New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a “blunder” by placing the country under lockdown on a four-hour notice, and history will not forgive him if he plays politics on religious lines, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said Wednesday at the digital version of ThePrint’s Off The Cuff. He also said the central government should now support states that have been fighting the coronavirus pandemic on their own for two months now.
In conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Gehlot said Modi made a mistake by not giving adequate time to the migrant labourers before the lockdown, adding that he should have sent them back free of charge.
“We sent back over 6 lakh migrants and did not charge a single penny,” he said.
Asked if states were taken into confidence before the lockdown announcement on 24 March, Gehlot said no one had any inkling. “No one got to know anything. The PM follows this approach of not revealing anything, which he had done during demonetisation too. He did the same while announcing the lockdown too,” he said.
“If he had taken out a specific muhurat then I’m not sure… Otherwise in four hours, no government announces such major decisions. Even the MPs who were stuck were given 48 hours and found it difficult to make their way back. So how could the migrants, who had no resources, travel to their homes?” Gehlot asked.
The Rajasthan CM said the Modi government failed to understand the sentiments of the people, especially the migrants. “When the PM made his ‘jaan hai toh jahan hai speech’, the migrant workers got scared. They all read the newspapers and watch television. They had seen what had happened in China and the US and so after his speech they naturally got scared,” he said.
“Had the PM facilitated their travel through special buses or trains, India would not have been embarrassed in the world the way we have been. It is a big failure of the government.”
On Covid-19 and economy in Rajasthan
On receiving support from the Centre in the Covid-19 battle, Ashok Gehlot said the states have been fighting it on their own for two months now.
“The states have been fighting the corona battle on their own for two months. Now they need the support of the central government. Every single state has worked hard and tackled it on their own. Rather than the states asking for help, the (Modi) government should come forward and provide them help. The way revenue has been impacted, states need support urgently,” he said.
Talking about the current economic scenario, the Rajasthan CM said the Modi government is “not understanding” the gravity of the situation.
“All industries were closed, migrants were on the roads and this alone can tell us what exactly the situation in the country is,” he said.
Criticising the Centre’ Covid-19 economic package for its loan-based approach, Gehlot said not just Rajasthan but the entire country has suffered due to the lockdown.
“During the video conferencing with the PM, I had raised the issue of giving grants rather than loan and in case loan has to be given it should be interest-free. On my level, I have formed a committee to improve the economic situation,” he said.
About the steps taken by his government, Gehlot said, “We have started a major refinery project and it will be a major source of revenue. I am personally monitoring it. we won’t have to import then too. This is our top priority.”
Commenting on the Bhilwara model of Covid-19 treatment, for which he earned the PM’s praise, the CM said, “I don’t want to compare the various models but the Bhilwara model has been appreciated by the Central government. It should be replicated by all.”
Gehlot also maintained that Tablighi Jamaat was deliberately made into an issue. “The corona situation is under control in Rajasthan. The recovery rate in the state is 68.66 per cent, which is much higher than the national recovery rate,” he said.
On labour law, and students
Speaking about Rajasthan’s labour reform order that was withdrawn, CM Ashok Gehlot said his government revoked the order to raise the working hour limit from eight to 12 hours as it felt the workers’ sentiment was becoming anti-owner and anti-industry.
Asked if the decision to revoke the order was his or taken at the behest of the party high-command, Gehlot said, “After spending 40 years in the party, we know what the party wants. We felt that the migrants were developing an anti-owner and anti-industry feeling due to the order so we decided to revoke it.”
He also indirectly criticised the states that offered to pay to ferry the students but not the migrants.
“Many states had to choose between arranging transport for the students and the migrants. They must have felt that as students are young and were staying on rent they should be sent home first. They also thought if they would charge them it would affect their reputation back home,” Gehlot said.
On Rahul Gandhi, and Modi’s politics
Responding to the criticism Rahul Gandhi faces for his ‘vacations’, Ashok Gehlot said the former Congress chief went for Vipassana a couple of times in the past. “Politics is based on perception. He is always working, but there’s a misleading perception of his that has been created.”
Gehlot said Gandhi is a youth leader who wants the best for the party and had even suggested conducting elections within the party as a major reform.
He also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pay heed to Gandhi’s advice, to concentrate on the present rather than the past. Modi got a mandate to lead the country but his and RSS’ agenda are quite dangerous for the country, he said.
“Party comes second, RSS comes second. The country comes first. I hope Modi ji and Amit (Shah) ji remember this,” Gehlot said, taking a swipe at the Union home minister for being “busy” in breaking and forming governments.
“Modi ji has got such a big chance, he should have a positive outlook. The mandate he has got, he should use it for the benefit of the people. He himself says the country comes first then he should follow that. His name will become part of history if he does something for the nation. But if he carries out politics on religious lines, then history will not spare him,” he said.
On Congress and infighting
On the current leadership vacuum in Congress as far as young leaders are concerned, Ashok Gehlot said during his time they had to struggle to reach where they are today. The young leaders don’t have to do this today.
“When we entered politics, we used to travel in trains without reservation, used to sleep on the floor of the trains, we used to frequently visit villages, and it was common to travel by cycles. Though it is not the fault of the younger generation, they have not gone through this struggle. They have got good opportunities in the party even at the central level without much effort,” he said.
“At a time when we are not in power, the new generation should consider this as a blessing in disguise. They should work hard, visit villages, and use this period as a learning process,” he added.
Citing former Congress leader Jyotiaraditya Scindia who joined the BJP in March, he said, “Scindia, for instance, left the Congress even though the party gave him so much. Congress gave him an opportunity at the Centre level so soon… He was made a minister. His father was with the Congress for such a long time,” he said.
The Rajasthan CM also downplayed news of infighting within the Congress especially between him and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot. “We are all working together and are unitedly working for the party,” he said, adding that the BJP has been making efforts to break the government.
Asked if, after Scindia, he fears other leaders may also quit, Gehlot said, “Rumours about government formation and failure keep on surfacing now and then. These people (BJP) wear a mask of democracy but in reality they are destroying such institutions.
“At a time when the nation was facing a coronavirus pandemic, they were busy breaking the Madhya Pradesh government. I am also aware of such efforts being made by them in Rajasthan too and we will face it confidently,” he added.
While the BJP has geared up for Bihar assembly elections and bypolls in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is yet to start its preparation. On this, Gehlot said the party is working hard in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. “I spoke to Kamal Nath some time back and they are quite prepared,” he said.