Chief minister Khanduri on his strategy for polls
Sweta Ranjan | December 19, 2011
Assembly elections are due in Uttarakhand early next year. The Bharatiya Janata Party dropped Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, who remained in news for all the wrong reasons, and brought in BC Khanduri to win the next term. The 77-year-old former army general (he was honoured with an Ati Vishisht Seva medal), known for his no-nonsense administration, had led the party to victory in February 2007. Can he do it again? Khanduri discusses his poll strategy in an exclusive interview with Governance Now. Edited excerpts:
You have been brought in by the party to help win another term. But don’t you think that the time given to you is very short?
It is there. Time is short. As far as the party is concerned, they have considered all options, alternatives, pros and cons. I presume they have counted their gains and losses and decided on this. As far as I am concerned, I have a task to perform for my party and for my state, therefore I will do whatever is possible.
What do you have to say about the party’s attitude towards you? When they need you, they make you a CM and when they don’t want you, they remove you.
See, this is something not easily understandable for people. But I think it’s my background, it’s my training, and it’s my nature that the party has taken this decision. There could be reasons why I was removed, but I did not question it. The party decided that it was better for it, so I went with the decision. Similarly, when they decided I should resume, I did. I believe they have taken all aspects into consideration in deciding that I should come into picture as it is in the interest of the party and the state.
But when you were removed from the post you made a statement terming the move undemocratic.
Absolutely wrong. I had made no statement for many months. In some context, people must have said that, but let me tell you I have not said a word against the party after I was removed. After around a year, somebody must have asked me a question and I would have replied but I had never questioned the party.
Don’t you think that the party’s attitude sends a wrong message to the people?
What you are saying is true but in politics these things happen. The Congress changed so many CMs in Maharashtra. In four-five years, it has changed four-five chief ministers. I think every party counts its own gains and losses and then decides. It’s not a normal thing but these things are expected in politics. Ultimately, it is the assessment and strategy that matter.
Right before the 2002 elections, BJP replaced Nityanand Swamy with Bhagat Singh Koshiyari as the chief minister, and yet it lost. Has the party learnt anything from that experience?
I don’t know if that (leadership change) was the reason (for defeat). At that time we were so confident. It was just 13 months after Uttarakhand was created. There was so much euphoria. We knew we would never lose. We have never till date understood the reasons for that defeat. Maybe, because we were so confident.
Some argue that Koshiyari, instead of you, would have been a better choice for the party.
I don’t want to say anything about any individual but the party would have certainly considered everything and then decided. We are going together. As leaders of BJP, we both want the same outcome. I don’t think there are reasons to have any differences.
Can you mention key issues you are going to take up in the elections?
The key issue is that Uttarakhand has been created by the BJP. Uttarakhand owes a lot to the BJP. Atalji’s government gave the 10-year industrial package, a financial package and many other things to the state. The second issue is that BJP’s regime and the Congress tenure should be compared (on issues) including corruption. We are not hesitant. There is a long series of good developmental activities. We have reduced the fees for an MBBS degree to '75,000. Where in the world will you get it so low? Our people are getting this for the last three years and there is no state quota. Not only this, for poor people it is half of that amount. And even those people who have no money can take loan from banks and they can pay back after they become doctors. We give 50 percent reservations to women.
But how are you going to convince people in just four months?
It depends. We are going to tell people they should compare what the Congress had done and what BJP has done. Take a total view. People understand what the Congress has done. The BJP at the national level has done a great deal for the state.
Don’t you agree you have a bigger fight within the party?
This is again something like an imagination. Which party does not have internal differences? Which party is not suffering from all these ailments but parties win. Congress leaders fight out in open and would not even listen to each other. On the contrary, in our party if the party decides something, we follow. There may be a difference of opinion but whatever the party decides we follow.
Immediately after taking over as the chief minister you invited Team Anna to Uttarakhand. You spoke about strengthening the Lokayukta.
I took oath on September 11 and just after that I had a cabinet meeting and we took a few major decisions. One of them was the Lokpal bill. We have a Lokayuta but it is weak and after all this, Anna’s agitation and the Congress not agreeing (to his demand), we had a clear idea what this Lokpal bill should be and in the first meeting we decided we will have a strong Lokpal bill. The chief minister will also come under the Lokpal. It will be a Lokpal with teeth. We have decided that we will follow the civil society charter and have accountability for all development works. Thirdly, we said that all illegal properties will be confiscated and courts will be established to settle cases quickly. [The assembly passed the Lokayukta bill on November 1. The bill has been praised by Team Anna.]
Above all, I started a separate ministry to deal with ‘swaraj, bhrashtachar unmoolan and jan seva’. This is a separate department with separate functions under the chief minister. This should give an idea to people that we are talking not just for sake of publicity. In three weeks, we have got these things through Vidhan Sabha. We have also made a law for (bureaucrats’) transfers. There will be no money (bribes), no recommendations and no interference. We are going to do more such things. We are going to tell what our intentions are and what our actual performance is and then you decide.
You have an image of a stern leader. Do you plan to tone it down a bit?
This is my 21st year in politics. I was in the army for 30 years. In the army, there is a certain way of working. At young age, we learn certain values and
discipline. When I came into politics, people were very angry with me but slowly they started realising. Even in my own constituency, if I was doing something it is in their interest and not out of my ego or arrogance. Slowly they have realised, they have also learnt, I have also learnt certain things... realising it’s not the army.
Those who objected to my term are now saying it was very good and that that was the way to do things. I also have learnt many things. Lots of my sharp edges in politics have also been rounded off. Those who were angry with me earlier say at least this man doesn’t lie.
Has your relationship with Rajnath Singh improved?
It’s the human nature. Either you carry the baggage of the past with you or you put it aside. It is the trait of the individual, whether it’s Rajnath Singh or it’s General Khanduri. We are individuals. Wherever I would be, I would behave in the same manner, whether I am in the Congress, BJP or CPM or anything. As far as I am concerned I think they know me well. It’s nothing to do with the past. Even in Rajnath Singh, I don’t see anything like this. We get along very well.
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