ABANTIKA GHOSH: In your opinion, what went wrong on August 25, after Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted of raping two women in a 2002 case by a special CBI court?
If you look at the history of Haryana, then several such incidents have taken place when a person like him (Ram Rahim) has been involved. Not just under this government, but earlier too. In the case of Rampal, the government couldn’t implement the court’s order for nearly two weeks, because it would have led to deaths. (A tense two-week standoff ensued between Rampal’s supporters and the police before his arrest in November 2014). Ram Rahim’s dera has millions of followers in the country. There are large numbers of them in Haryana. They are fanatics. Even when I interacted with a few of them, it didn’t seem that they were ready to listen and understand what we had to say. The first priority of the government was to ensure that Ram Rahim is presented before court and law is followed. To get him out of the dera was a Herculean task. The intelligence had informed us that the dera had made arrangements for lakhs of followers to come and stay for months. So, that is why, it was essential to first get him out of there and that is what we did. We ensured that he was present before the court, he was convicted and was sent to jail as well.
About August 25, why were so many people allowed to assemble, why was Section 144 not implemented properly… I was in direct contact with all the senior officers and the chief minister of the state. I was talking to them regularly. On August 23, I was informed that his followers had begun assembling in parks (in Panchkula). The officers felt that they could be handled — some said we can cordon them off, others believed that we can explain things to them and they would understand. On the night of August 24, in fact, the followers had dispersed to deceive the administration, but on August 25 the crowds swelled again. At the time if we had tried to force them out of the city, there would have been a confrontation. That would have inconvenienced the residents of Panchkula and Ram Rahim would not have left the dera. It would have been very difficult.
What happened next was in consultation with me and it was a calculated risk. We thought that once the Baba moves out of the dera, his followers will return too. If you look at the August 25 incident, it was contained in two hours; the administration had taken a calculated risk. We were prepared for it — even if we would have to beat them ruthlessly, we would. 40-50 people would be killed, but the civilians of Panchkula would be safe. We didn’t want the followers to enter their homes. What happened with the media — their vans were vandalised — that is because they were right at the front, so they couldn’t be protected. Also, the followers were angry with the media and that is why they were attacked. Our aim was not to use force, either inside the dera or in Panchkula. Who are the people who died? The followers. Now if we had tried to force them out on August 23, even then there would have been deaths. Not a single civilian died on August 25.
RAVISH TIWARI: While handling the situation on August 25, was there an attempt to ensure that the reputation of Ram Rahim is not maligned — so you don’t lose out on votes — and the law is followed as well?
I had said this on August 25 as well, that we tried to handle the situation in a way that there was minimum harm. The case (against Ram Rahim) was initiated during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time and he has been convicted during Narendra Modi’s government, so where is the question of trying to get votes? Once the Baba is gone, whose votes will remain? Also, if the Baba is not there, won’t we get votes? There is no such thing. We are a political party and we seek support from everyone. But this does not mean that we will compromise with the law.
COOMI KAPOOR: Do you think if the court would have been stationed in some place other than Panchkula, some of this damage could have been avoided. Had the state government suggested that?
No, I don’t think so. We had spoken to the Baba’s team about getting him to appear from Sirsa before the Panchkula court through video conferencing. I tried a lot for that. But they didn’t agree to it.
SANDEEP SINGH: From what you are saying, it seems that the administration was prepared for a certain number of deaths.
I want to say this with a lot of seriousness and concern, that had we tried to curtail the situation earlier (before August 25) there would have the been lakhs of deaths, thousands would have been injured and law could not have been established.
SHAILAJA BAJPAI: But then how was the situation managed on August 28, on the day of Ram Rahim’s sentencing? There were no major incidents reported that day. What was the difference in the arrangements?
The difference was that Baba was under custody. The morale of his followers was low. After August 25, his followers were scared. On the day of the conviction, however, this was not the case. Their morale was high, they felt they could take on
the government. The jail where the Baba was kept was also 10 km from the city and even those who wanted to come there were kept under preventive detention.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: What is it about Haryana that its people think it is easy to take on the government? This was seen during the Jat agitation as well.
People of every state have their own unique nature. Also, if you look at the way governments have been running in the state in the past 15-20 years, it has all been based on ‘dabangayi’. This is the first time that it is not the case. You can’t run governments on fear. Such governments are not stable. On Monday, the followers saw their Baba crying, so their morale also went down. So things were under control.
ANAND MISHRA: With the death of children in a Gorakhpur hospital, and now the violence in Panchkula — both in BJP-ruled states — has the Opposition got a chance to accuse your party of lack of governance? How do you intend to counter this perception?
As far as Haryana is concerned, the residents feel that this government has handled the situation with minimum damage. People will soon realise that this problem (the Ram Rahim case) did not take root during the BJP’s tenure. The case had been going on for a long time. Performance-based governance has been established only under Narendra Modi’s regime in the last three years. Earlier, we only had policy paralysis. Things have changed a lot. My acquaintances who live abroad say that we had become ‘Scam India’ earlier, but now we are proud to be citizens of Narendra Modi’s country. This government doesn’t take steps that people like, we take steps that are good for the people. That is the reason that the country is moving ahead.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: Is the BJP happy with Manohar Lal Khattar’s handling of the August 25 situation?
They know that we found the best possible solution to the problem at hand.
RAVISH TIWARI: In Gorakhpur, where several children died due to lack of oxygen, don’t you think that there was serious medical negligence?
Negligence is one part, encephalitis is another. We need to understand both. Encephalitis has been a big issue in the region for a long time, and that is why there were talks of establishing an AIIMS there, and construction is underway. Every year, in the months of August and September, there are encephalitis deaths in the area. The severity of encephalitis, is also responsible for the deaths of children. It is not just because of a dip in oxygen levels at the hospital. However, if there was a dip in oxygen levels, then it is a serious negligence, I agree with that. The government has taken cognizance of the matter and initiated cases against those responsible. This shows the seriousness of the government. No one wanted such an incident, but now that it has happened, the state government is working to ensure that this does not happen in the future.
COOMI KAPOOR: There were reports indicating that you met Ram Rahim several times to seek support, especially before the 2014 elections.
No, I have never met him in my life. Once, however, I was at India Gate in Delhi for the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. V K Singh, Manoj Tiwari were all there. He (Ram Rahim) was also there. We met there. But I have never gone to his place, he has never come to my place. As far as the general elections are concerned, we as a political party will appeal to every voter to cast their vote in our favour. Elections and law and order situations are two very different things. Crime cannot be mixed with elections. Many in the media also met him and interviewed him. There are so many old interviews. No one knew then that he was a criminal of this order. How can one know?
RAVISH TIWARI: Sarita Agrawal, wife of Chhattisgarh Minister and BJP leader Brijmohan Agrawal, acquired 4.12 hectares of forest land which was owned by the government and was, along with her son, building a resort on it. Is the party planning to take any action in the case?
We have examined documents related to the case and also read media reports. We are investigating whether any laws were violated and what punishment it entails. Let the details of the case come out and then action will be taken. The Centre is aware of the facts and if there is a violation, there will be action.
RAVISH TIWARI: Do you think the Goods and Services Tax was implemented in a rush?
See, national policies are not framed like this. This government doesn’t take measures that just appear good to people, we take measures that are good for the people, even at the cost of bearing some repercussions. The Finance Minister had said that there will be teething issues with GST. He spoke about this to the media, industrialists, traders and bureaucrats. Those problems are coming out now, and we are handling it. To get GST in a country of a billion people… world over people are surprised at how smoothly things have been implemented here. I come from a business family — except me everyone runs a business. Even they say that GST is good for the country and the general masses. They say that even though they are facing some problems now, eventually it will be good for them. GST is the biggest economic measure since Independence. Now that we have taken such a big decision, there are bound to be problems and we are ready to solve them. This is the thought process of the government and we have also incorporated constructive advice that has come our way.
KRISHN KAUSHIK: The deaths of children in Gorakhpur, the violence in Haryana, the demonetisation report, the decrease in GDP numbers. Has August been the toughest month for the Modi government?
A lot of good has also happened in the country. Since the Modi government has come to power, measures that were not heard of in 70 years have been implemented. Take the petroleum ministry, for instance. Before this government, it was considered a corporate department. Corporates ran the ministry, policies were drafted according to them, people were employed according to them and there was no interaction with people. But since this government came to power, the ministry is working in tandem with the people. And this is just one department. Prime Minister Narendra Modi first ensured that everyone in the country is linked to the banking system. This was to make things more transparent. This ensured that 11 crore people could make use of the gas subsidy. All the middlemen were eliminated. If there were no bank accounts, this would not have happened.
Secondly, on the appeal of the Prime Minister 1,10,000 people let go of their subsidies. We saved `14,700 crore. This money didn’t go into the government’s coffers; five crore people will get gas connections over the next five years because of this. Over one crore people have already got gas connections. Women who burnt wood to cook food and inhaled smoke equivalent to that of 400 cigarettes… go and see their homes now. During the UP elections, after a session by Amit Shah, a 70-year-old woman was trying to meet the BJP president. I asked her what did she want. She said she just wants to touch Amit Shah once, because he ensured that my home got a gas connection. She was a Muslim woman. A gas connection has solved so many of their problems. It has reduced their health budget, because now they are not falling ill because of the smoke. It has reduced their working hours.
This is the work of just one ministry. Similarly, the Modi government has introduced 60 schemes in just three years. Amit Shah has planned a 110-day tour of the country. He stays in a state for three days, and works from 9 am to 1 am in the night. He conducts 28-29 meetings, and works with everyone in the party to ensure the country’s progress. The BJP president is working at the booth level. So, let us look at the good things. Problems will always be there and they are being tackled. But look at how the perception of the country has changed. That is only because this government is a forward-looking one, it is decisive, and it is working for the good of the people.