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February 16, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Narayan Rane

'Being aggressive in politics is not the same as being a criminal'

Narayan Rane Narayan Rane is a man in a hurry. He has barely a year left to fulfil the electoral promises that the Shiv Sena, BJP government made when it came to power four years back. Can he live up to his reputation as a tough, unrelenting administrator? Can he deliver where Manohar Joshi failed? The new chief minister of Maharashtra is ready to take on the odds, as Bal Thackeray's man for all seasons. He spoke to Pritish Nandy last week.

What is your immediate priority as chief minister?

Better governance. Better delivery to the people of Maharashtra.

What are the specific areas of focus?

Resolving the drinking water crisis in the rural areas. A tanker-free Maharashtra. We must achieve this by the year 2000. Roads. Roads that link the interiors of Maharashtra and reach every village. We must complete all this before we go the polls, asking people to vote for us again.

What about the cities?

We must reinforce urban facilities but, for us, rural Maharashtra is an immediate priority. The farmers are having a difficult time. We must look after their interests, help them cope.

What about the free electricity scheme for farmers announced by Balasaheb Thackeray, which the BJP has been resisting?

This will be decided only after the co-ordinating council of our alliance approves the proposal. Right now, we are discussing it. The problem is once you make anything free you can never collect money from it again. Others will also want the same facility free. In fact, it then becomes a habit to expect things free. In fact, after Balasaheb made the announcement, most farmers have already stopped paying their electricity bills! Can we afford it? That's the question.

How much will it cost the exchequer?

About Rs 600 crore.

What are you doing for Mumbai?

Narayan Rane Altering the law and order perception. People feel that they are not safe in this city any more. That is why my immediate priority here is to make the police force more alert, more effective. It is not just statistics. I am not interested in the figures given by the police. I am interested in what the common man feels about the law and order situation.

Just wait and watch, Pritishji. Within three to four months we must finish off all these criminal gangs. These ugly, violent shootouts must stop. Law and order must be restored. That is my first priority for Mumbai. Regaining the confidence of citizens.

What about Balasaheb Thackeray's pet project? Slum redevelopment?

Yes, that is another priority. We plan to finish and hand over about 40,000 flats in the next year.

That is a far cry from the promise made.

I know. But I have only a year in hand. I can only do my best. We should have done more in the past four years but what can I say about that?

You were in the cabinet.

In all the eight departments under me, see the performance. I have left each and every ministry in better shape than I got it. From revenue to dairy to fisheries to rehabilitation. For a first time minister, it is not a bad performance. But I could not do things in ministries where I was not in charge. I can do them now as the chief minister and I will. Watch my pace. You will be impressed.

In the very first cabinet meeting I held, 17 proposals were passed. In the second, 20. In other words, 37 proposals have been passed in less than a fortnight! Earlier, the cabinet never discussed nor passed more than 2 or 3 proposals in each meeting.

What do you see as your main problems? The road blocks in achieving your goals?

Implementing the Fifth Pay Commission has imposed a huge burden on us. A burden of Rs 3,800 crore! That is why we are today under such financial stress. But we intend to increase our income by about 15 to 20 per cent this year. This will take care of the shortfall. I am not worried. If we implement the various schemes we have announced over the past four years there should be no problem in winning the next elections. The Opposition is exaggerating the crisis in our financial position…

They are saying it is worse than Bihar's…

That's right. Worse than Bihar and UP. You tell me, is that possible? Bihar has a small budget. Ours is much bigger. In fact, it is the biggest budget among the states. So it makes no sense to compare us to Bihar or UP. True, the loss is 19 per cent of our income whereas their loss is around 11 to 12 per cent. Ours was also 11 per cent in 1995. Implementing the Fifth Pay Commission pushed this up to 19 per cent. But you must remember the fact that our income is much higher than theirs. We can easily take correctional action.

What do you see as opportunities missed by your government in the past four years?

The government did not realise Balasaheb Thackeray's vision for Maharashtra. The implementation of schemes was faulty. No one did their job right.

Why? Who failed Maharashtra? The bureaucracy or the political leadership?

No strict watch was kept on the bureaucracy. That is why we both failed. For four years, no government servant was even slightly frightened that action may be taken against them for not delivering upto our expectations. Compare that with today's scene. In the past two weeks, every bureaucrat, every government officer is scared that if he does not do the job assigned to him, he will find action taken against him. This is what was required. This is what the public expected from us. But we failed them.

You accept the fact that people are disappointed with the government?

Of course. That will be my job to set right. Give me six months and see the results.

What do you expect from Delhi? After all, it is also your government.

Good support. A better understanding of our problems. Particularly the problems of our farmers. The poor harvest in Vidharba is a matter of national concern. Not just ours. We want permission to export onions. We have just received it for 25,000 tonnes though we wanted much more. We want to export 200, 000 tonnes. But it is a beginning.

How is the coalition working in Maharashtra now?

Much, much better. We are working together as one team after four years of infighting. Mundeji is giving us wonderful support and I see no cause for concern any more.

Do you really have a criminal background as the media claims? Is this murder case coming back to haunt you?

Being aggressive in politics is not the same as being a criminal. Just because I am now chief minister, my political rivals are bringing this up to try and embarrass me. But the facts of the case are simple. The murder charge was filed only to embarrass me. I was in Mumbai when this man was killed 500 kilometres away, in Sindhudurg. It was the murder of a Congressman who was a very close friend of mine. He constructed my petrol pump there. The Congress was in dire straits out there and so they planned to involve me in this murder case and finish off my political career. Even the court acknowledged this fact while giving its judgement.

The case has already been judged?

Narayan Rane Yes, it was judged and I was acquitted by the district court. Twice the appeal came to the high court and twice it was rejected outright. This is the third time they are trying to raise it. In fact, every time my name came up for the chief minister's job, they would try and bring it up in court. Only to stall my appointment.

When I was granted bail by the court, they said that I was being purposely dragged into this case for political reasons. There was no genuine involvement. I will send you a copy of the court order and you can see it for yourself. They are using this as a political strategy to harrass me. There is no case against me for any criminal activity and yet they keep accusing me of having a criminal background.

Someone said you began your life as a chain snatcher!

You can see what levels they have stooped to. When they cannot stop me politically, they try to give me a bad name. They are using the media for this purpose and a whispering campaign. But I am ready to stand up and face it and show them that they cannot destroy my reputation. They are frightened that if Narayan Rane does a good job they will be in trouble. They know I will win the vote of confidence on the 17th. Even Opposition members are ready to support me because they know I will do a good job. At least 35 Independents have come and assured me their support. That is why the Congress is afraid. That is why they are making all these silly charges.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

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