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Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was hurtling from one development project to another in the first two years of his government when the Maratha agitation hit the state like a bolt from the blue. In a freewheeling interview to Outlook, Fadnavis spells out the primary reason behind the Maratha protests, clears the mist over his meeting with Raj Thackeray and shares his vision for the inclusive growth of his state. Edited excerpts.
After a long time, the Marathas don’t have a chief minister in Maharashtra. The same is the case with the Jats in Haryana. Is the loss of power a primary reason behind the unrest among intermediate castes?
I think caste is not in the minds of the community members, but in the minds of the leaders. These leaders try to find an opportunity to take centrestage by resorting to caste politics. Leaders are focused on caste, but the community at large is focused on socio-economic problems.
Has your Brahmin identity helped you in such a situation?
"Initially, when MNS activists tried to create trouble, we arrested them and put them in jail. But the guild was worried about trouble during Diwali."
In Maharashtra, it has always been a liability to be a Brahmin. ‘Liability’ may not be the right phrase, but as a Brahmin you are at a disadvantage. In my 25 years of politics, I have never been branded a Brahmin because my political ideology has always taught me that human beings become great only by their deeds. I have always followed it. Unless you take every section of society with you, you will never achieve the goal of development. If you want to call yourself a leader, better be a leader of all communities, and not of a single caste.
You were sailing smoothly when the Maratha agitation suddenly struck....
I think the roots of the Maratha unrest lie in events of the past 20-30 years. The unrest is not against the government. There are expectations from the government but the unrest is because 25 per cent people from the Maratha community have always enjoyed the fruits of development. They were ruling the state, they were controlling the cooperative sector, they were controlling major educational institutions. The rest of 75 per cent were left out; they are socially and economical backward. This is the unrest of the 75 per cent. Fortunately, they haven’t allowed the established political leadership to take advantage of their agitation. Our government has taken cognisance of the unrest and is working on all their demands. We have come up with a very important scheme, Rajarshri Shahu Maharaj fee reimbursement scheme. Under this, 50 per cent fees for professional courses will be borne by the government for those whose annual income is less than Rs 6 lakh. The Maratha community has welcomed this step.
Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (former Andhra Pradesh CM) tried this out, but the scheme finally failed because of a financial crunch. Wouldn’t it be better to set up new government institutions or take over some of the badly-run institutions?
In Andhra Pradesh it failed because it was not properly implemented. After we came to power in Maharashtra I set up a special investigating team (SIT). It detected large-scale irregularities in a few schemes, after which we could save Rs 500 crore.
Hasn’t the Maratha-Dalit contradiction torn apart the state’s social fabric?
Although the Maratha community held rallies and the atrocity act (the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act) was a bone of contention, the rallies were not against Dalits. Dalit communities also held similar rallies. Apart from talking about atrocities, they have supported all the other Maratha demands. I don’t think that right now the communities are confronting each other. But, for sure, there is a sense of uneasiness among the communities, which we need to tackle. All communities have their own problems. Socio-economic growth is the only solution.
There was a big controversy over the release of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil following the threat by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. For a leader of your stature, should you have taken the MNS seriously?
First of all, it was totally misunderstood. Initially, when the MNS activists tried to create disturbances, we arrested them and put them away for 12 to 15 days. So the government had acted strongly. The producers’ guild was talking to me and was quite confident of the government’s protection. But they were apprehensive that any disturbance during the first week of its release around Diwali would adversely impact its business. We would not allow anyone to create a ruckus around Diwali, but that was their worry. So I think they had some back-channel talks going on, and they indicated that things could be settled peacefully.
They, however, didn’t want to go to his (Raj Thackeray’s) place, so they suggested that if I call a meeting things would be settled amicably. So I called all of them. I also thought that deploying 2,000 policemen during Diwali to protect cinema halls from a handful of miscreants was not a wise thing. Mumbai is such a vulnerable place. The police have a lot of duties. So we sat down. Mukesh Bhatt (guild president) said they had passed a resolution that they would not henceforth sign Pakistani artistes. They also said when they had roped in the Pakistani artistes, it was a different time. Since Pakistan was now banning Indian movies and television channels, they also wished that no Pakistani artiste should be signed here.
Secondly, they said they had also decided to contribute to the Soldiers Welfare Fund as homage to our martyrs. Till then, everything was good but Raj Thackeray told them to contribute Rs 5 crore each. There were three films about to be released. So I intervened and made it clear that there was no compulsion to pay. It was a good gesture if they had decided to contribute but the amount could not be specified. The meeting was over at that point. This is exactly what I told the media on that very day. I don’t know why such a controversy was created.
In hindsight, do you think it was a wise decision to invite Raj Thackeray?
We call Hurriyat, who are anti-nationals, for discussion. We also call the Naxalites. If I was given an understanding that the issue would be amicably resolved in my presence why shouldn’t I have done that? Why should I put 2,000 police on the road on Diwali? I will, however, take care henceforth that no improper communication should go.
Will Shiv Sena remain your alliance partner in the days to come?
Shiv Sena is our ally and so far as the state government is concerned we will comfortably complete our term. There are times when we have been together and times when we have not. As for local elections, the strategy of both the parties has always been to give decision-making rights to local units.
You have been known as an effective administrator. What big ideas are you pursuing now?
Basically, there are two sides: one is governance and the other is development. So, for governance, I created a vision for the entire state of Maharashtra even before I became the CM. After becoming chief minister, I sat with the chief secretary and told him about the vision of my government. I also told him that we wanted to act on this vision. We started a KRA (Key Result Area) system. For every minister and every secretary, I prepared the KRA myself and sent it to them for their comments. I had told them to let me know if they agreed with me and asked them that if they disagreed they should let me know the reasons for their disagreements. So they worked on the KRA and returned it to me through chief secretary, as decided. Based on those KRA we created a dashboard where dynamically, after every two months, we know how much KRAs were achieved. The secretary writes his comment and then the chief secretary writes his comments, and finally it comes to me. The KRA is also part of their CR. And after every three months I hold a meeting with each department on the KRA where the respective minister and department secretary are present. With this, I think we could achieve many things and the administration is mostly working on our vision now.
Second, on the administrative vision, I created a war room. The war room is a concept where they take up big projects of state and national importance. In war room meetings on a project, all stake-holders come together like various departments involved to discuss the project and everybody has to give their approval then and there. So the bureaucratic time lag is cut down. It has helped projects that were stuck for ten, eight or five years for clearance. For instance, 172 kms of the Mumbai metro was planned. In eight years, the earlier government could clear only 10 kms. In one-and-a-half years since we took over, from creation of DPR to work order we have already issued tenders for 100 kms. We have given approval to 50 kms more. The entire plan of the metro network is now approved, tenders issued, mostly work orders given. In this process, 17 different departments of state government and central government were involved. In normal bureaucratic set-up, it would have taken four years for the approval of these departments. We did it in four months.
Thirdly, as regards governance, we enacted the Right to Service Act and brought all the 370 services notified online. For the 370 services notified, you don’t have to visit any office. Through mobile app or through your PC you can avail of these 370 services from the comforts of your home.
"Our Key Result Area system and war room meetings ease governance and administration. Our Maharashtra Prosperity Corridor will also be a success."
On development, our initial focus was for two years. We had faced unprecedented drought in the past few years, which hit 29,000 villages out of 40,000. For two years we had to work hard on alleviating agricultural stress, but we converted the challenge into opportunity. Through our water conservation Jalyukta Shivar scheme we decided to make 20,000 drought-prone villages drought-free and water-neutral. I am happy to share that in the first year of the scheme we could turn 4,600 villages water-neutral. I am sure by 2019 we will make 20,000 more villages water-neutral. We have shifted focus of agricultural sector from relief and rehabilitation to investment. We are investing in creating water structures, farm ponds, wells, electric connections, drip irrigation, micro irrigation. We have started investment-based agriculture because we feel unless we invest in agriculture the sustainability and productivity cannot be ensured. Moreover, with World Bank we are creating an integrated agriculture development project for 5,000 villages where soil conservation, water conservation, water use efficiency, cropping pattern, post harvest technologies and market linkage are all integrated, offering end-to-end solution for agriculture. We have already set up a project management unit for this.
Our next focus was on creating value addition in the agriculture sector. We have started the farm-to-fabric fashion initiative. We also created the first integrated and successful textile park at Amravati. Altogether, 12 industries have started functioning in just one year. Raymonds, which is located there, will employ 10,000 people. Now, we are also setting up an apparel park at the same place; so, from farm to fashion, the dream of PM Narendra Modi will be accomplished. We are creating 11 such integrated textile parks in 11 districts. One is completed, work on five others have already started.
There was an initiative to create a super communication highway, which seemed really exciting as an idea. Will it happen really?
Absolutely, it will happen. We call it Maharashtra Prosperity Corridor and I declare that this corridor will take Maharashtra 20 years ahead of the entire country, because we are integrating 24 districts and connecting them to the Mumbai port. The port-led development of Maharashtra has been limited to Mumbai, Thane and Pune. Although Maharashtra is an industrially developed state, the development was lopsided. With this highway, 24 districts can take their containers to JNPT in 16 hours and passengers can reach Mumbai in eight hours from Nagpur and from other parts. The 24 districts are integrated with a special road. Now, we are making a land pooling pattern, through which we are acquiring land of 20,000 hectares. We have already got 7,000 hectares. In the next three to four months we will acquire the rest. In three years, we will complete the road after acquiring the land. There are 24 nodes which will come up on this road—which will all be smart cities. Besides, Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan has agreed to lay down four pipelines below this road—petroleum pipeline, petrochemical pipeline, gas pipeline. Now, just imagine a 800-km stretch where you have availability of gas that will open up an entire industrial corridor.