Interview | Chhagan Bhujbal Mumbai

‘NCP leaders have defected under pressure’

Chhagan Bhujbal

Chhagan Bhujbal  

People in State see the misuse of ED as dictatorship and are angry, says NCP veteran

Veteran Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal believes the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is being used as a political weapon, but people have now started to understand the government’s ‘pressure tactics’. Mr. Bhujbal was speaking exclusively to The Hindu on the ED ‘witchhunt’, defections from the NCP and his role in the Maharashtra Sadan case. Excerpts:

The NCP seems to be the stronger of the two parties in the alliance. Should it have got more seats?

It was too late to discuss our allies’ seats. After giving the seats to smaller parties, our numbers have reduced. Who gets the higher number, is not important for me. We should have such a figure that together, we should be able to form the government.

Why are so many NCP leaders deserting the party to join the ruling alliance?

People have mostly defected under pressure.

Is it not because they are winning and they perceive the BJP to be the winning party?

They think that if they are part of the ruling party, they may get a seat or some post. But even if they get nothing, they think, ‘At least, there will be no trouble’.

When the ED named Sharad Pawar, did you fear that he may have to face a similar fate as you?

I don’t think so. Because at the time I was named, it was the beginning of the ruling government using the ED as a political weapon. So naturally, people were thinking, ‘Something must be wrong’. Unlike other laws, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the person has to prove that they are not guilty, and that too from jail. It is a draconian act that is being thoroughly misused. I think people have now understood that this is too much. That’s why agitations have started all over Maharashtra. Even now, people are angry, particularly in rural areas. They have started talking about these tactics and see this as nothing but dictatorship.

When he was named, did you speak with him?

I was with him for two to three days after he was named. They (ED) had not served a notice, but leaked it to the press. He said, ‘I want to go there and ask them why I had been named’. When news got out, there were widespread protests and we decided for the larger good not to visit the office. It still doesn’t mean his name is cleared. There is still a sword hanging on his head; only his visiting the ED office has been stopped. God knows what ED will do in future. So many people have the sword hanging over their head, like (Narayan) Rane. That’s why they immediately defect. They are using it as a political weapon, which people understand.

Do you think for people who have defected from the NCP under pressure, there is a place back in the party in future?

I don’t want to respond to hypothetical questions. We’ll see it when it happens.

What do you have to say about the Anti Corruption Bureau recently adding sections in the Maharashtra Sadan case, which carry life imprisonment sentences?

They are pressure tactics, nothing else. The sections were removed before the charge sheet was filed. The court went through the charge sheet and included some more sections, but not these ones. It’s their (the government’s) way of saying, ‘Don’t create problems for us during the elections’.

Do you think you will ever be cleared of charges in the case?

It is a court process. But if I keep talking, they will keep filing more cases. They can file some other cases as well. Or it may well happen that the court dismisses the whole thing, like the 2G case. Anything can happen.

Under your government, Ajit Pawar was accused of a major irrigation scam. Do you think people will still accuse your government for the water crisis in areas like Marathwada?

The Bharatiya Janata Party are experts at spreading wrong information. From the time the State was formed till date, ₹70,000 crore has not been given to that (irrigation) department. How can you say that there is a scam of that amount? This was done just to discredit the NCP. They alleged it, people wrote about it, and they got publicity.

One of the government’s flagship projects, the Jalyukt Shivar, aims to solve the water scarcity issue in Marathwada. Your views?

Schemes like Jalyukt Shivar are useful, when you get good rain. Then it can be stored in various places and used through the year. When there is no absolutely no rain, what are you going to do with these projects? If you want 100% supply, you need to get it from the areas where I have got it from for the Manjarpada project.

What are your thoughts on the Damanganga project?

Our stand is, ‘Don’t sign the agreement with the Gujarat government to give Maharashtra’s water’. In the Manjarapada project, the water was not under any agreement and was in a sense unaccountable. It was either going into the sea or to Gujarat. However, if we do an agreement, we will be giving up our rights to Gujarat.

You won the election in 2014 amidst a saffron wave. Do you think it will be tougher this time in the backdrop of your jail term and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance?

The reason we got elected here in 2014 was development. Last time, I won by some 50,000 votes; this time I am sure it will go up to one lakh. There will be no effect of any sort of their alliance in this constituency. People are angry with this government for several reasons. Loss of jobs is a major one. On the one hand, the government keeps promising more jobs but the reality is that people who have jobs are becoming jobless.

How has the rise in onion prices affected farmers in Nashik?

The whole belt is badly affected, especially small and poor farmers, and the government’s action (banning exports) has resulted in a great deal of anger and resentment. You (the government) stop them from making profits, but when they are making losses you don’t come forward to help them. This is injustice.

You have spent nearly 30 years with the NCP, but there are rumours that you will be returning to the Sena. What is the basis for that?

All the Sena leaders were junior to me. So naturally when they meet, they touch my feet. We sit together and catch up. It is a result of 25 years of association with that party and that too during its formative years. So when mediapersons see me with Sena leaders, they conclude that I am going back to the Sena, since others are defecting and it is the season for joining other parties. But rumours are rumours. I have said many times that there is no basis for this. But what can I do?

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 1:05:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/ncp-leaders-have-defected-under-pressure/article29720189.ece

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