Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel talks to The Hindu about his government’s decision to challenge the NIA Act, his protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the divergent stand of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on the issue.
What was the immediate provocation to challenge the NIA Act, a legislation which was brought in during the Congress-led UPA era?
Yes, the Congress government had brought in this legislation, but it was not brought in as an instrument to misuse and intimidate State governments run by other political parties. The BJP government has been misusing all investigating agencies from CBI, ED, DRI and even the Income Tax department.
We are seeing nationwide protests against the CAA and NRC. Do you believe that these protests have the potential to be the nemesis of the Narendra Modi government?
The entire country is anguished by the fact that they will have to prove that they are really the citizens of this country. There can be no bigger insult than this. And secondly, the PM and Home Minister are taking different lines on the issue which proves that all is not well between them. Mota Bhai (PM Modi, Mota in Gujarati means elder brother) in Ram Lila Maidan claims that NRC will not be implemented. While Chota Bhai (Home Minister Amit Shah) in Rajasthan asserts that the government will not back down even by an inch. This is essentially the fight between Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Are you alleging that the two are at loggerheads?
After hard work of five years Narendra Modi made a global image for himself. And today, he has been put in a such an embarrassing position that he is unable to even step out of the country. We are known for our inclusive culture, it is not only about the Muslims. It all began in Assam and to get out of the mess they spread the mess across the country. Out of the 19 lakh “ghuspatiye” (infiltrators) in the State, 15 lakh turned out to be Hindus and four lakh Muslims. Now, they should have handed over these 19 lakh people to Bangladesh from where they have reportedly come as per the NRC exercise. Instead of doing that, Mr. Shah announced a nationwide NRC. And Chota Bhai explained the “chronology” that CAA will be followed by NPR and then finally NRC. Now, Mota Bhai says that NRC has not even been discussed in the Cabinet.
What is your government’s stand on NPR?
All of it is related. Now in NPR, the government wants respondents to give date of birth and place of birth of their parents. In Chhattisgarh, for example, 40% persons are below the poverty line. They are landless and illiterate. How will such a person produce documents that the government wants. Now in Raipur alone, we have persons from the entire nation. To gather the documentary evidence, they will have to revisit the place of their ancestors. Everyone in the country will be running from pillar to post collecting the necessary evidence. Let them remove the clause on date of birth and place of birth of parents of a respondent in the NPR form, then we have no problem with the exercise. Then it’s only like the census that happens once in every decade. Why would we have a problem with that.
The Congress so far in the last six years has been attacking the government on demonetisation and faulty implementation of GST. Is NRC/CAA a far bigger issue than these two?
During the demonetisation exercise only one member per family was standing in the queues. With CAA/NRC, every member from eight-year-old kid to 80-year-old grandmother will have to stand in the queue and prove their citizenship. And how will the 80-year-old grandmother bring documents about her parents? Demonetisation and GST were Narendra Modi’s handiwork. The last seven months of the second term of the BJP government is actually Amit Shah’s government and not Modi’s. From revoking Article 370 and 35 A, CAA, NPR all these are Shah’s doing. Inside and outside the Parliament Shah is running the government’s narrative. And Mr. Modi is repeatedly being proven wrong. Actually, this is Mr. Shah’s attempt to entrap Mr. Modi and destroy his image.
You have repeatedly asserted that Rahul Gandhi should return as the president of the Congress party. Do you believe that the Congress can’t run without Mr. Gandhi at the helm?
I am not saying that the party can’t function without Rahul ji. The party existed and functioned even when Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi were not there. This is not what I am saying. I only mean that at present there is no leader other than Rahul Gandhi who can handle the position of president of the Congress party. He is the only one who is strongly fighting against this government.
The Union government has refused to procure additional paddy from Chhattisgarh. What is the way forward?
Our government is buying paddy at ₹2,500 per quintal. The Union Government refused to procure paddy from our State because we are paying bonus to the farmers. (There is a difference of ₹750 per quintal between the Union government’s MSP and the price offered by the Chhattisgarh government). We are selling paddy to the Union government as per their price and have paid ₹7,000 crore of bonus to the farmers. We will bring in a new policy on the lines of the Rythu Bandhu scheme of the Telangana government or the Kalia scheme of the Odisha government.