Less than a year for the crucial 2019 general elections, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani believes that the entire opposition is coming together on the agenda of Modi Hatao (remove Prime Minister Narendra Modi) but the motto of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to get rid of poverty and corruption. In an interview, the chief minister comments on making Gujarat a water surplus state, showcasing Make In India during the Vibrant Gujarat summit, and why no leader in Gujarat can replace Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the state. Edited excerpts:

What will be the key focus area of Vibrant Gujarat event to be held next year in January? How will it be different from earlier summits?

Vibrant Gujarat is now a global brand, people all over the world talk about it. Most countries come to participate with big delegation. The theme of Vibrant Gujarat summit is likely to be “Shaping a New India". We want to focus on export-oriented growth. We want to increase exports of finished products from Gujarat. It will help us showcase Make In India in the export market. We will focus in this direction. Secondly, we want India and Gujarat to connect with global economy and it will also help us increase employment opportunities in the state. We also want to increase investment in the state by looking at possible opportunities and also to look at the existing investment opportunities. There will be different seminars focusing on MSMEs, digitization, start-ups. We will start road shows from August.

You recently launched a pilot scheme for farmers called Suryashakti Kisan Yojana. How will it help farmers in the centre’s mission to double farmers’ income by 2022?

All the farmers use power which is produced from thermal energy. Farmers have to pay the bills, follow norms and regulations. Farmers get power for eight hours regularly. There are issues related to environment also because thermal power produces carbon and the state government wants to reduce it. Since solar panels will be put in all the farm land, it will benefit the environment. This scheme will also help farmers get free electricity because it will get generated through solar power and there would be no need to pay the bill. Free electricity will be available to farmers. At present, we are giving power for eight hours to farmers; it is possible that they will get power supply for 12 hours, from 6am till evening when the sun sets. The state government will also purchase the excess power that will be generated by farmers, this will increase the income of farmers. Farmers will become power supplier. Our experience shows that there is scarcity of water during summers and solar power would be most beneficial during summers. It’s a win-win situation for farmers. Sometimes we give power to farmers during night, but this scheme will help farmers finish their work during the day so that they can rest at night.

At present the state government is giving subsidy to farmers, this scheme will end subsidy. When the entire state is covered through this scheme, state government will save subsidy worth 8,000 crore.

Gujarat recently slipped two positions to fifth rank in the rankings of Ease of Doing Business prepared by World Bank and Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. How do you plan to improve on this?

It is wrong. The figures we have received, Andhra Pradesh got more score than us, we know this. Telangana is second. But our score is better than Haryana which is third. We should be ahead of Haryana, they are not ahead of Gujarat. I don’t know why they have given such rankings, we are third. We have objected to it officially. It is very clear that Gujarat got more points than Haryana, yet they have ranked Gujarat below.

You took over the reins of the state after Anandiben Patel, how do you look back at your tenure?

Now I have got five years. We want to take concrete steps. Our immediate focus is on water because Gujarat is a water deficit state. We want to make Gujarat water surplus. The state is already power surplus, now the focus is to make the state water surplus. We have built embankments around 13,000 ponds, we have cleaned all the canals, rains have been good so far, all the ponds are filled, we have also increased the capacity of ponds. The government is also focusing on desalination, we have cleared a tender of 600 crore, and a plant will come up in Jamnagar district. We want to desalinate 100 million litres of water everyday. Another desalination plant will come up in Dahej. We want to set-up 5-6 such plants across Gujarat. The state government has also taken a policy decision to reuse and recycle water. We want to use the recycled and reused water for construction, industries, agriculture. So basically, we are augmenting natural sources of water, bring water security through desalination and reuse of water will bring down load on natural sources of water.

The present government got the least number of seats in the assembly in nearly two decades, what steps are you taking to restore the dominance of BJP?

I will give another perspective, even after 22 years people have yet again elected BJP government in the state. It’s a historic mandate. People gave 75 seats to Congress but didn’t give mandate to govern the state. Number of seats of Congress increased, our seats have come down but the message from people is very clear, they want us to run the government. For two years, the Congress campaign for the election was about caste and religion based, social friction which has harmed the state. This campaign of Congress played a role in the election yet BJP won. The percentage of vote of BJP has also increased, we now have 49.4% votes, or every second person voted for BJP.

During the local body elections in January this year, BJP won all the municipalities in Amreli where BJP didn’t perform well during assembly elections. Things are changing for better for BJP. We will perform well in 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well.

Farm distress has been a big challenge for the state government, how do you plan to address the demands concerns?

Farmers want uninterrupted power supply and water. The state government is focussing on these two aspects. Union government has already announced minimum support price (MSP) increase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has protected the farmers through this announcement. Farmers will benefit and their problems will ease.

What are the likely issues for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls because BJP had won all the seats in 2014 general elections.

The issues for the national elections have already been decided. The entire opposition is coming together and will move forward with the slogan of ‘Modi Hatao’ but the motto of BJP is to get rid of poverty and corruption. People will decide if they want to get rid of poverty and corruption or those (PM Narendra Modi) who is working to end poverty and corruption.

The Gujarat assembly election results showed growing urban and rural divide for BJP as the party won most seats in urban areas. What steps are you taking to increase your chances in rural areas?

I don’t agree with this, BJP won 40 seats in urban areas but got 60 seats in rural areas. This means we have won seats in rural areas also, we have won seats in tribal areas. This logic is not correct. The number of seats of BJP has come down. The caste politics of Congress has damaged the social fabric, party leaders have now been exposed. People who were holding protests have also been exposed. Situation has changed now.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the tallest leader in Gujarat and then he became Prime Minister four years ago, how has the state politics changed in his absence?

Nobody can replace the importance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat, there is no alterative to him in the state. PM Modi had established several systems in the government and we are following those systems. Administration, political vision, are all according to the systems laid down by Prime Minister.

Prime Minister is now in Delhi, but earlier Gujarat didn’t get support from the union government. Gujarat was facing repeated injustice earlier but now circumstances have changed for better. Gujarat is benefitting also because of Prime Minister. Its a double benefit for Gujarat.

Recently, Congress MLA Kunvarji Bavalia joined your party and was made a cabinet rank minister. Two days back, son of Shankersinh Vaghela also joined BJP. Is this part of BJP’s strategy to woo strong mass leaders from rival Congress ahead of 2019 elections?

The problem is within the Congress party. The party is falling apart, the leadership of Congress is getting exposed and Congress leaders do not see a future for themselves in Congress. These leaders are joining BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP is gaining because of it. Our support base is increasing and Congress is looking at defeat.

BJP has to face a challenge from Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor, how are you looking at the challenge?

These people are not a challenge, their game is over now. Hardik’s movement is divided. People have lost interest in these people.

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