Having delivered Rajasthan for the Congress in the Assembly elections last year, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot faces a double challenge in the Lok Sabha polls — of ensuring the victory of his party as well as of his son Vaibhav, who is making his electoral debut from Jodhpur. Excerpts from an interview with Rajesh Asnani:
What’s your view on the BJP’s attempt to cash in on the Balakot air strike to win the elections? Do you think this could affect Congress’s chances in Rajasthan?
The atmosphere created after the Pulwama attack made the people of the country realise that Modiji and his government spared no effort to gain political mileage out of it. The way the issue of national security was used for political publicity should be condemned. Unrestrained allegations were made against the opposition despite Rahul Gandhiji being the first person who came in support of the government. Modiji created an impression that the opposition was questioning the valour of the armed forces.
Nobody has ever questioned the Army, Navy and the Air Force; we are all proud of their bravery. The politics of diverting issues is being played for winning elections and this is not in the country’s interest. According to them (BJP and Modi government), only they are nationalists; rest all are anti-nationals… This has been seen for the first time in the country that if anybody criticises the government, the person is accused of being anti-national.
They have no achievement to speak of, so they want to win elections by hiding behind the accomplishments of the army, in the name of religion, in the name of nationalism.
Opposition and even former BJP leaders and Union ministers like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha say that if Narendra Modi wins again, Indian democracy will be in danger. What’s your view?
It is not only Arun Shourieji and Yashwant Sinhaji, but it has become a common opinion. People are scared of what direction this country will go to if Modiji comes back to power. Only two people, Modi and Amit Shah, are ruling the country and they are intolerant to voices of dissent and protest. In a democracy, criticism has to be tolerated.
The opposition and the people will raise their voice — whether it is against an MLA, MP, minister, chief minister or against the prime minister. But for them (Modi government), criticism has no place. Today, there is an atmosphere of fear in the country. The constitution and the democracy are in danger. If Modiji comes back, then there is no guarantee that elections will be held in future in the country or not. They do not believe in democracy… Their fascist mindset is a matter of concern… Politics of hatred and revenge is ruling the country.
We have seen politics on cows… even your government has raised financial support for gau palaks. Many see this as an effort to win votes in the name of cows. How will you curb cow vigilantism and lynching which has spoiled Rajasthan’s image?
The BJP has only done politics in the name of cows. 40 years ago they raised the issue of ‘gau mata’ and now they have left this issue assuming it does not get votes for them. It’s very unfortunate that lynching was started in the name of cows. This tarnished the state’s image and created a sense of insecurity among the people. We are now working to improve the situation.
As far as our government’s efforts towards the protection of cows are concerned, we made a separate directorate for cows during our previous tenure. This was done for the first time.
I gave a grant of Rs 125 crore for gaushalas and Rs 25 crore were marked for disabled cows... During my previous tenure, we also started a free medicine scheme for animals. This was the first time in the country that such a scheme was started.
What steps have you taken to help farmers burdened by huge debts? Given the agricultural crisis, what is your plan to improve farmers’ income beyond just loan waivers?
We’ve fulfilled the promise of farm loan waiver made by Rahul Gandhiji. We have also started a scheme of giving pension to farmers under Vridhjan Krishak Samman Pension Yojana so that they live with dignity in old age.
Our aim is to improve the condition of farmers so that they move from debt waivers to freedom from debt. Rahulji has decided that when we form the government at the Centre, there will be a separate budget for farmers. This is an important announcement. In a country that depends on agriculture, the farmer will have his own budget and his problems will get addressed.
We will work on ensuring that the farmer gets the right price for his crop and on setting up small businesses based on agriculture.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Shekhawat has alleged that over 50 lakh farmers in Rajasthan would have benefitted under the Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna launched by PM, but the state government has deprived them of the right.
The politics of confusing people regarding Kisan Samman Nidhi was started by the Prime Minister himself by making false promises during his Rajasthan visit in February. The allegations of not giving the list of beneficiaries to Central government and not letting the farmers take benefit are baseless and unfortunate. All the facts regarding the registration of farmers are available.
But it is the BJP’s habit to speak lies and confuse the people. Why would we not want the farmers to get the benefit of the schemes? Modiji must know that we are giving a higher pension than Rs 6,000 which he has promised per year.
You decided to adopt your party manifesto as the state policy document. What is the strategy?
Our Jan Goshna Patra is the policy document of the state government. Its implementation is being done in a time-bound manner. Commitment and accountability has been accorded topmost priority. We are working with the commitment of susashan (good governance).
Your party has given the ticket to your son Vaibhav from Jodhpur. Do you think it’s the right time for his electoral debut?
It’s the party that has given the opportunity to Vaibhav. He has been working continuously for the Youth Congress. Last time, his name came up from Sawai Madhopur but I did not allow that. He wanted to become Youth Congress chief, but I stopped him because I am the Chief Minister and if he becomes YC president, people will allege nepotism. Chandrabhanji promoted his name for PCC, but I stopped that. This time, Vaibhav’s name was proposed from three-four places and a consensus for Jodhpur emerged.