PRATAPSINH RANE, Goa’s former Chief Minister, will complete 45 years in politics this year. Far from retiring from the game, the septuagenarian is preparing to contest another Assembly election and is reasonably confident of the Congress returning to power. In an interview to Frontline at his farm in Sanquelim in north Goa, he said he was confident the electorate would make a wise choice. He said development should be a priority, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government did not give it priority. Excerpts:
As the third Chief Minister of Goa, you have seen the State go through many key phases. Could you tell us about that journey?
I have spent 45 years in politics. Although I began my political career with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party [MGP], I believe in secularism and, therefore, moved to the Congress. [The MGP was in favour of Goa’s merger with Maharashtra; Goans voted against the move in 1967.] When Indira Gandhi asked me to join the party, I went ahead and stood for elections. I cannot think of any party but the Congress. Such was the Congress’ victory in 1980 that my opponent lost his deposit.
I think an important time in my political career was the transition of Goa to complete statehood in 1987. We had to work on language issues as there are four languages of equal importance in Goa. Konkani was chosen. We also had to look at major areas of development. Education, land reforms, connectivity, health care and employment were a priority. In 1974, we constituted the Town and Country Planning Act, which looked at socio-economic development in Goa. I developed on that and was keen on scientific development with a long-term plan. Later, we made the Regional Plan, which included industrial zones in every taluk. That is how we control pollution.
Another significant step was starting higher secondary institutes, Industrial Training Institutes and industrial estates. One would feed into the other. Employment is important for development. Eventually, in 1984, we started Goa University and the Goa Management Institute.
Goa appears to be developing at a consistent pace. The obvious indicators include high level of literacy, good roads and quality medical care. What is the Congress’ role in the State’s progress?
Goa is a small State with a lot of potential. I believe that education, especially higher education, plays a large part in development. We saw that potential. I wanted every corner of the State to be connected so that people could access employment. We worked on broader roads and at building the Kadamba bus transport. I cleared special zones for industry.
TELCO and Zuari Chemicals set up plants. I visited several chambers of commerce to encourage industrial investment in Goa. Goans speak English, and they seem to understand that it is critical for their progress.
There appears to be a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP. What are the Congress’ chances?
This election is no different from the previous ones. There is an anti-incumbency sentiment and disappointment with the BJP for not fulfilling its promises. We are hoping to do better than last time.
The Congress can take advantage of the BJP’s poor performance.
The Congress had a long run in Goa under you and subsequently under Digambar Kamat. The BJP won the Assembly elections in 2012. The common man feels the BJP has not delivered on its promises.
The BJP did not keep its promises, mainly its promise on development. The State needs better infrastructure, water and electricity supply. The BJP government said it would upgrade connectivity, increase the number of school buses and provide drinking water. It did not deliver on these promises.
The government has delayed clearing projects and has no long-term vision. For instance, agriculture needs to be developed properly. Apiculture can be a good source of income. These are some of the means to help small farmers.
What kind of development are you talking about that needs to be addressed in the State?
Infrastructure and long-term policies on pollution and employment have to be looked at. The government must look at tourism in a more comprehensive manner. Goa has struggled with power issues. I have been a strong proponent of solar energy. Solar is the future.
The main controversy that affected your government relates to mining?
I know, they keep going on and on about mining, particularly, illegal mining in Goa. Nothing was illegal about it. It was controlled mining given to a few Goan companies. By banning it overnight, the BJP destroyed the livelihoods of lakhs of people.