‘A party around for long must set new norms… Change in Gujarat, with consensus… isn’t it good for democracy?’

Bhupender Yadav talks about meeting climate goals, differentiates BJP changes from those ‘enforced’ by Cong in Punjab, expresses trust in Yogi’s leadership, and says govt will answer on Pegasus in court. The session was moderated by Deputy Political Editor LIZ MATHEW.

LIZ MATHEW: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the current moment a turning point for humanity. How prepared is India for the climate change and environmental issues challenge?

India has always been proactive on environment, we were at the forefront of implementing the Paris Agreement, we have also met the NDC (nationally determined contribution) targets… In alternative energy, India has created 165 MW of resources and set a target of 450 MW for 2030. It is the world’s most ambitious target. That’s one. Second, Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated an international solar alliance of which 51 countries are a part. Third, we have increased our forest cover in the past five years. Also, the impact of air, water changes leading to desertification… India has set a target of 20 lakh hectares (to recover land)… The developed countries must fulfill their commitment to financial assistance and technological transfer (as per the Paris Agreement)…

The Modi government sees climate change also as a reflection of life and lifestyle. Our carbon emission per capita is among the lowest in the world. As PM Modi keeps saying, India’s lifestyle is not one of consumption. This is why we have met our targets of alternative energy sources, preservation of forest cover….

LIZ MATHEW: The WHO has come out with revised air pollution standards, which are more stringent than before. What is India’s stand, given its struggle to meet the current norms?

The WHO has itself clarified that these are suggestions, they are not binding… As far as standards are concerned, we have already commissioned a study by IIT-Kanpur… So we have always been cognisant of these issues.

ESHA ROY: You have just come back from a tour of Manipur… you are the in-charge of polls there for the BJP. The party has been seeing a lot of infighting there. Chief Minister Biren Singh has inducted several Congress leaders and your ally Conrad Sangma has declared he will fight all the seats.

The BJP government in Manipur has brought the state out of its environment of bandhs. We believe a lot can be done to develop Manipur’s language, culture, sports and abilities, and this requires constancy and consistency, and for that the BJP should return to power. The PM keeps giving the slogan ‘NARA’ — National Ambition and Regional Aspiration. So in our alliances we bear in mind the aspirations of regional leaders… I can say that the people of Manipur are with the BJP.

As for your infighting question, there is no infighting in the BJP. The changes in the party have been taken by the core committee, and such decisions are party decisions, by consensus, not an individual’s.

SANDEEP SINGH: Where does the labour code stand now, one year after implementation? And are you looking into the falling numbers of women in the work force post-Covid?

Various states are in the process of putting in place the rules regarding the labour code, and most are on the verge of completing the task. At the Central level too, rules have been framed, we are holding talks with associations of both employees and employers… About women in the workforce, the latest PLFS (Periodic Labour Force Survey) shows that it’s not such a drastic fall. What we observed during the Covid phase is that the unskilled, unorganised workers are mostly migrant labourers. The Social Security Code will have this data. The portal that we launched has seen registration by 1 crore workers in less than a month. The government has also cleared some fresh surveys to be done by the Labour Bureau, and the first we are doing is of migrant labour. We have also got permission for domestic help. The one on institution-based employment is ready with its report. Till now, under the PLFS, we had numbers for the available workforce. The Labour Bureau survey includes institutions that are seeing growth and have the potential of employment. So this will give us a very good idea on direction to take on employment.

Post-Covid, we are also looking at the ‘work from home’ aspect. The IT Department has brought out rules. We are looking at gig workers too, who have seen a huge growth in numbers but whose working conditions (remain ungoverned). We hope to bring them under the Social Security Code. Under the ESIC, more than 12.5 crore people take benefit of our health schemes. Now this has been linked to Ayushman Bharat to provide facilities at places which don’t have ESIC hospitals. We expect more to benefit from this after coming under the Social Security Code.

… With such labour reforms, we will also move towards ease of doing business. So that’s also a big message of these steps.

MANOJ C G: The BJP recently changed the entire ministry of Gujarat. Had Vijay Rupani and his ministers become so unpopular?… Three BJP states saw CM changes, and the Congress too did the same in Punjab… Is this a new system of political accountability for the CMs?

You must consider why the change — is it for instability or consistency, for crisis management or consistency building?… In the Congress, the change implies something different. In Bihar under the Congress, from 1977 to 1990, the CM would change every eight months. Our circumstances are different. We have been in power in Gujarat for a long time, some of our leaders have been ministers for 15-20 years… The party has to grow further in the state, and the leadership together decided that we need to give chance to a new generation. The party’s work is as important as the government’s. So everyone decided that the seniors will work for the party and give new people a chance… Any political organisation that continues for so long, has to set some new standards, whether setting an age limit of 75 (to hold posts), ensuring that leaders don’t promote own families, take an ideological stand on issues… And I believe what was done in Gujarat, with everyone’s consensus, will be seen as a new chapter in the country’s politics. Taking a decision based on a political philosophy, propagating and implementing it… this is not an individual move, it is collective… Isn’t it good in a democracy? Everyone should support it.

MANOJ C G: Will the same model now be implemented in Madhya Pradesh, where Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been CM for long?

No such ‘model’ will be implemented anywhere. An example has been put forth. This change is based on self-consciousness… It hasn’t been implemented by an ‘enforcement agency’, like seen in Punjab.

LIZ MATHEW: The BJP has come under pressure from state units earlier too, including since 2014, for a change of guard ahead of elections. Has the BJP changed its stance on the matter?… Then BJP president Amit Shah had said such a change would mean no-confidence in a CM… Could Covid be a reason, as all governments faced severe criticism in the second wave?

As far as Covid is concerned, all BJP CMs did commendable work, and even in vaccination, they have met the targets… But what can’t be denied is that after 2014, the BJP has emerged as the focal point of politics in the country. As such, it is the BJP’s responsibility to set the standards to strengthen the country’s democratic processes… That is what the BJP is doing, and we believe there should be a discussion on this, including among other parties — giving a chance to the new generation, standing firm on one’s ideological position, running a pro-poor government, making good governance an issue.

LIZ MATHEW: What about Uttarakhand, where you changed a CM who had served four years, and then changed him too?

We gave importance to the new generation… The sitting CM himself said he couldn’t run the government due to constitutional processes (Tirath Singh Rawat needed to get elected to the Assembly through a bypoll, which wasn’t scheduled). The CM now, Pushkar Singh Dhami, is a young, energetic leader… The BJP is the only party whose constitution itself says that any new president will induct at least one-third new people, that it will reserve 33% posts for women, that SC/STs will be represented… And we are the only party that holds its polls every three years, we don’t look at a family to make up its mind on who will be the party president.

HARIKISHAN SHARMA: You have argued that change should be seen from the perspective of its objective. But could one reason also be that since May 2019, you have been losing in states. In the 13 Assembly polls since, the BJP won 400-odd seats out of the 1,300 or so it contested.

I don’t agree with your argument. After winning in 2014, the BJP won Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. But in 2015, we lost Bihar. Then we went on to win Uttar Pradesh, but again before 2019, lost three big states — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Still, we won in 2019, then emerged as the single biggest party in Maharashtra… We were duped in the state, not by the people, but our ally. In MP, we might have not formed the government initially, but we got more votes than the Congress though it won more seats. Even in Bengal we have surged in strength. Politics is live, it’s about consistency, about being among people. The graph can go up and down, but what matters is about whether you are consistently among people, ready to act transparently, convince them about your policies… We don’t believe that one is in politics to be amar (immortal). We have to prove ourselves in people’s eyes.

HARIKISHAN SHARMA: How do you think the farm protests will play out in the polls in Punjab and west UP?

As a party, we are concerned about doubling farm incomes. Not just agriculture, but our government has worked to improve horticulture, animal husbandry… I believe the farmer agitation is sponsored. The laws were passed by Parliament, the government has never said no to talks. But if something is sponsored with a political agenda, then it needs a political response. I carried out my Jan Ashirwad Yatra for three days in Haryana and on each of these days, 30,000-35,000 people turned up… I didn’t see any issue on the ground.

MANOJ CG: The government is conceding no ground on Pegasus — a discussion was not allowed in Parliament and it is yet to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court. What stops you from clarifying whether the government procured or used Pegasus, or not?

The day the Pegasus issue broke, the minister made a statement in the Lok Sabha. Who asked the Opposition to not ask questions? After that, a statement was made in the Rajya Sabha. Again, who asked the Opposition not to ask questions?… Instead, you create a ruckus… The scenes the Opposition created in the House bypassed all decorum and decency… The government has made its stand known in Parliament and court. We are ready to clarify all issues on this sub-judice subject — in front of the court.

SHUBHAJIT ROY: During the second Covid wave, there were scenes of chaos due to severe shortage of oxygen and medicines. Has there been any introspection on whether the political capital and credibility of the government and PM were affected?

I admit there was a time when there was a shortage of oxygen. But it was this very government that did all it could — whether special flights or trains, it fixed the problem in two-three weeks. How do you come up with a solution in the time of a crisis — that’s what PM Modi demonstrated, and people recognised that.

MANOJ C G: The Indian Express carried a series of reports on how your Deputy CM in Bihar and his family were beneficiaries of contracts for the state’s Har Ghar Nal Ka Jal scheme.

The Bihar government has denied any wrongdoing in tenders and clarified that all rules were followed. It has also made it clear that it has received no complaints over tenders or deficiency of services.

HARIKISHAN SHARMA: The BJP is going out of its way to woo OBCs. In UP, OBCs comprise a substantial chunk of the population. Will the party consider an OBC as CM?

Social justice is not a slogan but a commitment for the BJP. However, our social justice is not one of conflict, but cooperation. Our social justice is not based on varg sangharsh, but is an all-inclusive one. So the question itself is wrong. The BJP keeps sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas in mind. On CM pick… that’s up to the Parliamentary Board… The BJP is doing good work under Yogi Adityanath.

AVISHEK DASTIDAR: In Bengal, a number of your leaders and workers have joined the TMC. Top leaders are accused of abandoning party workers in the state even as they face attacks.

Those who are leaving the party are doing so for their personal reasons. The party is with the people of Bengal and our workers are resisting the violence.

APURVA VISHWANATH: Only the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal has been working for long, with the judiciary and executive blaming each other over the delay in appointments. Is this deliberate, to make these tribunals dysfunctional?

Tribunals are constitutional courts to facilitate procedure. So the government has nothing to lose from having tribunals; in fact, it makes the procedure smoother. The government is committed to ensuring proper working of tribunals.

KRISHN KAUSHIK: In BJP-ruled states, anti-conversion laws have been brought in, with talk of ‘love jihad’. Can’t women choose for themselves?

Anyone who is an adult has the right to choose her partner; we have never said no. Article 25 that talks of freedom of religion has three aspects… fraud, force and allurement (as interpreted by courts)… that’s true freedom of religion. This is Bharatiya culture. We are not against anyone choosing their partner, but if constitutional principles are not being followed…

APURVA VISHWANATH: But the new set of laws expressly prohibit conversion for the sake of marriage. Why should I need the State’s permission to convert to another religion for the sake of marriage?

All you have to do is tell the district commissioner that the marriage is not through allurement, what’s wrong in that? Every party in India has to give an affidavit to the Election Commission saying that I believe in secularism… you may ask, where’s the need to do so if I believe in secularism, if the Constitution says India is a secular state… Whether these laws are unconstitutional or not will be examined by courts. We have never suspended Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) or 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).

ESHA ROY: One of the criticisms levelled at the Environment Ministry is related to forest land diversion. Last year alone, around 1,000 hectares of eco-sensitive land were cleared to make way for projects.

Of 8,07,000 hectares, only 1,000 hectares (have been diverted) and that too, so that the poor living in these sanctuaries get electricity, roads. It’s only for this. Other than that, there is no diversion.

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