From sarpanch of obscure Bhabalgaon village in Latur district to chief minister of Maharashtra, the 54-year-old Vilasrao Deshmukh has come a long way. He believes it was his density to become chief minister. Excerpts from a conversation
The fortnight-old Congress NCP government seems to be in perpetual crisis. How will you keep the flock together?
This is our first experience of forming a coalition government in Maharashtra. The mandate (69 percent for secular forces) was for keeping the communal forces out of a power. There was a lot of pressure from workers and Males from both sides and even the Left to form a stable government. There were problems as we had fought the elections against each other. There was also resistance at certain levels. But in the larger interest of the state, we decided to form the government.
But there have been so many problemsâ€¦.
Yes, everyone has been watching this for the last 15 days. We have to face it and solve it. On Thursday, the problem was about the ministry’s size. In a coalition, every partner has to be satisfied- and it’s a great job for a chief minister to keep him or her all together.
The Congress has been very giving, though the NCP has just 58 MLAs and the Congress 75.
That’s not issue. When you are the number one, the pressure is more on you. I have to coordinate between different partners. Naturally, other parties will have more demands and, at times, it is not possible to satisfy all. But we are trying to keep all the forces together. Most of the problems have been sorted out. We (Congress) were number one- and that wasn’t negotiable. The government has started functioning.
How will you resolve future problems?
We will have a coordination committee on the Kerala pattern. Controversial issues and other differences will be referred to this committee and it will sort out any differences.
Aren’t your squabbles sending a wrong signal to the people?
This is just the beginning. But as we go along, everybody will mind his or her department. There is perfect coordination as we have worked together earlier. There might be some new faces, but we have past experience of running the government.
The NCP has indicated it might vote with the BJP-led NDA government in the Lok Sabha if it decides to amend the people’s Representation Act to debar persons of foreign origin from holding high postsâ€¦
My position or the Congress position will be the same as the high commands. We will follow our president’s directions.
Bal Thackeray “remote controlled” the Shiv Sena government. Will you be remote controlled by the party high command?
No. There is a lot of differences in that remote control (Thackeray) and the high command. Our high command does not involve itself in the government’s day to day functioning. It gives guidelines, and we seek guidelines only on important issues like expansion, dropping someone, etc, where the party is important. But it does not interfere in, say, transfers or awarding of tenders.
You have said Maharashtra is on the verge of bankruptcy. What is the exact picture?
We are preparing a white paper. The previous government incurred debts to the tune of Rs 45,000 crore. We need Rs 5-6,000 crore to pay installments and interest. I want the people of Maharashtra to know their reality. Thy should know our limitations as expectations are high because of the change in government. We will try to improve the situation by generating more resources and simplifying taxation laws, etc. I will take advice from private financial experts. We have to do something.
Investments in Maharashtra have been on the downslide. Industrials have lost confidenceâ€¦â€¦
True. Our number one priority is to regain their trust. The previous government’s priorities were different. Many investors were not treated properlyâ€¦some people tried to exactâ€¦ there was extortion. Investors were not happy. We should roll out the red carpet to investors-Indian or foreign. We will focus on the information technology sector. We should regain our glory.
Will you reviewing Phase II of Enron’s Dabhol Power Project?
The worry about Phase II is the price. We will have to see that whatever Enron produces should be competitive. But we have to re-examine it from all angles and then only take a decision.
What about the report of the Srikrishna Commission on the Mumbai riots of 1992-93? Bal Thackeray publicly warned at his Dussehra rally that there would be dire consequences if the recommendations were implemented.
That is his style. Nobody is above the law.
Not even Bal Thackeray?
Nobody. We will study the report and discuss it in the Cabinet. Home Minister Bhujbal is looking into the entire issue. There will be no hasty action.
What about the Sena-BJP’s claim that there were no riots during their governance?
Those who were instigating riots earlier were in power.
You fear problems now.
Let us see. If something happens, you need not ask why it is happening now and why it was not happening then.
Are you taking any special steps to protect the minorities in Maharashtra?
Yes. We have revived the minorities commission. A special economic development board for minorities has been set up. The minorities are returning to the Congress.
At the Dussehra rally, Bal Thackeray said the saffron flag would soon fly atop Mantralaya (Maharashtra government headquarters). There is talk the Sena-BJP will undermine your government in the Budget session.
The Sena-BJP had its opportunity. The governor called them first. But they could not muster the numbers. From where will they get the numbers? Heaven?
What about independents?
Even if all Independents go to the Sena-BJP, nothing will happen. The Sena-BJP, nothing tried it during the election of the Speaker and the confidence motion. They did not succeed. I do not see any threat to my government in the near future.
How long will your government last?
Five years. You must understand that it is a collective responsibility. The government will collapse only when any partner wants it to discontinue. There is no option but to continue (together).
By Ketan Narottam Tanna