Two months short of completing two years as president of the BJP, the rank outsider in national politics, Nitin Gadkari, for the first time has repositioned himself as a serious contender, also in the fray at the national level. No more satisfied just being BJP president, he will be contesting the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 from Nagpur. Gadkari’s announcement is not a one-off statement but serious RSS sanctioned politics. In his new avatar, Gadkari is not just flexing muscles but asserting himself more within the party and even setting the agenda for himself and the BJP. Here, Nitin Gadkari speaks to Prarthna Gahilote about the Anna Hazare movement, RSS and the BJP. Excerpts from the interview, a shorter version of which appeared in print:
You had given a letter of support to Anna Hazare. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that the RSS supported the movement. Yet Anna Hazare himself wants to distance himself from the Sangh. Does that hurt?
Look, I have also heard Mohanji’s bhashan. We are not at the mercy of anyone that we see a crowd and then someone calls us and we appear. We don’t want to take any advantage from Anna or any movement. I will, we will never go anywhere uninvited. We will never do that. The question is that in the interest of the society and the nation, if Anna, Ramdev maharaj or anyone else, if they do something or try something then our principles tell us that we must support it. Mohanji in Nagpur said that same thing. I will just say I am a very self respecting worker (karyakarta), whether it is Anna’s movement or Baba Ramdev’s, we will not go anywhere without being called. If they will ask for support, we will give it. If they don’t want it, we will not give it.
So does it hurt when Anna says that he doesn’t want RSS support?
We are not saying that. Did we go to Anna to ask for something? Did RSS go to Anna? I reiterate that we will not go anywhere without being invited. We don’t want credit for any movement. We are not in the business of getting a photograph clicked wherever there is a crowd. We are doing our party’s work. Whoever will do good work for the society, we will support them. If they want our support we will support them, if they don’t we will stay away. We are not upset with anyone over anything.
You speak about a corruption free India but your leaders, your own chief minister Yeddyurappa has corruption charges. Hasn’t the party suffered because of these allegations?
I believe that ours is an organisation of people. We take good and bad people from the society in our organisation with their strengths and flaws.
But I have been telling my cadre that to earn money is not a sin. But politics can’t be a business of making money (Rajneeti yeh paisa kamaaney ka dhanda nahi ho sakta) If you are going to come into politics then come into politics to serve the people and the society. Come into politics to serve the poor. Politics is an instrument of economic reform and I say it every time that politics is not the business of earning money. And those who want to do that, those who think politics is a means to earn money, then those people must not get into the BJP. That kind of person has no chance and no opportunities in the BJP. Having said that there are lakhs of people working for the BJP and out of that one or two people have some flaws. But that doesn’t mean that the entire party is like that.
You said that those who want to make money through politics have no place in the BJP. Does that apply to your top leaders, your ministers, your chief ministers?
Look, politics is not a business of earning money and this applies to all the leaders in the BJP. Politics is the means to serve and develop the nation. Politics is a mission of socio-economic reform. There is no place for the corrupt in the BJP.
During his yatra, LK Advani said that Yeddyurappa had been warned by the party earlier. Do you agree with that? Were other people including the Reddy brothers also warned?
Advanji did not say that. I was with him in the conference when he said that. Advanji had simply said that he supports the party’s stand on Yeddyurappa. When asked further, he’d said what is right is right, what is wrong is wrong. And whenever such a thing happens, whenever it happened everyone in the party is told about it.
But no other minister was told or warned…
Look, I’ll tell you one thing, I’m saying it again. This is a people’s organisation. I’m not claiming that we are 100 per cent ideal. I can only claim that compared to the other parties not one or two times but we are 50 times better than any other parties. And we train our workers whether MLAs or MPs in good conduct. I tell my workers all the time, every time I go to the states, I meet the Chief Ministers separately and talk to them about it… You can’t really say that a particular person is perfect. Who is a 100 per cent perfect? People come with their flaws. An organisation’s job is to help people correct their flaws and work with them.
It seems that Nitin Gadkari is trying an image makeover and is possibly also the best Prime Ministerial candidate that the BJP can project.
I want to tell you that in my life, when I had a big accident, I had decided that if I recover from it then I will dedicate myself to serving the society and the nation. So, I don’t want to become the Prime Minister nor am I in any race for the Prime Ministerial post nor am I projecting any image. I am just an ordinary worker of the BJP and politics is the instrument for socio-economic upliftment and my mission is to work for the nation like a BJP worker. That’s what I am doing. I don’t understand the politics of this place. I don’t do any image projection. I stay the way I am.
But if you are asked…
No, I am not interested. Look I will tell you… I didn’t go to the Rajya Sabha. They had requested me to go to the Rajya Sabha from my own state but I didn’t go to the Rajya Sabha. Even now, I will not go to the Rajya Sabha till the time I am the party president.
But if the party asks you to be the Prime Ministerial candidate, will you then get into electoral politics?
Look, I am going to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Nagpur. What happened was every time there would be elections, I hadn’t participated and won either Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha so people say that I am someone who hasn’t been elected by the people. So now I feel like fighting the Lok Sabha polls and getting elected so I am definitely going to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
Yes. I will contest Lok Sabha polls. If the party gives me a ticket I will. But I want to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
Will you do a second term as party president?
I don’t know. The party will decide.
You had taken charge with the brief to set the house in order. Do you think you’ve managed that?
I never rate myself. I never make any assessment regarding that. I listen to music, see theatre. I live my life according to my own will. I don’t get upset when people write bad things about me. I don’t get happy when they write good things about me. I have decided that I will go on working for the society and the nation. And I don’t want to become a hurdle or a problem for my party. I don’t want to make any claims. I don’t want to ask for any positions or honours. I work as an ordinary worker. What the party has given me is much more and beyond my own stature. I have no expectations and will work for the organisation. The party hasn’t moved to give me any position as yet and even I haven’t so desired. I am happy where I am. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is a question coming up in 2014. Who will that be, that the party will get a majority is a task that I have at hand. Under any circumstances, my target is to get the BJP more than 200 seats in the Lok Sabha and that is what I am working for.
Previous BJP presidents had to constantly go back to the RSS and seek approval for their decisions. You seem to be a president who takes his own decisions and doesn’t have to look for a Sangh sanction.
Look I have been a Sangh swayamsewak. The misconception that people have about the Sangh is sometimes a matter of great grief to me. RSS is part of our lives. I have worked with the RSS through my vidyarthi parishad days but the RSS doesn’t say anything to me. RSS does not give me any instructions. It never has, before me. Nor has it given any instructions to me. We share a very good rapport. We are constantly in conversation. But people have this misunderstanding that the RSS controls the BJP. Unfortunately we are a victim of image versus reality and I feel bad about it. People who know me well know that I don’t work under anyone’s remote control. I take the decisions that I think are the right ones to take.
In the last 15 years, the parliamentary party in the BJP has been more influential than the organisation. That seems to have changed in the last one and half years since you took over…
Parliamentary party is part of the party. And our party is a democratic party. We have a team. And president means first among all. That is the only meaning. But we together discuss things. We have a team concept. And the arrangement is for everyone to work together collectively since the time of Atalji and Advaniji.