Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari talks about BJP’s prospects in election, the achievements of the Narendra Modi government and the reports about his prospects to become Prime Minister if the NDA fails to get a clear majority. Excerpts:
The BJP has benched those who have built the party from the scratch. It has removed L K Advani from the Gandhinagar seat and the party is not likely to field M M Joshi, B S Koshiyari and B C Khanduri etc.?
First of all, your impression that the BJP has denied tickets is wrong. Be it in the corporate sector or sports, there is an age for retirement after which one generation goes out and the next comes in. The party’s parliamentary board has the right to give or deny tickets to every leader. Sushma Swaraj has announced that she would not contest due to her health.
But Advani has not said anything like that?
He is also aged. He is our guide, philosopher and source of inspiration and will remain so. Whatever respect we have for him, will be there tomorrow also. But I don’t think one should link that to his candidacy.
Now that Amit Shah is contesting from Advani’s constituency Gandhinagar, is the generation shift in the BJP complete?
Generation shift happens everywhere — it happens in the family, corporate sector and in institutions. It is an obvious natural change. It may not have a link with performance. In cricket, once we thought Sunil Gavaskar was the best player. In 1988, after getting out in the Kolkata test, he had declared that he would retire. When everyone asked him why he was retiring at the peak of his career, he had said what’s the point in retiring when everyone starts asking when would you retire. It was a good statement.
Do you think Advani and Joshi should have taken a decision themselves?
I am sure party president has discussed the matter with them.
There was an impression that the BJP would change a major chunk of its sitting MPs for this election. But when the first list came, it did not appear so. Is there panic in the party?
If the party brings in new faces, you will say that elders were denied ticket. If we don’t, you say there is panic. But you must understand it is a natural process. It is like a train — some people get down at some stations and some get in. Life’s like that. Party takes decisions after consulting the local leadership, the winnability of the candidate and the kind of work he or she has done in the constituency. It’s an independent, impartial and fair analysis.
Does it mean that the party was not happy with the performance of those who were dropped?
Do not draw inferences. If an MP or MLA asks, ‘what’s wrong with me?’, you can’t answer that question. He or she would feel that public is with him or her. What’s exactly in their mind would be known from the feedback we get from different sources. What is considered in the party is the merit, what’s good for the party and what people want from it.
How, according to you, is the election going to be?
There is no capable opposition to the BJP now. The works the Narendra Modi-led government has done have had a good impact and you can decide who the public would support. This is a test and our government has done things that had not been done in 50 years. So, we are confident we will return to power.
Is there a wave in favour of the BJP?
Hundred per cent, there is a wave.
You said there is no capable opposition. But the Opposition parties have defeated the BJP in many places in the last five years.
There are bits and pieces…some fell here and there. What kind of a coalition are you talking about? Those who could not greet each other, could not talk to each other have become friends. The credit should not go to them but to the BJP’s strength.
But a panic was evident in the BJP and the government started doing things that you did not consider in the last five years — like 10 per cent reservation for economically backward sections in general category, financial assistance for farmers etc.
It’s not panic. Every government will try to win the confidence of the people. The Congress had announced loan waiver just ahead of elections. Did that mean it was in panic? Some things are obvious. In democracy, every party is allowed to do things to win the confidence of the people within the framework of the Constitution.
You say the election will be on the basis of the government’s achievements. But the current political discourse is centred around national security and interest. Is it not so?
Whatever the government has done for the nation and its people will be discussed. Programmes like health insurance schemes, Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala scheme, electrification, houses built under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, crop insurance scheme, increase in MSP, irrigation scheme, surge in infrastructure projects are before the people. You tell me, Priyanka Gandhi has taken a boat trip to Varanasi. If I had not got the dredging done and maintained the water level, how would she have gone? Was the water in Ganga drinkable during their regime? Priyankaji has drunk that water because we have cleaned it. The image of the country is changing. Has the respect for India not gone up? There were terror attacks before, but (India) never retaliated like this. There is a capable and decisive leadership in the country. We will go to elections with these.
You have said the farmers were facing crisis?
I did not say so. My comments are often misquoted…some people try to fire from my shoulder. What I have said was this: the agriculture crisis is a serious one and no government can determine the price of the crops. America decides the price of corn, Soyabean’s price is decided by Argentina, sugar’s by Brazil and Palm Oil’s by Malaysia. Today, we have surplus rice, wheat, pulses and sugar. So, in order to resolve the crisis, we have to change the crop pattern and diversify it. Crisis is there and I am not denying it. When you talk about Rs 2,00,000-crore bio fuel economy, if it goes to villages, some youth will definitely get jobs. If it goes to the farmers, they won’t have to commit suicide.
But changing these global situations is not in your hands. What’s the short term solution?
See, we have increased the MSP and it’s going directly to them. We have to change the crop pattern to go ahead. Changing crop pattern does not take long. The crisis is not a new one, it’s at least 60-70 years old. Congress governments always neglected the agriculture sector and it will take a while to change. We have to bring in a balance. Because of the measures my ministry has taken, the water problem of Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh has been resolved. Our projects in infrastructure to irrigation will start showing its results and we will become a super economic power and at the same time, there will be good news for farmers and workers.
But you know that capital expenditure has gone down, saving rates have dropped
In the last five years, I have given projects costing Rs 11 lakh crore. I have initiated 14 projects in Ganga…There are issues with real estate sector and the decisions we have taken will remove hurdles for its growth.
But the discourse we have is about Pulwama and Balakot etc. Your leaders talk about that. Do you think after Pulwama and Balakot, the confidence of the BJP has gone up.
They talk about it because you people ask them. Why are you asking such questions? We should not politicise the airstrike. The security of the country is of utmost importance. The sacrifices by the soldiers should not be politicised.
But your party president keeps talking about it?
We are often quoted wrongly.
You are often quoted because there is a general belief that Nitin Gadkari is brought by the RSS and whenever you speak, it is taken as a message from the RSS..
See, first of all I was not brought into politics by the RSS. I am a worker at the ground. I am not a person who came to Delhi, made some comments to be a leader. You come to my constituency and ask my voters. I am a member of the Sangh, but I was not brought by the Sangh. When L K Advani gave four names (to be the party chief), there was me, Manohar Parrikar, Modiji and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Shivraj was sent to Madhya Pradesh, Modiji said he wanted to concentrate on Gujarat and I was made the party chief. I had told Advaniji to make me general secretary only.
There was a perception that the RSS wanted you to control the party leaders from being authoritarian.
Nothing like that. I have not spoken against the party. If I want to speak out I will. When I did not say, why do you want to put your agenda in my mouth?
What’s your take on the reports that Gadkari could be the choice if the NDA does not get a majority?
I am a worker of the BJP. I have not talked about any such thing. BJP will win this election and Modiji will be the Prime Minister. I am quite clear about it.
Why is your government so fascinated with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Your government always blames him for everything, even for China refusing to recognise Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Is your party fighting against Nehru?
I will not make any comment about it. I don’t know anything about it. I have not read anything like that.
The government was unable to get the Motor Vehicles Bill passed in Rajya Sabha. The allegation is that the BJP did not put its political capital behind this Bill and you were left to fight for it yourself.
Your reading is wrong. The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha, twice. Now let me give you the facts. A Joint Select committee had given its recommendations on the Bill. The Bill contained recommendations from the Standing Committee as well. But it was the Opposition that did not let the Bill come to Rajya Sabha. They have majority in Rajya Sabha. Now, in a democracy whatever the majority wants, it does. It so happens that we don’t have majority in Rajya Sabha. But you don’t seem to be blaming the Opposition for anything. The Bill that could have prevented five lakh accidents and 1.5 lakh road accident deaths was stopped from being passed by the Opposition. What should I do?
But critics say that perhaps the PM did not support your cause enough on this Bill?
Could the Bill have passed in the Lok Sabha without the PM’s support?
But there you have a simple majority. The real test was Rajya Sabha?
This was the government’s Bill. The PM is the head of the government. So it passed in Lok Sabha. To say that the PM did not support it is laughable speculation. The fact is, AIADMK, TMC, Congress etc opposed it in Rajya Sabha.
Is your government afraid to face the truth? Be it figures related to the GDP back-series or the NSSO data on employment, the government suppresses and hides facts. Unemployment rate is at a 40-year high. The government seems to think that by suppressing the documents, it will escape facing the facts. Why is the government scared of facts?
Not at all. We do not hide anything. We have done well in many sectors where there has been development. At the same time I accept that there are sectors where more work is needed, like real estate. There is an agrarian crisis, I accept. That is why we talk about diversifying crops. We brought in several schemes for farmers.
People are doubting the figure of 7 per cent GDP growth because as per the Chinese index, there are three key parameters in an economy — power production, freight movement, and the quantum of loan in the economy. In all these three parameters in India, there doesn’t seem to be any growth that reflects the 7 per cent claim. What is your assessment?
Our ports are in a Rs 7,000-crore profit. Now we have also started inland waterways. This will bring down logistics cost. As I told you, there has been work in all sectors. Take the steel industry for example. We imposed import duty on Chinese steel, and that proved to be a boon for the domestic steel industry. Some things are linked with the global economy and the rules of international demand and supply. There are crises in some sectors, like in agriculture. There is surplus production in the world. We need an innovative approach, using technology to deal with these problems and give a new direction to the country, which we are doing. And I think we have been successful to a large extent. My assessment is that we will hit the 7.5 per cent growth rate in another one year.
But the empowered, capable classes are angry with you. Be it the Jats in Haryana, Patidars in Gujarat, Patels in Maharashtra, Kapus in Andhra?
We believe in Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. Problem is that backwardness is becoming a political interest. So there is competition among everyone that they are backward. Now, 100 per cent reservation means nobody will get reservation. That’s why we have given a call to awaken entrepreneurship in people. Instead of being a job-seeker, be a job giver. There is so much potential in this. For instance, there is a famous restaurant in Nagpur that sells a mutton dish that is very popular. I advised the owner to do his own branding and proliferate his business across India. Ventures like this create jobs.
But your government imposes restrictions on what to eat and what not to eat?
No one from BJP or RSS has ever said don’t eat mutton. In fact, many in RSS eat mutton.
What about beef?
See, there shouldn’t be any cow slaughter. A family can sustain with one neem tree and one cow. The benefits of gow mutra and cow’s milk are proven. Medicines are made out of gow mutra. We have only spoken about that.
There seems to be conflict of ideas. One is the Brahmanical idea that is the core of your party, and then when an Elgar Parishad does a non-Brahminical conference, BJP starts to tremble, their activists are jailed…?
Politicians, media, judiciary, we all have a responsibility. We would think, should we talk about class conflict, spread social discrimination, or harmony? We should all rid our country of casteism, communalism and social disharmony. We should establish this nation on the basis on humanism on the lines of Vivekananda, Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Shivaji Maharaj. Why should we discriminate against people? There should be no discrimination on the basis of gender and caste, that’s what we want.
But you jailed the Elgar parishad activists?
Do you even know what speeches they give? Should there be danga fasaad in the country? Should two communities fight with each other? Everyone has the right to say what they want. But they should not say things that lead to class conflict and fights between communities.
How do you view the present atmosphere of acrimony between the the ruling party and the Opposition?
I believe in a democracy there can be matbhed (ideological differences) but not manbhed (differences of the heart). Development is not the responsibility of the government alone, it’s everyone’s responsibility. MPs from Opposition parties come to me to get work done. After all, they are also seeking the development of India, not Pakistan. So I help them. And I don’t have any calculation behind helping them.
But the past few years, the differences of hearts across the political divide seem to be growing?
I have not seen any such differences. If it is there, everyone should try to bridge the differences.
Your government did not give the Leader of Opposition post to the Congress and went ahead with key appointments in the absence of a LoP in the committee. Is that not a sign of difference of the heart?
The Constitution says a certain number of MPs is required to get the LoP post. Parliament has made this rule.
But the ruling party is calling the Opposition ‘thief’ and the Opposition is also calling the ruling party ‘chor’?
The Prime Minister is not of any party. He is the country’s Prime Minister. And to call the PM a thief and insult him is not right.
But the ruling party is also calling the Opposition ‘anti-national’, even from the party’s official forum. Is that right?
Anyone saying wrong things from any side of the political divide is not right. But there are some people who only look for such statements in politicians. The moment they spot such statements, they amplify them. Such people are in the media as well. They have fun instigating people. Tolerance is a speciality of our society.
For example, your party MPs and even a minister called Rahul Gandhi ‘Pappu’ and Priyanka ‘Pappi’
It is possible that there are people in our party too who end up throwing a “no-ball’ once in a while. Media latches on to them. On TV, they often get someone wearing saffron and extract whatever statement from them and then criticise the BJP. When I was party president, I used to tell people not to make such statements. Maybe some people end up saying things here and there but that should not be taken as the party’s official view.
The Opposition’s allegation is that you unleash agencies like the CBI, ED, I-T on anyone who dares to speak against the government and the BJP. How do you respond to that?
Many things that have happened over the past 10-20 years are matters of ongoing inquiries in various agencies. We do not send out any agency behind anyone. We are not vindictive towards anyone.
But now the impression is once a politician joins the BJP, he is cleansed of his past sins. Take for example Mukul Roy and there are others as well?
This is the demand of democracy, that in politics people come and people go in parties. We should always stay focused on the heart of the subjects. Strengthen democracy. Our election is the biggest festival of democracy in India. The whole world is watching this. We should celebrate this festival in a way that sets an example before the world.
So how close to the 272-mark will the party get?
We will cross 300.