New Delhi, Jan. 13: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today asked states to stop playing politics with drought and Central relief. He emphasised that calamities such as a drought should be “tackled with the utmost cooperation between the Centre and states”.
Vajpayee was addressing a farmers rally, organised by the BJP’s Kisan Morcha at the Talkatora Stadium here this evening.
He asserted that the Centre had never discriminated against any state when disbursing relief and aid during calamities.
Vajpayee, in a reference to Congress-ruled states such as Rajasthan — which alleged that the NDA government was found wanting in bailing them out of the drought — said: “There are states which, after taking help from the Centre, don’t want to give us credit. Instead they attack us.”
“That does not bother me because people get to know the truth. It is not merely a question of giving or taking credit because the situation involves a calamity,” he said.
In a message meant as much for his party — that is using drought as a poll issue in Congress-ruled states — as the Opposition, Vajpayee said: “Politics has its place. Elections take place all the time. Sometimes, the results go in our favour, sometimes they go against us. But the nation is supreme.”
“We have never discriminated against any state because we believe every state is a part of India and any crisis should be resolved jointly by the Central and state governments,” he said.
To hammer home the point, Vajpayee said he would consider a request to him made by Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa at a meeting today. She asked for 2 lakh tonnes of paddy from the Centre to launch a free meal scheme for the poor.
Jayalalithaa, a former NDA ally, was instrumental in bringing down Vajpayee’s government in 1999. In her second spell as chief minister, she has been trying hard to get close to the BJP.
Vajpayee’s statesmanlike gesture, however, did not impress the gathering. Five minutes into his address, most of them began streaming out, forcing the disconcerted organisers to exhort them to stay. When their plea failed, they closed the exit doors.
While on the Centre-state equation, Vajpayee referred to the Cauvery river water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to bolster his government’s proposal to interlink the main rivers.
“Today, two chief ministers came to see me. They were from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and there is a fight between them for water. Each one has its share of complaints and differences,” he said.
“Now, a similar dispute threatens to emerge between Haryana and Punjab. It is amazing how 50 years after Independence, we have not evolved a scheme for connecting our rivers and using them more efficiently. States seem to have their own priorities, but the upshot is that a lot of water is emptied out in the oceans, unused,” Vajpayee said.
The river water linkage scheme, he said, could be put in place only in an “atmosphere of amity”. “Keeping state interests in mind, a solution will have to be found in the national perspective. The Tamil Nadu chief minister told me about the worsening situation in her state. Sometimes, it is difficult to visualise the ground situation from here and as many as 14 states are drought-hit,” Vajpayee said.
The only time the Prime Minister appeared conscious of addressing a party gathering was when he listed the various sops his government has given farmers -- food-for-work, Antodaya scheme, credit cards, employment generation through construction of roads and houses -- and when he clarified that economic reforms were focussed on the “poor and the common man and not just the capitalists”.
“We are rooted in our soil. We understand the problems of agriculture and unemployment. That is why we want development to be an integrated process,” Vajpayee said.
Alleging that investment in the past had “left out some key sectors”, Vajpayee claimed his government had taken care to include these and accord “priority” to agriculture and small industries ---sectors the BJP privately complained were excluded from the NDA government’s economic radar.