Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is gearing up for the biggest battle of his political career. If the Congress wins the assembly elections, Chavan, 68, will become a hero. But if the party loses, like it did in the Lok Sabha elections, he will be reduced to a zero. Someone who could not make use of the opportunity and trust extended to him by the party high command even after the LS debacle.
Speaking to dna's Sudhir Suryawanshi at his official residence, Varsha bungalow, in Malabar Hill, he appeared confident as he discussed his poll strategy and highlighted his achievements.
While making it clear that he was not involved in the Narayan Rane patch-up and some senior Delhi leaders tried to topple him, he said he's the most effective CM in the history of the state.
What are the challenges before you ahead of the state elections?
The morale of the party cadre was quite low immediately after the LS polls. But that is changing now. People have realised that Narendra Modi's government has failed at all fronts. They failed to control inflation and generate employment. So, the situation is favourable for us. Also, infighting within the Shiv Sena and the BJP over seat sharing is intensifying with each passing day... I am sure things will work in our favour. Moreover, the Sena-BJP has failed to project any prominent face as a CM candidate.
The Congress-NCP has been ruling the state for the past 15 years; so how are you going to tackle anti-incumbency?
There is no anti-incumbency against the Congress-NCP combine. It may be against an individual elected representative who has failed to fulfil promises. It will depend on a case-to-case basis. Overall, the present situation is quite favourable for us.
So, are you ready for the state polls?
We are prepared. I am confident that the people of Maharashtra will vote us to power. We will tell people about the various developments we carried out and also reiterate the fact that Maharashtra is No 1 in various sectors. We have spent almost Rs35,000 crore on various development projects, including the mono rail, metro rail, eastern freeway and Navi Mumbai international airport. Also, in the state polls, there will be no Modi effect because he is not the CM candidate.
You say you have taken many decisions. But there's a strong perception that you delay decisions by sitting on files and that results in slow development for the state. Some say you are an indecisive CM... what do you have to say?
You can check government records. As a CM, I have taken a record-number of decisions compared to previous CMs. There were several decisions that were pending for decades such as najul land in Vidharbha and the Maratha-Muslim reservation, which I okayed. Besides, many projects such as Gosikhurd, Mihan in Nagpur, new wildlife sanctuaries were stuck for several years; but I saw to it that they start rolling. We have decided to develop the biggest and planned township in Navi Mumbai by rehabilitating those who would be affected by the airport. Some groups with vested interests indulged in false and fabricated propaganda against me.
There were reports that after the Congress debacle in the LS polls, you will be replaced...
Some Congress leaders in Delhi tried to destabilise my position in the state. And this created a picture that there would be change of guard. Some people were unhappy, so they were leaking false information and promising other state leaders that they would be made CM. But the party high command has total faith in me and my leadership.
What about the cluster development policy that has been delayed for several months?
The amended cluster development policy will be out in a day or two. It is almost ready with slight changes. There were a couple of hiccups in the policy, therefore the delay. We have to take such a decision with precautions. In the past, we said the government will intervene and help developers acquire land forcefully in case of redevelopment projects. But that can be challenged in the court of law. We have every right to demolish old buildings; but we cannot force private flat owners to hand over their flats for redevelopment. We will leave that decision to the people. Actually, cluster development is the key to city's development but somehow it did not get that much success. Since the inception of the policy in 2005, only two projects have been successfully approved.
But if the government doesn't intervene in land acquisition it will create problems in policy implementations. So, chances of the amended cluster policy becoming successful will be dim...
What can we do? We have to follow the law and come up with plans that cannot be challenged in court. People and developers have to decide about developing their areas. I am clear, the government will not intervene in this decision.
What about Local Body Tax (LBT)... Will it be abolished as per the demand of the business community ahead of the polls?
There are a few technical glitches that need to be sorted out before LBT can be abolished. I asked several business forums and municipal corporations to suggest an alternative to LBT. But no one has given any so far. Unless we have an alternative, LBT will continue. Also, it a perception was wrongly created that we lost the LS polls because the business community deserted us because of LBT. Mumbai never had any LBT; but still we lost all the six seats here.
Has the war of words between the Congress and the NCP over seat sharing settled down?
It is true that both Congress and NCP leaders — deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and MPCC president Manikrao Thakre — were making wild statements. Such posturing happens before every election. The idea is to grab maximum seats. These pressure tactics are exercised by both parties. But I restrained myself from making any such provocative statements.
It is clear that we are going to contest the polls jointly. We are ready to exchange some weak seats here and there that can benefit both parties. If the seat exchange is done smartly like we did during the LS polls in Hingoli, Kolhapur and Raigad, it will benefit both parties. It will help increase out total tally in the assembly. The NCP and the Congress has fought five elections together. So, the alliance will stay to thwart any attempt to bifurcate secular votes.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar is hobnobbing with the BJP, meeting PM Narendra Modi and supporting them in some issues in Parliament?
I do not think that Mr Pawar is getting close to BJP. They have decided to support the BJP on some issues.
Do you think Narayan Rane's revolt damaged the party ahead of the crucial state elections?
Narayan Rane is a very senior leader in the party. Though he openly criticised me, I met him twice with an open heart to understand his grudges and iron out differences, if any. Now, this chapter is over and it is good for the party.
What did the Congress promise Rane?
To be frank, I was not involved in the last round of discussions and negotiations with Rane. It was done at the party level. But I am happy that he decided to remain in the party and in my cabinet. We will utilise his expertise during the elections.
There were reports of dispute over who will lead the state election campaign. Rane was promised that he would be made the head of the state election campaign committee. What is your take on the matter?
As the state's CM, I am in charge of election affairs and I will lead the campaign. There are no differences over it. And my party has already clarified that the state election will be contested under the leadership of the chief minister.
What do you have to say on Natwar Singh's book "One Life Is Not Enough"? Is it true that every important file was shown to Sonia Gandhi before its approval in Parliament?
It is totally false. I have worked in the PMO. I know how files move in Parliament and in the PMO. For important policy decisions, the party's view has to be incorporated. There is nothing wrong in that. But the government never showed or shared each and every page of every policy document with Mrs Gandhi.
Many Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, have decided to write a book... are you thinking on the same lines?
Not now... Maybe once I retire from active politics.