A day before he was scheduled to be sworn in as chief minister of Jharkhand, Das arrived in Delhi and checked into the VVIP suite of Jharkhand Bhavan, with a posse of security men, officials and a couple of BJP colleagues in tow.
After calling on party chief Amit Shah today, he and his entourage relaxed over lunch. Das expects Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence at the swearing-in at a football stadium in Ranchi to be the high point. “Jab Modiji rahenge to function ekdum viraat hoga (When Modi is around, the function will be absolutely grand),” claimed the former Tata Steel employee.
A hard-boiled politico, he has perfected a time-tested technique his kin use when confronted with questions: talk around them instead of wading into them.
Excerpts of a conversion with the chief minister-designate:
TT: No sooner than your name was announced as leader of the BJP legislature party, protests broke out in Jharkhand against the anointment of a non-tribal for the first time. How will you cement the social fault-lines?
Das: There is no tribal versus non-tribal debate. This is disingenuous (bemani). A chief minister, Prime Minister, MLA and MP are meant to work for everyone. There is no such talk in the Indian Constitution. In the past 14 years, vote-bank politics has ruined Jharkhand. But now, people want development. The farmers want irrigation to be able to raise good crops, the poor need jobs
But next-door, former Bihar chief minister and JDU leader Nitish Kumar has frowned upon your selection.
Those who do vote-bank politics fear that the thriving shops they run will shut. They will be out of business. Indians have become politically mature and the 2014 elections proved their maturity. For the first time, the elections were fought and won on the development plank
There is speculation that you will have a tribal deputy chief minister to try and neutralise this perception…
Please don’t encourage such divisive thoughts. People only want development. Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana and J&K verdicts proved that. In Muslim-dominated J&K, too, the BJP won a big mandate. Our cabinet will have a place for every section of society because this government will be inclusive
Yes, women will be represented, too.
How much say will the state BJP have in the formation of the government? Or will it be left totally to the central leadership?
We are a national party and all important decisions will be collective. The BJP’s top priority is to bring in people who will perform well, irrespective of their background. Is it less of a message that the BJP is going to make a labourer the chief minister of Jharkhand?
Jharkhand’s a resource-endowed state, yet people are largely poor. There is a view that governments have allowed its rich resources to be exploited by vested interests from outside.
We are worried on this count. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had created the three states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand precisely to pull them out of backwardness, to see that they were not discriminated against. While Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh soared new heights of development, Jharkhand stagnated. And that’s because of political instability
But for the 14 years since Jharkhand was created, the BJP was in power for nine years?
I accept that. You will have to accept the fact that whatever work was done, that whatever was achieved was during a BJP government. But what we wanted to do in terms of meeting people’s expectations, may be we couldn’t. The Congress brought down our government in 2005 and then installed an Independent MLA (Madhu Koda) as chief minister. In the process, Jharkhand was defamed in the country and outside for which the Congress was squarely responsible. In 2009, when our government was faring well, Congress fanned the ambitions of a regional party (the JMM) and again toppled our government. The Congress and JMM looted the state. They left nothing for the people, not even baloo (sand). Even that was given away to thekedars (contractors). Therefore, Amitji’s (Amit Shah) slogan was, ‘Give the BJP a majority and our government will give you development’
Your performance wasn’t as good as expected? With the Ajsu, you barely scraped through with a majority.
We could not manage some seats properly. We did pretty well in Santhal Pargana which has a predominantly tribal population. But in certain other regions, we did not do as well as we had hoped to. These things happen in an election. Also, the JMM resorted to unethical things to win over tribal votes, like giving away liquor
Underperformance and bureaucratic callousness have impeded Jharkhand’s development. How will you tackle that?
When there is little or no governance, state machineries fail. Why blame the bureaucracy when there was no political will to work and perform well? For the last 14 months, Hemant Soren was chief minister but there was nothing called governance. We are going to change that. There will be rule of law.
Tell us something about Tata Steel, where you worked for years… Did Cyrus Mistry (Tata Group chairman) call you?
No. Cyrus Mistry did not but the Tata Steel MD and many others phoned me. I have been on leave without pay since 1995. The private sector allows for that. I will retire on May 3, 2015
Federalism, Centre-state harmony and de-centralisation were essential parts of Modi’s discourse when he was Gujarat chief minister. Now, the perception is that he calls the shots at the Centre as well as in the states. This notion of a one-person show, does it bother you?
What you see is not true. Modiji is a perfect example of a person who started at the lowest rung of the organisational ladder and went up and up. He is the only organisational worker to make it to the country’s top-most position after Independence. So, a party organisation has a lot to contribute. Of course a political personality can be individually very effective too. We talk of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, they were charismatic and effective political personalities. So it is with Modiji.
At the end of the day, a PM is a PM and a CM is a CM. Like a father is a father and a son, a son. Modiji is PM of 28 states
What is your priority after you take over as chief minister?
The economy and finances have to be straightened out. I will have to look at the huge fiscal burden my predecessor has left behind
There is the Naxalite issue of which it is famously said that no government’s writ runs beyond Ranchi…
It is not as grave as you people in Delhi imagine. When a government is unsuccessful, ineffective, problems arise. Now that there’s a majority government, we will get down to addressing this issue too
Talks with Naxalites or using strong-arm tactics?
The next time I am here, we will talk about it.
Lastly, any chance of Babulal Marandi (JVM chief and former CM) returning to the BJP?
Our only motto is development and good governance. So, our doors are open to all the leaders who wish to work towards achieving these goals.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta