OPINION

‘There are reasons behind the loss of faith, we have taken several corrective measures’

We are addressing terrorism as a nation and we should not present a divided house, says Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.

We are addressing terrorism as a nation and we should not present a divided house, says Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.   | Photo Credit: - PHOTO: VIVEK BENDRE

Meena Menon

‘I have multiple tasks before me. I have the ideal of my father. I cherish those principles. However, one has to blend in with the current scenario, in the coalition era,’ says Maharashtra Chief MinisterAshok Chavan.

Maharashtra’s 24th Chief Minister, Ashok Shankarrao Chavan, 50, is also the State’s first political heir to take that place. Hailing from Nanded in the Marathwada region, he is the son of Shankarrao Chavan, twice Chief Minister of Maharashtra and a former Union Cabinet Minister. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan represents the Mudkhed Assembly constituency.

He began his political career in the mid-1980s as an office-bearer of the Maharashtra Pradesh Youth Congress Committee. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1987 from Nanded and to the State Legislative Council in 1992. In 1993, he was inducted as Minister of State for Public Works, Urban Development, and Home in the Maharashtra government. He served as general secretary of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee between 1995 and 1999.

In 1999, after he was elected as an MLA from the Mudkhed constituency in Nanded district, Mr. Chavan was made Cabinet Minister for Revenue and Protocol in the State government. In January 2003, he became Cabinet Minister for Transport, Ports, Cultural Affairs & Protocol. He was re-elected in 2004 and served as Minister for Industries, Mining, Cultural Affairs & Protocol in Vilasrao Deshmukh’s cabinet. A science graduate, Mr. Chavan also holds an MBA degree.

Mr. Chavan is married to Ameeta and they have two daughters.

He was in Washim, about 600 km from Mumbai, on election-related work, when he came to know about the terror strikes. He returned the next morning and went to the hospitals to meet the injured.

With Assembly and Lok Sabha elections only five months away, Mr. Chavan faces the challenges of tackling the immediate security situation, the deteriorating economic situation, above all farmers’ suicides, in Maharashtra, and striking a balance with his party’s coalition partner, the Nationalist Congress Party.

In this interview given to The Hindu at Nagpur during the winter session of the legislature, the new Maharashtra Chief Minister answers questions on the challenges before his government and the key issues:

Since the terror attacks people seem to have lost faith in the government. What are the steps you have taken to restore confidence?

There are reasons why there is the loss of faith and naturally after the bomb blasts and firing, this reaction is bound to be there. There seems to have been an intelligence failure and people feel let down. But this does not happen all the time. We have taken a number of corrective measures like setting up a State Security Council, which will coordinate on various critical issues and which is headed by me. Apart from top ranking officials, we will have non-officials too. I have already announced a high level committee, which will probe the lapses, if any, of senior police and Home officials and fix responsibility.

In addition, Rs. 127 crore has been sanctioned for modern weapons, including MP-5 sub machine guns, speedboats, setting up 12 more police stations, and upgrading intelligence work. We will recruit 85 people for the intelligence department and do it without going by the Maharashtra Public Service Commission norms since that will take four to five months.

All these orders were issued on December 8 and in a short span you can see that we have taken a lot of steps. We have also formed a Group of Ministers to handle Home department issues and I will meet the top brass of the department once a week for a review. We have increased security presence to give people confidence and also had meetings with the Coast Guard and Navy regarding the guarding of vital installations. We are also raising a battalion on the lines of the National Security Guard (NSG) in Maharashtra called Force 1. We will have a dedicated aircraft for this elite group and NSG has promised help to train people and set it up.

Home Minister Jayant Patil, in his reply to the terror attacks debate in the Assembly, seems to have avoided the issue of corruption and factionalism in the police force, which was forcefully raised by the Opposition?

I have left these issues for the Home Minister to sort out. However, I am keen to see these issues are resolved and I feel that public perception and aspirations of the people have to be respected. We are addressing terrorism as a nation and we should not present a divided house. I think the terror debate in the Assembly was a constructive one.

What about the investigation into the Malegaon bomb blast? Are you going to appoint a new head of the Anti Terrorism Squad?

The investigation will continue as before. I am not thinking of making any changes at the moment. We are investigating the case on the lines of a terror attack and it will continue and the guilty will not be spared.

What are the immediate challenges before you?

I have multiple tasks before me. On the political front, I have to make the party stronger by handling the challenges just before elections and on the administrative front I have to focus on law and order, which is the immediate priority. The power supply situation in the State needs to be tackled and load shedding has to be kept to a minimum. Apart from this, there is the backlog of development of backward regions in the State. I am also keen on bringing industrialisation to backward areas and keep up the earlier pace of development.

On the issue of farmers’ suicides, there has been a lot of criticism about the packages. What are you doing to mitigate the situation?

I have reviewed the farmers’ packages in Vidarbha after I took over and I find that the suicides have come down in a small way but not as expected. We are disbursing money under these packages but we need some long-term strategy and action plan. Criticism is bound to be there regarding the packages and the idea behind the package is to solve immediate issues. It can’t be 100 per cent foolproof. I will look into the complaints and see what can be done but there cannot be a constant policing of the packages. In the latest report on the suicides, Professor Narendra Jadhav has some long-term suggestions, which I will place before the Cabinet and take a decision soon.

What about the issue of Maratha reservation and the question of Marathi?

There is a Commission appointed for Maratha reservation and it will submit a report. We’ll see what the Commission says and act on it. Regarding Marathi, for three months I have heard nothing about the people who raised this issue. People are not interested in this; they want development. My focus will remain on protecting all languages and ensure that each one gets its share. This cannot be the issue for the government. It is accepted that in each State, the local language and literature must get its due.

Raj Thackeray has been demanding reservations in jobs for locals only? What is your response?

The Constitution of India is clear on this and that will be our guiding principle. The State has a policy of giving 80 per cent jobs in industries to local people since 1972 and we have also said in this policy that those who are domiciled in the State will be entitled to jobs. The Constitution clearly says there should be no discrimination.

What about the Narayan Rane factor? How will that affect the party in the State? What about his allegations that a gangster, Tariq Parveen, was seen at your meeting with party workers in Mumbai?

I don’t see any Rane factor. He met me and I understand he was unhappy with some local issues. I have told him to toe the party line and work together for the benefit of all. When he joined the party, he accepted Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and he should continue that way. Regarding Tariq Parveen, I don’t know this man at all. I met the party workers for the first time after I took over as Chief Minister. There were so many people in that crowd and it was a public meeting. I can’t be accountable for every person who comes there.

Your sphere of influence has not gone beyond Nanded?

I have been working as an MP first and then as a Minister for many years. I am not new to politics. As a Chief Minister, my scope has expanded and since I have worked in various capacities in the State, that is helpful.

What are your core values as a politician?

I have the ideal of my father, Mr. S.B. Chavan, who was a great administrator. He had immense stature and he worked with leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indiraji, and Rajivji too. I cherish those principles he had and try to follow them. However, one has to blend in with the current scenario, in the coalition era, which was not there during my father’s time, and I am sure I will come through.

Corrections and Clarifications

The introduction to the interview with Maharashtra Chief Minister AshokChavan, "'There are reasons behind the loss of faith, we have taken severalcorrective measures'" (Op-Ed, December 24, 2008), said Assembly and LokSabha elections were only five months away. While the Lok Sabha electionsare due in five months, Assembly elections are due only in October 2009.

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