Vested interests are keeping quota issue alive: Gujarat CM

Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel during an interview with The Hindu at her residence in Gandhinagar on Tuesday. Photo : Vijay Soneji   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji - Vijay Soneji

Anandiben Patel, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, has had an eventful two years at the helm of affairs in the western State. She speaks to Mahesh Langa and Nistula Hebbar on the challenges of being the replacement for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Patidar agitation and recent controversies regarding her daughter Anar Patel….

You have just completed two years as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. What have been your toughest challenges and most rewarding moments?

I have been in politics for more than 18 years in some capacity or other. Two years ago, I was given this responsibility. In the beginning, we [my administration and I], were concentrating on finishing up some pending stuff, like the completion the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which, I am happy to say, will be ready in March 2017, six months in advance of its deadline of September 2017.

The two things that I started after becoming the Chief Minister pertains to women and children, a portfolio I have handled in the past as a Minister. Narendrabhai [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] started the Swachch Bharat on October 2, last year, whereas the Gujarat government, after I took over, started it on May 28. In Morni, we declared, at a public meeting, that we would build toilets in all homes, schools and aanganwadis. We even allocated funds from the State government, apart from Central funds available for the project. For rural areas, we get Central funds; for urban areas, we allocated money from the State budget. We have, on the whole, 161 nagar palikas and eight municipal corporations. Apart from Gandhinagar, in all municipal corporations this has been done. And we have covered most areas. In rural areas, we have done this in 6,000 villages. We not just build toilets, but also spread awareness on the desirability of ending open defecation.

The second issue is child malnutrition. The parameters set by the WHO do not take into account diversity of any sort, of lifestyle, or physical activity, muscle build up or anything. It has to go beyond Body Mass Index. Stamina, muscles, circumference of arm, and swelling in the legs, and overall health must be considered to decide on who is malnourished.

We started a pilot project in Vadodara, where we took on board both private and government doctors, anganwaadi workers and helpers and others, and classified children into extremely malnourished; those who were malnourished but a little better off than those in the first category; and the last were those children who were not in need of any treatment. It was on the basis of a widened criterion.

The children in the first category were admitted to hospital for a period of 21 days and then monitored from home. We came up with a formula — made of ground nuts, sugar and milk power — and made into a paste and a nutritional supplement. It showed good results and now we have a tie-up with Amul (milk cooperative) to produce this paste. It is called “Bal Amul” and will be packaged and supplied to all children. Over 45 lakh children have been screened so far. We are going into at least 15 different districts and collating the results. We will present the report to the WHO.

Gujarat has, however, been accused of lagging behind on human development indices…

The malnutrition data you are referring to is dated. It’s at least five years old; wait for the latest figures to come through.

One of the biggest political challenges you have faced as Chief Minister has been the Patidar agitation for reservations. Now you have announced 10% reservation for Economically Backward Classes (EBC) within the general category. How did you arrive at that?

The community demanded OBC status, but we found that it was just not possible. I don’t want to comment on what is happening in other States. In the context of Gujarat, I simply told the Patidar leaders that granting OBC status was just not possible. If you want it, please go the backward classes commission with your case. There is a State commission and a Central one, you can approach either. They will undertake a survey, and then we’ll see. But they also knew that if they went to the commission, they would not get the status or even a favourable report.

Later, we kept meeting influential people from the Patel community and explained to them our constraints over their demands. Slowly, some understood and said 'don’t give OBC status, give us Economically Backward Status'.

We discussed this matter for some months. In the meanwhile, I started the Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalamban Yojana of subsidising 50% of fees for higher education in both government and private institutions. This was one of the takeaways from our discussions with the members of the community who felt that they were shortchanged in government institutions due to reservations and in private ones due to the high fees. We also pay hostel fees for 10 months at a rate of Rs. 1500 per month and also provide uniforms.

Earlier it was said that Hardik Patel had rejected the EBC quota; today we read reports that he has asked community members to decide what they want. Any updates?

As of now, I have received only three letters written by Hardik Patel, of the many reported by the media. Therefore, I don’t go by what media reports on what he has been saying.

We have been seeing a succession of leaders come up from the community. We persuade one, and another one takes his place. That makes me feel that people from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are just fanning the issue because they want to keep it alive.

To the AAP, I want to say that Gujarat has traditionally been a two-party State and a third party has no space. AAPwaaley Dilli sambhalein, idhar aaney ki aavashyakta nahin hain [AAP should stay in Delhi no need to come to Gujarat].

Secondly, the Congress is also interested in keeping the issue alive because some people associated with it like Lalit Vasoya [head of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti in Saurashtra] and others are aspirants for tickets in 2017. They have told me that they need to keep the issue alive despite getting my point of view.

Do you believe that there will be a legal challenge to the order? A similar one by the Kerala government in 2008 is in the courts.

I don’t believe there will be a legal challenge to this order, since this is not a caste-specific measure. It is a tweaking of the open category, so it does not meddle, in my view, with the basic structure of the Constitution.

You have filled the rather large shoes of Prime Minister Modi in this position, what were the challenges of that?

I can say that I have had a better time of it than Modi Saheb. It is good for us that [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi Saheb is in Delhi. For the last eight years, Modi Saheb had been dealing the issue of completion of the Sardar Sarovar Dam with the Centre. The moment he became the Prime Minister, he facilitated that and helped me. Secondly, many issues on which we had issues with the Centre were resolved, like water works which fell foul of the Railways.

I didn't have to suffer like what Modi Saheb had to during the the UPA regime. I only make one phone call and the work gets done (smiles).

The Gujarat Organised Crime (GUJCOCA) has been hanging fire with the Union Home Ministry though, is that a comment of Rajnath Singh’s non-cooperation?

No no, that will also be resolved. I’m sure Rajnath Singh ji will also be cooperative.

Earlier this year, there was a controversy regarding your daughter Anar Patel, that she had got pecuniary benefits because of you.

If my daughter is a partner with someone in a business, and that person gets into business with someone else, how does that connect my daughter to the deals closed by that entity? Mr. Arjun Modhvadia had a business of sub contracting works from big companies, some of these sub contracts were discontinued. I had no hand in their discontinuation, but a canard was spread that I had and things were alleged against my daughter.

Did you get support enough support from the party in your troubles?

Nothing was found. What is the need for support? In my two decade-long career, nothing had be said against me. Whenever elections are around, such allegations are always made. It’s an occupational hazard.

What are your priorities for the rest of the term?

Water and health are important. We do free screening and treatment for breast and cervical cancer for all women. More than 80 lakh women have got that screening done. 11,000 women have been diagnosed and they are getting free treatment. We are the only State that distributes free medicines for blood pressure and diabetes. We do free health check up in all schools for children up to the age of 18years, cleft lip operations for free (5000 till this month). 3,000 children have been operated upon for free for club foot. District-level hospitals do dialysis for Rs 100 only.

For those with an income of Rs. 1,20,000 per annum, a Maa Vatsalya card for free treatment in government hospitals has been issued. Twenty lakh cards have been issued. Janam se antim yatra tak (Cradle-to-the-grave welfare).

Different States are now going in for Prohibition. As the Chief Minister of a State that has historically had prohibition, do you think it is advisable?

Yes. Women are the biggest gainers from Prohibition. They work all day and their husbands spend this money on alcohol — this, apart from its effect on health. What prohibition does is it reduces the easy availability of liquor. We have set up strict controls on inter State borders, and if other States prohibit, the overall volume will come down. The effect on the next generation is also important — they will be less likely to go towards alcoholism. Women have been at the forefront of ensuring Prohibition because it directly affects their lives, we must look it from this perspective.

You had said in an interview that you were not seeking a second term?

It wasn’t quite said in that very plain way! (smiles). I haven’t ruled anything out. When I was asked “will you win in 2017?”, I said "yes." The second question was “how”? I answered that our party organisation is very strong in the State and we will capitalise on that. The third question was whether I will be Chief Minister again. I said it was up to the party, therefore it is wrong to say that I’ll retire after 2017 (smiles).

Much has been said about your slightly testy relationship with BJP chief Amit Shah?

I need you to define the word testy. I feel there is no need for comparisons, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. In the case of Gujarat, the organisation is very strong, there can be differences of opinion, but everyone is free to express themselves but decisions are taken collectively where the party president has the final word.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 1:42:49 PM |

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