New Delhi: With a little more than a year to go for assembly elections in Haryana, former chief minister and senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda has started an expansive campaign in the state focused on the issues of rural distress and unemployment.
In an interview, the 70-year-old leader spoke about the ongoing campaign, issues faced by farmers and the demand for reservation in government jobs by the Jat community. Edited excerpts:
You have already started an extensive campaign in Haryana including a series of rallies. What is your reason for starting so early and what is the campaign focused on?
It will take a long time to cover the whole of Haryana, actually these are the “Jan Kranti Yatras". When this (state) government was formed by BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in 2014, at the time I had said I would wait for one year, we will watch the performance of the government. I had said that if they fulfil what they have promised in their manifesto, then I’ll certainly appreciate their work but if they don’t perform well, don’t fulfil their promise, we will raise those issues.
What happened after one year was that the crop of paddy came, what money they (farmers) were getting during our days they were getting almost half of it. Next, wheat season came and the farmer had to wait for four days at the mandis to get the minimum support price (MSP).
But I don’t know what type of policy they (the government) are following neither in the benefit of producers nor consumers. So I started “kisan panchayat" to get feedback—they (farmers) are on the brink of destruction, cost of input has risen, they are not getting the right price.
The cost of production is going high, they are not getting the proper income, so I came to the conclusion that the other section also comprises fairly poor people—labourers are mostly from the scheduled caste.
There is frustration... Unemployment is on the rise. After GST (goods and services tax) and note ban, the small and medium industry has got affected. Thousands of people got unemployed.
The hope which they gave in 2014 in their manifesto, that hope has become hopeless now. So every section of society, whether it is farmer, labour, trader, government servant or old men, all are feeling hopeless.
After holding “kisan panchayat" we conducted “dailt panchayat" and then a traders’ conference. After that I reached the conclusion that this time people are fed up with the government, its failure should reach everyone and the policy of our government, the Congress and its achievements should also reach everyone.
For that I have started this “Jan Kranti Yatra" to reach almost every person. That is why it is taking such a long time, it might take six months, eight months to complete. Because my concept is: I go to every district and supposing there are three assembly constituencies, then I spend three days in that district, then I take some other district. Likewise, in a month I take about two districts, that’s why I reach everywhere and listen to everyone, else we will just go and have a public meeting.
Have you started your campaign early because there is a possibility of holding Haryana elections along with general elections?
I can’t say talks are on; that depends on whether elections of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will be held with the Lok Sabha or not. But talks are going on.
With Manohar Lal Khattar at the top post, after a long time, there is a chief minister in Haryana who is not from a dominant caste as he is a non-Jat…
This is one line of thinking, but caste is not important. This concept was built by people with vested interest. I don’t believe in caste politics, a farmer is a farmer, whether it is “A" caste or “B" caste. If a farmer from my community is affected, a farmer from another community will also be affected. Similarly, all traders will be affected, whichever caste they belong to.
For development, if you construct a road, that will be used by all. You can’t stick to one caste, it’s a myth created by a few. The present Haryana government is not running a government. It is working like an event management company. This government is a non-performing asset. That is why I am getting a good response wherever I go.
Apart from rural distress, what do you think would be the key electoral issues in the next one year before state polls?
They (BJP government) do not have any pro-poor agenda. The only achievement of this government is the projects which were started by me and were 90% completed, they are inaugurating them. They are only a fita-kaatu (ribbon cutters) government. Haryana has gone worse on its law and order situation. This government is completely directionless.
There has been a lot of debate on Jat reservation and Haryana saw a spate of violence on the issue in the last three years. What are your views?
Our policy was perfect to deal with reservation because everybody was given reservation and nobody was left out. We didn’t reduce the share in reservation of any community. We gave reservation on the basis of the Gupta Commission report. But the present government in Haryana changed the affidavit, it didn’t mention about the Gupta Commission report and failed to represent the state before the Supreme Court. The intent of the government is not right. We wanted to bring together communities but this government is dividing people on caste lines. I was in power for 10 years and there was never the need to call the army, whereas this government has been in power for four years and the army was deployed twice. BJP wants a rift in society and it was the failure of the government that led to the deaths of so many people. The responsibility for the loss of life and property is totally with the government.
Is Congress planning to announce farm loan waiver in Haryana?
Congress has already passed a resolution in AICC (All India Congress Committee) session and I was the chairman of the committee that drafted the resolution. Congress had waived off loans of farmers earlier also. When the party was in power, we had waived off ₹ 72,000 crore by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government. We will repeat the resolution on farm loan waiver in Haryana. UPA performed well. It was during UPA when crop loan was reduced to 4%. In Haryana, it was made 0% during the Congress government. We started the process of implementing the Swaminathan Commission report. NDA (National Democratic Alliance) had promised that Swaminathan panel report would be implemented, but it hasn’t done so.
Is Congress looking for any alliances with smaller parties in the Haryana polls?
Congress doesn’t need help from any regional party. It is strong enough to win elections and form the government on its own. Alliances will be at the national level and can be implemented in the state. A lot will depend on what type of alliance is being worked out.
Aindrila Paul contributed to this story.