AHMEDABAD: In an exclusive interview, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel spoke to The New Indian’s Assistant Editor Anand Singh on the prospects of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the crucial assembly election scheduled to be held by the end of this year. He said the ruling party would not face any formidable Opposition in the elections. Patel, who hails from the Kadva sub-caste of the influential Patidar community, had won the 2017 assembly polls from the Ghatlodia assembly seat by a margin of over one lakh votes. Many party admirers were left surprised by his selection for the top post in September last year in the crucial western state where BJP has been in power since 1995. Excerpts:
Anand Singh: The BJP is seeking a mandate for the sixth consecutive time in Gujarat. Will it face any anti-incumbency or challenges in the state?
Bhupendra Patel: The party has been coming back to power because of the work it has been doing and, that is why it (coming back to power) should be rather easy for us.
Anand Singh: Will there be new faces in the coming elections?
Bhupendra Patel: In the BJP, no one can say that their ticket (candidature) is confirmed. Even the chief minister cannot say that his ticket is confirmed. Everyone is a party worker first in the party and has to work for the organisation and the society at large.
Anand Singh: What is the biggest scheme that can be a game-changer?
Bhupendra Patel: The BJP has been in power in Gujarat for a long time. We have started work in the field of green energy to ensure zero carbon emission. We are focusing on electric vehicles and batteries. We have signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Japan worth Rs 10,445 crore and Rs 5.95 lakh crore with Reliance in this sector. We are working on green energy because it has multiple benefits. The dependency on petrol has to be reduced.
Anand Singh: Congress gave a very tough fight in the 2017 assembly elections and came close to the BJP (in terms of the number of legislators). Is there any such challenge this time too?
Bhupendra Patel: Before every assembly election, elections for gram panchayats, talukas and Zila panchayats are held. In the last local body elections in the state, we managed to win 100 per cent Zila panchayat seats. So there is no such problem here. We would not be facing any such challenge in the assembly elections this time.
Anand Singh: Has the BJP fixed any target for the assembly elections scheduled later this year?
Bhupendra Patel: What the Gujarat BJP president has said might happen. I am a positive man and never contest the election to defeat someone, but contest to win it. If someone goes to any party, he should expect some status of that party. Today, which is that one party? It is the BJP that has a status. It (the BJP) will not go anywhere (stay in power).
Anand Singh: In Gujarat, besides posters of the prime minister and state government, one can find posters of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is it emerging as a challenger in the state?
Bhupendra Patel: In a democracy, everyone has the right to contest elections. The BJP, however, has never been an election-oriented party and it works throughout the year. Our workers themselves keep on working for the people, to solve public issues at their own level. After I was made the chief minister, there was an election in the municipal corporation in Gandhinagar. Everyone was saying that the AAP will come to power but the BJP won 41 out of 44 seats. Earlier, BJP was never in majority because it would win about 50 per cent of the seats but this time, we were able to win in a big way due to the hard work of the party workers. Our workers stood with the people during the Covid pandemic. Prime Minister Modi is the most popular leader globally. His rating is on the rise. BJP is strongly positioned and the Opposition is losing its ground.
Anand Singh: Has the Congress diminished and given its space to the AAP in Gujarat which has seen a bipolar fight in previous assembly elections?
Bhupendra Patel: The BJP government works keeping the common man in the focus to ensure that benefits of welfare and development schemes reach the last man standing in the queue. We are also informing people about the government schemes by going door-to-door.
Anand Singh: AAP focuses on freebies, how do you look at it?
Bhupendra Patel: Free baatna hai toh hum bhi baat sakte hai (Even we can distribute freebies) but what about financial prudence and keeping things in balance? What about maintaining the government exchequer and economic balance, and proper budgeting? Despite the Covid pandemic, we have not burdened people with any extra tax. As per our Budget, the fiscal deficit ratio stands at 1.6 per cent (of GSDP). Such is not the case with other states. In many states, the fiscal deficit ratio has gone up to 4.5 per cent. The Gujarat Model has gravity and a reputation of its own across the nation. We will preserve that uniqueness.
Anand Singh: How much pressure do you feel about your performance as the chief minister given the fact that this post was once held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also that people talk about the Gujarat model?
Bhupendra Patel: You need to understand that there is only one Narendra Modi. We have to work under his leadership. It is not possible to work like him. We have to work under his leadership. No one can work like him even in the entire world. We have huge respect for whatever he did in the past. He must have faced so many difficulties while starting these works. Now it has been made easier for us to work for the development.
Anand Singh: The BJP talks about ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’, what do you have to say about the minorities in Gujarat?
Bhupendra Patel: I have a very different style of functioning. No one should face problems. The government is there to help whenever someone needs it. The schemes and policies of the Gujarat government are for everyone but we would not tolerate anyone breaking the rules.
Anand Singh: Your government decided to bring the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita into the school syllabus. Your comments?
Bhupendra Patel: This question should not be raised at this moment. We will study it first and then we will talk about it.
Anand Singh: Has the seaplane service launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi been stopped now?
Bhupendra Patel: I can only say that once we resume the seaplane services, it will not be stopped.
Anand Singh: Any reasons for stopping the seaplane services in the state?
Bhupendra Patel: I have not gone into the details, but we are going to resume the services soon.