Interview with Nityanand Swami, Chief Minister of Uttaranchal.
The single most important factor that resulted in the elevation of Nityanand Swami to the position of Chief Minister of Uttaranchal was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's confidence in the 73-year-old leader's political experience and administr ative capabilities. Vajpayee considered these qualities crucial for the running of a new State, particularly in terms of its development. The other favourable factors included his non-controversial nature, the rapport he had with the two dominant communi ties - Thakurs and Brahmins - of the region and his Haryana origin. The latter factor helped the BJP leadership skirt the traditional Kumaon-Garhwal tussle, with the argument that he should be acceptable to people from both regions. On the strength of these, several factors against him, including the Rashtra Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership's distrust of him, were ignored.
The RSS' apprehension stems from the fact that Nityanand Swami had left the Jan Sangh to join the Congress(I). (He rejoined the BJP in the mid 1980s.) By all indications, it was this antagonism of the RSS that made bold Nityanand Swami's BJP colleagues l ike Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Bhagath Singh Koshiyari to take an overtly confrontationist attitude towards his candidature and boycott the swearing-in ceremony of the new Ministry. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan spoke to the Chief Minister at Dehra Dun and in New Delhi about the formation of the new State and other related developments. Excerpts from the interview:
As the Chief Minister of a new State, what do you think are your responsibilities, and what are your priorities?
Uttaranchal is a very backward region, in terms of development, although it is rich in resources. The very basis of the long struggle for statehood was the lack of development. So my first priority would be to carry out development works. Other tasks inc lude giving due respect to those who fought for statehood and taking action against those who tried to undermine the people's cause. I propose to withdraw all cases against those associated with the statehood movement and punish those found guilty in the Muzaffarnagar rape case.
In concrete terms, the developmental agenda would initially focus on three aspects: reaching drinking water to every village, ensuring sufficient power supply to all regions, and implementing compulsory primary education in every nook and corner of the S tate. While these would be the main priorities, other activities like promoting industrial development would be taken up with a major thrust on the information technology sector.
Your government started off on a wrong note. The swearing-in was marred by demands for Gairsen as the State capital instead of Dehra Dun, and later your effort to put together a Ministry was affected by the boycott by party leaders such as Nishank and Koshiyari.
The press is as usual reading too much into all this. These are all teething problems, common to any major initiative. We are in the process of settling the doubts and apprehensions of all concerned and you will see that everybody is quiet in no time. On the demand to make Gairsen the capital, we will take a decision after consulting all political parties and groups of the State.
But there are complaints that your style of functioning is autocratic and that this has caused a regional imbalance in the Ministry. How are you going to handle this?
The party leadership has been clear right from the beginning that it does not want a huge Ministry wherein every ruling party MLA is a Minister. That is not our concept of government. It is true that some hopefuls have not been accommodated. But their mi sconceptions would be cleared soon. You will see all of us working unitedly for the betterment of the new State.
Another opinion is that your elevation has widened the plains-hills gap as also the Kumaon-Garhwal divide.
Why are the media so cynical most of the time? This is a new beginning to fulfil the aspirations of lakhs of people. You should help us instead of sowing distrust and apprehensions.
The State essentially has two major resources - forests and hydropower. How do you propose to evolve a development pattern, particularly in view of the perception that these resources are not rightly used?
The government is aware of these concerns and will evolve a feasible development plan. The parent State (Uttar Pradesh) and its Chief Minister Rajnath Singhji are helping us in this regard. A special task force has been set up by the Uttar Pradesh govern ment to guide the new State in its ventures.
But there is also the perception that the Uttar Pradesh government has done harm to Uttaranchal with regard to several hydro-electric projects by signing MoUs that are irrevocable.
That is not true. Many projects will be taken up by both States together. In fact, we shall soon set up a board to conduct joint operations.