portfolios like Home. He had a comfortable majority and we thought he would deliver and make drastic changes. But such hopes have been dashed.
What issues have the BJP-led government failed to address?
The issues related to agriculture, fast urbanisation and unemployment are the most serious. We started the Jalyukt gram project, and Fadnavis renamed it to Jalyukt Shivar. He made it a contractor-driven programme and it got destroyed. He also made false promises about doubling farmers’ income. While agricultural growth is negative, ‘Make in Maharashtra’ and ‘Magnetic Maharashtra’ initiatives have failed.