Goa Legislative Assembly Speaker Pratapsingh Rane (74) is upbeat. When it looked like Chief Minister Digambar Kamat would lead the ruling Congress in the March 3 Assembly elections, the party high command declared Mr. Rane as the in-charge of the party's election campaign. Mr. Kamat, incidentally appears to have been confined to his own Margao constituency.
In the State where “Aayaarams and Gayaaraams” are legenday legendary, Mr. Rane has been different. He began his politics in 1972 in the MGP, a Hindu-mass based regional outfit; in 1977 when politicians across the country were joining the Janata Party, Mr. Rane was rare politician who resigned from the MGP as a Minister ahead of the Assembly election and joined the Congress and has since stayed with it.
Mindful of the vast political experience of Mr. Rane, who served as Congress Chief Minister for the maximum number of years (spread over three terms) in the Union Territory-State of Goa, the party rank and file welcomed the recent announcement. While there have been voices of dissent against him for his alleged inability to rein in his son Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, who is virtually running amok with his rampant political ambition, overall Mr. Rane commands respect in the party and beyond.
While many political observers have interpreted Congress' move to assign him charge of election when party has been facing charges of perpetuating family rule, many see it as the Congress party's desire to once again fall back on Rane if the party has to form a government post elections in a most likely scenario of split verdict. Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Rane took time off to speak to The Hindu Prakash Kamat at the city Congress House on Tuesday recently. in his typical style, shrugged his shoulders and declined to confirm or deny the possibility. But He emphatically says, “blatantly false” as he countered some local media reports alleging that he had been telling his voters in his constituency that he would be back as Chief Minister. He is today the senior-most Congress leader in the State who is all set to contest for the 10th term. Undefeated from Assembly elections since 1972, Mr. Rane first contested from Sattari constituency of north Goa's backward taluk and in last few terms from Porriem, a neighbouring constituency carved out of the old one in subsequent delimitation, with the adjacent Valopi constituency being now held by his son Vishwajit Rane who is Health Minister and emerging powerful leader of Congress in the north Goa.
Goa's first Chief Minister late Bhausaheb Bandodkar is credited for inducting young Rane, a foreign educated farmer of Sattari into politics.“Way back in 1972, I recall I was given Rs.3500 by MGP Party to contest election. I spent another Rs.1000 on petrol etc., as I had one jeep then. That was all I spent in the election,” Mr. Rane reminisced when asked about the elections of good old days.
When asked how much he would spend in the present elections considering the “money power” of candidates that is being the high point of discussions everywhere, Mr. Rane said, “Let me tell you, I never spend much money, never give money in elections to anybody. Even otherwise, if some poor person comes asking for money for medicines, I take the prescription and will buy and give medicines to him,” he said.
Coming to elections, he said the expenditure cap is Rs.8 lakhs. “I will spend say Rs.3.5 to Rs.4 lakhs. That is all,” he said with a smile.
The biggest challenge before the ruling Congress while going to elections is what is derisively described by Opposition and media as promotion of “Family Raj,” i.e. is Congress giving 11 tickets to five family members, including yours. How will you counter this?
I don't think this is an issue at all. The party has considered various aspects while selecting candidates. It is the “winnability” that has been considered. These candidates are before the voters. They have to decide. I do not feel that there is any issue on this count.
What about such a massive concentration of power in the hands of a few families, especially when the State has only a 40-member Assembly? The same could happen during government formation. A An handful of families may come to dominate.
I do not think that this is an issue of concentration of power. People have to elect their representatives. Look, this is the oldest party where decisions are taken in appropriate manner. I do not think that this should be seen as concentration of power.
What are the issues in this election?
Youth not only in urban areas but even in the rural areas are getting educated. Higher education, I mean. They need employment. We should work to give them gainful employment. For that infrastructure such as roads should get more priorities. Educational institutions, libraries, playgrounds all have to be developed.
What about corruption in governance, illegal mining, controversies related to regional plan where people are agitated? How are you dealing with these issues in the campaign?
Concerns of illegal mining are there not only in Goa, but all over India. They are there in Karnataka. Let us not blame only Goa. As for the Regional plan, there are provisions in the Town and Country Planning Act to review lapses if there are any in the land use plan. The promise has made a promise on this. All concerns in this regard can be taken care of. There are provisions to take local bodies into confidence as per 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments, and the government has made efforts to accommodate their views in the regional plan. Still the plan is open for corrections.
Are you not worried that the BJP's tie-up with MGP, the regional outfit of soft-Hindutva will polarise the Hindu votes to the disadvantage of the Congress?
It is a myth. MGP is no more a mass-based party. That it is concerned and represents “Bahujan Samaj” is total humbug. It is a party of and run by two brothers.
With the BJP wooing the Catholics in a big way with more seats for more Catholics them and promises of good and equitable governance, justice, are you not apprehensive that the Congress will be in trouble?
Absolutely not. We are not at all bothered about the BJP trying to woo minorities. Do you think the leopard can change its spots?