Known as the ‘Development Man’ in the Narendra Modi government, Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari plans to board an airboat from Allahabad and canvass in Uttar Pradesh. Asked if the ride is his response to Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi’s Ganga yatra, Gadkari quips, “If I hadn't developed Ganga Inland waterways, her boat would not have moved.” In an interview with Jyotika Sood, the BJP leader, who has publicly acknowledged his association with the RSS, talks about his party’s prospects in the April-May elections and the Opposition’s mahagatbandhan. Edited excerpts:
What do you think about NYAY, the Congress’s minimum income programme?
The promise of Rs 12,000 per month is misleading. If your income is Rs 9,000, they will give you Rs 3,000; those earning Rs 8,000 will get Rs 4,000. There are many questions about its implementation. In election time, every party gives new slogans and announces new programmes. Our government has done what hasn’t happened in the past 50 years. The Delhi-Mumbai Express highway is coming up. Land acquisition for the Rs 60,000-crore project has been competed and it will start from Gurgaon.
Isn’t it important to address poverty and agrarian issues?
"We have shortage of jobs, not employment. We have given contracts to new projects, and that creates jobs, directly and indirectly. "
I am from an agriculture background, and that’s where my soul is even though I am working in the infrastructure sector. The actual problem of agriculture in India hasn’t been presented by anyone properly. We have surplus sugar, wheat, rice and pulses, but Brazil decides the price for sugar, Argentina for soyabean and the US for corn. No matter who runs the government, deciding international commodity prices is not in our hands. So we have surplus food production, but farmers are not benefiting from it. Diversification of our agriculture towards energy—bio-CNG, ethanol, biodiesel, etc—is the way forward. This is the time for our government to promote it. Besides creating more employment opportunities, the money saved on petroleum imports can be used for the welfare of farmers. We can overcome the agrarian crisis by breaking out of the vicious circle of growing sugarcane, wheat, rice and pulses.
There is a perception that not everyone is free to take decisions in the Modi cabinet?
I take all the decisions that are part of my jurisdiction. Everybody takes their own decision.
What do you think about decision to rule out active political role or tickets for those above 75?
This is the party’s decision. One has to retire at some point in every profession. It is the law of the nature. The seniors have always been our guides and philosophers. We can never forget them or their contribution. But somewhere we have to stop and make way for the next generation.
Is the party treating its seniors right?
The decision was taken after visiting their houses and only after they agreed.
The BJP’s allies complain that their issues have not been addressed?
Politics is a game of contradiction, compulsion and limitations; no alliance is about peace or love. Every partner wants as much from the pie as possible. Even by contributing seven MPs, some would ask for three ministerial positions. This will go on as there is no quick solution.
What do you think about the mahaghatbandhan?
Mahagathbandhan is politics of opportunism. Neither leftist nor rightist, they are all opportunists. It is not based on the development agenda. They call us caste-based, but they are the ones doing caste politics. What else is the coming together of parties like the SP and BSP? Secular doesn’t mean non-discrimination on religious grounds. The king or the government should be secular; the individual can’t be secular.
Will your party win the election?
Yes, we are confident of bagging 300-plus seats.
Do you think unemployment is an issue?
The rise in population along with agrarian crisis has created this scenario, which has been built over the years. It is not a new phenomenon. And there is a difference between naukri (job) and rozgar (employment). We have shortage of jobs, not employment. The problem is we don’t have job-creators. For example, I have given contracts worth Rs 11 lakh crore for roads, Rs 5 lakh crore for ports and shipping, Rs 1 lakh crore for Namami Ganga—that makes it Rs 17 lakh crore. When a project of Rs 10,000 crore is allocated, it provides 1 lakh direct and indirect jobs.
What happened in Madhya Pradesh? Farmers were up in arms against the BJP.
The state government did so well on the irrigation projects that it led to crop surplus and became a liability. I admit we were not able to give the promised crop prices to the farmers. That is why I keep saying there is a need to change the crop pattern.
Is it true that the BJP will talk only about the development agenda, while the RSS would concentrate on Hindutva as your poll plank?
"Parsis, Jews and others became Indians—we are open to diversity. But shouting slogans of another nation...that’s not done."
Such reports are a fabrication of fertile brains. The Sangh is at its own level and does not interfere in the BJP’s functioning. I am straightforward and speak my mind. I am from Nagpur and have been associated with the Sangh from the beginning. The Sangh has interest in three subjects—culture, education and security. They have some aspirations regarding these subjects, but there is no other interference. And they would never do anything that is not in national interest. The Ram mandir is not an issue to be associated with Hindutva. The Allahabad High Court said it’s the birthplace of Lord Ram. During the Mughal era, there were 4,000 places where temples were demolished to build mosques. But there is no history of any mosque being demolished to make a temple. Hindus have been tolerant from the very beginning. Parsis, Jews and others came to India and became Indians. It shows how much we are open to diversity. But shouting slogans of another nation while staying in this country…that’s not done.
Don’t you think the country’s social fabric has been disturbed? Muslims are being targeted.
Who beat up Muslims? Was it the BJP president? How many such things happened during the Congress regime? Did anybody give back their awards during those times? Those who want to isolate the BJP and come to power are not ready to sit with us. But the people have given us, not them, the opportunity to govern. Leftists, socialists and secularists used to do such things to target the BJP. We are against it.
As far as nationalism is concerned, it is not an issue. It’s a natural thing. When I was party president, we had a board outside the BJP office that said, “Country first, party second.” When we started schemes like Ujjwala and Ayushman Bharat (national health protection scheme), did we try to differentiate among people on the basis of who is Hindu and who is Muslim in deciding the beneficiaries? Liberals make it an issue, but people have seen us and they will decide. Nationalism is our soul, good governance and development is our ambition, and economic growth is our aim. This inspires and motivates all of us.