Chouhan not in race for PM

New Delhi: Amid growing speculation over the BJP`s prime ministerial candidate for the next general elections, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan today virtually ruled out that he is in this race saying his priority is working for the state and its progress.

Chouhan, who attended the National Development Council Meeting here, is passionate about various development schemes in his state aimed at benefiting women and the girl child, improving infrastructure especially in rural areas, as well as reaching out to the weaker sections of society.

Asked during an interview to PTI whether he would also like to work at the Central level for the BJP as Gujarat Chief Minister Modi and others are reportedly keen on doing, he replied in the negative. "No. There is a lot of work to be done in the state. I would like to work in my state," he said.

When pointed out that Modi is reportedly planning to throw his hat in the ring for the prime ministerial post, he said, "People are saying that he wants to come to the Centre…But Modi is a very capable person. I am a very ordinary worker."

He insisted that the only priority for him now is Madhya Pradesh and its progress. "There are limits and my job is to work in the state. The party has given me this work and I am also enjoying this," he said.

He avoided questions on the controversy within the BJP over who should be the party prime ministerial candidate, saying it is for the party to decide.

However, he was all praise for his senior colleague L K Advani, believed to be still in the race for prime minister, and said he enthusiastically participated in his yatra when it travelled through Madhya Pradesh. "Advani is the most prominent leader of this country whom we all respect. He has an unblemished record. He has devoted his whole life to the country so there is an added respect for him in the minds of the people," Chouhan said.

He claimed that the issue of bringing back black money and providing clean politics and good governance, which are being espoused by Advani during his yatra, have struck a cord with the people.

He downplayed the recent controversy in Satna during the yatra when some BJP leaders tried to bribe journalists to get favourable coverage. "That incident has been exaggerated and unduly publicised. The party is looking into it. One leader has also been suspended and we are trying to find out the facts. They (our detractors) did not find anything against us so they clung on to this," he said, in reply to a question.

Asked if such incidents and the arrest of former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa in a graft case would affect Advani`s yatra, Chouhan said, "Advani`s aim is clear and so there is nothing lacking in people`s enthusiasm. The expectations of people have gone up. They feel the BJP will take the country out of this mess."

Discussing other issues, including his relations with the UPA government at the Centre, Chouhan said there was discrimination against non-UPA states when it came to disbursement of funds and expediting clearances to projects. "The prime minister assures us that there will be no discrimination but this is not adhered to… The saddest part is that this government is not moving in one direction. The environment minister will not give us clearance while the coal minister keeps saying give clearance. We are caught between `go, no-go`. Why don`t they find a way out One says one thing, the other says something else. Government is one. Ministers should be together."

Chouhan insisted that government schemes should not be imposed on the states from the top and such programmes should be state-specific. "What can be implemented in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram cannot be implemented in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. We are even thinking of making village-specific schemes in our state. So more the decentralisation, the better it is," he said.

He maintained that while 70 per cent of the work is being done by the state, it gets only 30 per cent of the funds while Centre does 30 per cent of the work and has 70 per cent of the funds.
Chouhan claimed Madhya Pradesh had a good law and order record and is an "island of peace".

Asked about the sensational murder of RTI activist Shehla Masood in broad daylight, he said, "The CBI is investigating the case. There is hope that it will catch the culprits," adding it was he who demanded a CBI probe into the matter. "Our government is extending full cooperation. We want the truth to come out," he said.

Asked about some BJP leaders coming under the needle of suspicion in the case, he said, "If somebody drags someone`s name in a case, one cannot do anything. We want the truth to come out and the culprits should be arrested… Dragging somebody`s name is not good."