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Political Arithmetic Dictates BJP-Shiv Sena Alliance, Let Them Ask for CM Post: Devendra Fadnavis

Speaking to News18, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis put rumours of a rift between the allies to rest and said while Shiv Sena attacks the government in public, the functioning of their coalition government in Maharashtra has been smooth.

Vinaya Deshpande | CNN-News18

Updated:November 3, 2018, 6:42 PM IST

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has expressed confidence in his party’s alliance with the Shiv Sena, saying that both parties realise the political reality that votes will get split if they contest elections separately.

Speaking to News18, he put rumours of a rift between the allies to rest and said while Shiv Sena attacks the government in public, the functioning of their coalition government in Maharashtra has been smooth. “All the decisions which we have taken in the government are unanimous,” he said.

He added that the BJP would continue the seat-sharing arrangement with the Sena in Lok Sabha. “We will sit and decide about the state level. We will sit and find a solution. Let them ask for a chief ministerial position, we will decide,” he said.

In the wide-ranging conversation, Fadnavis also spoke about the controversy around the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, saying it was not an election issue. When asked if the BJP will bring an ordinance to build the Ram Temple, he candidly said the party did not have the numbers in Rajya Sabha to do so.

He also defended the BJP stand on the Sabarimala row, and said the party as well as the RSS are progressive organisations and have propagated equal rights for women. But he added in the same breath that people’s sentiments need to be respected in the issue of allowing women inside Sabarimala.

Here is the full interview:

VD: Looking back at your tenure, how do you honestly assess your term, both in terms of successes and failures?

DF: I think it has been a tremendous journey. In fact, when I took over, being a minority type of government, people always felt that I may not complete my term. There were lot of speculations that this government will last for a year or at the most two years. But we have been very steady in our governance and if I look back at the last four years, it has been a tremendous journey.

I can claim today that I have put Maharashtra again on the growth trajectory. Maharashtra always had a history of being on the growth path but in the last 15 years of Congress and NCP governance, it lost most of the prime spots in industry, in agriculture, in health services, in education. I won't claim that I could do everything, but I can claim that now it is back on path. Of the entire FDI that came to India in the last three years, we have been able to get 49 per cent. Recently in Lok Sabha, the central government gave figures about start-up and Maharashtra has emerged as the start-up capital. Even the Deutsche Bank report says that Maharashtra accounts for 51% of the big ticket projects in infrastructure. We are building around 15,000 kms of national highways, 10,000 kms of state highway, 30,000 kms under the Mukhyamantri Gram Sadak Yojana.

We have been able to complete the construction of 5,30,000 houses and we are building 6 lakh more. We have been able to make Maharashtra open defecation-free. In the agriculture sector also, we undertook several innovations to facilitate water conservation. Today, we have made 16,500 villages drought-proof. So, I think, tremendous work had gone in the last four years.

VD: You talked particularly about your flagship programs, the first one being the Jalayukta Shivar Yojana. You talked of making villages drought-proof. The usage of tankers has increased as compared to the last year. Also, the opposition has punched holes into your theory that Jalayukta Shivar has increased groundwater levels. There is a now government report, which says the groundwater levels have gone down. How do you respond to this?

DF: First of all, one must first understand what this scheme is about. It is about water conservation. It is not about creating water from the ground. It is about capturing the rainwater, and through rainwater harvesting structures, by treating watersheds, creating water sustainability, and also conserving the water.

I will give you one figure. In 2013-14, the average rainfall in Maharashtra was 124%. And our productivity was 137 lakh metric tonnes. Last year, our rainfall was 84%, 40% less, and the productivity went up and it was 180 lakh metric tonnes. From where did this productivity come? It is because of these water conservation structures. There has been water depletion this year. If you look at a report of a committee, which submitted its report in the High Court in one of the PILs last year, about assessment of water in the last four years, the committee has said, the level of water has gone up by 4 metres. But this year, yes, it has gone down. Why? Because last year rainfall was 84% and this year we had only 77% of average rains. Despite that, we have the net sowing area equal to what it was last year. It is absolutely evident that people have drawn more water from the ground, and this year, the agriculture power drawn has gone up by 27%. Since there is no water from rainfall, so people have been drawing water from ground and that is the reason for depleted water tables. But due to our structures, we will be able to conserve water when it rains next year.

VD: But now the number of tankers has doubled. And there is scarcity of drinking water in Vidarbha, Marathwada.

DF: This is going to happen. I cannot fight with nature. Though in some parts of the world, people are talking of artificial rain, I don't have that technology. I am dependent on natural rain and if the natural rainfall is at 50 per cent, or in a district like Solapur, 37%, can you imagine what is going to happen? But, because of these structures which we have created, we have been able to sustain through this drought-situation as well.

VD: The second criticism levelled against you is that about job creation. Critics say, farmers' children, who are well-educated, have no jobs in the villages. They allege that when you ask the government, it only throws numbers, but on ground, there are the jobs.

DF: First, let us talk about NREGA. In their (Congress and NCP’s) five-year tenure, the average was 504 lakh man days. In our times, the average is 908 lakh man days. It has doubled. If you look at job creation, recently, EPFO has released data which says that in the last six months, highest number of jobs have been created in Maharashtra, to the tune of 8 lakh.

VD: Then why is there so much discontent? You see this through several caste-based agitations in the State. Why do you think there is so much of discontent especially among the rural educated youth, if you say that the level of employment is rising?

DF: It is not a phenomenon of the State. If you look at any state governed by any party, the issue of caste based reservation has always been on the fore. People have been agitating in every other state. Reservation is necessary and at the same time, there are different people competing with each other, all of them feel that they should get reservation along with others. It is a pan-India phenomenon. And secondly, let us look at our demography. 50 per cent of our population is below 25 years of age. It doesn't want to wait. Our basic problem is not joblessness, it is skill deficit. Over the last three years, we have been imparting skill based education.

VD: You talked of a nation-wide phenomenon where several caste groups have come ahead to claim reservation, to claim benefit so that they too can get jobs. Do you think, as a country, it is time for us to look at affirmative action in a different way?

DF: No, I think constitutionally, what we have done is correct. While we have incorporated affirmative action in our constitution, we give stress on backwardness. Social backwardness is given highest priority, cultural backwardness is second, while educational and economic backwardness are at third or fourth place respectively. Those who fall within the ambit of all the four types of backwardness, they are given reservation first. There is no provision of reservation solely based on economic status yet. I think, as of now, the scheme of the Constitution is correct and we need it for some more time. But at the same time, now is the time when we should also look at those communities which have not received the fruits of reservation. So how do we take the benefits to those people, is a real challenge, which we need to address.

VD: In the beginning of 2019, we look at general elections. Before that quite a few states will go for polls. Several opposition parties including your own ally Shiv Sena have claimed that the Modi wave has finally ebbed. What do you have to say?

DF: It is wishful thinking of these people, but you should look at the record. Every time they said that the Modi wave has gone, people have voted for BJP in every single election. If you look at all the elections from 2014 to 2018, the strike rate of BJP is upto 90 per cent. I also think that it is not about wave. Wave is something which comes and goes. It is about credibility, it is about faith. And now, that wave has been translated into faith and credibility, people are going to vote for PM Modi in 2019 and will continue doing so.

VD: Don't you think that the Rafale deal has somehow dented that credibility of the PM

DF: Absolutely not. In fact, now the desperation of Congress party and its leaders is so huge that they have stopped thinking about what is good for nation. Every day, they use a different lie because they don't have to reply. But people understand. Rafale is not an issue at all. Even those who know about the Rafale issue, have in overwhelming majority said that Mr Modi cannot take a wrong decision. So I think, in no way will this dent Mr Modi's reputation. In fact, the real face of Congress is being exposed. The way they are spreading lies, their utter desperation to come to power is coming to the fore. I think, Mr Narendra Modi's credibility is incredible.

VD: Recently, Shashi Tharoor stoked a controversy by claiming that an RSS source called PM Modi a scorpion on shivling. Closer home, you have a Congress MLA Praniti Shinde who called PM Modi a dengue mosquito. Do you think it is out of that desperation?

DF: I think that it has traditionally been their strategy to attack Modiji personally. Soniaji attacked him by calling him ‘maut ka saudagar’. When you are frustrated because you are not getting the response from the people, it is that desperation which causes you to stoop to such low levels.

VD: Is frustration making opposition say that BJP is talking of Mandir only to divert attention from development?

DF: I challenge any Congress leader to come on a public platform to debate on on development. What have they done for so many years? More than 60 years, people voted them to power. What is their achievement? 50 per cent of people are homeless and Modi is giving them homes, 60 per cent of people don't have access to toilet and Mr Modi is giving them access to toilet, crores of people have not seen electricity and Mr Modi is giving them electricity. I think, this is a transformative government. We want to fight the elections only on the plank of development but we know that these people will always run away and create controversy for us.

Ram Mandir is not an election issue. It is about faith of scores of Hindus. It is the belief and we know that after the judgment of the honourable High Court, it is proven beyond doubt that the Ram Mandir was in existence at that place, and people want to see a big Ram Mandir at the site.

VD: So what you are saying is, Mandir will not be an election issue.

DF: No, it will never be. For us, it is not an election issue. It is an issue of faith, it is an issue of identity. You see, who was Babar? He wasn't Indian, he invaded India. And as rightly said by honourable Sarsanghachalak, he not only troubled Hindus, but also Muslims of that time. Prabhu Shri Ram was an Indian. He is a deity who is worshipped by Indians across the country. It is a matter of identity, it is a matter of culture. It is not a matter of mandir or masjid.

VD: Being a swayamsevak yourself, what is the importance of the annual Vijayadashami speech of the Sarsanghachalak? And how much do you, as the head of the political executive, try to implement it?

DF: What Sarsanghachalak speaks on Vijayadashami, is a political ideology. If you look at the entire speech, it is about values, it is about ideals, it is about progress. I think we draw a lot of inspiration from the political ideology. As a political head or as a constitutional head, I am bound by constitutional duties. So whatever fits within my constitutional duties, whatever is mandated for me to perform, I perform.

VD: The Sarsanghachalak has also said in his speech that the government should bring an ordinance to build a temple there. The Shiv Sena has been chiding you for not giving a deadline for building ram temple. On one hand, you say, Ram is a part of asmita, but on the other hand, you have been in power for four and a half years, and you have still not been able to give a deadline for Ram Mandir.

DF: We live in a democratic society. We want to build a big Ram Mandir. A huge one. But if we want to build a Ram Mandir, there are only two ways. The case is in SC and it has to give a decision. Only after the decision of SC, can we build a Ram Mandir or by making a law in the Parliament. We can look at the Parliament, but will Congress, Communists, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mamata Banerjee support it?

While making a law, it is not what you feel, it is the numbers that matter. And today, in Rajya Sabha, the numbers are not with us. Even if we want, we cannot. Even in the past, we have done it, as in the case of Somnath Mandir. We can do it, the parliament is all powerful. But the numbers matter.

VD: But the Supreme Court has pushed the Ram Mandir issue and has said that a separate bench will decide the date next year. Do you think that the BJP will take it up during this parliamentary session and do something about it?

DF: Now the SC has not denied it. What I perceive from this judgment, and I haven't read it, is that from January, a regular hearing will start. So I think, let us be hopeful that the hearing will start. By looking at the evidence given in the High Court by the Archaeological Survey of India, and the entire appreciation of the High Court order, I think, with all the evidence, I am hopeful that the ruling will be 100 per cent in the favour of Ram Mandir. And I think, January isn't very far. Secondly, in the Parliament, as I have told you, that numbers matter. We will never want a legislation on Ram Mandir to fail in parliament. We want that parliament should unanimously or at least by majority, adopt the legislation.

VD: Moving from one mandir to another, in the Sabarimala issue, the BJP had earlier supported the Supreme Court verdict. Two days ago, Amit Shah said that judgments which cannot be executed should not be delivered. In Maharashtra, you implemented a judgment which was called progressive, and allowed women inside Shani Shingnapur. Critics say that this is double speak of the BJP.

DF: No, I don’t think so. Supreme Court goes by the Constitution and it appreciates what the constitutional position is. But many times, people’s feelings, people’s faith are different. So, normally, in such matters, it is expected that we try and match the feelings of people and the constitutional rights. One thing is clear, the constitution should prevail. But at the same time, even in the political history of the world, we have often seen that it takes time for people to change. And in a society, although we may feel that people should change in a day, we have to account for the time that is taken for people to change. I think what Supreme Court did was constitutionally correct, and at the same time what Mr Amit Shah says is also correct.

VD: If we draw the same parallel, women from Shani Shingnapur don’t enter the temple even today. Did that stop the State government from implementing the letter of the law? Is it because left is governing Kerala that you came up with something which is pro-people, which is against the law spelt out by the Supreme Court verdict?

DF: No. I think, in Shani Shingnapur, there is no mandir, there is only a rock. There is no bar on women and people largely accepted. The mandate of the court was also respected, and people’s sentiment was also respected. In the same way, I think that we need to find out a way where both, the mandate of the court and people’s faith, have something in common. So it has nothing to do with the Left government.

VD: As somebody who is known as a progressive person, do you think that it is time that the BJP and the RSS end discriminatory practices against women in Hinduism?

DF: I think the RSS and BJP have always been progressive. And we have always said even in RSS that until we give equal status to women, this country will never progress. It is not just about RSS and BJP. The entire Hindu community should try and remove all those things which are discriminatory to women in our culture. It is, I think, the job of every single person. And BJP and RSS will always support it.

VD: Coming back to the elections. There has been a lot of talk on Mahagathbandhan. Do you think that it will dent the BJP? And do think that it will formulate in the first place?

DF: I don’t think that it will in any way dent the BJP. As rightly explained by our party president Amitbhai Shah, all these people have fought against BJP in 2014 as well. See, Mamata Banerjee has appeal in Bengal. But even if she comes Maharashtra, or goes to Uttar Pradesh, she cannot turn votes. The same is the case with Mulayam SInghji, or Mayawatiji, or somebody else. They don’t have pan-India appeal, they are regional parties. PM Modi is a pan-India leader. People will never vote for such a fragmented opposition as on the very next day of the election, they would start fighting with each other. People will vote for a very decisive leadership and that leadership they will find in PM Modi.

VD: How big do you think the Sharad Pawar factor is, both at the national level as well as at the State level?

DF: See, Sharad Pawar is a big leader, he is a respected leader. But at the same time, the political reality is that the highest number of seats his party bagged was eight. If you look at the record of his party, they get 4-6 seats in the Parliament. He may be a master strategist at an all India level, but his party alone, I don’t think, can make any difference in national politics.

VD: But he also said that he has offered to bring together the entire opposition. And being an astute statesman himself, is it likely that he will then bring them together. Will that be a challenge for BJP?

DF: I don’t think so. When there is an alliance of opportunism, people understand. And bringing everybody together in this case is alliance of opportunism, and alliance out of desperation. So, even if Mr Pawar brings everybody together, which is not going to happen, there will be no impact on the results.

VD: What about the State level? Now that the Congress and NCP are almost coming together, do you think it will affect you?

DF: See, political reality is that, when they come together, then BJP and Shiv Sena should also come together.

VD: Will that happen?

DF: Because, there is a bigger vote bank which finds similar ideology in BJP as well as in Shiv Sena, the votes get split. The political arithmetic may hamper Shiv Sena as well as BJP. We realise this political reality. Even Shiv Sena knows it. So I think Shiv Sena will join us and we will form alliance.

VD: It is really interesting that you say Shiv Sena will come with you. In the last four-four and a half years, we have seen acerbic attacks that Shiv Sena has been launching against you. Looking back at your four-year tenure, do you think that you could have treated Shiv Sena differently, possibly been more considerate towards them?

DF: First of all, what they speak in their rallies is different from what is happening on ground. On ground, we have been running a government together for the last four years. All the decisions which we have taken in the government are unanimous. On issues where there was difference of opinion, we sat together. Either tried to sort out the difference which in most of the cases we were successful in doing. In few cases, we were not. So, we found out a different way to do things. If, on ground, we are consistently running a government together, why can’t we in the future? And tell me one thing, when Laluji and Nitish Kumarji, who were arch rivals in the past, could come together. When today, Mayawati ji and Mulayam Singhji, who don’t even like to see each other’s faces, are coming together, Shiv Sena and BJP have always been with each other for 25 years. It is only one election, last Vidhan Sabha, which we fought against each other. Why then can’t we come together?

VD: Do you think you are willing to share a larger pie with the Shiv Sena if it decides to come with you? This is also particularly in reference to Nitish Kumar being able to extract a bigger pie from the BJP.

DF: No, I think the BJP and Shiv Sena already have a seat sharing arrangement in Lok Sabha. So, that seat sharing arrangement will continue. In Vidhan Sabha, since we fought against each other last time, and we have 122 seats, they have 63 seats, so we will have to again redistribute. Whatever is needed to be done, we will sit together and we will decide. In politics, you have solution for everything. We will find out a solution.

VD: But will you also be willing to split the Chief Minister’s tenure if they want

DF: It is a very hypothetical question. Let them ask, we will decide.

VD: So, right now, no discussions have taken place. They haven’t asked for anything?

DF: No, not at all.

VD: Coming back to your tenure here. Maharashtra has been a Maratha politics driven landscape. You are one of the very few non-Maratha leaders. There have been several caste-based agitations in the State. At any point, did you feel that you were targeted because you were a non-Maratha leader?

DF: I have often seen that people at large don’t have caste in their mind. It is only political leaders, who have caste in their mind. Specially, those who call themselves progressive, have more caste in their mind. These so-called progressive people in the Opposition have tried to target me for my caste but the people of Maharashtra have not accepted their proposition, and have always backed me.

VD: You have said that you are confident that you will be the chief minister in 2019 as well.

DF: Who becomes a chief minister is decided by people, and also the party. So whatever the people decide, and whatever the party decides, is what is going to happen. But I see that people are going to vote us again into power. That is clear.

VD: There has been growing proximity between Sharad Pawar and Raj Thackeray. There have been several political speculations. Do you think that if MNS goes with NCP, it will dent the BJP and Shiv Sena?

DF: I don’t think so. See, the base of MNS has shrunk. And secondly, how is Mr Pawar going to accommodate Mr Raj Thackeray? Either Mr Pawar has to align with Mr Raj Thackeray, or Mr Pawar has to align with the Congress. Congress is not going to align with Raj Thackeray. Because the moment Congress aligns with Mr Raj Thackeray, it will lose its ground in north India. Congress is not going to do that. As of now, I think, Mr Pawar is using Mr Raj Thackeray. Mr Raj Thackeray is the best decision-maker for himself.

VD: The Bhima Koregaon has been a controversy for the past some time. A hearing was held at the Supreme Court recently against Gautam Navlakha. The opposition has claimed that this is your government’s attempt to muzzle any voice of dissent.

DF: When we tried to arrest these people, the pseudo-liberals in Delhi came together and directly approached the SC. We provided whatever evidence we had at that point of time and the Supreme Court ruled in our favour. So, when the highest court of the land rules in our favour, I think the pseudo-liberals should understand. See, it is not about muzzling dissenting voice, it is about taking action against the voice which is opposing the country, which is helping terrorists and the naxalists and the Maoists who are fighting against this country. If you align with them and still if you feel that you are at the liberty to stay outside jail, no,that will not happen. It is a criminal act.

VD: The officials who were investigating the case also said that it was like waging a war against the country.

DF: It is true. If you look at the evidence which we have submitted to the Supreme Court, and other evidence which we will be submitting to the trial court, it is evident. You (they) are antagonising two communities against each other to fight with each other. What is this? It is a war waged against the country. You (they) are helping Kashmiri separatists. You (they) are becoming a nexus between the Maoists in Gadchiroli or in Chhattisgarh, and the Kashmiri separatists.

VD: Critics also say that this is possibly the government’s attempt at diverting attention from taking action against the Sanatan Sanstha.

DF: Sanatan Sanstha or its people have been operating at the time of Congress-NCP as well. The action which we have taken, could they have dared to take it? They haven’t. All the action has been taken by us. We have unearthed all the conspiracies and we have arrested all of them. So I think, for me, whether it is extreme right or extreme left or Centre, those who are against society, those who are against the country, whosoever they may be, I will take action.

VD: You mean to say, your government will be as strong against Sanatan Sanstha, as it will be against those involved in Bhima Koregaon.

DF: 100%. Why not? It has to be. That is our Rajdharma.

VD: Sharad Pawar has given an affidavit before the judicial commission investigating Bhima Koregaon violence, pinning the blame on your government, saying that you failed to curb the Bhima Koregaon violence.

DF: It is a purely political act. If you look at the entire affidavit, there is no substance, there is no evidence. It is a political statement made by Mr Pawar. He feels that by doing this, he can gain some ground among people. I don’t think that is going to happen.

VD: One last question, you have been talking of cabinet expansion and cabinet reshuffling for quite a few months now. Do we really see it coming?

DF: Yes. It will happen soon.

VD: That has been your answer for quite some time now. Is there a deadline that you would like to set?

DF: In politics, there is never a deadline. Until all the lines of communication are dead, there is never a deadline. But we will do it soon.

VD: Are you saying this will happen before the coming Assembly session?

DF: It has to.

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