Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has dared the opposition to topple his government and said though it is a "three-wheeler" government, he is firmly in control of its steering wheel. Thackeray, who is also president of the Shiv Sena, said his alliance partners - NCP and Congress - are "positive" and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government is benefitting from their experience.
He also took an aim at the Centre's ambitious Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, saying he would rather prefer such a high speed link between the state capital and Nagpur.
"The future of my government is not in the hands of the opposition. The steering is in my hands. A three-wheeler (auto-rickshaw) is a vehicle of poor people. The other two are sitting behind," Thackeray said in the second and last part of his interview published in Shiv Sena mouthpiece 'Saamana' on Sunday, ahead of his 60th birthday on Monday.
"Why wait for September-October as is being speculated. Topple the government right now since you get pleasure in toppling. Some people derive pleasure in constructive work while some are happy in destruction. If you feel happy in destruction, go ahead," he said.
"You say the MVA government is formed against the democratic principles but when you topple it, is it democracy?" the chief minister asked. Notably, his predecessor Devendra Fadnavis earlier compared the ruling MVA, comprising the Shiv Sena and its ideological opponents Congress and NCP, with a three-wheeler, auto-rickshaw, and raised doubts over its stability.
To a question, Thackeray said he hadn't switched sides, but only entered into an alliance. "I did this because the purpose with which I had joined hands earlier turned out to be hollow," he said. Asserting that the party ideology is important, he said, "Show me one leader who has reached the top position in the party which he has defected to. It is all use and throw policy."
Targeting the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, he said, "A three-wheeler is a vehicle of poor people. If I have to choose between a bullet train and an auto-rickshaw,I will chose the auto-rickshaw. If people don't want a bullet train, then it will not happen," he said.
"If my government is a three-wheeler, it is moving in a proper direction, why should you have stomachache?" he said in a veiled attack at the opposition BJP. Thackeray said when he attended the NDA meeting last time, "there were 30 to 35 wheels like a railway train".
The chief minister said he would scrap projects which people feel are unwanted. He said MoUs worth Rs 16,000 crore signed recently are in initial stages and more investments are on the anvil.
"If the state requires a bullet train, I would demand a bullet train to connect Mumbai and Nagpur. I would like a bullet train which connects my state capital and the second capital. The feeling of neglect among people of Vidarbha would be wiped out. Just like the Mumbai Nagpur Samruddhi corridor, I would be happy with a bullet train," he said.
He also said the Congress's grievance of being neglected in the three-party alliance government was resolved after his meeting with the state Congress leaders.
"I have good coordination with (NCP chief) Sharad Pawar. I make a phone call to (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi some times," he said. Thackeray asserted that the tripartite MVA government was functioning well.
"I admit that in the last few months, face-to-face meetings haven't happened. One more minister is coronavirus
positive now after Jitendra Awhad, Ashok Chavan and Dhananjay Munde. All ministers are in touch with each other over phone or through video conferencing," he said.
Thackeray admitted the state's economy is not in good shape, but noted the entire world is facing such a crisis. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked all chief ministers not to announce any waivers or subsidies as populist measures due to which the economy would be further burdened.
In an apparent reference to his criticism over not moving out during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thackeray said discussions and deliberations as well as signing of MoUs were being done by him sitting at home.
Asked about the participation of Chinese firms in investing in the state, he said more than the presence of Chinese firms in the recent MoUs, what is important is whether Chinese investments should remain in the country or not.
"During a video conference meeting with the prime minister, I had requested him to frame a national policy on doing business with China," he said. Thackeray also said his government had kept the MoUs with Chinese firms on hold.
"There should be a policy on whether Chinese companies should be allowed to do business in the country. If tomorrow, the situation improves and the Chinese prime minister is welcomed in India, why should we miss the business opportunities now?" he asked.
The chief minister also rejected criticism that bureaucracy has an upper hand in his government. "The government is the decision-maker and bureaucracy implements the decisions," he added.