New Delhi: Attacking the Congress for “conspiring against the people of Gujarat” over the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, Union cabinet minister Parshottam Rupala has said that the party has no right to seek votes in the state in the name of development. He further asserted that Gujarat had “never accepted a third party”, dismissing the electoral prospects of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In an interview with ThePrint, Rupala — the minister of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying — discussed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poll prospects, the Morbi bridge collapse tragedy, and the challenge from AAP. He also spoke about initiatives his ministry has introduced, such as the provision of veterinary services at the doorstep for farmers.
Rupala, who comes from Amreli in Gujarat, is a former state BJP president (2006-2010) and a leader of the Patidar community.
Elections to the 182-member Gujarat assembly will be held in two phases on 1 and 5 December. The counting of votes will take place on 8 December.
‘Congress betrayed Gujaratis on Narmada dam issue’
Asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have been attacking the opposition, especially the Congress, over the issue of ‘Gujarati asmita’ (Gujarati pride), Rupala said, “It is a fact that the Congress (during the United Progressive Alliance government) used to treat Gujarat in a stepmotherly way when Modi ji was the chief minister. He raised this issue as CM during the 2007 and 2012 assembly elections as well.”
“During the UPA’s 10-year rule (2004 to 2014), they (the Congress) did not give permission to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River. It was pending with them for a long time. I am astonished that after betraying the people of Gujarat, they are asking people to vote for them,” he added.
“As soon as Modi ji became the PM, he approved raising the dam’s height within 17 days. This is one of the issues that we are raising in these elections. This is the advantage of the ‘double engine government’.”
‘Kejriwal insulting Gujarati pride’
On the question of whether Gujarat could accept AAP as an alternative party, Rupala said, “In a democracy, every party has the right to fight elections but in Gujarat, people have never accepted a third party (apart from the BJP and the Congress). Earlier as well, parties tried their hand but no one was successful; highly powerful leaders formed their respective parties but none of them could get enough votes. This time also, I think, AAP will not enjoy any success.”
Leaders who tried their hand with third parties in Gujarat include former BJP CMs Shankersinh Vaghela and Keshubhai Patel, who formed the Rashtriya Janata Party (1996) and the Gujarat Parivartan Party (2012) respectively — and won four and two seats.
Discussing AAP’s allegations that the BJP is pressuring AAP candidates to withdraw their nominations, Rupala termed them “hollow claims”. Last week, AAP accused the BJP of kidnapping its Surat East candidate Kanchan Jariwala, who later withdrew his nomination citing “internal conflicts with party leaders and workers”.
Rupala said, “Kejriwal is free to air his views, but who will listen to his hollow claims and allegations.”
“He should remember that patients from across the world come for treatment to our civil hospital in Ahmedabad. Gujarat was one of the first few states to start 108 for emergency ambulance services. Our healthcare model is one of the leading models in the world. PM Modi launched Ayushman Bharat which is the world’s largest health insurance scheme. Even America does not have such a scheme. AAP — which is following our model — is preaching to us and showing us their healthcare and education models.”
“If you want to win the vote of the Gujarati people, you shouldn’t insult their pride. This will backfire…Gujaratis are very emotional people. When there is no election, you say Gujarat excels in business, but during elections, you insult Gujarati people; this will not work in Gujarat,” said Rupala.
PM’s campaign, BJP rebels & Morbi tragedy
Asked whether the election is about Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel or about Modi, as the PM is leading the BJP’s campaign in the state, the Union minister said, “Of course the Gujarat election is about CM Bhupendra Patel, but it’s also to cement the prime minister’s position. He has strengthened Gujarat and also India’s position in the world. Jisne (Modi) kiya hai usey shabashi toh deni padegi na (the person who has done so much deserves praise and appreciation).”
“India is amongst the top five economies in the world when the economies of other countries are dwindling after the Covid pandemic. This is not an ordinary achievement. The Gujarati community is a business-oriented community, they understand the importance of India’s economic growth…Elections are going to be held under the leadership of CM Bhupendra Patel but while voting for him, people will also vote for Modi’s leadership at the Centre.”
On the question of the rebellions happening in the party over ticket distribution — an unprecedented situation for the Gujarat BJP — Rupala said, “It is only natural that when a candidate doesn’t get a ticket, they get disappointed, but senior party leaders speak to them and make them understand that we all have to work for the party. This is the beauty of the BJP, that everyone works for the party. Also, there are only one or two people who have a problem with ticket distribution, the issue will be resolved in due course of time.”
Asked if the Morbi bridge collapse tragedy on 30 October, in which 135 people were killed, might affect the BJP’s prospects — with the Congress accusing the ruling party of shielding the culprits — Rupala said, “This accident was very tragic and painful. The chief minister has constituted a high-powered committee and the members include a civil engineer, an expert, an architect and a police officer. The enquiry will be completed in a time-bound manner and culprits will not be spared. Our government will take strict action against those who are guilty, if the owner is found guilty, he will also be punished. There is no question of favouring anyone.”
Confident of victory in the polls, Rupala referred to the Patidar agitation that began in 2015 and hurt the BJP in the 2017 assembly election. Now, he said, there is “no such agitation against the state government. People are satisfied with the government’s work, PM Modi abrogated Article 370 in J&K, the construction of the Ram temple has begun in Ayodhya, the Kashi corridor is completed, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s Statue of Unity has been installed on the banks of the Narmada — these issues are a great amplifier for the BJP.”
“As CM of Gujarat, Modi ji solved the water crisis issue in the state, and after becoming PM, he launched the piped water connectivity scheme in Gujarat. I see a big mandate in this assembly election for the BJP.”
Free vaccination for animals, mobile veterinary vans
Listing initiatives his ministry has taken, the Union minister said “We vaccinated animals across the country for diseases like foot and mouth. Other initiatives that we started in animal husbandry and dairy include the introduction of mobile veterinary vans — technology will be provided at the doorstep, especially for ailing animals in far-flung areas.”
“We launched a helpline number, 1962, for this purpose. Now, doctors and medicine will be provided at the doorstep on a call. Six thousand such vans have been launched across the country.”
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)