It is often said that the BJP government in Gujarat is run by remote control from the Centre. Chief minister Vijay Rupani does not deny it. In an interview with Shashi Bhushan, Mr Rupani says that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the party’s face in the Assembly elections. Excerpts:
There’s a general perception that thr Gujarat government is remote-controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
It’s not a crime to work under Prime Minister Narendra bhai and Amit bhai for the development of the state. Narendra Bhai served that state as chief minister for 13 years and has a lot of experience as chief minister of the state. Even Amit bhai has been in the government. So I don’t see anything wrong if I consult them over policy issues. Also, it’s not a “crime” to seek guidance from them over development issues. .
The elections are approaching. Will you be the face of the party?
Prime Minister Modi and Mr Shah will be the poster boys of the party during the elections. There is nothing wrong in that. All political parties engage their popular leaders and vote-catchers during elections. Modi bhai and Amit bhai are the most popular leaders in the country today.
Everyone knows Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will lead the election campaign. Therefore, the BJP will also use its leaders who have mass appeal and can get votes.
How would you rate your performance in the last one year?
For the last 16 years the BJP government in Gujarat has been working for the all-round development of the state. The development of Gujarat started under the visionary leadership of then chief minister Narendra bhai. The Anandiben Patel government carried this forward and my government is also doing the same thing. The BJP is successful in the state only because of the strong and able leadership provided by the visionary leader Narendra bhai. Today Gujarat has been doing well in all sectors — despite being a rain-deficit state, we have performed well in the agrarian sector. Our agricultural growth is above the national average.
Despite your claims, the Congress has accused you of failing in the agriculture and social sectors.
That means they are accepting that we have done well in other sectors. But the truth is that there has been an all-round development in the state because of the strong foundation laid by Narendra. The Congress and its leaders in the state are disconnected from reality and the people of Gujarat.
The Patidar community, which is an influential section, is up in arms against you. Don’t you think this could damage your prospects?
The so-called Patidar agitation will not be a factor during the polls. The sting has gone out of the agitation as we have consulted and taken into confidence the stakeholders. We have announced several schemes for them, which also include “Mukhyamantri Yuva Swalamban Yogna,” to provide financial assistance to the youth of this community.
How do you see the debut of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party or formation of the third front in the state polls?
They are welcome to contest the poll but they will only taste defeat. The people of Gujarat have never accepted a third front in the state. The fight will be between the BJP and the Congress — the two main competitors.
You had once asked people to change their food habits and become vegetarians. Is your government planning to bring any legislation in this regard?
Yes, I had said that. Most people in the world are now becoming vegetarians. In Gujarat, a majority of people are vegetarians. I appeal to other to do the same. But I am not going to force that on anyone. I am not going to bring in any legislation in this regard.
Your state had hit the headlines for targeting dalits on the issue of cow slaughter. What steps have you taken to ban cow slaughter.
In order to protect milch animals, we have introduced strong legislation that included life imprisonment for cow slaughter in the state. We have also shut down hookah bars in the state. We have also strengthened the anti-liquor laws. Anyone found selling or manufacturing illicit liquor will be dealt with strictly. Violation of liquor prohibition will also attract imprisonment for life.
Are you confident of carrying out Mr Shah’s goal for 150 of 182 Assembly seats?
The BJP is going to record a historic win. We will get over 150 seats. When Modiji was chief minister, he got 122 seats in the 2012 Assembly polls. This time we are confident of getting over 150 seats. There will be division of votes in the Muslim community because of our fight against triple talaq, and we expect Muslim women to vote for the BJP. It happened in Uttar Pradesh. When Prime Minister Narendra Bhai talks of 6.5 crore Gujaratis, it also includes Muslims.
Your have also managed break the Congress.
The Congress is in disarray. The 13 Congress MLAs who joined the BJP recently will only strengthen us. The split in the Congress has helped us. With the formidable Patel leader Raghavji Patel of Jamnagar joining the BJP, the Congress’ back has been broken.
The BJP was somewhat weak in central Gujarat. This weakness, too, has been neutralised with the Congressmen joining us. Please note some of these Congress MLAs also have influence over the Patidar community.