Q: Who is one leader you admire the most?
Our guiding light and inspiration, respected leader and former prime minister - Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He used to say: "If you criticise, then also give your opponents the right to criticise you." I became the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh a month after he sworn as prime minister on March 19, 1998. He never disappointed us whenever we demanded something for the state. He envisaged developing Himachal Pradesh as education hub. He has been my guardian and a profound philosopher whom I follow.
Q: Who do you think is your biggest political rival in the state?
I don't consider anyone my rival. All of us are here to serve the state in our own way. There can be difference of opinion on issues, people and situations but that does not make us opponents. Differences exist even in a family but that does not make its members enemies. For me, the country and the state are like family.
Q: What is your opinion of former Union minister Shanta Kumar, who has been hitting at you obliquely and been appreciative of chief minister Virbhadra Singh?
I respect him as a senior leader, since I am younger in politics and the party. However, at some point of time, I may not have been able to fulfil his desire or live up to his expectations. I believe in introspection not in criticism. He is the best person to reply this question. As far as letter to Amit shah is concerned, it is an issue between him and the (party) high command.
Q: Who do you think is better leader - Virbhadra or Shanta Kumar?Both are experienced and excellent leaders. We can learn a lot from them.
Q: Have you learnt anything from them?
Lessons are for learning and implementing, not publicising.
Q: What led to the bitterness with chief minister Virbhadra Singh?
I think in democracy, every political leader plays his role. Those who benefit by your works as well as those who feel deprived criticise and grumble. But the way is to take lesson from every situation and move on.
Q: Did the rivalry start in 1998?
No, look at the history of it. In 1998, when we had the support of Himachal Vikas Congress and were likely to form the government, independent MLA Ramesh Dhwala, a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leader originally, was taken captive and forced to join the Congress government. He was manhandled and kept in detention at the official residence of the chief minister - Oak Over. He resigned on his own on March 22 and supported the BJP. We could have been smart but not cruel like him (Virbhadra). We are thankful to Pandit Sukh Ram, who stood by us at that crucial time.
Q: Don't you both think that the state politics now revolves just around you both due to the counter-offensives unleashed?
I think it is a misconception. He speaks on behalf of his government and I speak on behalf of my party. If the media sees it as a fight between two families, it's not our fault.
Q: Why has the rivalry dragged families into it?
What are the charges against us? Has Anurag (his son Anurag Thakur) committed a crime by creating one of the most beautiful stadiums to promote cricket? It is not his personal property, yet cases are being made. I don't want to comment, since the matter is pending in court. I would narrate an interesting incident. An official came to me and said the government wants his opinion on Hotel Pavilion near the stadium. The government alleged illegal felling of green trees, even as the official tried to convince the authorities that no trees were axed and the land was for grazing, with no trees on it in century-old revenue records. The HPCA (Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association) official could explain more but as far as I know, the sports body is registered as non-profit company. In 2005, when it was a society, Virbhadra had created a parallel body. He has a good sense of ethics, but sometimes it seems that someone misguides him.
Q: Don't you think that in your fight, the issues of public interest have been put on the back burner?
How does the walkout of opposition hinder the development of the state? The budget was passed. We attended the winter session (of the assembly). Walkout, if any, was for only a few minutes. During the budget session, we let the Vidhan Sabha function, in spite of the chief minister's objectionable "will chop the fingers" and "bonded labourer" remarks. The Opposition has rather been more cooperating than expected. When the budget is passed and the money sent to different offices, the government is to blame if the works are still not being executed. Can you believe that for the past two-years-and-a-half, neither the DC nor the SP of Hamirpur has called on me personally. When Virbhadra was in the Opposition, I used to ask the district officer to pay courtesy visit to him. So, shed the perception that development is stalled due to the Opposition. It is hindered by funds crunch, and the lack of vision and determination. There are scams in school uniform, pulses, tree felling, and the recruitment of forest guards and bus conductors. Even the Congress MLAs have raised their voice against these.
Q: Both of you (Virbhadra and he) have been promoting dynastic politics?
That's not true. Anurag is in politics because of (provocation by) Virbhadra. Had he not troubled Anurag during the 2003-07 Congress regime, Anurag would have not come into the limelight. He was doing his job in the sports field but he became a symbol of fight against a feudal retime. He was given party's ticket in my absence and has won his third consecutive election even though the Congress and its chief minister have campaigned against him. If Arun (his son Arun Thakur) has laid a charge, he has documents to back it. Does the CM's son, Vikramaditya Singh, have any proof in his defence?
Q: When will this rivalry come to an end?
There is no family rivalry, and if there is any such impression, it's wrong. I attended the wedding reception of CM's daughter's and had dinner with him, while he filed a case against me. Implicating someone for the sake of it is not good.
Q: What steps did your previous government took to curb unemployment?
We had created 90,000 jobs in the government sector. No government can hire everyone. That's why we secured the industrial package (from the Centre) but the last Congress government (at the Centre) withdrew it prematurely, and taking advantage of it, promises unemployment allowance to the youth. In 2003, they had promised a job to every household. False promises are no solution to the problem, neither is confusing the youth.
Q: The state's debt burden has now increased to `35,000 crore. Who is to be blamed for the financial mess?
The onus is on the Congress government. In the five years from 2008 to 2012, we raised a loan of 6,672 crore, even after implementing the pay commission recommendations, paying off all arrears, and starting some development projects. They (the Congress regime) have raised a loan of `9,000 crore in just two-years-and-a-half. Nearly 50 posts were created just to adjust defeated leaders. New records in wasteful expenditure are being created. It is government of the tired and retired, splurging at the cost of development.
Dhumal instituted false cases against me, but I came out clean, says Virbhadra Singh