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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

‘Our govt will waive off farm loans within 10 days,’ says Rajasthan’s CM-designate Ashok Gehlot

In his first interview ahead of the being sworn in as Rajasthan CM, Gehlot spoke to Hindustan Times about his government’s priorities and other issues.

rajasthan-elections Updated: Dec 17, 2018 10:29 IST
Rakesh Goswami
Rakesh Goswami
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
CM Ashok Gehlot during an interview with Hindustan Times, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 16 December 2018.
CM Ashok Gehlot during an interview with Hindustan Times, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, 16 December 2018. (Himanshu Vyas/ HT Photo)

Congress leader Ashok Gehlot will be sworn in as Rajasthan chief minister for a third time on Monday. In his first interview ahead of being sworn in as Rajasthan CM, Gehlot spoke to Hindustan Times about his government’s priorities and other issues.

Edited excerpts:

What is your immediate priority?

We will base our priorities on the [Congress] party’s manifesto, which will be approved at the first cabinet meeting. We have done this earlier also – placing the manifesto before the cabinet. The promises on which we were elected to power will be our basis for work. After the cabinet approves it, the manifesto becomes an official paper; it goes to collectors, secretaries, and other bureaucrats. They know officially this is the government’s priority. I started this practice when I became the chief minister for the first time in 1998. Whether you are successful in fulfilling the promises or not... but when you place your manifesto before the cabinet, it shows your intent.

Do you think it is possible to keep Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s campaign pledge that his party’s government will announce farm loan waiver within 10 days looking at the state’s financial health?

Rahul ji has said it and it is mentioned in our manifesto. So, there is no question about our commitment. Now, we have to see in what form and how we will implement it. First, we will form the cabinet, which will then discuss it at the first meeting. Earlier, the government of India did it, and it waived loans from the nationalised banks. It will be decided at the first cabinet meeting. The 10-day countdown will begin after the cabinet formation.

Why could not the Congress get a clear majority despite strong anti-incumbency against the previous Vasundhara Raje government?

I think the way they bribed the people… they targeted the beneficiaries [of the government’s schemes]. In a democracy, it is a beneficiary’s right; it is not a dole or a largesse. Suppose you select a person to be in the Below Poverty Line category, then it becomes his right to get benefits due to the category… You have not done them a favour. But you call the prime minister, call the beneficiaries officially, organise buses for them, give them lunch, dinner to show that you have done some favour to them. I have heard that the people from the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and other workers from outside, they went to their [beneficiaries] houses to remind them of what the government did for them. There were reports that they even bribed them. That was one of the reasons.

Read: At swearing-in of Congress CMs today, Opposition show of strength

Do you think there were problems with tickets, too?

Candidate selection always has some issues, be it in the Congress or the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]. There are complaints. There cannot be a perfect system. Some people will always feel they have been ignored.

What is the larger message from this mandate for the Congress in the three Hindi heartland states?

Recently, at a meeting of Opposition leaders in Delhi on December 10 in which I was present, everyone opined that this was such an undemocratic government that democracy, Constitution and the country were in danger. If they return to power, they may not allow elections, was everyone’s feeling. So the country is looking at Rahul Gandhi for a bigger role. The way he has single-handedly made the Rafael [aircraft] deal a national issue… the credit goes to him alone. No other party was speaking about it. He has been attacking the government over this since the Gujarat elections. When the president of a national party speaks about something, the message travels to the people. It is a very simple question: How did you buy fighter planes worth ~526 crore for ~1,600 crore without calling for a new tender. You could have cancelled the tender, called for a new one. That would have been justified. But you went to France and bought them [the aircraft] for ~1,600 crore.

Is it true that the delay in the announcement of your name as chief minister was due to Sachin Pilot claiming the post?

I have been saying for the last two years that any post is not my priority. The party has given me so much. I said I will accept the party’s decision. Whether I am general secretary of the organisation or not, whether I am the chief minister or not, it is my duty to serve the party. It is up to the party to use me in whatever role it deems fit. Our leader Rahul Gandhi has said the Congress should work with the experienced leader and the energy of youth. I will want to work with full cooperation.

Also Read: How Rahul Gandhi got Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot to reach consensus

At a press conference in Jaipur, before the elections were announced, you targeted a bureaucrat, calling him the de facto chief minister. Will you now act against him?

No one should be vindictive. I think our government will not be vindictive but the law will take its course. The whole bureaucracy knew he was the de facto chief minister. Others should also have spoken about it. People do not speak the truth. Some have vested interests, others have compulsions. Bureaucrats think why anger the chief minister… People do not speak because of compulsions, I gave them a voice.