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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Lok Sabha Elections 2019 | ‘Prakash Ambedkar sold out to BJP’: Prithviraj Chavan

Senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan says that after the minimum income guarantee, the momentum has shifted to the Congress.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 02, 2019 14:33 IST
Team HT 
Team HT 
Hindustan Times, Pune
Former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan in HT Pune office, Monday, April 1, 2019.
Former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan in HT Pune office, Monday, April 1, 2019. (Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
         

Former chief minister and senior Congressman Prithviraj Chavan visited the HT offices and interacted with team HT. Following are the edited excerpts of his interaction.

Congress-NCP alliance will be fighting all 10 seats in the western Maharashtra. What is your assessment of the situation?

Congress party is contesting elections in only two western Maharashtra seats. As far as Solapur is concerned, it will certainly witness a triangular fight between BJP, Congress and Prakash Ambedkar. In Pune, there has already been a lot of delay, which is a cause of concern. Sangli we have to Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana

However, we are assured that his (Ambedkar’s) aura will be exposed and he will be defeated. Prakash Ambedkar is a BJP agent and we will expose him in this election. While Dalits might vote for Ambedkar in a marginal way, Muslims will certainly not support his candidature. As far as the Sangli Lok Sabha seat is concerned, the only difficulty for us is to convince party workers to vote for another symbol, as our candidate will not be contesting from there.

There is a perception that Congress has lost momentum in Maharashtra.

That was indeed the perception as we couldn’t cobble up a grand alliance in the state. We were in touch with Prakash Ambedkar, who turned out to be with BJP. In my view he sold out to the BJP, they must have paid him hugely.

You were engaged in talking to Ambedkar who was in the forefront of Koregaon Bhima as well. Did you not realise at any point that he was dilly-dallying?

Prakash Ambedkar was sold out to BJP from day one. I was convinced. I used to tell them that he is an agent of BJP. But we could not say that openly - it will hurt Dalits. We used to say take two seats, four seats, six seats and so on, while being absolutely sure that he was not going to come on-board because he had made financial deals. He knows he will not become prime minister of this country. He just wants to exploit that name and emerge as a pan-India leader and push Mayawati out. Effectively, in Maharashtra, he has pushed all the Dalit leaders out. His prime objective is to remain as a prime leader of the Dalits and the Vanchit (Bauhujan Aghadi) and remain relevant. If he gets elected, he will have bigger platforms and if he does not get it, so be it. He will have financial muscle to continue for the next time.

You said Muslims will not vote for Prakash Ambedkar, but MIM has made deep inroads in Solapur. Muslims have gone away from the Congress in the recent past.

Not only Solapur, anywhere, the question is clear - Prakash Ambedkar’s party and MIM have only been fielded to divide the opposition, the anti-BJP vote. Our strategy was to field one candidate against one to prevent division of votes. If there is an NDA candidate, we must field only one candidate to avoid division of votes. I don’t think Muslims will vote for Ambedkar because of a simple calculation. Will my vote for Ambedkar increase BJP chances, is the simple question we will ask during the campaign.

The third generation of the Congress party is joining the BJP. How are you dealing with this?

Typical to western Maharashtra’s sugar belt. The sugar economy has created educational institutions, dairies and banks and the whole infrastructure. As a result of this, western Maharashtra leaders have become financially so powerful that they have come to a point where they do not need the party. Take for example Sujay Vikhe-Patil who thinks: “I’m going to contest anyway, party I’ll announce later”.

Will you support Vishal Patil, Vasantdada Patil’s grandson, in Sangli?

The whole point is we decided to keep Raju Shetti on our side by sharing the Sangli seat. He is willing to come on our side and he is going to abuse BJP. If he had actually contested 10-12 seats as he threatened in the past, our anti-BJP front would have weakened. So we gave him Hatkanangle and Sangli.

What are the reasons for the waning momentum in the Hindi heartland? How many seats do you predict winning?

The momentum was certainly there which resulted in the idea of a grand alliance on a national level under the leadership of Congress. However, soon we realised that it would be premature to claim this kind of position and hence, we pulled out of the race for leadership and ensured alliance on a state level with all the non-NDA political fronts. While the momentum appeared to be fading after the air strikes, we have neutralised the situation by announcing the minimum income guarantee scheme for citizens of this country. With this announcement we are back in the game. I can make two predictions clearly: Narendra Modi will not be Prime Minster. And of the 273 seats in the Hindi heartland, BJP alone got 223 (in 2014). This time, in this very Hindi heartland, they will lose 100 seats, which may force BJP to settle on either Nitin Gadkari or Rajnath Singh, to keep allies on their side.

What does the Congress party have to offer to youth ?

There is no magic bullet for job creation. Larger creation of jobs will only happen if the government ensures a growth rate of around 10 per cent. UPA in the past has achieved it. We are a developing state and cannot afford to go down to six-seven per cent growth rate which is the current scenario. We will avoid the wrong policies that are implemented by the current government. Ensuring 20 lakh jobs as promised by Rahul Gandhi which is a realistic figure will be our priority.

Are you not repeating the ‘jumla’ of promising money to the people?

After the minimum income guarantee, the momentum has shifted to us. Nobody took the Rs 15 lakh promise seriously simply because a simple back of the envelop calculation will show that it is impossible. The idea of universal basic income has been floating in global anti-poverty economic circles. Finland has tried it, California, has tried it. We have modified the universal basic income to this minimum basic income. Everything about its working will be out soon. The idea is very simple, basic arithmetic tells us that 20 per cent people in our country have an average income of Rs 6,000 per month. If you give another Rs 6,000 to that person, he will have an income of Rs 12,000, which will take him above the poverty line. Therefore, what we’re promising is Rs 6,000, flat, every month to 5 crore families. Therefore, the requirement of Rs 3.6 lakh crore every month, which is 1.8 per cent of the GDP, is clear. Now, how do you find these 20 per cent families. There are sive-six parameters to determine this five crore number. Identifying these families is going to be difficult but not impossible.

Do you see a change in Rahul Gandhi?

Definitely. Two things, in the first 10 years having experience from England, America, he found various faults in our democracy in terms of lack of common man’s representation and dynasty politics. So he focused his earlier time in building Youth Congress where anybody can come in. One major flaw was, nobody tested their ideological commitment to the party; like the Communist party where people do not enter for power. With dynasty politics, with whatever its faults, families are usually committed to ideology.