Rajinikanth Welcome to Join BJP, We Have Appropriate Position for Him: Nitin Gadkari
Gadkari says India needs a balance between economy and environment for development
As Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping, Nitin Gadkari is drafting India’s infrastructure story. But as former BJP president and a leader who has reach across parties, he plays a far bigger role in the Narendra Modi government. Speaking to CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil on the third anniversary of the government, Gadkari says India needs a balance between economy and environment for development. While calling Ravindra Gaikwad a victim of ‘unfair treatment’, he says Shiv Sena-BJP alliance is for the ‘greater good’ of Maharashtra. In an open invitation to Rajinikanth, Gadkari says the BJP has already thought of an ‘appropriate position’ for the superstar. Edited excerpts:
Your government has built an average of 23 kilometers of roads every day. You had, however, set a target of constructing 40 km/day. Do you think you were too ambitious when you set the target?
The target is ambitious but I am confident that by March 8 next year, we will be able to construct 40 kilometers per day. We have done good work so far. Last year, we awarded road contracts for 16,800 kilometers and that is a world record. We are going to send it for Guinness World Records. It is a great achievement for our government.
Why do you think there has been a delay in achieving the 40 km/day target? Is it because of problems related to land acquisition or are there some states which are not cooperating with the Centre?
We need cooperation from the state governments. Be it for land acquisition, forest department clearance, or clearing encroachments. We need to do this collectively for the greater good of the country. John F Kennedy had once said that ‘America is rich because American roads are good’. For a country to grow, political parties, administration and bureaucracy need to work in tandem with each other. Corruption is the biggest problem in India. There are times when we are also fed up with people; some people don’t know how to work and hence delay projects without any reason. When I joined, there were projects worth Rs 3,85,000 crore pending, but today we have no such problem.
You were recently at the London Stock Exchange where you talked about masala bonds. Do you think investment remains a big challenge?
It’s not a big challenge at all. Under Narendra Modi, the credibility of our government, and of the country in general, has been strengthened. When I met with bankers and fund owners, they had huge expectations for India, which is the fastest growing economy in the world. We have the money and we have the technology. My problem is with the system. The system is not ambitious. There are delays and there are many people who are just out to spread negativity.
Are you trying to say that the bureaucracy is not cooperative?
There are good people, and there are bad people too. The problem here is that everyone has varied principles they live and work by. Take for instance, I want to start an inland waterway system in Yamuna. But now a committee set up by the National Green Tribunal is saying that running boats will add to water pollution. Because of this, my project might not see the light of the day. What we need is coordination between economy and environment for overall development.
You have pitched the Motor Vehicles Bill as Save the Life law, and you were lauded for a very comprehensive Bill by your colleagues. But the linking of Aadhaar is being considered as an intrusion of privacy.
Not at all. We have almost 30% bogus licenses. Is it good for the country? Getting a driving license is the easiest thing to do in India, unlike other countries where the system is foolproof. In India, we are dealing with around 5 lakh accidents and 150000 deaths a year. There is an immediate need to improve the system. We have to identify the grey areas and also work to improve automobile technology. I, myself, was in a severe road accident. I was in the hospital for one full year; I still have a rod in my leg as a stark reminder to that grueling time in my life. The Bill also stems from personal experience. I would not wish that for anyone.
You have been appreciated for doing away with beacons. But how to end the sense of entitlement engrained in Indian polity? Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulted Air India crew and has still not apologized for it. He was on record saying that he used slippers to assault the crew.
He has been treated unfairly. There is hatred for politicians in India. As far as beacon lights are concerned, let me tell you that our revenue from tolls has increased by 5%, which means there were many people who were misusing the ‘red light’. These privileges that are misused by certain people are the reason why politicians are typecast in a certain way.
Talking of Maharashtra, how is BJP’s equation with Shiv Sena? Do you think it was bold of the party to contest alone in BMC polls?
In politics, every party has the right to expand its base. In alliances, there are aspects which are worked out with consent of both parties. This time around, for us, there were some issues regarding the municipal corporation, which is when we decided that we would fight the polls alone.
So, Shiv Sena is not ready to accept that BJP has become an equal partner in Maharashtra?
They were numero uno earlier, and were at the second spot. Now, it’s the reverse. This has always been a cause of worry for them. I believe that the BJP-Sena alliance is for the greater good of Maharashtra. But ultimately the future of an alliance only depends on its leaders.
But you have a great equation with Uddhav Thackeray.
I have good equations with everybody. I even consider a critic as a good friend.
Keeping into account your good equations with all, can you tell us when Rajinikanth is joining politics?
I have very good relations with Rajinikanth. I meet him whenever I am in Chennai. The last time we discussed politics, he said he was not fit for it. However, if he does join, which I will absolutely look forward to, I would like to tell him that BJP has an appropriate position for him.
What is this appropriate position? Will he be the face of BJP in Tamil Nadu?
These are all important political questions. Neither am I an authority, nor am I a decision maker. The party president and party parliamentary board will take a decision.
Why do you think Rajinikanth is important in politics? One gets a sense that the actor would fill the vacuum created after Jayalalithaa’s death.
He has enormous support. I remember an incident in Chennai when I was visiting the actor’s house. I took an engineer along with me, who wanted to meet him. Rajinikanth shook hands with the young man, and for the next three days the engineer just kept his hands folded… Rajinikanth has a strong support base and is a great human being. He is a Marathi from Kollapur and there is a huge photo of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at the entrance of his house. In my private conversations with him, I have told him it was time for him to join politics.
Why are you pushing for him to join BJP?
I am in BJP and also a well-wisher of Rajinikanth. While I have no meeting planned with him as of now, whenever he is ready, he can join BJP.
You are saying he is a Marathi. Your party colleague, Subramanian Swamy, has said he is not a Tamilian and that he is a misfit in Tamil Nadu. If Rajinikanth joins BJP, will Swamy stay away from TN politics?
Swamy has his independent opinion. I don’t want to comment on it. But as a friend to Rajinikanth, I would like to tell him that BJP will welcome him with open arms.
You are a member of the BJP parliamentary board, you are also talking to NDA allies on presidential elections. Will Raisina Hill see a political person?
There is a lot happening on that front and I would not be able to comment on it. Our policy is sabka saath, sabka vikaas. That will be considered and an appropriate decision will be taken.
In the electoral collegium, numbers are stacked, but you still are short of around 18,000 votes. Nitish Kumar, who had supported you on the issue of demonetization and GST, has come up with the suggestion of a second term for Pranab Mukherjee?
These are all important issues, and I have no authority to speak on it.
After CBI raids on Karti Chidambaram and I-T raids on properties linked to Lalu Yadav and his family, opponents are saying this government is indulging in political vendetta. What is your response on that?
The law is taking its own course. If I was involved in something like this, I would have to face the music too. I have faced it too. Our government is transparent and impartial. This is not vendetta politics at all.
What will you tell Lalu Yadav, who tweeted that he is being targeted by the BJP?
I’m sorry, but he is not being targeted by the BJP.
What will you tell Nitish Kumar? He is increasingly looking vulnerable in that alliance.
Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav have to decide on the alliance. I don’t want to comment on it.
Over the last few weeks and months, it looks like cow vigilantes have been emboldened because of the BJP governments in various states. Multiple incidents of violence which have been reported.
We strongly condemn the violence. People who are killing in the name of cow protection are not related to the government or the BJP at all. Nobody has the right to take law into their own hands.
If we look at job creation, only two lakh jobs have been created this year as compared to the 2 crore that you had promised. What happened to that?
We are the fastest growing economy and there are some sectors which are doing well. However, situation in sectors like IT, real estate, and steel isn’t that good. So, now we are focusing on foreign investment, without which jobs can’t be created. We will invite capital investments and try to create as many jobs as possible. My ministry has created 60 lakh jobs in three years.
As the highways minister, what have been the hits and misses in the past 3 years?
One of the biggest failures of my ministry is that road accidents have increased by 4%. We are trying to rectify it and have identified 786 spots on the national highways and sanctioned an amount of Rs 11,000 crore for structural changes. I am trying to save as many lives as possible. We are improving traffic signals, road markings and installing crash barriers.
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