From weathering political storms, rebellions to managing Covid, Ashok Gehlot is a doughty fighter (IANS Interview)

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The Congress government in Rajasthan recently completed three years in power. While it attracted many accolades for its Bhilwara model which helped check the corona spread, the state government equally drew criticism for infighting within its MLAs, rebellion among its workers and the ministers camping in five-star hotels to avoid toppling of the government. Further, the state also topped NCRB charts in rape cases.

In an email interview, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot candidly replied questions like — how the BJP did horse-trading to gain power in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. He also alleged that almost half of the complaints received for crimes against women were fake.

Remaining equally concerned over the health of women, he talks about announcing free of cost distribution of sanitary napkins in the state which he says should be followed by other states as well. Also known as a ‘magician’, Gehlot has declared that his party will return to power again in the 2023 polls.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Your three years of governance came with many success stories and you have left a mark with the Bhilwara model which has been recognised even at the world level…what shall be the priority areas in the next two years?

A: Health and social security have always been our government’s priority. Hence, we didn’t let anyone be deprived of treatment during the Covid pandemic and not let anyone sleep on an empty stomach. Our government gave financial assistance of Rs 5,500 to 33 lakh families each. We had also provided dry ration and meals and we have worked on it too.

We are organising the ‘Invest Rajasthan’ summit in January where the country’s leading industrialists will participate to invest here. Our focus is to bring more investment and provide employment. Farmer’s welfare, women empowerment, improving delivery of public services, taking social security to the next level and providing more and more opportunities to the youth will be our priority.

Q: What’s the secret behind being able to save your government from being toppled? Neighbouring states like Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka could not save it but you managed.

A: In MP and Karnataka, the BJP did horse-trading to gain power. In Goa and Manipur, they formed governments even when the Congress was the single largest party. But in Rajasthan, with the support of independent MLAs, and the MLAs who came to the Congress from the BSP, CPI-M and BTP and the wholehearted support of the public, our government was saved.

Here, the BJP could not break even the Independents and those MLAs, who came from the BSP to the Congress even after offering crores of rupees. Public boosted our morale. The MLAs were told by the people that even if they have to stay in the hotel for two months, the arrogance of the money power and muscle power of the BJP has to be taught a lesson.

Q: Even after three years, those who helped save the government are disappointed…will there be any soothing balm for them?

A: It is true that due to the MLAs, who supported the Congress at the time of political crisis, the government could have a majority. But I have always said that the MLAs had extended support to the policies of good governance of the state government in the interest of the public, not to the greed of any post. We cannot forget their cooperation during the crisis time. Each of our MLAs is a participant in the government and their opinions have importance in governance.

Q: How did you boost the economy post-Covid?

A: When we assumed power in 2018, we inherited a debt of Rs 3.25 lakh crore from the previous government. We ensured good financial management, but corona reduced revenue of the state government by 70 per cent. But, we never allowed the economic vacuum to come into the state. All the government employees in our state got their salaries on time. The salary cut of Rs 1,600 crore happened during the lockdown was given back to all the employees. We succeeded in presenting an inclusive budget even after the Covid crisis.

Q: You have said the Congress shall return in 2023 to form the government. Is groupism over?

A: Our party is united and will remain united under the leadership of Congress President Shrimati Sonia Gandhi and Shri Rahul Gandhi. The government has done excellent work in the past three years and it is evident by the people’s continuous support to us. We have done a great job so far and will continue to do so in future also. That’s the reason why, this time the people are happy and we see no anti-incumbency and this government will repeat itself. We are providing good governance with a sensitive, transparent and accountable government.

Q: Any major aspirational scheme?

A: The women’s issues have been dealt with earnestly. The periods or menstruation is such an issue for our society where there is always a hesitation in discussing it while this is a natural process. I was surprised to know that about 62 per cent of women in the country use products other than the sanitary pad, which has an adverse effect on their health. Doctors say that using a cloth during menstruation leads to several illnesses, including cervical cancer which may also lead to death. Hence, we announced in this year’s budget to provide sanitary napkins to all women in the state with Rs 200 crore.

We launched the first phase of this scheme on December 19. I believe that there should be a debate in the state and across the country and the governments make schemes (for this) in the interest of women and girls so that the women feel that the government stands with them and they don’t need to feel any hesitation.

Q: How shall you sum up these three years overall? Opportunities, challenges and the way forward?

A: Our government has worked for every section of the society and uploaded the details of every beneficiary on Jan Suchana portal in a transparent manner. Our government has waived nearly Rs 15,000 crore worth of farm loans, has given an additional subsidy of Rs 1,000 per month on electricity bills of farmers — which has led to zero electricity bill for about three lakh farmers, given free treatment up to Rs 5 lakh through Chiranjeevi Swasthya Bima Yojana, and during Covid, everything was free from tests to treatment.

Government medical colleges are being opened in 30 districts, 123 new colleges have been opened of which 32 are girls colleges, we have given 1 lakh government jobs while about 80,000 are in the pipeline, rules are being formed for contractual workers, about 90 lakh people are being given social security pension, about 36,756 km roads are developed and 5,384 km new roads have been built in three years, the complainants are being heard in the police stations due to compulsory FIR scheme and reception rooms at the police stations, and RIICO industrial area is being opened in every block, this is just a snapshot of the work done by our government.

The people have approved our work time and again. That is why we have had big wins in six out of eight Assembly bypolls, and in urban local bodies and in the Panchayati Raj polls as well.

Q: Data from the NCRB shows that there is an increase in crime in Rajasthan, how do you see it?

A: It is written at the beginning of the NCRB report that crime is a result of various circumstances prevailing in the society. We should avoid comparing states solely on the basis of these figures due to various state specific policies and procedures. Some people make a mistake by assuming that increase in crime and increase in registration of crime are the same thing. The media and the Opposition are also making the same mistake.

Our government implemented the policy of mandatory registration of FIRs in 2019. Earlier, the police used to write a report on a blank paper and lodged an FIR when they found any evidence. But the women and the marginalised communities used to face trouble a lot of times due to this and they weren’t heard. Now everyone’s FIR is registered due to which every case is taken to its logical end. This has provided much relief to the common man.

Earlier, 33 per cent FIRs in rape cases were lodged through courts under CrPC section 156(3). Due to a policy of free registration, this figure is now just 15 per cent. Not just this, in 2019, our government set up a special unit for investigation of crimes against women under an officer of Deputy SP rank in every district — this was promoted to Additional SP. Due to this, the investigation in heinous cases such as rape has decreased from 274 days in 2017-18 to 73 days. We have also appointed legal officers in courts and have made such an arrangement that the culprit isn’t let off by the courts either. This is the reason why you keep reading in newspapers now that the accused is getting punishment in ten days or that a decision is being made within a month.

But it is a matter of concern that a lot of people are maligning this policy. 45.88 per cent of the FIRs lodged for crimes against women in 2019, 45.23 per cent in 2020 and 47.56 per cent in 2021, till June, were found to be fake. This means that almost half the complaints received for crimes against women are fake. The state is being maligned due to people misusing the law in this manner. And you already know how FIRs are lodged in other states.

20211224-120801

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