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The Rediff Interview/Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot

June 05, 2003

For somebody who it was said would be replaced by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has survived and done fairly well for himself. The only chief minister to draw praise from Sonia at last week's Congress chief ministers conclave in Srinagar, he was lauded for his fight against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Bajrang Dal's trishul diksha.

Gehlot also elicited accolades for his initiative in pushing the upper caste reservation issue for the economically poor. In an exclusive interview to Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay, he spoke about the forthcoming assembly poll and other issues.

It must be tough for you to combat the anti-incumbency wave.

Anti-incumbency is the result of all-round dissatisfaction of the people against a government. I don't think the people in Rajasthan are overly bothered about it as far as our party is concerned. My government's accent is on development and our relentless fight against communal forces, and on both these counts it has made headway.

Sonia Gandhi also mentioned what she described as the 'anti-incumbency syndrome' in her address to the chief ministers conclave...

Madam pointed out she was confident that the people will give us a renewed mandate and that effective government has been the hallmark of any Congress administration. We are all treading the path chalked out by our leadership.

You were praised for your fight against trishuldharis (trident-carriers) including by your party chief. Where does the matter stand now?

Our party is known for its struggle against communalism, particularly of the Hindutva variety which threatens society and the people. It is our principled stand that can never be compromised. The distribution of trishuls by the Bajrang Dal is threatening law and order in the state. I also urged the prime minister and deputy prime minister to restrain the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Bajrang Dal combine from distributing these dangerous weapons. We will never lower our guard against these communal forces.

What is the effect in the party and among the people in Rajasthan?

It has been widely welcomed in both our party and the people of our state.

Are you flattered that your initiative spurred the BJP to espouse the issue?

The BJP was stupefied by my action pertaining to this reservation issue. It initially did not know how to react. Subsequently, it recouped sufficient nerves to make some confusing statements. But the people have not understood it. The BJP says it will provide reservation for Muslims too. I said when Muslims gain economic succour, it will be given to every caste and community. So the BJP really doesn't have a clue.

What has been Sonia Gandhi's response to your initiative?

Everybody knows Soniaji has always supported this issue. You will remember that (during her Srinagar press conference) she said it was there in our party manifesto in Uttar Pradesh. Also (former Congress prime minister) Narasimha Raoji raised the issue in 1991. Madam's pro-poor measures are well known and are our party's bulwark.

There is a feeling the Congress has raised the upper caste reservation issue merely to extract political mileage for the polls.

In that case, why is the BJP espousing what I have raised? As chief minister, it is my job to take initiatives for the welfare of the people and my party can't help it when our critics paint it in a certain hue or attribute motives.

Are you confident that the Congress will humble the BJP in Rajasthan in the polls?

The BJP has not been able to raise a single credible issue during the last four-and-a-half years.

So your party's victory in the polls is certain?

We are going with the issue of development. We have challenged the BJP to be steadfast on the issue and not back out at the last moment. So that should speak for my government.

What about the ongoing tiff between you and Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee chief Girija Vyas?

There is no tiff, our tasks and duties are cut out. In case of differences, which are natural, it is amicably sorted out amongst ourselves. The media once reported that I was being replaced. I am still there and have something to my credit.

The Rediff Interviews

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