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Ouster talk work of rumour-mongers, says Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel

In an interview to Hiral Dave, the 74-year-old BJP leader says her equation with Shah has always been labelled as strained and it was the police violence against Patidar protesters that cost BJP the panchayat elections last year.

india Updated: May 30, 2016 17:56 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times
Anandiben Patel,Narendra Modi,BJP govt
In this file photo, Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel can be seen at a function at Sabarmati riverfront.(PTI)

She completed two years in office last week with rumours of her imminent ouster continuing to swirl. But, Gujarat’s first woman chief minister Anandiben Patel says all the talk is just speculation. She will believe it if it comes directly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi or BJP president Amit Shah.

In an interview to HT’s Hiral Dave, the 74-year-old BJP leader says her equation with Shah has always been labelled as strained and it was the police violence against Patidar protesters that cost BJP the panchayat elections last year.

Edited excerpts:

How would you evaluate your two-year tenure?

Three months before I assumed office, all government work was at a standstill, as the code of conduct -- for 2014 Lok Sabha elections -- was in place. The first challenge was to get things back on track. To clear the backlog, we introduced Gatisheel Gujarat for time-bound implementation of government schemes. In the three phases -- each had around 100 tasks for various departments -- we have had so far, we have accelerated the implementation of projects. For example, 5,000 of the total 13,000 villages have toilets. Of all the toilets built across India under Swachhata Mission, Gujarat’s share is 70%. Along with education, infrastructure and industry, special attention has been paid to women and child healthcare that includes free cervical and breast cancer tests and treatments. Mukhya Mantri Swalamban Yojana has been introduced to sponsor economically backward students while women have been given 33% reservation in government jobs.

How difficult was it to step into Narendra Modi’s shoes?

With Modi at the Centre, it has been rather easy for me. I didn’t face the hurdles that he did. Like, for seven years, the UPA didn’t allow gates to be installed at Sardar Sarovar Dam to supply Narmada water to parched areas. He gave the nod within 17 days of taking over as the PM. Lots of land and funds have been cleared by the Centre for the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro rail project. But it’s not only Gujarat, other states, too, have benefited under the NDA rule.

Reports are doing the rounds that you could be named governor of Punjab or some other state. Are they true?

Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi say so? Did party president Amit Shah announce this? Or, for that matter, did my state BJP president (Vijay Rupani) mention any such thing? I will not believe them till they say so. These are mere rumours.

Why these rumours? Are these the handiwork of your party members?

This is definitely the work of rumour-mongers but I do not know where these are coming from.

There is a lot of talk that your equation with Shah is strained and it has divided the Gujarat BJP into two groups.

This is being said from the very beginning but there are no groups or division in the party.

Are you going to seek a second term as CM?

I’m focused on serving the state. The 2017 assembly election is far away.

You had ruled out OBC status for your own Patidar community after they launched an agitation in August. You remained firm until a fortnight before 10% EBC (economically backward class) reservation was announced in April. Though it is the government’s job to allot and implement any new quota in the state, why was the announcement made by the state party president?

What is the problem if the party makes the announcement? I was present when the announcement was made. Though it is for the government to implement (the decision) but it was a policy decision. A kind of policy that will have far-reaching impact that is why the party chose to take the matter in its own hand.

It was on your watch that the BJP -- for the first time in three decades -- lost the countryside to the Congress in the last year’s panchayat elections. What led to the defeat?

Patidar agitation was the reason, but not their core demand for reservation. They (Patels) were angry with one thing: ‘police beat us, police beat us’. (Nine youth were killed and several injured in clashes with police).

Were police at fault? Patidars have been demanding stern action against the personnel responsible for the clashes.

Even we didn’t have much choice. What can police do when there is a mob on the rampage?

In the backdrop of debacle in the panchayat and municipal elections, how are you preparing for the 2017 assembly poll?

After I was sworn in, we won 33 of the 38 local bodies and also retained all the seven municipal corporations that went to polls in 2015 and 2016. The BJP believes in working with the people and for the people. Through programmes like Lok Samwand Setu (communication link) and online Swagat Grievances, the government has established a link with the people and that has been the key to BJP’s success.

Patels are the backbone of BJP’s vote bank. Did BJP underestimate the scale of the agitation when it started?

There was no other way to handle it. Patidar elders knew and accepted the fact that granting OBC status was beyond the powers of the government and they should approach the commission (for backward classes). It was the youth who continued the agitation.

So, Patidar youth and elders were not on the same page?

The community elders are still trying to make the youth understand the situation.

Patidar protest leader Hardik Patel has been in jail for seven months facing sedition charge. His three close aides were given bail last month. Why is the government taking a different stand on Hardik by continuing to object to his bail applications?

We have not been opposing the pleas. Whether bail is granted or not depends on their (defence) arguments and the court.

The Punjab and Haryana high court has stayed reservation granted to the Jat community by the Haryana government. Do you think you will be able to sustain the 10% EBC quota in Gujarat, where 50% reservation limit has already been reached?

We brought the EBC quota after a thorough research. We are prepared for any legal arguments, if such a situation arises. Our motto is Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas. The announcement made on May 1 (Gujarat foundation day) will open up doors for EBC students in higher education and government jobs without disturbing reservation benefits available to SC, ST and OBC students.

Read: Why Patels, including Anandiben, are unhappy over Gujarat’s 10% quota

Read: Anandiben Patel rubbishes reports of her exit as Gujarat CM

Read: Big changes ahead? Anandiben Patel’s position as Gujarat CM in peril

First Published: May 30, 2016 17:56 IST