Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan had recently sparked a row by suggesting the Centre appropriate gold from trusts of managing places of worship, like Tirupati. The Daily Guardian spoke to Chavan on the controversy and the high Covid cases in the state. Excerpts:
Q: Your statement on borrowing gold from religious bodies created a controversy.
A: The BJP leadership was behind this and has twisted my statement. They did it on purpose. I have suggested to the Prime Minister that gold lying in religious trusts, not a particular religious trust but all religious trusts, should be borrowed, interest paid on it and the gold returned, when emergency is there. Vajpayee also said in 1999 and even Modiji said in 2015. Modiji’s gold monetisation scheme received over 20 tonnes of gold from various temples and religious trusts, according to a reply in Parliament. It’s up to the PM to accept the suggestion or to throw it but BJP communalised my suggestion and dragged the Congress party into it. But I received tremendous support from ordinary citizens and I thank them.
Q: Your party leaders did not support you?
A: It was my suggestion in an individual capacity, it was not the official request from the Congress but I am happy that the discourse has shifted from Hindu V/s Muslims to a debate within Hindu society between fundamentalists and rationalists. Discussion must be a welcomed.
Q: What’s your reaction to the finance minister’s various packages to boost the economy?
A: I am totally disappointed with the Rs 20 lakh crore package announce by the FM. Not even 1% of GDP has been allotted. The remaining amount is a request to borrow from the banks. Due to the lockdown, micro and small businesses and even farmers have incurred losses.
Q: More than 4 lakh labourers have migrated from the state. Where did the state government fail?
A: Migrant labourers were locked down for nearly two months. They want to go back to their homes to meet family. There is no work for them because everything is closed. State government was providing them rations. But for cooking rations, you need a kitchen. We have to understand their mindset. Migrant workers from various states want to go back to their villages. But we dithered in who will bear the const of travelling etc., in many cases receiving states are not ready to accept their own people. The Central government failed to resolve this issue.
Q: With Maharashtra having the highest number of Covid-19 cases, do you think the state government failed to control it?
A: No, it’s not true. Initially, India’s response was too casual and hesitant. The Central government was busy in CAA agitation in Delhi and bringing down the Madhya Pradesh government. The Central government was busy in welcoming (US President Donald) Trump and Namaste Trump programme in Ahmedabad. The government wasted valuable time. We should have stopped international flights and initiated quarantine. Mumbai international airport used to get 16,000 passengers each day and 5 lakh passengers a month before the lockdown. That time no quarantine rules was made by the Central government. Passengers were also casual. Just a stamp on their hands for home quarantine. Passengers who came from abroad spread the diseases in the state. The Central government, Home Ministry, Health Ministry and Civil Aviation Ministry are fully responsible. If you see the population of Mumbai, it’s the city with the highest density. In areas like Dharavi, it’s not possible for people to maintain social distancing. However, we have got some control on it but Mumbai situation is critical.