Hardik Patel can’t win from any seat in 2019: Vijay Rupani

Gujarat Chief Minister
Vijay Rupani is battling several issues at once. His energies are focused on mounting a successful Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January, while fighting fires on fronts such as the Patidar agitation and perceived internal dissent. During an interview at his official residence in Gandhinagar, he told
Prerna Katiyar how he was tackling the challenges.
Edited excerpts:

Is there a new focus to Vibrant Gujarat’s 9th edition due in January?
Narendra Modiji developed the Vibrant Gujarat concept when he was chief minister. Now that he is the prime minister, naturally Gujarat is benefitting from his hard work and global appeal. ‘Modi-Gujarat-Bharat’ image is helping us. He has travelled across the world. More than 100 delegate countries will be participating this time. ‘Shaping New India’ will be our new theme.

But the state’s ranking has slipped two positions to fifth in the NITI Aayog’s Ease of Doing Business report.
No, no, there is something amiss in the ranking. We have raised an objection in Delhi. The marks are more for Gujarat in all the parameters. There is a clear mistake. They are looking at it. We will share the feedback with you when we receive it. But more than the ranking we believe in creating a business-friendly environment. As chief minister, I feel it is my responsibility.

How do you explain high unemployment despite Vibrant Gujarat?
I do not agree. Gujarat is actually no. 1 in job creation among all states. Unemployment registration is only 5.5 lakh at the employment exchanges. The number is much higher in Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi. The actual figure will be less in fact. The youth register at the exchange if they do not get desirable government jobs. That does not mean they are jobless.

Why has the government not been able to make private education affordable?
Self-finance education concept was brought by Congress at an all-India level. Even then, we made the first law saying that the government will fix the fee for self-finance schools. Under the Fee Regulatory Committee, fee charged by schools has to be commensurate with the kind of facilities offered. It is a first.

How do you explain the BJP getting only 99 seats in the assembly election compared to 121 held in last term?
In all the assembly elections held in 2017, all ruling governments lost except for Gujarat that was able to repeat itself. In UP, the SP was defeated by the BJP, in Uttarakhand and Himachal, the BJP replaced the Congress, Akali were replaced by the Congress in Punjab. Only Gujarat government got a repeat mandate; that too when we have been here for 22 successive years. Also, our vote share increased — from 48% in 2012 to 49.4%. Every second person voted for the BJP. The Congress was busy in caste-based politics, which the people discarded. We faced big andolans, still we managed to win with a clear mandate.

In view of the assembly election results, will you be able to win all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat again?
We need to focus only on seven Vidhan Sabha seats. After assembly election we had 75 nagar palika elections where we had a good show then again in the two zila panchayat polls. We won both the Vadodara and Junagarh municipal corporation by-elections held this month. On the other hand, Congress is falling apart under Rahul Gandhi. Rahul made a statement from America that he is ready to become the PM but it has not been backed by his party till date. We will be winning all Lok Sabha seats again.

How do you view Rahul Gandhi hugging the PM in the Lok Sabha?
Phir unhone aakh bhi maari na (He winked afterwards, no?). It shows his immaturity and childishness. Rahul has no leadership quality. How will the nation offer leadership to him. I am assuming Congress has already lost. There is a feeling that BJP went back on its promise to Patidar protestors of withdrawing cases against them. See, it was said clear-cut in a meeting — Hardik was also there — that in cases where serious charges such as sedition are there, the government has no power to do anything. All had agreed, including Hardik.

Does the BJP see Hardik as a threat?
Hardik stands exposed today. Let me tell you, Hardik can fight from any Lok Sabha seat, and he will not win. He knows it. That is why he is crying and creating an impression that we are targeting him. He has absolutely no base now.

Are you satisfied with representation of women in your Cabinet.
Vibhavari Dave is the only woman minister…
We have given representation to women in many organisations. In Lok Sabha we have four women among 26 BJP MPs from Gujarat. Having said that, we are still working to give them more representation.

BJP made Kunwarji Bavalia a Cabinet minister within hours of inducting him from Congress. Why such haste?
He is a senior leader, a six-time legislator, former Congress state working president and president of All-India Koli Samaj. Senior aadmi hain.

Why has the BJP avoided giving ticket to any Muslim candidate even as it proclaims Sabha Saath, Sabha Vikas?
We do not believe in politics of appeasement. We believe Muslims should come forward. But merely giving ticket — like the Congress does — is not the focus. Our direction is different. At the national level, we have many Muslim leaders. Gradually, we will give them more chance.

Will you give Muslims tickets for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?
Like I said, we do not believe in the politics of appeasement. Let them work. If they are capable, we will offer them tickets as well.

Deputy CM Nitin Patel had revolted immediately after you were sworn in… It would seem that all is not well between the two of you.
I will dismiss this as a rumour. Till date there has been no incident where we have had any differences. He is a senior leader. We don’t just work with him but also take guidance from him.

What steps are being taken to overcome farmer distress?
There is no unrest among farmers in Gujarat. We are offering agriculture loans at 0% interest. Farmers are happy. We are giving water and electricity. In the last three years, we are buying their produce at MSP. So they are getting money, loan, water and electricity.


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