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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

‘BJP using govt agencies to threaten leaders in Opposition’: Ashok Chavan

Ashok Chavan alleged leaders from the Congress were threatened, inquiries were initiated against their institutions and were pressurised to join the ruling parties to improve the latter’s strike rate in the Assembly polls.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 17, 2019 04:22 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times, Nanded
Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan.
Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan.(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan, in an interview with Hindustan Times, said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is using the government machinery in the elections to target and even poach leaders from the Opposition parties. Chavan alleged leaders from the Congress were threatened, inquiries were initiated against their institutions and were pressurised to join the ruling parties to improve the latter’s strike rate in the Assembly polls. The former CM also said that the results in the state elections would be different from the Lok Sabha polls as people are convinced about the failure of the BJP-led government.

Excerpts from the interview:

Why do you think people should vote for the Congress in the Assembly polls?

People have realised that the Fadnavis government has been a failure. Farmers’ suicides in Marathwada and Vidarbha have increased. There are cases of suicides registered in the areas which Fadnavis visited for campaigning. In its Assembly manifesto, the BJP has promised to generate 1 crore jobs, but it has failed to keep its promise of 2 crore jobs a year in the country as declared in 2014. The state government announced filling up of 72,000 government posts, but it remained on paper. People are losing their jobs due to drop in production in automobile and other sectors. They voted on nationalist issues in the Lok Sabha polls, but it won’t be repeated in the state polls. The Modi wave does not exist anymore.

If you think there is unrest among people, why did the Opposition not raise it? The Congress was not aggressive in the past five years.

We raised issues. We did not get the required publicity, but that doesn’t mean the Opposition didn’t do anything on ground. The issues should have been taken to their logical end, where we failed. The issue of Aarey tree-cutting and Punjab Maharashtra Cooperative Bank should have been taken up in the campaign in Mumbai, but we have not done it. Our leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil defected to the ruling party. His decision did not happen overnight, it must have been brewing for quite some time. It is true that there is scope for improvement.

Why did the Opposition fail to keep its flock together? Your leaders are making a beeline to join the ruling parties?

Our leaders were threatened with inquiries. Agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax were used to initiate action against institutions run by them. Then they were assured protection from action if they joined the ruling parties. Those who joined them were scared of action against them. The ones who did not budge are still on the radar.

But why should they be afraid of action if they are not involved in any wrongdoing?

It is not about wrongdoing. An inquiry can be initiated for anything if one is running an institution. A notice in response to allegations of corruption or an inquiry is enough to malign the image as the case goes on for years and even if you are proved to be innocent, the (political) damage is already done. People in public life are worried about this modus operandi. Action is not taken against the ruling party politicians involved in corruption and irregularities. Why no concrete action is being taken against the directors of the PMC Bank?

Are you trying to say that more Congress leaders are on the radar of the BJP?

Yes, of course. The BJP has been using the government machinery abruptly this election. Our leaders are being watched by the government machinery. Police officials are being threatened to work in their favour. The ruling party leaders are using contractors to mint money for the elections. Extortion is on the rise across the state. Political interference in police department and their postings has increased. Doctors and professionals are getting calls for extortion. This was witnessed even in the Palghar by-polls two years ago. Senior police officers stationed in the constituency were helping the ruling party. My family has seen power for 40 years, but this type of misuse was never done in the past.

Why is the state Congress unit a divided house when the party is going through its worst phase?

It is not true. We have been fighting this election unitedly. All of us are busy in our respective constituencies, but there is better coordination. It is true that there were complaints over ticket distribution in Mumbai and Vidarbha, but we are fighting the election with full vigour. Our younger generation is eager to fight.

Aren’t sections of the Maratha community, which was a strong support base for your party, tilting towards the BJP due to its decision to give reservation?

I don’t think so. No benefit of the reservation is seen on ground. The government hasn’t filled vacancies meant for the community. More than reservation, unemployment and financial recession are bigger issues and the community knows this very well.

The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, led by Prakash Ambedkar, split the Opposition’s votes in the Lok Sabha elections. Even you lost the election due to it. Won’t it damage your party’s prospects in Assembly polls?

The response to the VBA has receded by about 60%, as Dalit voters have realised that it was a mistake to vote for Ambedkar’s front in the Lok Sabha polls. He has now changed his stance, but it is not clear who will be benefited by it. Had he come with us, he would have benefited. Only he knows why he didn’t do it.

There is rebellion in the BJP-Sena alliance. Is the Opposition in a position to take advantage of it?

Defeating the Shiv Sena is the BJP’s hidden agenda and it has been supporting rebels in a number of constituencies. We, on the other hand, have better coordination among our allies.