Ahmedabad: In the high stakes Gujarat elections, chief minister Vijay Rupani, who took over in August last year, is facing one of the biggest political battles of his career. While his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set itself a target of a record 150-plus seats in the 182-seat assembly, the rival Congress is looking to give it a tough fight.
In an interview, Rupani speaks about the Patidar agitation, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and jobs, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
Gujarat elections are likely to set the stage for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. How achievable is your ambitious target of 150-plus seats?
Our target of 150-plus seats is very achievable. When (Narendra) Modiji was chief minister, we got 115 seats (in 2012). Now he is the prime minister of the country, people of Gujarat will shower more love on him this time. And the support that we are receiving at our rallies across the states clearly indicates that the BJP is heading towards its biggest victory ever. Assembly elections and general elections are fought on different issues. The BJP-led government at the centre has taken the country to new heights, therefore we are confident that our party will also return to power with a much bigger mandate in 2019.
The state has seen uprisings led by three different youth leaders belonging to different castes and they are all seen to be supporting the Congress. How much of an impact can they make on the Gujarat elections?
Congress has always divided the country on caste and communal lines. What else has Congress done since independence, be it in the country or Gujarat? Before BJP came to power in Gujarat in 1995, it was a divided state. BJP, in the last 22 years, has united Gujarat. We have worked towards development of all, irrespective of their caste, creed, or religion. Today, Congress is again trying to divide the state on caste lines by forming an alliance with some caste leaders. But I am sure that people of Gujarat will again give them a befitting reply. As far as the three caste leaders are concerned, they have lost their agenda and credibility. Earlier, they used to say that they won’t enter politics. But now they are only reading the script given to them by the Congress.
How much of a threat do you see from Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel?
The Patidar community has supported the BJP for over two decades now. We have also accepted all the demands of the Patidar community which were within the framework of law. We are 100% sure that Patidars will support BJP in this election. People of Gujarat have now seen the real face of Hardik Patel. He doesn’t represent the Patidar community; he is an agent of the Congress. His own supporters have deserted him and exposed him before the public. He doesn’t talk about real issues now. He is only talking about defeating the BJP which clearly shows that he is misguiding the Patel community to fulfil his own political aspirations. PAAS leaders who earlier claimed that their only agenda was quota reservation, are seen fighting with Congress leaders for tickets. Hardik Patel has betrayed his community by playing with the feelings of the community to achieve his own political goals. Quota reservation movement for Patidars has turned into a ‘private andolan’ today.
Unlike the previous three Gujarat elections that were fought by BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi, this time around it seems Congress is setting the agenda for the election. BJP’s campaign of Hun Chu Vikas, Hun Chu Gujarat came after a Congress-backed social media campaign Vikas gando thayo chegained popularity on social media. What are your views?
Congress never had any agenda in Gujarat. They have always followed the model of divide and rule while we have followed a holistic development model which caters to all the people of the state. Gujarat has developed under BJP rule; we aren’t the only ones saying this. Whole world has taken note of the Gujarat model of development which is now being implemented in different states in our country. People of Gujarat are smart enough to not be fooled by Congress. Narendrabhai (Modi) has worked relentlessly for the development of Gujarat and now we are taking forward that model. Modiji is the tallest leader in the country today and he has served Gujarat for 12 years as a chief minister. Therefore, he will definitely lead the elections this time as well. As far as the social media campaign is concerned, it was based on distorted facts and rumours which had no effect on our campaign.
It is said that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s popularity has got a boost after campaigning in Gujarat. What is your take on reports that Rahul Gandhi will become the Congress president ahead of declaration of Gujarat election results?
That will be good. Look at the condition of the Congress now. With Rahul Gandhi becoming the party president, Congress will be wiped out of India for good. Congress is lacking in leadership hence they have ‘outsourced’ it to youth leaders like Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor and tribal leader Chhotu Vasava. It clearly shows signs of defeat before the battle has begun.
Lack of job opportunities and joblessness in Gujarat has been one of the key accusations made by Rahul Gandhi in his various speeches…
The allegations made by Rahul Gandhi are completely false and baseless. Gujarat is the number one state in the country when it comes to employment generation in the last one-and-a-half decades. In the last one year alone, the state government has given jobs to around 80,000 youth and has helped another 10 lakh people get jobs in the private sector.
What are the major achievements of your government? How do you propose to take your development agenda further if voted to power?
Our government has worked towards social as well as economic development of the people. The Gujarat model of development is talked about in the world. We have provided 24×7 electricity (even in the rural areas), employment to lakhs of youth, inaugurated Sardar Sarovar Dam, Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation scheme for Saurashtra among many other things. Industries have thrived under the BJP rule in Gujarat. The state has now become a hub for automobile manufacturing in the country with major companies such as Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Ford, Honda setting up plants here.
Apart from this, we have introduced many schemes which have worked towards the upliftment of society as a whole. We have introduced PESA (Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act) for economic welfare of the tribal community, stringent rules for violation of prohibition law, and School Fee Regulation Act. Law and order in Gujarat is one of the best in the country and this is the reason why women here feel safe. This is the Gujarat model of development.
How much impact do you think that Shankersinh Vaghela’s Jan Vikalp Party can make in the elections?
We are not perturbed by any other party in Gujarat because we know that people will vote for BJP on the basis of development that has transformed the state in the last 22 years.
How successful has your government been in addressing issues like farm distress and agrarian crisis, be it giving minimum support price or crop insurance?
For more than a decade now, the agriculture growth rate in Gujarat has been in double digits. Our government’s pro-farmer policies are behind this stupendous growth rate. Gujarat government has announced a slew of measures for farmers. We have waived GST (goods and services tax) on equipment use in micro-irrigation, (and announced) interest-free loans of up to Rs3 lakh for farmers and a bonus of Rs500 per quintal on cotton. The government is also procuring groundnut at a price of Rs900 per 20 kg, against the current market rate of Rs600 per 20 kg. In the year 2016-17, the government purchased groundnuts, cotton and toor dal worth Rs1,719 crore from farmers. Apart from that, lakhs of farmers have been covered under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana.
There has been a debate about investment commitments made at Vibrant Gujarat summits and the actual rate of conversion of these MoUs…
Let me try and explain from some of the figures that I have with me. In eight summits so far from 2002 to 2017, a total of 76,000 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) have been signed. Of these, 51% have been implemented. In terms of investments, out of Rs5,586,729 crore committed in all these summits, Rs1,232,262 crore has already been invested. So you see we have a very good conversion ratio. Also many of the projects, especially large industrial projects for which MoUs were signed in that last one or two summits would require time to realise as they require land, raw materials, necessary government clearances, financial tie-ups, etc.
Some members of the Rajput community have been protesting against BJP chief Jitu Vaghani. How do you aim to resolve the issue?
It was a minor case of misunderstanding which has already been resolved. It was created by the people with vested interests. Members of all the community, including the Rajput community are with us. In fact, when Jitubhai had gone to file his nomination, he was accompanied by supporters from all communities including those from Rajput community.
What is your view on the ongoing controversy surrounding the movie Padmavati?
The film Padmavati is being objected to by certain sections of our society. People in general here also feel that the film has objectionable content which can hurt sentiments. The release of the film could lead to a law and order situation, which, as the chief minister of Gujarat, I would not let happen. Therefore, we have decided to not allow the screening of the film till the issue is resolved.