Minister says the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and other States have broken the pattern of anti-incumbency
Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, in charge of the Madhya Pradesh elections for the BJP, speaks on the polls, anti-incumbency factor, the nature of the welfare state and rebel candidates. Excerpts:
The BJP is facing the challenge of anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh. How does the party plan to counter it?
I wouldn’t term it anti-incumbency. When, for a long time, you give a welfare state, benefits to the people, do good work, expectation levels also increase. It is basic psychology that expectations are from those who perform. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government and other BJP governments in other States have broken this pattern of anti-incumbency. These questions were asked even during Gujarat polls and other States where BJP has been in government, so it’s nothing new. Elections are never smooth sailing. In a democracy, between expectation management and reality, the party that raises the index of the former, wins. In the BJP, we have brought this into our working culture of managing expectations and therefore do not look at anti-incumbency as a negative thing.
People were expecting more sitting MLAs would be dropped, but that didn’t happen. And yet rebel candidates also abound…
In Madhya Pradesh, we find that in the Assembly polls, around 30% of new candidates are chosen, regardless of party, by voters. We have changed ticket based on that calculation.
The shadow of the Mandsaur agitation looms large, with agricultural distress an important rallying point against the government…
The number of pro-farmer initiatives taken by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government is not matched by any other State. If you consider the years 2003 and 2018 as benchmarks, and look at any parameter connected to agriculture, like irrigation, storage, procurement, loan, infrastructure, marketing, production, any other, and compare to any other Congress government in any State, the Shivraj government gets 10/10. As I said earlier, in an aspirational country full of young people, expectations keep rising, and we shall fulfil them. Recently, Prime Minister Modi has taken certain initiatives, after raising minimum support prices, to take up the challenge of marketing agricultural produce. Domestic markets have their own saturation levels as does storage; we are pushing food processing, and to link farmers to markets. We are doing this and we are sure the results will be good.
In the industrial belt outside Indore, there was a demand that petroleum be linked to GST. As the Minister, what is your view?
Under GST, the council is such a unique arrangement in the post-Independence era that any decision has to be ratified by two-thirds of the council to be operational. Petroleum products are there in GST, in principle, but is yet to be implemented. It has only been a year of GST; States had their own apprehensions about how it would work out, how it would affect inflation, etc. The council was a little conservative therefore, in these matters, to begin with. Now, the way the GST is taking off, I feel that the day is not far when all products will come under GST.
What do you make of the Congress’s distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism?
For the BJP, Hindutva and Hinduism cannot be an electoral plank. Yours and my lifestyle cannot be an electoral issue. Congress party has, with its limited understanding post-Independence, created a prison for themselves. They are a victim of their own political prison, and they want to now break out of that, it is entirely the Congress’s issue, we have nothing to do with it. When they emulate the BJP and apply short cuts, they get caught. What was Kamal Nathji’s statement that day? Nipat lenge. Is that what their Hinduism is?
He [Kamal Nath] was talking of politically dealing with the BJP and RSS after the polls…
What is the Congress’s issue with the RSS? It proves that development is not their issue. From 1993 to 2003, it was a Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, but you [Congress] do not have the guts to put a picture of Diggy Raja [former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh] on your campaign posters. That is the state of governance that you had left behind.
The government led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has focussed on its welfare policies, even giving grants for the last rites of deceased persons. Do you agree with that degree of welfarism?
It is the role of the state. A State which has been BIMARU needs to be empowered via welfare benefits. In his [Shivraj Singh Chouhan] policies and the BJP’s governance model, welfare is more than just dole, it is to empower the bottom of the pyramid. Do you know, in our society, how much indebtedness a poor person incurs just to perform the last rites of a dead relative, so if the state helps to avoid a debt trap for that person and from slipping below subsistence level, what is wrong?
This welfarism via empowerment has its own narrative and credibility.
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