Lok Sabha polls 2019: ‘Modi will not be the PM again, Rahul being underestimated’
Former deputy chief minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal is busy campaigning for Congress-NCP candidates. Bhujbal, who was behind bars for two years on charges of corruption and money laundering, says the cases against him are based on cooked-up allegations. He says he is prepared to face more trouble, but campaigning hard against the ruling parties. Excerpts from an interview with HT:
Why didn’t you contest the Lok Sabha polls like 2014?
I chose not to because I want to be in my Assembly constituency (Yeola) and pay full attention to the needs of my people there. They need a strong leader. I will contest the upcoming Assembly elections from there again this year.
There are corruption charges against you. Your nephew and you were in prison for some time. Doesn’t this affect people’s sentiment and your popularity?
There is nothing left with me. All my properties are attached. I have nothing to lose, and nothing to be scared of. They may decide to put me behind bars again, for some more cooked-up allegations, and all their nonsense. I am not bothered about them. They are going to trouble me again, but we are prepared to face it. These allegations don’t spoil my nephew’s (NCP candidate Sameer Bhujbal) chances. We have more support from our people now than ever before. They are shamelessly using the Maharashtra Sadan issue against me for five years. How can the government accuse me of ₹850-crore scam? Is it a joke? This is a ₹100-cr project, the work is completed.
The BJP-Sena say there is no alternative to Modi and that your ally, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, can’t be his replacement. What would you say?
Modi will not be the Prime Minister again. That is for sure. Rahul Gandhi is an underestimated leader. He is a very mature and intelligent person. He has handled all issues very well. Modi does not even face the press democratically.
The Other Backward Classes (OBC) are unhappy with Maratha reservation. Will it play a role in the election outcome this time?
Not only the OBC, all minorities – even some Marathas – will vote against the BJP. People are unhappy with the zero-development scenario for five years.
You have the responsibility of Nashik and Dindori Lok Sabha constituencies. In Nashik, there is fierce battle between the Shiv Sena and NCP. You think your party will be able to beat the BJP-Sena combine?
The Shiv Sena has ditched farmers and common man. Uddhav Thackeray had called (state government’s) loan waiver a big scam and people liked it and connected with it because their loans are still not waived. He had even said ‘chowkidar chor hai’ and people liked it. Now, he is siding with the ruling BJP. He, too, has become a chowkidar. During all these times, the Shiv Sena tried to occupy the position of the Opposition party, despite their alliance with the BJP. People believed they were against the BJP, and began to side with Thackeray. Now people see he has lied to them, ditched them. Their sudden U-turn has angered the people. On the national level, there are problems of demonetisation, GST and unemployment, which have upset people. In Nashik, the NCP and Sameer Bhujbal were responsible for a lot of development – infrastructure, roads, airport and passport office. People know that. We lost Nashik in 2014 owing to the Modi wave. During the past five years, the central government and Nashik’s MP did no work at all. During our tenure, Nashik was in the top 16 most developed and upcoming cities in the world.
Does NCP have support on ground? The BJP-Sena did well in the Assembly polls too. There is an impression that their alliance has strengthened their position.
That was Modi wave. Just four-five months after the Lok Sabha polls, Maharashtra went to polls. Now there is a lot of anti-incumbency. People are angry. They know Modi fooled them. After demonetisation, no black money returned to the government. Where is the employment that Modi promised? He had promised two crore jobs a year. Not only that, the government has infringed on the basic fundamental rights of the people – the right to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of judiciary, CBI, RBI, media everything. This is ‘Hitlershahi’. They did no work.
Why did the NCP not support CPI (M) candidate J P Gavit, who led the farmers’ march, in Dindori? There seems to be discontent among farmers, which the Opposition could have tapped into to win the constituency. Instead, the NCP insisted on fielding its candidate.
There is an agrarian crisis. Farmers and tribals are unhappy. There are a lot of problems they face such as water crisis and failed crops. We have seen tremendous support among them as well because they are unhappy with the present government. I am sure the NCP will win in Dindori and Nashik constituencies. Gavit won only by 2,000 votes in the last Assembly election. He may take some NCP votes, but we have a very strong presence in many areas of Dindori constituency. In fact, the assembly segments represented by me (Yeola) and my son Pankaj (Nandgaon) fall under Dindori. Gavit will not get more than 8,000 votes.