On action against 5 activists, Devendra Fadnavis says ‘they were giving Naxals cover’

If Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) are together and BJP and Sena contest separately, there will be a split in our vote bank. So, the opposition parties are bound to gain. While this will dent us, it will dent the Sena more.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2018 09:51 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad and Ketaki Ghoge
Shailesh Gaikwad and Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Devendra Fadnavis,General elections 2019,htls2018
Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit at Taj Palace in New Delhi, India, on Saturday, October 6, 2018. (Virendra Singh Gosain/HT PHOTO)

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who completes four years in power on October 31, has weathered several storms – from farm protests to reservation agitations to the arrests of activists over the Bhima-Koregaon violence. On the sidelines of the 16th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Fadnavis spoke to Shailesh Gaikwad and Ketaki Ghoge on a range of issues, and indicated that he was poll-ready for next year’s general elections. Edited excerpts:

Maharashtra is among the three-four states where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) performance in the Lok Sabha polls will be particularly important. In 2014, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won 42 out of the 48 seats. If the Sena decides to contest alone, will it impact your performance?

Of course it will impact our performance. If Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) are together and BJP and Sena contest separately, there will be a split in our vote bank. So, the opposition parties are bound to gain. While this will dent us, it will dent the Sena more. The BJP-Sena alliance is beneficial for both.

We are prepared, so maybe we lose three-four seats here and there if we fight alone. But, at the national level today, we need to keep our allies with us. The Sena is one of our oldest allies, and we have lot of ideological similarities.

How do you plan to convince the Sena to come on board? So far the Sena is maintaining it will contest solo.

The political situation convinces people. Had someone ever imagined that in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which tried to finish [Bahujan Samaj Party chief] Mayawati, is siding with her? Or in Bihar, did one imagine the shifting of alliances? The biggest example is from Maharashtra, where the NCP broke away from the Congress on a high moral ground to contest elections against them. In the same year, after the poll results, the NCP aligned with the Congress to rule the state. Politics and emerging situations convince people. The same will happen in this case.

In the aftermath of the 2014 polls, the BJP initially had a chance to align with a not-natural ally in the NCP. Five years down the line, do you think it can be an alternative partner for you?

I don’t think the NCP can be an alternative for us. We have a very natural alliance with the Sena. We may have differences, we may even fight on certain issues, but that is natural because we are two different parties. As far the NCP goes, we don’t share any ideological similarities. I don’t even think the NCP has an ideology. It is a party of convenience, so it will go with anyone if it is convenient. As of now, I see no possibility of an alliance with the NCP.

The hike in fuel prices as been a big talking point in the state. The Centre and your state government cut prices in fuel last week by reducing levies, but is it sustainable?

Let me say it, this is a temporary step but we had to give some relief to the people. Fuel prices are controlled by the global market. As of now, the trade war between the US and China, the US’s position vis a vis Iran, and production going down in Iran and Venezuela, are all contributing factors. These things are beyond our control but we can’t leave our people at the mercy of the volatile international markets. I think the Centre’s second generation ethanol policy and biofuel policy is the way ahead. If we focus on it, we can reduce our fuel imports by 30-35%. Today, we have a problem of plenty. We have moved from concerns of food security to not knowing where to store the excess food grains. If we convert our excess grains to ethanol, we can deal with this issue in a sustainable fashion. We have the example of Brazil, where ethanol has been used successfully as fuel.

Won’t this require India to create that kind of infrastructure? How long will it take?

We are increasingly looking at urban transportation that can run on electricity. If you look at Maharashtra, we would need 60,000 electric buses to replace the existing fleet. If you can find a way to finance the capital expenditure for this, it can be done. The prices of electric vehicles are going down, and the policies of the central government give us leverage to make the shift.

If we can make the shift in public transport, things can change. They are the biggest consumers of fuel. We are also lucky to have 350 days of sunlight, so solar panels are viable. In Maharashtra, we are planning to generate 4,000 megawatts of solar energy. This is the alternative. To have electric vehicles and to charge them on solar power -- it is sustainable, green, and can be done in five years.

When you came to power in 2014, you had a certain vision for the state -- whether it was in agriculture sector or in infrastructure. In the last couple of years, have issues such farm protests leading to loan waivers, or the recent fuel price spike leading to cutting rates hijacked your original agenda?

The phrase may not be right but this is an ‘inevitable evil’. I am of the firm opinion that loan waiver is not sustainable because it does not invest money in people’s farms or into productive things. But, at the same time, if 30-35% of your farmers are out of the institutional credit system, how can agriculture be sustainable? They will succumb to moneylenders and their loans have to be written off to get them back into the system. What I did was to put a lot of efforts in the first two-and-a-half years of my rule into trying to make farming sustainable by creating protective irrigation under our Jalyukt Shivar scheme.

One of the reasons the farmers went out of the institutional credit system was the unreliability of monsoon and climate change. This year also, we have only 77% of the average monsoon rain. If we can provide farmers with protective irrigation, we can bail them out to an extent, and then by offering loan waiver, we can ensure they won’t fall off the formal credit system again. I won’t say I was 100% successful in going by my plan.

My original plan was to create better agriculture investment for the first three to four or even five years and then announce a loan waiver. But the circumstances were such that there was a back-to-back drought for three years, a majority of the farmers were falling out of the institutional credit system, and there were no alternatives. I had to do it.

Isn’t populism a tricky choice?

It’s always a tricky choice. But, in a democracy, you have to strike a balance because hard economics is never popular. At the same time, only populism never pays. We have often seen people have neither sided with extreme populist measures nor with absolute hard economics. They want a mix. That’s what we are trying to do. Looking at the aspirations of the people, we create our schemes but we ensure that these schemes are sustainable.

Your government was criticised for the action taken against civil rights activists in the investigation following the Bhima-Koregaon violence. Do you think this action was justified? In hindsight, you would have liked to change the way the action was carried out?

It is a purely professional investigation which was carried out without any bias, or any pressure from any group or government. Bhima-Koregaon was one of the incidents, but the conspiracy is larger and we have been tracking this for over a year. On one hand, a few people are fighting on ground against the state, and then there is a bigger group that is trying to pitch communities against one another and create a civil-war-like situation. This design was unearthed by our police. We have ample evidence. And many more instances beyond Bhima-Koregaon.

We have concrete examples of how they were protecting Naxals, how they were giving Naxals a cover in the garb of human rights. They were colluding with them. We have all the evidence.

I see in the national capital, there is a huge group of pseudo-liberals, they are not liberals. You can be a liberal, even I am a liberal. These pseudo-liberals need to understand this is not a conspiracy against the BJP or the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) but against the nation. How can you support people who are conspiring against your nation?

Liberalism doesn’t give you rights to protect those who are killing people. Who is going to speak for those who have been killed by Naxals? Have these people ever gone to Supreme Court or high court or even the lowest judiciary to protect those who are getting killed. We have unearthed the entire conspiracy, and we will present it to the courts. Yes you can expect some more action on this front by us.

Your government will complete four years on October 31. How do you look back and how far have you achieved your vision?

It has been quite a journey for me. I don’t think there have been more eventful years in my life. But I am happy with what we have been able to achieve so far. For instance, in Maharashtra in the last 70 years we had created 5,000km of national highways; in the last five years, we have undertaken building 15,000km of national highways, out of which 6,000km will be complete by March 2019. Besides that, we are building 10,000km of state highways and 30,000ks of rural road. Then we are constructing the 702km Mumbai Nagpur super communication highway.

My flagship scheme Jalyukt Shivar has had an impact on ground. In a drought-prone area like Marathwada, the ground water table is 4 meters today. In agriculture sector, it’s not just loan waiver, when the farmers were in trouble, we paid them compensation for crops through our budget and through various schemes.

If you look at administration, we have been able to create an institution like the chief minister’s war room. In government, I saw no two departments really talked to each other, files were getting lost, and projects were delayed for years. In our war room today, different departments talk to each other, deliberate on solutions and deliver on targets.

First Published: Oct 08, 2018 06:50 IST