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Harish Rawat, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, is fighting a lone battle as he takes on an aggressive BJP in the upcoming assembly elections. He spoke to Editor-in-Chief, India Legal, Inderjit Badhwar on APN News’ Face2Face show. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. So many leaders have been changing their political affiliations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah used to talk of “Congress-mukt Bharat” but in reality it seems that the BJP is becoming Congress-yukt. Your comments.

A. BJP has become “Congress dal-badloo yukt”. It used to claim as a “party with difference” which is now being witnessed by the people in many ways. It seems that “the difference” is projecting the BJP’s worst face. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked his party leaders not to adopt “vanshvad” in ticket distribution. Perhaps he wanted to caution Rajnath Singh (Home Minister) not to ask a ticket for his son…

But it was surprising to see that within one week, the BJP announced its candidates’ list for Uttarakhand. The list had names of more than half a dozen leaders who had recently left the Congress and joined BJP; they were allotted party tickets based on “parivarvad”.

Not only that, a father and his son were given tickets within four hours of joining the BJP. Yashpal Arya and his son were given tickets. ND Tiwari took his son to them to ask for a ticket. Tiwariji has recently denied about joining BJP. We don’t know what the fact is.

Q. Uttarakhand was being targeted and at one stage the judiciary had seen it as violation of Article 356. What you had said at that time proved correct. Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes here personally and other BJP leaders focus on Uttarakhand. Why has the 70-member assembly become so important for them?

A. I am a small chief minister of a small state and a person from poor background. I am surprised why a “strong” prime minister is doing all that. Nothing can happen without his consent.

First, he staged mass political defections and then implemented President’s rule based on a sting operation. And you know that if President’s rule is implemented based on a sting operation, no state government will be able to function more than a month. The high court and the Supreme Court did not find any justification in the President’s rule. It was for the first time in India that a suspended chief minister was restored to his position.

Now, I am not surprised because there is no non-BJP ruled state where the CBI is not conducting an investigation. The CBI has been asked to probe chief ministers of all the non-BJP ruled states while it has not yet completed investigation in the Vyapam scam in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. The Pearl Group scam of Raipur in Chhattisgarh is also yet to be investigated. Investigations against other BJP chief ministers have not been initiated.

But the CBI has been working full force in non-BJP ruled states and I am one such CM. In Uttarakhand, there are no important BJP faces—neither a chief ministerial candidate nor any ministers…

Q. There are former Congress leaders who have defected to join BJP and have become its face. Is this the irony of the time?
A. Of course, as I was saying before that they used to claim to be a “party with difference”. Now they are taking inference from the dal-badloo (turncoats). When Uttarakhand was hit by the worst tragedy of flash floods, none of them looked at this state. Nobody came forward with support or sympathy. But after the elections were declared, they have been roaming around with all “available weapons” in their hands.

Q. You have rightly said that there is no BJP face in Uttarakhand. Then is your fight directly with Narendra Modi?
A. How can I fight with the prime Minister? His position is so powerful.

Q. Then, why is he climbing down to fight with you?
A. I don’t understand. I don’t find myself equal in front of him. I am a very small person. But in a democracy there is no other option but to contest elections. I will contest elections against anyone, either Modiji or anybody. We will contest elections with due respect. The prime minister is the guardian figure for all states. But the latest developments in the state have not given impetus to anybody’s stature except that of the PM.

Q. We are receiving information that some disgruntled leaders from the BJP are trying to get Congress tickets. Is this true?
A. Yes, we have the information. Wherever we find that it suits our election strategy, we will definitely consider giving tickets (to them). There are some good people with them. I felt pained when certain people were turned down (by BJP). They have not even given a ticket to their former state president, who is a thorough gentleman. He is young and has a long future.

I am sure that in this election, 12-14 dal-badloos (turncoats) will be rejected by the people. Because if they win elections, then Uttarakhand will fail. I have full hope that these people will lose elections.

Q. Some pre-poll surveys have recently indicated that the BJP will win 38 seats, but a most recent poll survey has indicated that your party (Congress) will win 41 or 42 seats. What is your assessment?
A. I hope that in this election people will vote for political stability and appreciate the initiatives taken by our government. My government has taken several unique initiatives to fulfill the demands which were being discussed while running the campaign for a separate state. The focal point of those was to restore “Uttarakhandiat”. Some of the demands have been fulfilled, while others will need more time. I hope that people will vote us to see these accomplished and give us a comfortable majority. Because the helplessness I have gone through while running a coalition government was very painful.

Today, we are providing 24-hour electricity supply to our people and Uttarakhand is one of the six fastest progressing states of the country. I am satisfied that we are on the growth path. We have performed well in all economic parameters, succeeded in initiatives for “Uttarakhandiat”, protected our fauna, craft, culture, food, traditional crops, etc.

Q. You have explained the social and economic initiatives taken by your government. But don’t you think this was not projected properly?
A. I have spent enough time in restoring Kedarnath after the unprecedented flood tragedy. I need more time to develop Kedarnath as the only religious place at the highest location in the world.

Tragedies have struck me—first a natural tragedy, then a political tragedy and now I am facing a surgical strike of defections in the party. As a result, I could not project my government’s success at all. I was not doing big things but I was only trying to serve the villagers and the poor.

I would like to mention two major steps here. At the time of my elevation as chief minister, some 1,74,000 people were receiving Rs 200 each as handicap, old-age and widow pensions. Now within two years, this pension has increased to Rs 1,000 per person. Uttarakhand is the highest in pension paying state in India.

As far as women’s empowerment is concerned, our government supports mothers’ right from the time they deliver a female child. The model of women empowerment we have developed, will be, I am sure, copied by other states as well. We have successfully established Indrama canteens that provide traditional food to women.

Q. What is the impact of demonetisation?
A. If demonetisation was aimed to eradicate black money there would have been visible positive results in the society. How much black money has been brought back from foreign lands in the last two and a half years? Which big black money hoarder has been arrested? In fact, this was a surgical strike against the common man.

The demonetisation surgical strike has hit the common man and spared the capitalist. Dr Manmohan Singh has very rightly said that it will reduce the rate of progress. Our small state has already lost over Rs 1,000 crores in tax collection. The impact is very visible.

The tourists who used to come here in winter season are cancelling their bookings. Very few tourists came on the New Year eve. Tax collections and VAT recoveries have decreased substantially.

Now, we wish the prime minister realises the ground situation and takes bold corrective measures. That is why we are raising our voice. The difficulty is that if you raise your voice, the BJP people issue “fatwa” that such people were black money hoarders and not patriots.

Q. Yes, some feel that they are participating in “Satyagraha” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They consider that they will succeed in eradicating black money as Mahatma Gandhi succeeded in removing British rule by following “Satyagraha”.
A. For this reason, they have started removing Mahatma Gandhi’s picture from Khadi and currency notes. There is only one Satyagrahi who successfully removed British rule from the country. Now you want to eradicate black money, perhaps, for this reason they might even remove Mahatma Gandhi’s picture from currency notes. You (the government) call it to be an economic measure and we consider this as a political measure.

You chose to do it in the election season as you had no other achievements to claim. People had started questioning the government on many fronts. Where is (the promised) Rs 15 lakh in each person’s bank account? What happened to the creation of two crore jobs? Why achche din for farmers have not come? Where are your start-ups?… Kindly tell us how much black money has been brought back from foreign lands.

If 90 percent of black wealth is out of the country, then was this “surgical strike” against just 10 percent black wealth? And that 10 percent ‘black wealth’ was yours, mine and in the common man’s pocket. What has happened to the big black money hoarders? When will that money return?… They say that black money is invested in buying land. Has any recovery been done? They claim that it will eliminate terrorism. But the number of deaths in Kashmir is only growing since demonetisation…

Q. If you contest and succeed in winning the election this time, you will probably emerge as a giant-killer. Have you ever thought about this?
A. No, no, I am quite contended as soldier of democracy and a servant of Uttarakhand. I am happy with this status.

For the full interview, see the video below:

Lead Picture: Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat on APN News Face2Face show

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