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'BJP wants to come to power by hook or by crook'

By Sanjay Jog
Last updated on: October 13, 2014 13:40 IST
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It is a fight for survival for the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, which has been its citadel. In an interview party President Sharad Pawar speaks on the NCP’s prospects and how the Bharatiya Janata Party is exploiting Narendra Modi’s popularity in the state assembly elections.

Edited excerpts:

Why did the  NCP decide to break its 15-year alliance with the Congress? Was it a calculated move?

It is very clear that the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party had decided to sever ties with their respective allies in Maharashtra and go separately. It could have been a conscious decision of these parties to increase their base in Maharashtra.

Recently, I read in the press that All India Congress Committee secretary Swaraj Walmiki said that the decision to break the alliance with the NCP was taken three months ago and during that meeting, Maharashtra’s former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was also present. When a Congress party secretary makes such a statement it cannot be overlooked.

I initiated talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi who instructed A K Antony and Ahmed Patel to hold negotiations with the NCP. It is true that our party colleagues pressed for 144 seats and the post of chief minister in rotation to the NCP. Only one meeting took place at the state level. Had the negotiations taken place, we could have reached a consensus. We waited for four days but suddenly we found in the newspapers that the Congress had released its first list of candidates, including some of the seats the NCP was demanding. We realised that the Congress had taken a decision to sever ties with the NCP.

Further, the Congress had already held interviews for 288 seats. The NCP also held interviews for 288 seats. I must tell you that the NCP was prepared to contest 130 seats, but now suddenly we have had to contest 280 seats. It is quite difficult to mobilise campaign material and organise rallies, but we had to do it after the Congress decided to go solo.

Why did the relations between the Congress and NCP turn bitter? 

The relationship between the NCP and Congress was not always tense. It was quite cordial when Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan were chief ministers. However, tension rose after Prithviraj Chavan took over. NCP ministers and the party as a whole insisted that the government should quickly take decisions, but there were inordinate delays. For example, the extension of the Bandra-Worli sea link up to Nariman Point. NCP minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar followed it rigorously with Chavan. He also complained to me about the lack of decision-making. Who has to pay for the delays? It is the Mumbaikars, ultimately.

Recently, I read Prithviraj Chavan’s statement that he had cleared 40,000 files during his tenure. It is true that Chavan had taken some fast decisions in the last two months. Had he shown similar speed and urgency after he had taken over, it would have been better for the state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the state assembly polls a prestige issue. What is your comment?

One thing is quite clear: Modi succeeded in his Lok Sabha poll strategy to take the BJP to victory and formed the government at the Centre. There is nothing wrong if Modi focuses on the Maharashtra assembly polls so that the BJP gets a majority. I have seen since 1957 when prime ministers including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had addressed four to five rallies in states, including Maharashtra, no more than that.

But Modi is the first prime minister who is going to smaller villages and towns such as Erandol, Khamgaon, Kandhar, Baramati and Tasgaon to address rallies.

However, the timing is wrong. We are reading every day that Pakistan is mounting cross-border attacks - more than 17 attacks in a fortnight.

There is no full-time defence minister for the country. What is Modi’s priority? Winning few seats for the BJP is more important or the appointing a full-time defence minister? Arun Jaitley, who is the finance minister, is also holding additional charges of defence and company law. He is a capable minister and there is nothing personal against him. But in such a situation, Modi should have personally looked into Pakistan’s violations of the ceasefire agreement. For him, the Maharashtra assembly polls seem to be more important than border attacks.

Do you object to Modi’s self-projection that too in the state assembly elections?

Modi has adopted a unique style of poll-campaigning. There is a clear-cut attempt to project himself. This is more important than matters of national interest. During his US visit, Modi spent three days in New York. I can understand there is a sizeable Indian population there and people from Gujarat are also in large numbers. It is good to have a dialogue with them. But it is now clear that it was Modi’s attempt to project himself and show in India that how popular he is even in the US.

It is quite interesting that the BJP in its poll campaign in Maharashtra, is showing Modi’s speech at the Madison Square Garden. This is done with an objective to exploit his popularity in the US and get votes in the state Assembly.

Further, the Modi-led government allowed the live broadcast of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat on Dussehra on Doordarshan. But Doordarshan, on the same day, did not show the mobilisation of a large number of followers of B R Ambedkar in Nagpur on the occasion of Dhammachakra Pravartan Din. This clearly shows the priority of Modi and the BJP. It is not Ambedkar but Bhagwat.

Are you convinced that the Modi government is on a mission to implement the RSS agenda?

There is no doubt about it. I must tell you, even during the Vajpayee government, an RSS member was recruited in every minister’s office. It is unfortunate that its seriousness is not realised.

For example, Modi announced that till he is the prime minister, Maharashtra will not be divided. Who will have faith in Modi especially when the BJP’s manifesto clearly supports smaller states? Nitin Gadkari, Prakash Javadekar and Devendra Fadnavis are speaking in favour of a separate state for Vidarbha. It is a part of their agenda. I fully support that the importance of Nagpur should increase – not because the RSS headquarters are there, but for the promotion of industrialisation, especially agri-processing units and other projects.

As far as the NCP is concerned, it is for a united Maharashtra. Let people take a decision on Vidarbha, not political parties or their leaders.

The NCP has been the BJP’s target since a large number of former ministers, legislators and office-bearers have been welcomed to the party and some have even been given the party's nomination. 

Modi and the BJP made corruption a major issue. However, NCP ministers and leaders who were criticised by the BJP have been accommodated and suddenly they have become saints. One thing is quite clear: that the BJP wants to come to power by hook or by crook.

The BJP is charging the NCP with having a post-poll understanding with the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Besides, you have been alleged to have an understanding with the BJP and also with these parties. What is the truth?

It is totally wrong. The NCP is a serious contender in the assembly elections. We have one objective: to get a majority in the state and form the government. The NCP is appealing to the voters to give a clear-cut majority to the party, to enable it to rule the state.

Are you open to post-poll alliances?

This option has not even been considered since our sole objective is to get a majority. We do not want to deviate from our objective. We take a strong line against the Modi government's policies and decisions, which do not protect, say, the interest of farmers and the state as a whole. The Centre has withdrawn the sugar subsidies, brought onion under the Essential Commodities Act and provided low prices for agricultural produce.

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Sanjay Jog
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