Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is confident that the Congress government will be re-elected on December 3. The CM spoke to Aditi Tandon in Raipur about Congress prospects, BJP’s accusations of corruption against his government and the challenge of balancing fiscal responsibility with freebie politics. Excerpts:
Is your ‘Is baar 75 paar’ slogan realistic?
We already have 71 MLAs out of 90 and are expecting at least 75 seats based on our performance. We are not saying anything unusual.
ED, I-T Dept have raided 300 places in Chhattisgarh, the maximum in any state; the more they target me, the stronger I will become. They have harassed people who have nothing to do with any wrongdoing.
Do you sense any anti-incumbency?
None, we have always stood by the people of Chhattisgarh, by farmers, labourers, tribals, women and youth. We never closed our eyes to their problems. We are getting the benefit of that.
What are your main poll planks?
Improvement of the economic condition of the people and celebration of Chhattisgarh culture. We have already made five announcements — caste census, 17.5 lakh houses for the poor, procurement of 20 quintals paddy per acre as against 15 right now, farm loan waiver and free KG to PG education in government institutions. Our manifesto will be more detailed.
The BJP says a caretaker CM can’t announce a farm loan waiver.
We have only made a promise and will implement it if re-elected. We waived Rs 9,500 crore loans of 19 lakh farmers earlier. The BJP is scared because prior to the loan waiver announcement, Congress candidates were contesting elections. After the announcement, people are contesting elections against the BJP.
What about ED raids, graft charge against your government?
Central agencies are unnecessarily harassing people. ED and IT have so far conducted raids at 300 places in Chhattisgarh, the maximum in any state. They have harassed people who have nothing to do with wrongdoing. When you raid a house without getting any evidence, it affects people in the neighbourhood. They are unnecessarily harassing people, businessmen and officials.
What about your friction with Deputy CM TS Singh Deo?
There is none. There were some earlier, but not any longer. Now everyone is working together.
Do you foresee trouble for your CM-ship claim if the Congress is victorious?
There is no question of a claim. I will discharge whatever responsibility the party gives me.
The BJP is accusing the Congress of dividing Hindus through caste census. Your take?
BJP fears it will lose ground if caste census comes. Several castes have lagged behind on development. The head of the government, like the head of the family, has to take everyone along. Many castes within upper classes are economically weak. Shouldn’t there be a policy for them? For the sake of holistic development, we need data. When BJP says, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, why can’t they take everyone along?
The Congress hasn’t named you its CM candidate, why?
The party has entrusted many responsibilities to me. I was first made state unit chief, then a chief minister. Now the party said we have to contest elections under your leadership, so we are contesting. When the right time comes, the high command will take the relevant decision. This question is for the high command, not for me. I am only carrying out instructions.
Chhattisgarh has high outstanding loans. How do you propose to balance financial liability with lofty poll promises?
As per RBI guidelines, the interest on loans should not exceed 10 per cent. In Chhattisgarh, it is only 6 per cent. Of the total GDP, loans should not exceed 25 per cent. We are at 16 per cent of loans against our GDP. As per the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, Chhattisgarh is at 3 per cent despite Covid challenges. So we are far below the mandated thresholds. The Centre, meanwhile, is at 7 per cent under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. This means we are not just taking loans, but also improving the state's income. Chhattisgarh alone buys minor forest produce of Rs 388 crore, which is 74 per cent of the country’s, as against Rs 15 crore in Madhya Pradesh and Rs 11.88 crore in Gujarat.
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