Prahlad Patel is one of the three Union ministers the BJP has fielded in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections apart from Narendra Singh Tomar and Faggan Singh Kulaste. This is seen as a move that has blown the field wide open for the choice of chief minister if the BJP returns to power.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Indian Express, Patel talks about the party’s strategy, Kamal Nath’s statement on Rajiv Gandhi’s role in opening the doors of the Ayodhya Ram temple, and the Opposition’s caste census demand.
* You say you are 100% sure the BJP will form the government.
We have corrected the mistakes we made in the last elections (2018). This time, we have introduced several welfare programmes for the poor and other sections of society. The Central government has even completed 70% of the Jal Jeevan Mission programmes. People compare us with the Kamal Nath government. Despite the money that came, his government used just 2.5% of it to implement projects.
* People say Kamal Nath did not get enough time to carry out his plans …
You can’t say that for a (seasoned) politician like Kamal Nath. He has been in politics for a long time. He was a Cabinet minister. How much time does he need to understand the system? We say Kamal Nath is a thaka hua neta (exhausted leader). He has been state party president for at least three years but did not call a single meeting of the Congress leaders. During his tenure as CM, he had not held a single meeting with any district administration. He is not a visionary, all he did was to help businessmen.
* Ground reports suggest there is a craving for change in the state. How do you overcome that?
The Congress tried to create a perception that there is a desire for change or that there is fatigue with the CM. In all five states going to the polls, the BJP’s strength is collective leadership. The Congress tried to break that but failed. There are deepening conflicts between leaders as Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh are unable to stand united.
The Congress talks so much about the backward castes. But it was the BJP that gave an OBC PM. We have had three OBC CMs in Madhya Pradesh in 20 years, but since Independence the Congress has had none. They are misleading people.
* Is the party considering any leadership changes?
When we claim that Shivraj Singh Chouhan is today the most popular minister in Madhya Pradesh, do you see the Congress disputing that? So, there is no discussion about leadership change.
* What was the thought behind fielding three Union ministers?
It happened in the past too. Other than me, both Narendra Singh Tomar and Faggan Singh Kulaste were ministers in the state government. Irrespective of who the candidate is — Union ministers, party general secretary or MPs — we all work together.
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* Are you in the running for CM?
The Congress created this confusion but it has been defused now. Does the Congress have any other leaders besides Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh? Yes, their sons are there. But the BJP has a battery of leaders who can be CM or other ministers. Theirs is a worn-out leadership with blots on them. I have visited Chhindwara (Kamal Nath’s constituency) and I can tell you there are villages he has never visited. He has never visited any booth or ward in his constituency. He is in trouble this time, I think.
* People say because of the welfare schemes for women, women voters who generally remain silent can be BJP’s strength…
Be it at the Centre or in the state, the BJP has three resolves — gareeb kalyan (empowerment of the poor), women’s empowerment and our roadmap to make India a developed nation by 2047. Madhya Pradesh has to become the No 1 state in the country and this is no mere daydreaming. Be it the schemes initiated by the state government or the Centre — from building toilets and giving gas connections to drinking water connections — they affect women directly. We challenge the Congress to talk about their schemes that have had such an impact on the ground.
* How did Ram Mandir become a poll issue in Madhya Pradesh?
This has come from the Congress side. Kamal Nath ji tried to create a controversy when PM Modi tweeted about attending the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony. He (Modi) said that the temple belongs to the country, not the party. But when Kamal Nath ji says that his party’s PM (Rajiv Gandhi) opened the doors to the temple, he doesn’t mention that his party also gave an affidavit in court that Lord Ram is a myth. They did that on the Ram Janambhoomi and Ram Setu issues.