Union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Thursday there was a "hundred per cent" possibility that the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, will be conferred on Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar, adding that it is what the people want.
Ahead of the elections in Maharashtra, the matter has emerged as a big poll issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah saying at several rallies that the Bharat Ratna should be given to the independence activist.
The Opposition including the Congress, has, however, remained critical, saying that Savarkar had been charge-sheeted for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. He was later acquitted.
“In Savarkar’s case, the court had already taken a clear decision. History is clear about that. The allegations by the Congress about Gandhi’s murder case is totally false and is against history. The problem is that the Congress always wants to mislead and confuse people,” he said in an interview with CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil.
Gadkari also reacted to Shiv Sena’s opposition to the proposal saying that the BJP ally in Maharashtra is free to come out with its own manifesto promises. He, however, desisted from clarifying whether the party was considering giving Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray the deputy CM’s position in case of a victory.
Here's the full transcript of the interview:
We are on the campaign trail with union minister Nitin Gadkari. He is going to Nagpur to campaign there. Why have these elections been so lacklustre?
These elections are crucial for Haryana and Maharashtra. This will be a performance test for the BJP state governments, for the development work that they have been doing for the last five years. It is important for the government to know whether the people are in favour of it or not. I am confident of the work, which is already being done in Haryana and Maharashtra by the state leadership and under the leadership of PM Modi. Based on our contributions in these states, people are definitely going to support the BJP. I am a hundred per cent confident that we will achieve a record-making victory.
It is being assumed that in the results that will be declared on October 24, BJP will emerge the winner and will form the government in both the states. Don’t you think it’s bad for democracy when you have an Opposition that is in a complete state of disarray?
We are not responsible for the Opposition. It is the responsibility of the opposition party in a democracy to strengthen their party. How can you expect me to strengthen the Congress party?
But it was you who gave the slogan of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (India without Congress)?
That is not what the slogan means. Its real meaning is that we want to strengthen the BJP in all parts of the country. Through the slogan we are trying to explain that once where the Congress was in a winning position, the BJP has replaced it and clinched the no. 1 spot. That is the spirit behind the term.
An issue that is taking centre stage is the fraud in the Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank. It has raised concerns that the monitoring and the checks and balances process, which should have been in place, have failed. The regulatory body in the RBI didn’t perform its responsibility. A question that thousands of depositors are now asking is whether they will be able to access their money and how soon.
The bank is under the control of the RBI and the state government as it is a cooperative bank. The finance minister has assured the people that the issues will be resolved as early as possible and we will try our best to protect the interests of the depositors. At the same time, we also have assets. So the RBI and Maharashtra government will come out with a policy with the help of the finance ministry and find a solution as soon as possible. The finance minister is seriously considering all these issues. I am confident that we will come out with positive results.
India is in the throes of an economic crisis. The economic slowdown has impacted various sectors including manufacturing, automobile and real estate. It is also being said that the ministry of road transport and highways is not undertaking any new projects because of the slowdown. The labour market has been impacted and a lot of labourers are out of jobs. Don't you think that this is the biggest challenge for you rather than issues such as Article 370 in a state where it is not even relevant?
Frankly speaking, the whole world is facing a recession. Some of the problems are because of the global economy, some problems are because of demand and supply, and some problems because of the business cycle. These problems are there everywhere. The government has already taken decisions by which in due time (there will be results). I am expecting positive results. And with respect to the growth rate, I am confident that whatever decision we have taken will show a drastic change in the next two to three months.
In your election manifesto, what was the need of adding the bit that VD Savarkar should be given the Bharat Ratna? The fact is that both in the state of Maharashtra and at the Centre it’s your government. What was the need now?
Actually, there is a huge demand from the people by and large that Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and VD Savarkar be conferred with the Bharat Ratna. The chief minister gave his assurance when he was asked whether both VD Savarkar and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule would be recommended for the Bharat Ratna. What is wrong with that? Savarkar is a great leader.
But, you have made it an election issue…
Not at all. It is not an election issue. People ask the questions and you are supposed to answer them. I believe there is nothing wrong with this.
Your alliance partner Shiv Sena has been critical of this. So what was the need to add it in the manifesto?
Not at all. Whatever we discuss regarding our party's decisions and policies are our privilege and right. The Shiv Sena is an independent party and our alliance partner. They have the right to declare a lot of things in their manifesto, which they have. That is their right.
Before talking about the Shiv Sena, I will stay on this issue for a little more because the Congress’s Manish Tewari, in particular, has questioned why the BJP wants to confer Bharat Ratna on Savarkar and not on (Nathuram) Godse when in fact Savarkar was charge-sheeted and later acquitted for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Godse was later convicted and hanged for this crime. When your government is celebrating Gandhi’s 150th anniversary, is it right to start this discourse?
First of all, in Savarkar’s case, the court had already taken a clear decision. History is clear about that. The allegations by the Congress about Gandhi’s murder case are totally false and against history. The problem is that the Congress always wants to mislead and confuse people. Savarkar was a great leader, who is an inspiration and motivation for all of us. He dedicated his life to the country. His family was destroyed only because of his nationalistic thoughts and it is time for the country to respect him. Why should we relate this with other issues? The people who do not read history and literature of Savarkar and who do not know him are making such comments against him. It is very unfortunate.
Does it mean that Bharat Ratna for Savarkar is a possibility?
A hundred per cent. The state government has recommended this and the central government will take a decision.
Coming to the Shiv Sena, what is happening with the alliance? Is there a possibility of giving the deputy chief minister’s position to Aaditya Thackeray considering that he is the first Thackeray to formally enter the electoral space?
Giving the deputy CM’s spot is the privilege of the chief minister. Therefore, he will decide. Every party has the right to prop up its own leader and I don’t have a problem with that.
So you are not ruling out that Aaditya Thackeray could become the deputy CM?
That is totally in the hands of the CM. After the elections, one thing is for sure that Devendra Fadnavis will be the next CM of Maharashtra. As a CM, he has the power (to decide) and whether he will take that decision is up to him.
One interaction that had stood out in these elections is the press conference that was held by CM Devendra Fadnavis along with Uddhav Thackeray as they made the announcement of the seat-sharing formula. Everyone is asking why you were absent from the event.
For the past several days I have been involved in national politics and am no longer entangled with state politics. So I was not supposed to be there. My role now is related to the national issue and the national party. I am always there for all the programmes that happen on the national level. As far as the state is concerned, Devendra Fadnavis and our Maharashtra president Chandrakant Patil are there and are doing the job. They have on many occasions come to me to discuss and take my advice. They are taking decisions and I am supporting them.
Since you have been campaigning in Maharashtra for several years, you have seen the era of Balasaheb Thackeray and the equation between BJP and Shiv Sena in those days and how it has evolved to the current times. Are we to believe that BJP is the one firmly on the saddle? This is just a reiteration of the debate which was settled in 2015?
Shiv Sena and BJP have the longest-running political alliance in the country. In Marathi we have a phrase : neither do we have a good understanding nor can we live without each other. It is clear that our alliance is on the basis of our Hindutva (ideologies) and that is one of the reasons why Balasaheb Thackeray and Pramod Mahajan made this alliance a permanent one. I am hopeful and positive that in the interest of Maharashtra and its people, the alliance will work and will contribute to new development in the state. After all, it is in the interest of the ‘Marathi minds’.