On Mondays and Tuesdays, Vijay Rupani, the Chief Minister of Gujarat spends almost entire afternoons and evenings meeting people and understanding their problems better so that the government can serve them better. These public meetings are an extension of his monthly interaction ‘Mokla Mane (with an open mind)’ he has with various sections of the society. This, along with regular interactions he has through ‘Jan Samvad’ the integrated direct feedback forum, is what gives the confidence to Mr. Rupani that BJP will be chosen again by the people of Gujarat when assembly elections take place next year.
Though elections are more than a year away, some amount of curiosity about it was created recently when Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) inducted some new members in the Gujarat state unit of the party and senior leaders like Arvind Kejriwal himself made claims about the party all set ‘to change politics’ of Gujarat. Earlier in February this year, AAP had done well in Surat local body elections, giving hope to the party of making a mark outside Delhi.
However, Mr. Vijay Rupani believes that the party is not a serious contender as they lack any vision for the state and they don’t have any meaningful alternative to offer to the Gujaratis.
“Gujarat is a politically aware state. The Navnirman Andolan against corruption began from Gujarat. Even India’s Independence movements were started by Gandhiji and Sardar Patel from Gujarat. And Modiji has also started to good governance movement from Gujarat. Till now Gujarat has been a two-party state. People have either chosen between BJP or Congress. Since past 25 years they have chosen the BJP. Congress is more or less finished in entire India,” the Chief Minister of Gujarat told OpIndia in an exclusive interview given on Tuesday before his public meetings began.
Mr. Rupani further added why he thinks AAP can’t be considered as a serious contender in the state politics. He added that the party had neither a neta (leader) nor karyakarta (workers or cadre) in the state. “Those who are joining AAP right now are either disgruntled people from other parties or those who were not welcomed by them. Freebies wont work in Gujarat. Congress also tried to give freebies like loan waivers, but it still could not win,” he said.
He added how during 2017 Gujarat state elections Congress played all tricks in the book to further its caste politics but even then people of Gujarat voted did not vote for them. Mr Rupani added that despite the closely fought 2017 elections, in 2019 general elections, Gujarat gave all 26 Lok Sabha seats to the BJP.
While Mr. Rupani answered the questions of OpIndia related to the politics of the state, he reiterated that his current focus was on governance and next year’s elections were not on his mind. The state has just been able to contain the second wave of Covid, and the administration was focused on how to make sure that the state doesn’t face any challenges in the third wave, if at all it arrives.
“It was a huge challenge. The demand was 5-6 times than the supply we have. But we made a collective effort. We have a very dynamic dashboard through which we get real time data on all sectors and departments across Gujarat. During corona, in Rajkot, Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Surat, I spoke to doctors and others in real time to take stock of situation. During second wave, we had highest new cases of 14,600 on April 30. Yesterday we were below 100 new cases. For third wave, if it happens, we are prepared for 25,000 new cases per day. Everyone from CM, to deputy CM and bureaucrats were involved and it was a collective responsibility to overcome this,” he recalled the challenges and how they were tackled.
Chief Minister expressed confidence that the state will be fully prepared if and when the third wave strikes, though the aim is to make sure that such a wave doesn’t happen at all. The state government is focusing on six big cities of the state, Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Gandhinagar where significant number of population is vaccinated. If this pace continues and Mr Rupani is confident that by July end, the government would have vaccinated over 70% people of these major districts as well as Junagadh and Bhavnagar.
Taking other lessons from the second wave, the state government is ramping up the capacity for oxygen beds and other medical supplies. “On 15th March we had 41,000 oxygen beds. Within a month, we increased capacity to about 57,000 beds. During first wave, peak oxygen requirement was 300 MT. This time it went up to 1180 MT. For third wave, we are prepared for 1800 MT oxygen. We are setting up 300 oxygen plants across Gujarat of which about 150 are already set up. A centralized information dashboard is also being planned where a citizen will be able to know the availability of hospital beds in various cities of Gujarat,” he said.
The 64-years-old BJP leader, who will complete 5 years in the office as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in August this year, told OpIndia that not only he is focused on making sure that the state doesn’t see a third wave, his government is also focused on making sure that the development work is not derailed due to the first two waves of the pandemic.
“Gujarat was the only state which did not have a complete lockdown during second wave of the pandemic. We kept industries open, offices were working with reduced capacity,” Mr. Rupani said. Elaborating on reviving one of the most affected industries, tourism, he said, “Gujarat has been known for being religious tourism hub with holy sites like Somnath, Ambaji. We are now also trying to develop new tourism circuits like ‘Border tourism’ at Banaskantha border,” he said. Gujarat shares about 506 of the total 3,323 km border with Pakistan.
Speaking on the development of Saurashtra region which covers about 3rd of Gujarat, CM Rupani said hospital like AIIMS, airport and six lane highways are being constructed connecting the region to Ahmedabad via Rajkot. CM Rupani hails from Rajkot and it was Rajkot II constituency where PM Modi registered his first electoral victory in by-elections in February 2002.
Mr. Rupani also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for providing the much-needed guidance and support to meet his development goals and agenda. He recalled that during the cyclone Tauktae that hit Gujarat in May this year, the Prime Minister and Home Minister were on top of the things. “PM Modi visited Gujarat the very next day. He was in touch through video conference, sent NDRF, Home Minister Amit Shah was also in constant touch with us. Centre also announced relief of Rs 1,000 crore,” he said.
Mr. Rupani also credited the culture of ‘institution building’ that was set up by Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of the state for having helped him in governance. Use of technology too has been employed effectively by the current Chief Minister, which too matches the style of Prime Minister Modi’s governance.
One such effective use of technology is creation of “CM Dashboard” that helps the office of the Chief Minister to keep a track on the status and qualify of various government schemes and offerings in real-time. The dashboard was used effectively during the Covid crisis too.
When asked why he is not seen as frequently or ‘effectively’ in the national media as some of the other chief ministers, the Gujarat CM said that he believes in focusing on his work and even if he might not be visible in the national media, he is easily approachable person who values feedback – which is why he spends two days in a week meeting people and listening to them.
(The interview was conducted by Rahul Roushan, CEO of OpIndia, and Nirwa Mehta, Editor of the English OpIndia website)