Shri Kantilal Bhikhabhai Chavda is a political thinker, social and RTI activist based in the Indian state of Gujarat. He comes from a very poor family, belongs to the Schedule Caste, and has pursued the formal education up to eighth class. From very childhood, he became particularly concerned with the existence of rampant social imbalances and disparities around him and at an early age of 17 years, he was drawn into active fields of social work and politics. Two of India’s illustrious leaders and former prime ministers, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Smt. Indira Gandhi have had deep influence on him, which became the basis for his long-lasting association with the Congress Party. He led a noteworthy career spanning the role of Secretary, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), a social worker actively using Public Interest Litigations to address social issues, and an avowed RTI activist to advance the accountability and transparency of governing institutions. In an exclusive interview with The Critical Mirror (TCM), Shri Chavda shares his experience and impressions on several issues being faced by the country as well the state of Gujarat. Here are the edited excerpts:
On the State of Gujarat
Gujarat is a developed and highly growing state in India. How did Gujarat achieve that status? The people of Gujarat have played the most important role in this process. Irrespective of the changing political regimes in the state when different political parties came to power for different periods, the people of the state remained focused and vigorously pursued their enterprising activities in industries and other areas of the economy. As regarding the political situations in Gujarat, it is only the two national parties namely, Congress and BJP who have ruled the state. The only instance when a regional party came to power in the state is the Janata Dal government headed by Chimanbhai Patel in 1990.
On the Relationship with Congress
I am deeply influenced by the enormous contribution made by our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Another two of our former prime ministers, Smt. Indira Gandhi and Shri Rajiv Gandhi have laid down their life for effectively tackling the scourge of terrorism during their time. They have shown that prime ministers of India are ready to sacrifice their life for the sake of the country and to save it from terrorism. No other leaders or governments led by them are as effective in addressing the issue of terrorism, which is being faced by the country today. Moreover, when Smt. Gandhi was defeated by Raj Narain in 1977 General Election, everyone thought she will not come back to power. But she came back to power, not by advocating the formula of communalism or (mis)use of religion but by the call to eradicate poverty, “Garibi Hatao”. But what is happening today? We all have been reading the statements by Shri Yogi Adityanath made before he become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and those by Sadhvi Prachi on different occassions. These types of statements are making everyone feel insecure. Contrasting this system of statements with the sacrifices made by Congress leaders have been binding me with the ideologies of the Congress Party. I am a committed Congress worker from 1985 and served the organization being the Secretary, GPCC in the past. Presently, I am the Coordinator of the Complaint Department in Gujarat.
On the Present Environment of Insecurity
From the time of Smt. Gandhi till date, notwithstanding different political parties having formed governments at the Centre or state levels, backward classes and poorer sections have never felt insecurity. Except the current period in which they are feeling the most insecure. Anywhere and at any time, people are being killed in the name of protecting cow, attacked in the name of reservation, and our national icons like Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, his statutes and thoughts are being targeted. The environment has become so serious that RSS functionary has given statement that our Constitution should be thrown into sea. This is plainly wrong as our Constitution is largest and best in the world. Another statement came in Gujarati newspaper that there is garbage in our Constitution, which needed to be thrown out. All these statements and insecure situation have emerged only after non-Congress party came to power.
On Social Disparities and Imbalances
I have worked on this issue, take for example, the implementation of reservation. Following the Mandal Commission report, 27 per cent reservations were to be given to our Other Backward Classes (OBC) brothers. However, our OBC samaj in Gujarat is largely unaware about this 27 per cent reservation. I have worked on expanding awareness among OBCs on reservation. In Gujarat, Thakor and Koli Patel samaj are two biggest groups in OBC but at grassroots level the impact of reservation on them is invisible. The government’s policy is also not expanding the awareness of advantage of reservation among OBCs, which is not good for us. Moreover, the creamy layer criteria is highly unjust as 27 per cent reservation is not effectively used by OBCs as they are not familiar with it. I have written to the state Chief Minister and Chief Secretary on the creamy layer issue for OBCs and am waiting for their reply.
On SC, ST and OBCs
I feel that social disparities and imbalances in Gujarat has only increased with time. After the Godhra-incident, situations were created in which oppression on minority and fighting between dalit and minority have got intensified. This has been done as a part of conspiracy. Today, Gujarat is witnessing agitations by Patel and Koli samaj for reservations and by dalit and OBCs for social transformations. Alpesh Thakorji and Jignesh Mewaniji are two young leaders from Gujarat who are engaged in social movements. However, oppressions on dalit in Gujarat has increased only. I have information on Gujarat obtained through RTI Act, which suggest sharp rise in the cases of atrocities on dalit. Given this unbalanced social climate, it is difficult to judge the direction of social agitations and people. There is hardly any major attempt to make different communities understand the need for harmonious coexistence. Even for minor incidents, serious charges like sedition are slapped on development icons in the state.
On the Right to Information Act 2005
The RTI Act 2005 was the contribution of Congress leadership under the UPA government. I am grateful to respected Mrs. Sonia Gandhiji, Manmohan Singhji and leaders from other parties for formulating the most popular policy in India. From a common man to a NGO to a political party, all are resorting to RTI Act for improving public policies and transparency in governance and administration. However, many bureaucrats are found to be trying their best not to provide relevant information sought by the public. Only well-informed applicant could pursue and get the correct information for improving transparency. The NDA government is trying to bring some changes but I am not sure if these changes are useful to make the RTI Act effective. Without an effective RTI Act we cannot remove corruption from public life in India. Social activist Anna Hazareji has emphasized on citizen charter and led movement against corruption. His movement has contributed two leaders, one Arvind Kejriwal who is presently the Chief Minister of Delhi and Kiran Bedi who is the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry. While these leaders climbed up in power position, Hazareji continue to stand where he was before.
On Public Interest Litigation
PIL is another important instrument for improving quality of life of the people. I had filed a PIL in Gujarat High Court for securing allotment of promised residential plot to poor people under Shri Narendra Modiji’s iconic scheme of Garib Kalyan Mela in Gujarat. Despite allotting plot on paper to a total of 89 people in Chokadi village of Chuda Taluka, Surendranagar district, actual possession of plot was not given even after 5 years. These poor people agitated before collector office and represented everyone but without any success. After coming to know about their sufferings, I used the RTI to collect information. It was found that views of collector, mamlatdar and state government are different from each other on the status of allotment of plot. As a result, I filed a PIL in the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court and on the intervention of the court all the beneficiaries have got the possession of their plot. I am thankful to the Hon’ble High Court. This is just the case of one village. Even under an iconic project of the then Chief Minister Shri Modi, the benefit is not reaching to poor people in the state. On paper, people are shown to have received the benefit but the same has not happened. This is the story of Gujarat model for just one development scheme.
On Farmer Suicides
Farmers are committing suicides across India. The reasons for such unfortunate situation must be understood through research and state government must devote attention to the urgent issue. The BJP is in power in Gujarat for the last 25 years and the party must think about the conditions of farmers in the state. I think one of the important factor is the inadequacies in the implementation of the Sardar Sarovar Project. We are grateful to Chimanbhai Patel for the existence of the ‘Narmada Dam Project’ but the present regime in the state has utterly failed in improving irrigation facilities. Bhakra Nangal Project could transform Punjab’s agriculture but Narmada Dam Project yet to transform agriculture in Gujarat. Even after ruling Gujarat for 25 years, the BJP government has failed in creating effective irrigation facilities. This is because of widespread corruption in the construction of irrigation canals under Sardar Sarovar Project. Because of differences in the specification and parameters on paper and what is actually constructed, when water get released the canals get broken. Breakage in canals and their repairing has become a continuous process on which corruption in thriving. Canals constructed as per correct specifications would have improved greatly the agricultural production in Gujarat and our farmers would not have been committing suicides.
On Icons of Gujarat
Chimanbhai Patel who comes from a farmer family and who had visualized the Sardar Sarovar Project, and Madhav Singh Solanki who comes from OBC samaj have tremendously contributed in the development of the state. They are our two icons. What should I say about the present Chief Minister Shri Vijay Rupani? Recently a family has committed suicide in Rajkot and in his dying statement, one member of the said family has held Shri Rupani responsible for driving them to death.
On Ruling Parties in Gujarat
In Gujarat, BJP is the ruling party while Congress is the opposition party. However, I consider Congress as the ruling party now because it has emerged as winner in majority of block and district level governing bodies. The fact is that common man does not to go to government in Gandhinagar for their issues but to block or Taluka level governing institutions. At local level, it is Congress, which is ruling. However, the BJP government in the state is not facilitating the functioning of local bodies ruled by Congress party. I think Congress party must continue to work for poor and deprived people through the local government bodies despite difficulties being created by BJP government in the state. It is difficult to say who will come to power in the forthcoming state election.
On Electronic Voting Machines
In the context of UP election, respected Ms. Mayawatiji has raised the issue of tampering of EVM and the issue has attracted national attention. Now the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has termed Election Commission of India as Dhritarashtra. For a democratic country, the credibility of election is most crucial. Therefore, election should be held in the form which is acceptable to everyone. BJP claims that it is the most popular party in the country then it should not have any problem with election being conducted with ballot paper. Why is BJP afraid of election being conducted on ballot paper?
On Desired Changes in the Country
First, farmers must receive priority attention in public policies. Farmers are dependent on nature. Despite their hard work, they are not secured about their revenue. The UPA government had undertaken massive loan waiver scheme for Indian farmers and now, the BJP-led government could waive off farm loans only in UP. The government must think why the issue of loans waiver arises in the case of farmers in the first place. Effective irrigation system is the key to make our farmers well-off and secure the future of Indian agriculture. Second, improving transparency in administration through targeted schemes. The Narendra Modi led government has made adhar card an iconic scheme of the country, which is useful for improving effectiveness of policies. This Scheme was in fact the contribution of Congress led government. It is important that BJP should accept and give credit to the good initiatives of Congress government. Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) is a good policy but can poor deposit Rs. 5000/- as minimum balance prescribed by SBI now. I urged the central government to intervene and let this minimum balance is contributed by the government for accounts opened by poor under PMJDY. Third, sincerity in taming corruption in public life. However, the policy cannot be selective. The lavish wedding of daughter of Nitin Gadkari and G Janardhan Reddy during notebandi period demonstrate that demonetization is for all except BJP leaders. The fight against black money was intended to trace and get back the black money parked abroad. Nothing happened on that front but sincere citizens were put into great difficulties through demonetization. Fourth, protecting and improving welfare of cows is always welcomed but the policy should not be selective either. The UP has ordered the closure of slaughter houses and prohibits the storage or consumption of beef. However, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju has accepted that he eats beef. So, I request the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji to counsel Mr. Rijiju to not to eat beef as cow is considered as our mother. It is important that government policies cannot be selective and discriminatory in character.