Prithviraj Chavan
Prithviraj Chavan
BL Soni

In an interview with Pramod Chunchuwar, the Political Editor of the ‘Free Press Journal’, Prithviraj Chavan expressed unhappiness over Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s statement supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Population Register. The former chief minister, who had played a key role in stitching together the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance, has asked the CM to avoid such public statements. He also made it clear that the Congress is opposed to CAA and NPR and stated the need to repeal CAA

Edited excerpts:

The CAA is a very complex issue. Thackeray should first understand this and avoid supporting the NPR and CAA publicly,” the former CM said, at Free Press House on Friday.

In the last five years, there have been systematic attempts to sell off the most lucrative industries to foreign countries. Why is the Congress is silent on this?

Investments have completely dried up. The ratio of Investment to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has fallen. In our time, this ratio had gone down to 37 per cent and now, it is down to 30 per cent. We also disinvested but with strategy. We disinvested from those sectors which cannot compete in the new age.

But they are doing this without thinking and strategy. They are confused about whether to partly sell or totally disinvest. It is not clear who is running the show. Though Budget preparation is the job of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held pre-budget meetings. This has never happened.

Because of this deep confusion, the GDP has dropped to 4.5 per cent. Congress has not been able to articulate this fact before the people. The PM's personality is so that he is not a person who consults. He does not want ideas from anyone.

What are your views on the current economic situation?

I find the current economic status of the country worrying. The World Bank classifies the performance of countries based upon their per capita income. India’s per capita income, based on the figures of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the UN, is at least US$2,000. China’s per capita income is US $10,300, five times more than India’s.

The per capita income of the US is US $63,000 and that of Singapore, US $64,000. Generally, per capita income roughly translates to standard of living. Now, the question is: How will we increase our per capita income? If our GDP grows at nine per cent on a sustained basis, year after year, then in seven to eight years, it will double.

We are now at 4.5 per cent, which means, to double the per capita income from US $2,000 to US $4,000, we will have to wait for the next 15-16 years at least.

Growth at 4.5 per cent is criminal, that is the entire problem of the central government. During the UPA rule, we grew at more than 10 per cent, for at least two years. China has been growing at 10 per cent on a sustained basis for at least 20 years.

What did you learn from the New Delhi assembly results?

New Delhi is a far more metropolitan state than any other. The Delhi government is left with few subjects. Of late, Arvind Kejriwal had realised there was no point in fighting with the Centre for full control, as every national capital region has these unique issues due to national security. He focused on health and education and did an outstanding job.

His decision to offer free transport to women was very important. Somebody has calculated that poor families get almost Rs3 lakh in subsidies. Even the domestic help wants to send her child to a good English medium school.

Kejriwal, instead of doling out subsidies, utilised the funds to develop the quality of education and health services. But these cannot be replicated as they stand, in other states.

Will you contest the BMC election as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi?

There is plenty of time for the election and the decision will be taken then. But I personally feel the MVA parties should contest together. I will try to make sure we do that.

Will the MVA survive amidst this NPR controversy? The Sena is supporting the NPR, the Congress opposes it and the NCP is suggesting the middle way on this issue?

I do not think there is any problem with regard to the survival of the government. The glue of power will bind us together. The Congress and the NCP have been out of power for five years. The Shiv Sena was partly in power. Nobody wants to give up power easily. But we also cannot compromise on our ideological stands.

There is some serious difference of understanding between Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on this issue and they are speaking in different languages. I read the interview of Uddhav Thackeray in ‘Saamna’, where he said he was not against the CAA but against the NRC.

We are against the CAA. Somebody should talk to Uddhav on this issue. We should tell him that this is a complex issue and he should not support this publicly. Whenever I get a chance to meet him, I will tell him that this is not on.

Why are you opposed to the NPR though it was your UPA government which implemented it in the past?

The CAA 2019 is problematic. We are demanding its repeal. The NPR and NRC came into existence after 2003 CAA was passed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The NPR came into existence through the rules of the 2003 CAA. The NPR is a register of residents, not citizens. Anybody who has lived in this country for a certain period will be mentioned in this list. The UN has already defined the word 'resident'.

The NPR can only be done in a leap year, from the cost point of view. In 2010, we did it along it with the census. The intention of our government was not to isolate Muslims. The real mischief is CAA 2019. We have eight neighbouring countries but only three countries were included in the CAA.

Why did they leave out the Tamils from Sri Lanka, the Hindu and Muslim Rohingyas, persecuted Christians in Bhutan? The whole thing is selective, to divide the country along Hindu-Muslim lines. Even BJP leaders are not comfortable with this polarisation.

Muslims have now joined the mainstream, taking the tricolour in hand. Women have come out on the streets. Dalits realise that tomorrow, they may be targeted. The feeling of being under threat is in the minds of everybody.

The fallout of this controversy is that Modi has lost his international credibility, due to the CAA and Article 370. Amit Shah does not care for international credibility but Modi does. He is trying to regain it but there is no chance of recovery on this front for him.

What is the status of the Congress leadership at the national level? There is a demand for election to the Congress president post.

Rahul Gandhi has withdrawn himself from the party leadership. It is being said he may return. But nobody knows this. If he is not willing to come, how can the vacuum be filled? I am not against the election of the Congress president. Anybody who wants to become the president, can contest the election.

Let Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi or anyone else who want to be Congress chief contest. Even if they nominate the president, they should at least elect the Congress Working Committee (CWC). As in the past and as per the party constitution, the CWC should be formed based on the election.

PV Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesari too held elections for the CWC. But when Sonia Gandhi become the president, leaders close to her advised her not to hold elections to save their posts. I may not be popular among the party leadership in Delhi, but the elections for the CWC should be held. But we cannot say, only younger people can participate.

Older leaders have their own strength of experience and networking. Can anybody replicate Sharad Pawar’s networking skills in India? We can have a mix of youth and senior leaders, as was also done by Indira Gandhi.

The CWC did not do serious introspection after the 2014 Lok Sabha results. Even after the 2019 Lok Sabha election, no honest introspection was done by it.

How did you convince Sonia Gandhi to form the govt with the Shiv Sena?

I have been targeted for my statement in the past too. I had been offered government formation with the Sena, in 2014. It is a fact. I do not want to betray the trust of those involved in such discussions.

There was a problem in the BJP-Sena alliance because of the NCP's Praful Patel saying they were open to the idea of supporting the BJP and the Sena was forced to sit in the opposition.

During those days a former CM came to me and tried to convince to form a government with the Sena and the NCP. The Sena had 62 seats, the Congress 42 and the NCP 41, sufficient to prove majority. As a defeated CM, I was not convinced. How could I go to Sonia Gandhi to request supporting the Sena?

Fadnavis created a mess in the state. Not a single infrastructure project was completed. The way they destroyed the Congress and the NCP -- 39 sitting MPs and MLAs of the Congress and the NCP were broken away. They used blackmail, coercion and all possible pressure tactics to break our parties.

Had Fadnavis regained power, there would have been no Congress left in the state. BJP does not want any Oppn party. I explained these issues to Soniaji.

I consulted with the Muslim leadership. Even Gandhi consulted minority leaders. Our enemy No. 1 is the BJP. We have to choose the lesser evil.

When will the coordination committee be set up?

The CM and most of his team have no experience. Good intentions alone will not help. It was decided to set up a political coordination committee for the alliance. But those in the government seem to be delaying the process, as they consider the cabinet as a coordination committee.

What is your reaction to the urban Naxal issue?

I do not agree with this term. In Left ideology, there is one stream which believes in the democratic process and another that believes in violence. The state government should counter the Naxal movement, which is violent.

But those who are not indulging in any violent activity and are supporters of the Left ideology are being branded as urban Naxals by police.

When I was CM, I too was briefed about this. But I think they have their own political ideology, which should be fought politically.

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