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2019 Lok Sabha polls: There’s a strong undercurrent against Modi government, says Ashok Chavan

Ashok Chavan says the Modi government has created an atmosphere of fear; their house is in order; terrorism can’t be related to any religion

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 25, 2019 09:15 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Ashok Chavan

In an interview with Hindustan Times, Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan said the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led coalition will put up a good show in Maharashtra, as there is a strong undercurrent against the Modi government. There is widespread discontent and people will vote the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power, he said. Chavan, however, sought to downplay the issue of indiscipline in the Congress, including rebellion of Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.

Excerpts:

How has the feedback been so far? Is it a tough contest?

I see a strong undercurrent against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments at the Centre and in the state. Their non-performance is a major issue. People have started comparing the performance of the Congress and NDA governments. They have realised there is a vast difference between what the BJP says and what it does. The Congress did whatever it said — foreign investment, waiving farmers’ loans, providing jobs and maintaining a peaceful environment in the country. There was a fearless atmosphere during our tenure. Today, it is full of fear. Academicians, authors, thinkers and minorities fear the government, its agencies and political supporters. Right-wing outfits such as Sanatan Sanstha are getting a free hand to do what they want. Businessmen are under the fear of enforcement directorate and other authorities. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise and Maharashtra tops the list. The government has not tried to resolve the issue of minimum support price yet. Farmers are throwing away their produce, as rates are falling. Unemployment is at an all-time high. This has never happened. Wherever I go, people are telling me that the previous Congress governments were much better than this regime.

You say the situation is bad, but is your party in a position to take political advantage of it? It is in bad shape, with senior leaders deserting it….There is no Opposition unity.

Our house is in order. As long as the Opposition unity is concerned, we have managed well. We always had good relations with the NCP. I headed a coalition government with the NCP. We worked out an alliance amicably. The Congress is contesting 27 seats and the NCP 21. We tried to rope in (Dalit leader) Prakash Ambedkar, but he kept us hanging for five months. We offered him six-eight seats because we did not want division of votes. He decided to contest separately without giving us any reason. We realised the BJP set his agenda – division of our votes. He was closer to the BJP than the Congress. However, other opposition parties—farmers’ leader Raju Shetty’s Swabhimani Paksh, Peasants and Workers Party, Republican Party of India led by Rajendra Gavai, Bahujan Vikas Aghadhi, outfit led by Dalit leader Jogendra Kawade – are with us.

Several of your leaders have quit. Son of a leader like Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, has joined the BJP. Comment

I won’t say things were smooth. Yes, there were some problems, but they were just a couple of cases. Vikhe Patil’s son [Sujay] was trying to contest from Ahmednagar as a Congress candidate. We tried, but the NCP [which has the seat according to the alliance agreement] did not part with it. As it was an alliance, one seat did not matter. We were looking at the big picture. He [Sujay] went to the BJP. We expelled Aurangabad MLA Abdul Sattar, who rebelled against the party. During elections, these things happen. There are a lot of aspirants and everybody can’t get tickets. Once the nominations were filed, these issues settled down. The Congress-NCP led opposition coalition has posed a formidable challenge to the BJP-Sena in Maharashtra.

CM Devendra Fadnavis has called the Congress the B team of NCP. What is your reaction?

Why should we react to him? What is wrong in being on good terms with your alliance partner? Fadnavis should look at their alliance. He is seeking votes for the people who have been criticising Modi and the BJP in bitter tone. We have seen the language used by [Sena chief] Uddhav Thackeray against [BJP chief] Amit Shah. Still, they forged an unholy alliance. The CM is unhappy because the Congress-NCP worked out alliance without any bickering. An alliance can work well if there is a win-win for both the sides. Where is the question of Congress being the B team of the NCP? If we were bickering, these people would have made fun of us.

There is a controversy surrounding the candidature given by the BJP to Malegaon bomb blast case accused Pragya Singh Thakur. Most of the investigation in the case was conducted during the Congress-NCP regime in Maharashtra. How does your party react to this?

How can terrorism be Hindu or Muslim? Terrorism is terrorism. Whoever works against the interests of the nation and its people and whoever is resorting to terror activities can’t be called a Hindu or Muslim terrorist. Pragya Singh Thakur is the main accused in the Malegaon case. The BJP talks about nationalism, patriotism, and on the other hand, fields someone accused of bomb blast and anti-national activities. This is highly objectionable. We want the Election Commission to disqualify her [Thakur] and the BJP to remove her from the party.

The BJP says she is out on bail like Rahul Gandhi. CM Fadnavis has drawn a parallel between the two cases saying crime is a crime..

What sort of crime? The issues are different. Thakur was involved in a bomb blast that killed people. She is involved in an anti-national activity. How can you compare that with the Gandhi case? The BJP is doing it because they just want to put forth an argument. There is no logic to it.

The BJP says they have a strong PM and you don’t have a face. Is Rahul Gandhi your PM candidate?

We are working with like-minded parties in a coalition. We have decided that post election, we will come together and decide our prime minister. The idea is to ensure there is no division of votes and gains for the BJP. Their PM candidate Modi is in a weak position. What he promised earlier and what he is talking about now raise serious questions on his credibility. The whole country is suffering because of his policies. He is now using air strike in Pakistan for political purpose. He is asking for votes in the name of soldiers. The Election Commission asked political parties not to use the defence forces for political purpose, but the PM is doing it on a daily basis and violating the code of conduct.

MNS chief Raj Thackeray is addressing rallies and criticising Modi and the BJP. Are you reconsidering your stand of not allowing him in the UPA?

Raj Thackeray has a strong opinion about Modi. He has been pointing out how the government failed. He has his agenda. He is not supporting us. People in our party, especially the Mumbai unit, had a different opinion, so there is no question of allowing him.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 08:17 IST

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