Re-appointed as Uttarakhand Chief Minister in September 2011, B.C. Khanduri is once again the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the State as the party battles the anti-incumbency factor, hoping that the “clean image” of the 77-year-old ex-army general will improve its poll prospects. Mr. Khanduri speaks to Sandeep Joshi about the achievements of the BJP government in the State and how he plans to take on the challenge from the Congress.
What are the key election issues?
We are going to the people with one request — please vote only after comparing five years of the BJP's rule with that of the previous Congress government. Today, Uttarakhand is one of the fastest growing States in the country, a fact acknowledged by the Planning Commission, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And this we have achieved despite step-motherly treatment meted out by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre. We have been successful in bringing about important changes, in development of infrastructure like roads, hospitals, schools, power and water projects and making the bureaucracy accountable to the public. We have also taken major steps in dealing with corruption, which includes passage of a strong Lok Ayukta Bill. On the other hand, the Congress failed miserably in ensuring development and progress of the State. We have a vision to make Uttarakhand the most progressive State and we hope that the people will give us another chance to fulfill our development agenda.
Why do you accuse the UPA-government of non-cooperation with the State government?
It was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who ensured the creation of Uttarakhand in 2000 despite strong opposition from the Congress. Notably, when the Congress formed the first elected government in the state in 2002, it was the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance Government at the Centre that announced 10-year special industrial package for the State.
And what did the Congress do when it came to power at the Centre in 2004? It reduced the time-frame of the package to five-years. After repeated requests, it was extended by another two years till 2010 against the original approval till 2013.
The Centre has also reduced our quota of foodgrains and refused to grant us a textile park that would have helped in generating jobs. We have also been denied permission to set up hydro projects. We are a special State with special needs and it is the Centre's duty to help us by giving grants and announcing special packages, at least for the hilly region.
What about corruption charges against the BJP government, which led to the removal of your predecessor Ramesh Pokhriyal?
All such charges are politically motivated. Investigations are on and even the High Court is looking into some allegations. All those found guilty of any kind of wrongdoings will be severely punished. However, we have taken many significant anti-corruption measures since I took over, which include passage of a strong Lok Ayukta Bill, framed after consultations with Team Anna. Now the Centre is sitting on this Bill for the past three months.
Similarly, we now have the Citizens Charter which was used by 1.35-lakh people in November alone. I have also created an Anti-Corruption and Public Service Department under the Chief Minister's Office to help people report all corruption directly to me. These measures are unprecedented and will help fight corruption.
On the other hand, the Congress, despite assurances given by Parliament to Anna Hazare, has failed to bring a strong Lok Pal Bill and then ensured that it does not get passed in Parliament. The Congress stands exposed in the fight against corruption.
What are the key challenges that the State is facing today?
The main challenge is to stop migration of the people, particularly youths, living in hilly and remote areas, which constitute 77 per cent of the State's total area. The issue is linked to lack of employment opportunities and slow pace of development. Notably, many districts share a border with China and this is very crucial strategically. The State has limited resources to tackle these issues and here the Centre needs to step in.
Keywords: Uttarakhand assembly polls