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February 19, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Suresh Mehta

'The RJP government is preventing Kutch's progress'

Haresh Pandya

Suresh Mehta The Bharatiya Janata Party has nominated former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta for the assembly election from the Mandvi seat. Mehta has contested the assembly election nine times from Mandvi and won five. When he filed his papers, his supporters took out a colourful procession from the BJP central office to the collectorate in Rajkot to file his papers.

In the past, Mehta has promised the moon to the people of Kutch, especially to Mandvi. He even laid the foundation stones for some new projects, but which have seen little progress since. So what went wrong?

"Yes, I promised many things, and laid the foundation stones for a modern shipbuilding yard and the expansion of the existing jetties through private participation," says Mehta, "But the Shankarsinh Vaghela government deliberately put hurdles in the way. The Rashtriya Janata Party government also did not clear the ambitious maiden hovercraft service facility between Layja village, near Mandvi, and Bombay."

The former chief minister also criticised the Vaghela government for stalling the Rs 10 billion alumina project, which Mehta's government had cleared with an American firm. "The failure concerning the projects is due to the RJP government's attitude," he said defensively. "The people of Kutch should not forgive the RJP government which merely made big noises about development, but did nothing concrete."

The Vaghela government had announced a Rs 300 billion development plan for Kutch district at a meeting held in the district headquarters, Bhuj. Incidentally, the October 1997 meeting was the first time that the state cabinet met in Bhuj, located in the remote northwest part of the state. "Those were merely false announcements to fool the people," said Mehta, "The plans should be definite and time-bound. There has been no follow-up of the plans and the people have now realised that it was all publicity gimmicks of the Vaghela government."

Mehta scarped through in the 1995 election. The Patels, who play a decisive role in the constitutency, were persuaded at the last minute to support him. This time, the Patels are once again against him; or at least that is how it seems.

Mehta denies this. "No, this is not true. It is a canard spread by vested interest. The Patels are as happy as they were last time. Also, Mandvi, which has returned me many times, considers me its beloved son," he said, adding boastfully, "Just see the results. I will double my winning margin in this election."

The BJP's dilemma is over the state leadership. Both the party's state and central units had clarified -- after Keshubhai Patel resigned in the wake of the Vaghela affair in 1996 -- that Mehta was not an interim chief minister. However, Mehta keeps saying that Keshubhai will be the next chief minister. Would he join Keshubhai's ministry if the BJP comes to power in Gujarat?

"With the dissolution of the last assembly, the chapter about my leading the state government is closed. It has to be a new chapter this time and we have all agreed that Keshubhai should be the next chief minister. As the leader, Keshubhai will have the prerogative to decide his new cabinet. If I am asked by the party to join the ministry, I will definitely do so," Mehta said.

Kutch's first mega industrial project, the Sanghi cement plan, is in trouble. How does Mehta foresee the industrialisation of Kutch? "Here again, the Vaghela government is to blame. It has not pursued the Sanghi case with the Centre. If we come to power, we will immediately take up the case with all the authorities concerned and pave the way for other big industrial projects to come up in the area," he states.

Interestingly, Mehta still has reservations about setting up a development board for Kutch. "I am not against the board. My point is that when Kutch can have bigger development projects and more funds, what is the need for a board?" he asked.

The Election Interview