The by-elections to the 28 assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh appear to be more important than general elections, as the fate of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government depends on its results. Not only that, the entire strategy of the BJP and the politics of Jyotiraditya Scindia, who broke away from the Congress, is at stake in these elections. Congress politics is also at stake. The importance of this bypoll could be gauged from the fact that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had launched his campaign in March after assuming power.
He has since visited all the constituencies where the by-elections are being held now. Since the formal announcement of the dates for the bypolls, he has hit the campaign trail with gusto. Shamsher Singh of Outlook talks to the Chief Minister among other things about the political significance of the by-elections in Madhya Pradesh. Excerpts:
On what basis will people vote in the by-elections? What do you think are the real issues?
The BJP has only one agenda, to develop the state by removing the pain and suffering from the lives of the farmers, poor, labourers, youth, and the common man. Our party considers this as its motto and resolves to fulfil it. We do not do politics of lies like Congress. We fulfil what we say. Showing false dreams like Congress is not in BJP's character. In its greed for power, Congress promised to waive the debt of the farmers in 10 days, but despite staying in power for 15 months, it did not take care of the farmers.
Congress says that you have done nothing in the last 15 years as CM. It has launched a campaign asking people to compare their 15 months with your 15 years before going to vote...
The people of the state have seen the 15-year rule of the BJP and the 15-month rule of the Congress. For six months now, I am also looking at my government. It is up to them on what basis they vote. As far as I am concerned, in my last tenure, I had run many schemes for public welfare and worked for the well-being of the people, especially the deprived and the last person of society. I reached out to them and tried to relieve their pain. I am still doing it. I took oath as Chief Minister at 9 pm on 23 March and went directly to the ministry from there to start my work. The Congress government had stopped the public welfare schemes launched by me earlier. I not only started it again but also got scholarships, pension, etc. transferred into the accounts of the beneficiaries. Our government also provided crop insurance amount to the farmers and increased the fund meant to honour them.
If you are making the debt waiver for farmers an election issue, Congress has also taken up the matter of inflated electricity bills. What do you say?
The case of a farm loan waiver is not hidden from anyone. In the last election, Congress had assured the farmers that each one of them will get a loan of up to Rs 2 lakh within 10 days. But it did not live up to its promise. As far as the matter of electricity bill is concerned, after assuming power, I worked with immediate effect, to provide relief to more than 97 lakh electricity consumers by releasing more than Rs 623 crore during the lockdown. I think the electricity bill is not an issue, rather Congress should answer why it has stopped the plan like Sambal, which brings prosperity in the lives of the poor and help even after death. Congress had withheld the amount of marriage of poor daughters and even the fund for the shroud after death. Congress will have to answer all these questions.
In the Gwalior-Chambal assembly elections 2018, the BJP suffered due to the resentment of both Dalits and upper castes. The contest has become triangular now due to BSP being in the fray. Will BJP face a problem again?
I do not believe that Dalit voters were angry with the BJP. The confusion among the people ended during the 15 months of Congress rule. People saw how Kamal Nath ignored the Gwalior-Chambal region due to his politics and how he insulted the elected people's representatives. In the past six months, we have started development plans of around Rs 56,215 crore including Chambal-Progress-Way, which will change the face of the region. As far as the BSP is concerned, there is a triangular contest in every election and it is the Congress which suffers losses from the BSP.
Does the Congress allege that the BJP conspired to topple the elected government in the state and put the burden of the by-election on the people?
I dismiss this fabricated allegation. The truth is that the Congress government fell due to its burden and internal factionalism. Now, Congress leaders have nothing else to hide their lapses. They are trying in vain to blame BJP. I wonder as to why the then Chief Minister Kamal Nath did not meet the elected MLAs. Which leader was most interested in the transfer industry? Who made the ministry the centre of brokers and neglected the entire state, except Chhindwara. Congress, answer these questions.
There are speculations that many party leaders are trying to defeat most of the ministers loyal to Scindia to pre-empt him from dominating the BJP and minimising Scindia's interference in the state government…
Your question is hypothetical. Scindia is a big leader of the party, the whole party believes this. In such a situation, the idea of strengthening and weakening does not work in the BJP family. It may be part of Congress. In the BJP, there is the coordination, discussion, consideration, and respect for each other. Here everyone works together, neither small nor big. On the other hand, factionalism in the Congress is at its peak and all satraps have their agenda.
You have been the Chief Minister for a long time. Is there any desire to switch over to Delhi politics after such a long inning in the state?
My heartfelt desire is to work for the welfare of the people of our state. When I see the happiness on the faces of our people, when I see them living life with respect, then I get inner satisfaction. I will continue to serve the people of my state until my last breath.
What are the things that will turn voters in your favour in this election?
My goal is to make the state a developed state in which people progress, and they should be happy. A disaster fund of Rs 4,000 crore is being distributed to the districts of the state which have suffered the loss of crops due to floods, excess rainfall, or pest disease. We have also decided to give an additional amount of Rs. 4,000 twice to 77 lakh beneficiaries under Mukhyamantri Kisan Kalyan Yojana for the farmers of the state. Farmers will now get a total of Rs 10,000. This will lead to an additional expenditure of Rs 3,200 crore per year. Ration up to the month May was provided in March through the Public Distribution System under the National Food Security Act. In the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, which has been extended till November now, the poor are being provided 5 kg of wheat, rice, and one kg of pulses free every month till November. Eligibility slips were issued to 37 lakh new beneficiaries in the state. The new form of the Sambal scheme was reintroduced. In this financial year, Rs 348 crore has been disbursed to more than 28 thousand beneficiaries.
Several changes have been made in the agricultural law recently. Don't you think that with the way the Opposition has made it an issue, the BJP may suffer a setback in the election?
The Prime Minister has decided to double the income of farmers. These steps have been taken in the same direction. Congress is only spreading confusion. The government will continue purchasing as before. Mandis will also run. Wherever the farmer gets a better price, he will sell his crops there. So it will not have any negative impact on the election. The farmers are happy that new avenues are being opened to increase their income.
Congress appears to be making personal attacks against you. How do you take it?
I do not believe in this kind of politics. I am not bothered by his kind words. If they call me hungry and naked, then I will say that yes I am, because I understand the pain of the poor. My whole life is dedicated to the poor farmers of the state. Is it a crime to be the son of a poor farmer? Congress has insulted the poor by saying such things. People of the state will teach it a lesson.
You have visited almost all the constituencies now going to the polls. What do you think the voter wants?
The voter was unhappy because the BJP failed to win the previous assembly elections in 2018 and Shivraj Singh Chouhan could not become the chief minister. Therefore, he does not want to leave anything to ensure the BJP’s win in this election.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine