Former high-profile Commerce and Industry minister Kamal Nath was once India's face at the troubled world trade negotiating Camelot.
He never backed down in the face of a concerted western fusillade on agricultural subsidies and walked out to protect Indian farmers' interests, virtually dismantling the WTO.
After holding several other key portfolios in UPA-II and even in earlier Congress governments, the nine-time Lok Sabha MP was recently the Congress face in Madhya Pradesh elections.
In a dynamic campaign fronted by the consummate 72-year-old politico, Kamal Nath ended Shivraj Singh Chauhan's multiple term tenure as CM. In a forthright conversation with IANS, the political and business savvy Doon School-educated Nath, once described as Indira Gandhi's 'third son' for his unparalleled proximity to Sanjay Gandhi, outlines his plans for middle India's key state.
After 15 years in BJP rule, there must be several things that the Congress led by him wants to fix in the state. IANS began by asking him what the five topmost items were on his agenda?
Nath explained: "It wouldn't be wrong to say that Madhya Pradesh is in a shambles after 15 years of bad governance. There are myriad things that need to be put into place. Our first priority will be the well-being of farmers and development of agriculture in the state. Farmers have been the worst victims of BJP rule, with hardly any reward for their hard work.
The focus would be on strengthening the agricultural sector and giving a boost to farm-based economy. The previous government made a bevy of promises. However, sadly enough, little has materialized. Next, will be to put the financial health of the state back on track. Owing to rampant expenditure by the BJP-government, the state economy went for a toss.
"We need to fix it. We are also working on generating employment opportunities for youth in the state. There has been a major drain of resources over the last decade which needs to be addressed. Also, as promised, we will provide safe and healthy environment for women in the state. Besides these, it is absolutely necessary to strengthen the delivery systems, so that people are benefited from government schemes," he said.
Hitting the ground running, as soon as he came to power, he delivered on his promise of a farm loan waiver, which many reckon is bad economics. But his thinking is predicated on the dire situation in the farm community that he had to opt for this option?
The Chief Minister at his most pragmatic said, "Ever since I assumed the role of a Chief Minister and, in fact, even prior to that, I have been asked this question time and again. Considering the condition of farmers in Madhya Pradesh, we had to take a step towards their well-being and waiving their loans was a logical solution. Most farmers are born in debt and even die with it which, taking into account the fact that we are an agrarian country, is very unfortunate.
"We are not doing any favour by helping state farmers. They are our principal food providers and the endeavour to waive their loan is a step towards upliftment of their condition and ushering in development in the state. I look at it as a long-term investment taken for the betterment of the state. Also, I believe those who call it bad economics, understand very little about both agriculture and economics. We are all aware of the fact that banks waive loans of industries and business houses, sometimes even up to 50 per cent. If waiving loans for the business community is good economics, how does it become bad economics when we do the same for impoverished farmers?"
As a long-standing and a top minister in various Union Cabinets, the new setting is different, so how does state politics sit with him?
Nath, who has nurtured his constituency Chindwara for years stated, "State politics is very different from union politics. There is a huge difference in being a Cabinet Minister and a Chief Minister. The dynamics are very unlike each other. State politics has a very wide spectrum and as the Chief Minister, things are encompassed around you.
"Also, the challenges to be met with and responsibilities to be taken up are huge. As a union minister I brought in changes that yielded positive results and I plan to replicate the same at the state level. However, what is common between the two is public service. Everybody involved in politics looks forward to serving people and the country and so do I. Whatever capacity I've worked in over the last four decades, the underlying goal has always been to serve people. Public service is the only motive that drives me."
"Of course, the challenge has to be difficult as a relatively backward state like MP, one of India's largest in terms of size has its own unique set of problems? Nath was quick to counter - "There are a multitude of challenges that Madhya Pradesh faces especially in terms of farmer suicides, unemployment etc. The state ranks very low in terms of Ease of Doing Business.
"These are some of the major reasons behind the backwardness of the state. As the second largest state of India, our horizon is very wide and possibilities unlimited. However, the previous government never thought of exploring opportunities and was rather busy exploiting resources. All their claims of uprooting it from the tag of a 'Bimaru State' were nothing but a complete pack of lies.
"In the last 15 years, hardly anything has been done to improve the economic condition of the state. Our growth model is that of a decentralized one. We are ensuring to create equal opportunities for all that will result in holistic development of the state. Our idea is to create governance at district level and ensure development starts from the grass-roots. All facilities should be available at the ground level so that people do not have to come to bigger cities to get their work done. The state also has a large number of departments, corporations, boards and even universities that needs revamping. We are also working on identifying and mending those areas."
Many also reckon that Nath as an astute politician is playing competitive cow politics. He is now going to set up gaushalas? One knows that it is a pre-election plan of the Congress, but isn't it regressive, one asked him?
Straight off the bat, Nath said - "The word 'regressive' intrigues me, simply because I fail to understand how building sheds for animals could be regressive! Construction of gaushalas was not a part of our manifesto initially but became one when, during a rally, I witnessed how badly cows were treated. It was a disturbing sight and so I announced it three months before the release of our manifesto.
"It was not a pre-election plan since as a party we do not believe in animal politics. It is simply that in a country where cows are accorded such amount of respect, I believe protecting them and building gaushalas in every Panchayat is important.
"It was not a pre-election plan and it was not competitive one either. Now, in four months we are going to establish one thousand Gaushalas in different villages of MP where homeless cows will be taken care of. These will be equipped with shed, tube well, biogas plant, etc.
"The model of Gaushala has been designed in such a way that society, farmers and common people will play a great role in running the Gaushala. This would increase public participation and make this model more sustainable. The Urban Development Department will be the nodal department for this project.
"The project will also create employment opportunities in the rural areas. It will also give an opportunity to people to render their participation in different ways like coming forward to construct a Goushala in government allotted land, taking care of functioning of Goushalas constructed on government allotted land, or taking charge of Gou Abhiyaran and Gou Sadan."
To be continued in Part II)
(Sandeep Bamzai can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)