By Sandeep Bamzai,
From a powerful Cabinet Minister and Congress General Secretary who managed key states and allies, Kamal Nath has migrated seamlessly to Bhopal, the power centre of Madhya Pradesh. Well versed in the art of real politik, the state’s 18th Chief Minister has an onerous responsibility now that he has reversed the BJP’s long winning streak in its quest to make India Congress Mukht. Blessed with innate strategic and tactical thinking, he has now set out to fix what was broken in the state.
In the concluding part of his interview with IANS, he outlines the problems faced by the state, starting with acute joblessness, something that is rampant across the country.
Joblessness was probably the single biggest factor along with farm and rural distress in the state which won Congress the mandate.
When asked about the severity of the crisis, its sheer width and depth is alarming, Nath spoke about alleviation measures. “Employment in Madhya Pradesh is in a sorry state of affairs. It was disheartening to witness the drain of resources that could otherwise have been used to mobilise growth in the state. On the very first day of taking charge of my office, I made it mandatory to employ 70 per cent local youth in Industries in the state to be eligible for industrial incentives.
“With time, we will come up with more employment-generation schemes and work on strengthening industries, which provide the largest opportunities for employment. Our government is focusing on skill development of youth, Industrial growth for increasing job opportunity and quality education. On Republic Day, we announced a new scheme ‘Yuva Swabhiman Yojna’. Under this scheme we will provide work to youth of the state for full 100 days in a year. On the agrarian distress side, Mandsaur twice in the last few years became the go-to hot button epicentre for the farmers, a rallying point against BJP policies on the farm front.”
Sitting in Delhi, one heard of continuing farm distress in Madhya Pradesh and how Mandsaur became ground zero of the agitation.
Nath spoke about various issues in relation to farm distress in Madhya Pradesh, how and why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government tried Bhavantar and then recalled it.
He was most forthcoming: “Madhya Pradesh is one of the largest agrarian states of India. Almost 70 per cent of the population is directly or indirectly related to agriculture. It is very sad that Madhya Pradesh tops in the country in terms of farmer suicides. Had the state been such an utopia for farmers as touted by the previous BJP government, things would have been very different.
“The resentment of the farmers was evident from the Mandsaur incident and so was the government’s apathy towards them. One of the major reasons for farm distress is farmers not getting appropriate price for their crops. Bhavantar was launched only to launder money and not address this issue. It was flawed from the word go and thus had to fail.
“We are going to redesign the ‘Bhavantar Scheme’ and come up with measures that will give farmers their dues. True to our words, we have waived off loans of farmers immediately after taking charge of the government and will formulate more such policies for the welfare of state farmers.”
As a former organisation man and a party General Secretary in charge of states in the past, IANS asked him whether Congress has a fighting chance in the coming hustings to return to power at the Centre?
Nath was at his eloquent best: “I am confident we are coming back to power with majority. BJP’s win in the last election was nothing but a fluke. However, you can’t fool people for too long and they see through your ploys. Things like demonetisation and GST have been absolute debacles and people now are rooting for a change.
“There is an anti-BJP sentiment among the people and we could witness that from the recent Assembly election results. When we talk about our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, it has started to dwindle and people have started taking cognisance of it. While the popularity graph of our Prime Minister is plummeting, that of Rahul Gandhi is on a steady increase.”
An interesting empiric seen in the defining battle in Madhya Pradesh which Nath won was that it went right down to the wire. The vote share of the BJP and Congress was very high and showed only a marginal difference in the end.
So we asked Nath what was it that really swung the tight vote in favour of the Congress?
Nath, who was educated in Doon School and St Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and speaks many languages with great felicity which helps in his conduct of politics rolled off the perfect answer – “Waqt hai badlav ka” (it is time for change) is what people of Madhya Pradesh strongly rooted for.
“Citizens of the state were tired of retarded growth and wanted a change. The anti-government sentiments of the people could be felt during our rallies. The state was engulfed in distress and misery and every class was a victim. It is their hope and trust on us that led us to victory and we will live up to the promises made.
“Now, the people of the state are very clearly feeling the difference between the two governments. One is performing but the other never did. I am confident people will support Congress Party, which has a strong will to work for the progress and prosperity of the state,” he said.
(Sandeep Bamzai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)