Interview

The Congress has always been for cow protection and shelters: Kamal Nath

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath is a key player in the Congress’s comeback bid in the Lok Sabha elections. Having ended the BJP’s 15-year rule in Bhopal, he says the priority of his government is to reverse the “saffronisation” of governance in the State. Excerpts from an interview:

After the Congress’s break of 15 years from power in Madhya Pradesh, you have become the Chief Minister. Is your government in part a continuation of the 15 years of BJP rule in the State?

Our government is in no way a continuation of the past. The previous government had different objectives. They were keen to saffronise every institution in the State. It has been 90 days since I took over. My efforts have been to do as much as possible to demonstrate that the policies of this government are based on our manifesto promises. Many items on our manifesto have already been implemented.

When you mention ‘saffronisation’, you are alluding to a turn towards Hindutva in governance? Have you identified areas or institutions where this has happened?

There are so many. Take our journalism university. Take the universities and the various bodies they formed. They were not doing that for the public good. They were using State funds for building a party organisation, which we are slowly dismantling.

The Jan Abhiyan Parishad (a government-funded network intended to improve governance) was used to propagate Hindutva?

Absolutely. The JAP has been used and misused to propagate their ideology, and for elections.

Are you determined to change its character?

We have to. Because it is a blatant misuse of State funds.

Are you looking at the school syllabus too?

Certainly. We have to correct all these things, so that what this country stands for, the ethos of this country, is maintained.

While you’re striking a very strident pose on ‘saffronisation’, your government’s decision to use the National Security Act (NSA) in cases of suspected cow slaughter was a continuation of the past, right?

It was not the government’s policy. That was the policy of the past. It was done at the local level. I was surprised about it myself. This happened a few days after we took over. I strongly objected to it.

Have you given instructions that the NSA cannot be invoked in such cases?

Absolutely. In any case it cannot be. The objectives of the NSA are very clear. It was the previous government’s policy to do this.

It was a misuse of that law?

Yes. It was misuse.

Cow protection has been a key component of BJP politics. Your government is also setting up cow shelters using public money. How does this square with your idea of change and good governance?

Of course it does. The Congress has always been for cow protection and shelters. The previous government did nothing. And they have been exposed on this. We are only continuing with what we have always believed in. We are promoting gaushalas (cow shelters). Cows are revered in Indian ethos, mythology and beliefs.

Cow protection is also linked to agrarian problems — stray cattle destroy crops, for instance. Don’t you think that by bringing in this cultural component, the agrarian economy gets distorted?

I don’t think so. If we build proper cow shelters, it does not disturb the agrarian economy at all. We respect the sentiments of the people. And at the same time, we protect their rural economy.

How long term do you think will be your relief to the agriculture sector through loan waivers?

A farmer is born into debt and dies in debt. Loan waiver is not the solution to the problem. Loan waiver is one of the ways to give him relief. We have to look at the agriculture sector in a completely different way. Seventy per cent of the people of M.P. are dependent on the agriculture sector, not all of them farmers. Twenty-thirty years ago, the problem of agriculture was the problem of shortage. Today, the problem is of excess. So, our policies will have to be attuned to this changed situation.

Do you have plans beyond loan waivers?

Yes, we are looking at a holistic plan on how to make the agriculture sector more remunerative so that farmers don’t sink into debt again.

You decided to discontinue the pension scheme for MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) detainees (people who were imprisoned during the Emergency). Why?

This was a political move made by the previous government. We dismantled it. Some of them were also fake. There was MISA in 1975. Many of them are not there any more. This is like saying, the BJP government was there for the last 15 years, and all those who felt victimised by them must get pension.

You have worked with all the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family barring Jawaharlal Nehru. How do you understand the family?

I have had the privilege of working with Sanjay Gandhi, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and now Mr. Rahul Gandhi. They were all there in different periods. The world was different, the country was different, politics was different. So, each one has a different style of working. And in different circumstances and different periods, the challenges are also different, and so their styles are different.

How is Rahul Gandhi different from his family?

He is no different. As in, his heart is with the weakest always. He is very sharp. I admire his sense of understanding of so many diverse issues of this country.

Is there any point on which he is different from his mother and father?

I think he is far more impatient for results. He is impatient for achievements. That is good, he goads you on.

Is he impatient with people?

No, he is not impatient with people. He is impatient with the lack of progress.

While you have been vocal against Hindutva, some reports have suggested that you have made a tactical decision to not confront the RSS head on. Is that true? In the case of JAP, you seem to be giving a long rope.

Of course, I have to do the correct thing. I called a meeting with them and I told them that this is what you stand for. I have given them three months. Lot of people are involved, there are students in it. I have to ensure that those who are apolitical do not suffer in the process.

One long-term effect of Hindutva in politics is the progressive decline of Muslim representation in politics. Does your counter-politics to Hindutva account for this? And how?

In the end everything in society must be equitable. We certainly cannot deny Muslims what are naturally their rights, their aspirations. Everyone, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, is aspirational. When it comes to representation in a democracy, the question is, how will you win an election? Doing it symbolically can at times be hypocritical.

That is the sad part of our democracy, perhaps. Fielding a Muslim candidate is not the best way to win an election. As a political tactician, do you face that dilemma?

When we are fielding someone, we have to see to it that he wins. Because we are putting him up to represent the people. But if he goes through the motions of an election without winning, he will not be able to represent anyone, including his community.

How stable is your government? The Congress does not have a majority.

The government is very stable. We demonstrated it in the elections for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. We got 121 against the BJP’s 109.

So, there is no question on the longevity of your government?

The BJP is continuously trying to lure MLAs with all kinds of things. But I have complete confidence in all the MLAs.

Do you think the Centre has been trying to unsettle your government?

The BJP as a whole is trying to unsettle this government.

Would you expect the Governor to be more impartial?

The Governor must stay within the confines of the Constitution. Stepping out of that will not be acceptable.

The BSP’s support is critical for your government in M.P., but Mayawati has been hostile to the Congress recently. How do you see BSP-Congress relations going forward?

The objective of the BSP is to oust the BJP and there will be convergence at some point, because our objective is the same. And everybody takes local situations into account. In U.P., they are dealing with the ground situation in the State. We have our own perceptions. That does not mean that our objectives are divergent.

After the NSA was used in cases of alleged cow slaughter in M.P., Ms. Mayawati said that the Congress and the BJP have the same character. Have you spoken to her after that?

I talk to her from time to time on various issues. They are our supporting party in M.P. They have two MLAs.

You challenged Digvijaya Singh to contest from a difficult seat if he wanted to contest. And he is now contesting from Bhopal. Is this a return of friction between the two of you?

I have no friction with anyone, whether it is Mr. Singh, Mr. [Jyotiraditya] Scindia, or Mr. [Suresh] Pachouri. We all worked together for victory in M.P.

Then why did you challenge Mr. Singh?

Because he has been State party president and Chief Minister. It was not a challenge, but a suggestion. I told him that it would befit his stature if he contested from a seat that the Congress has not won for a long time. He accepted my suggestion.

The Lok Sabha election in the State is on Narendra Modi or Kamal Nath?

Both. The people of M.P. are poor, they are simple, but they are not stupid. Mr. Modi will have to explain to the people of M.P. what happened to all the promises he made in the past.


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 8:24:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/the-congress-has-always-been-for-cow-protection-and-shelters/article26645405.ece

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