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November 24, 1998

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'Should the government grow vegetables? Should Atalji sell sabzi?

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A high speed interview. This conversation with Sunderlal Patwa, former and perhaps the next chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, was conducted at 100 km per hour in a Maruti Gypsy on the road to Bari, not far from the tranquil Narmada river.

Sunder Lal Patwa As the white jeep, emblazoned with colourful BJP motifs and proudly fluttering a BJP flag on its hood, whizzed past endless fields of tur dal and new winter wheat, guava orchards, towards Vidisha, Patwa fielded questions from Vaihayasi P Daniel and Archana Masih on a variety of issues.

Patwa, 75, a shwetambar Jain, is a tall, sombre man, who smiles rarely. His clear, spasht Hindi swirls pleasantly in your ears. Impressive too is his austerity and the seriousness with which he conducts his mission.

Companions on the arduous nine hour drive through his Bhojpur constituency was a thermos of water, a white towel, a lunch pack (that had not been eaten till 1530 hours) and Singhji, his security man.

Bringing up the rear was an Ambassador full of policemen, siren whining through the serene countryside.

Surveys show that you have the best chance of being Madhya Pradesh's next chief minister.

The question of becoming chief minister is not on my mind right now. A worker of the BJP will become chief minister. On that score, there is no dispute. At this time I am worried about seeing to it that the BJP wins. And that we get a good majority. At the time of the Lok Sabha election we were ahead in 220 seats. The effort is to increase these numbers.

CM ka jhanjhat (the hassle of who will be CM) is not the issue before me. That is a matter of ten minutes. It involves shortlisting the interesting candidates and a decision by the leaders at the Centre. This will happen in 10 minutes.

How many seats will the Congress win this time?

Below 100. Double digits.

How would you rate the performance of the Congress over the last 4 1/2 (he interrupts "Five. Five years") years?

Sunder Lal Patwa Zero performance. Minus performance. A non serious CM. And a corrupt government. He is totally non-serious. That is his nature. Kya kare? He does not take any issue seriously. He is anxious about his party 24 hours. His attention is not on running the government.

Do you believe him to be incompetent? Or is it the problems he has with his party?

Both. I have been a member of the assembly right from 1957 when Madhya Pradesh was formed. I have never seen such irresponsibility or a CM of such a corrupt government till today. And I have seen 12, 13, 14 chief ministers.

Madhya Pradesh has fallen 10 years behind. There has not been one new road. Not one new irrigation project. Not one new development project. Not even an increase in power by 1 MW. But what has increased is public debt to Rs 150,000,000,000. The day I left the government the debt was Rs 50,000,000,000. I donít know where the money has gone. Either in non-productive activities or corruption.

But what about his Panchayati Raj implementation project?

This Panchayati Raj has decentralised corruption. The word Panchayati Raj is an insult today.

What kind of corruption?

Total corruption. What government activity was there where there was no corruption? Money was taken at the minister's table for promotions, transfers, orders.

And at the Panchayat level?

A number of teachers were hired. Total, khula corruption was the order of the day. Hundreds of crores of corruption. The Lok Ayukta had to write to the CM and ask for cancellation of these posts.

The son of the speaker of our Vidhan Sabha is the adhyaksh of the Janpat Panchayat. The Lok Ayukta raided his house. Two truckloads of documents were seized. Day before yesterday a warrant was issued for his arrest on corruption charges. It is in all the newspapers.

Will you disqualify these appointed teachers if you come to power?

Now that is an hypothetical question. Let us come to power. We will think about it.

What do the people feel?

The people are so angry. So disgusted. The Panchayati Raj issue will bring his downfall.

What agenda does the BJP have for Chhattisgarh?

Our election manifesto has a separate supplement for Chhattisgarh. For progress. Its minerals and natural resources should be used. The raw resources should at least be mined and be exported out of the area. Or perhaps not sent out and the processing should happen here. Factories and workshops should be established. Employment must come. Irrigation projects opened. Tourism must develop. Infrastructure should be introduced. The area has so many natural resources. There is a lot of work.

The Congress says Chhattisgarh has been in their manifesto from the beginning. But the BJP has taken the credit.

(He laughs. He laughs again.) Seventy years ago. The country was not even independent and they had that plan. From that time it has been in their manifesto. They talk like fools. I feel like laughing. Why did they not do it? For 50 years they ruled the country. Who stopped them?

Why has progress on the birth of the new state been slow though the BJP has been in power for the last eight months?

Sunder Lal Patwa The BJP does not need the Congress certificate. We need the certificate of the people. What do people think? What is public opinion? I judge that with my own eyes. The Congress says this and will going on saying it. That is not a matter for worry.

It is often said the BJP is a disciplined party.

Right...

But of late there have been some problems. Former CM Virendra Saklecha has left the party. Some office bearers resigned in Bilaspur. Dr Mastakar resigned.

Mastakar has come back. He was there at Chhindwara yesterday.

Why did he have a change of heart?

Well, what do you do to measure the heart? Which machine? The Saklecha story is not new. He has done it before. He then asks to be forgiven. The party has not accepted. Finished. They have already given their forgiveness once. His apology letter has been kept. I was the state adhyaksh when he came back into the party the first time. Is this anything new? There was no effect on our performance then. There will be no effect now.

'This is not a party of devtas.'

Assembly Election '98

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