Facing a tough election in Bhokar Assembly constituency in Nanded district, former chief minister and former Lok Sabha MP Ashok Chavan tells The Indian Express that the electorate is prepared to vote on real issues such as the agrarian crisis and debt relief.
Have you been hemmed in by circumstances so that you cannot leave your Assembly constituency of Bhokar in order to campaign for other candidates?
In the Lok Sabha election too, the BJP said the same thing. This is just systematic propaganda by the BJP to malign my image. There is a week of campaigning left and now is when the heat of the campaign picks up. Things will pick up now and the campaign is progressing smoothly. Candidates have been selected judiciously, at least in Marathwada, and declared well in advance.
Soon after your loss in the Lok Sabha elections, you made some angry comments about the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). Could the Congress and NCP again face the same result for being unable to take along the smaller parties to form a larger alliance?
We were in talks with the VBA this time as well. But their demands have to be practical. There was a dialogue but the number of seats they sought was quite high. And as the Congress and NCP are contesting together it became difficult to allot a larger number of seats for them. But minority communities’ voters want an effective candidate against the Sena-BJP.
Will the departure of senior leaders from the Congress and NCP damage the alliance’s chances seriously?
At least in Nanded, we have nurtured party workers and given them opportunities. New leadership has been inducted. In some areas there are problems, I don’t deny that. For example we have given a chance to Arvind Shinde in Pune, he’s the leader of the opposition in the municipal corporation. Another example is Hemlata Patil in Nashik — these are new faces. I see the situation as an opportunity to cultivate a new rung of leadership.
But that still means you will be hit by the rebels this election?
It is the Sena-BJP that has more rebels, this is affecting the ruling party at the moment more than us because of false assurances given to those who joined the party. In Nanded South, the BJP’s district head Dilip Kandkurte has pitched himself as an independent – because the seat was given at the last minute to the Shiv Sena. Even the top leadership of the Sena doesn’t know the candidate. In Nanded North too the Sena has nominated an unknown person. There is more rebellion on account of these in the Sena-BJP ranks.
The LS polls saw the electorate voting on issues of nationalism and a muscular foreign policy, while issues such as the continuing agrarian distress did not seem to sway voters. Will you try to counter that this time?
The Lok Sabha election was different. This time, people are saying these issues do not concern us. How does Article 370 in Kashmir make any difference to the common voters in Nanded or in Maharashtra? The real issues are the agrarian crisis, the debt relief that has not reached a very large percentage farmers, the economic crisis. A developed state like Maharashtra that always generated jobs is witnessing unemployment. Growth has slowed and industries are shutting down. Crop insurance is a real problem – in Nanded district alone, Rs 700 crore was collected in crop insurance premiums and payout was Rs 8 crore. Highways are in pathetic condition, including the Nanded-Bhokar highway – the government is nurturing contractors while people’s lives are affected. These are the issues. The candidate against me is a former NCP leader, an old man who is unable to stand up. People are seeing this.
Top leaders of the BJP-Sena have been roped in to defeat you in Bhokar. How does it affect your campaign plan?
BJP president JP Nadda was in town. If the party president has to come to Bhokar Assembly constituency to campaign, it means the selection of your candidate is wrong. BJP workers themselves are angry and are rebelling against the party. Nanded has always seen national leaders come here to campaign – I would be surprised if they didn’t come here.