The nine-time MP, former chief minister and one of the tallest leaders of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath, in an exclusive interview with Outlook’s Abhik Bhattacharya, touches upon several issues ranging from atrocities against Adivasis and agricultural distress to allegations of soft Hindutva. With the state going to the polls on November 17, Nath seems very confident about the outcome. But giving out a number is not “his thing—it is better to be kept for incumbent chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan,” he says. Excerpts:
What will be the favourable factors for the Congress this time?
I have been roaming around the state for months. People have already made up their mind. You can go to the field and see that the Congress will come to power with a formidable majority. We have promised minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 2,600 per quintal for wheat, and Rs 2,500 per quintal for paddy. This will have a huge impact on the ground. We are also going to provide free education and monthly stipend to students. During the last 18 years, Chouhan has made the state a ‘Ghotala Pradesh’ (scam state). Several scams including Vyapam, Mahakal, nursing college and patwari recruitments mar his tenure. From price hike to unemployment, poor roads to lack of electricity supply—coupled with the burden of debt—[these] have made the state infrastructurally and financially weak. Against this backdrop, the people’s faith in us will lead us to victory.
Anti-incumbency is expected to favour the Congress, but how will voters be assured that this time the party will serve a ‘full-term’ government? Does victory assure consistency?
Last time, we had a thin majority. But this year we will sweep through the state and there will be barely any chance of defection. We have learnt a lesson and it’s our turn to teach one.
Since 2003, it is said in Madhya Pradesh that whoever wins the majority of the ST seats, wins the state. This formula helped the Congress in 2018. Do you expect a repetition of the same performance?
According to the data of NCRB, the number of atrocities carried out against Adivasis is the highest in Madhya Pradesh. Recently, a close aide of the BJP MLA in Sidhi urinated upon an Adivasi person. Last year, in Nemawar, an Adivasi woman along with her family members was brutally murdered. Everybody is aware of the case in Neemuch, where an Adivasi youth was tied and dragged through the streets, leading to his death.
Interestingly, all the accused were either BJP leaders or their close aides. The BJP is protecting those who are engaged in such heinous crimes against Adivasis. Actually, atrocities against Adivasis have been part of their political culture for decades. So, the tribals are aware of how they are being treated. In the 2018 assembly elections, the Congress won 31 of the 47 reserved seats. Electorally speaking, this year we will get even more.
In 2018, the Mandsaur police firing became a big electoral issue. Do you think agriculture will be a factor this time as well?
Yes. This time, the Chouhan government didn’t kill farmers by bullets, but their situation has worsened through the years. He had promised that by 2022, the farmers’ income would be doubled, but parliamentary committee reports show that it has gradually declined. Farmers are suffering both due to floods as well as drought. More than 40 lakh soyabean farmers incurred huge losses this year due to extreme weather. Compensating them is a far-fetched dream, but the Chouhan government didn’t even conduct a survey to measure the loss of destroyed crops.
When we came to power in 2018, the first thing that we did was waive farm loans. Even the BJP government itself accepted on the floor of the assembly that the Congress had given loan waiver to 27 lakh farmers across the state. This time, we have also promised a loan waiver, besides waiving the pending electricity bills.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress, SP and AAP—the INDIA coalition members—could not forge an alliance. What is your take on it?
With SP, we have no problems. The question was pertaining to the particular seats they wanted. It would either disturb our caste combination of the district or the BJP would have won. So, our intentions were not to let the BJP win.
There have been allegations that the Madhya Pradesh Congress is banking on soft Hindutva credentials through mergers of Bajrang Sena, welcoming Baba Bageshwar…
What is soft Hindutva? Religion is a matter of culture, faith and personal sentiment, not a matter of political campaign. Fifteen years ago, I made the longest statue of Hanuman ji in Chhindwara and it has nothing to do with politics. We don’t need to take the certificate of the BJP to be a Hindu.
Baba Bageshwar came to Chhindwara. It was his decision. As it is my district, I was there in his programme and we had an all-religious meeting there. We had ‘sarvadharam arati’. There was no statement regarding Hindutva. What is the issue? If you come to Chhindwara, I will go and meet you.
What does your internal survey say?
For 40 years, I have been in active politics. I know the election pulse. Earlier, the BJP had mayors in all of the 16 municipal corporations across the state. But last year, we won five mayoral seats. In two seats, they defeated us, misusing police and administration. We have even performed well in the rural local body elections. We have also won two seats out of four in the latest by-poll elections.
I can tell you that we are forming the government. I am not Shivraj Singh—I don’t give numbers.