New Delhi: Union minister for road and transport, Nitin Gadkari, has lambasted Congress leaders for their “hypocrisy” in asking former President Pranab Mukherjee to withdraw from the RSS event in June.
In a wide ranging conversation with CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil, Gadkari said that it shows that the Congress talks about being progressive and secular but believes in political untouchability. “Pranab Mukherjee has got his own thoughts and he want to discuss them with people and I believe this is the essence of democracy,” he said.
“Congressmen in the past have visited the families of those involved in terrorist activities. It is their politics. At the same, they detest Mr Mukherjee for being invited to an RSS event? It is total hypocrisy,” he added.
Gadkari also exuded confidence that the BJP would return to power in 2019 with full majority. The show of opposition unity at HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in, he said, was only proof of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strength.
He also ruled out any concession on Bihar chief minister’s renewed demand of special category status for his state, saying it was not constitutionally possible. On being reminded that BJP had supported Nitish Kumar's demand in the past, the minister said that "earlier we were in the opposition, right now we are in ruling party".
On the spiraling fuel prices, the minister said that the solution is to bring petroleum products under GST. In the long-term, he said, the country must shift to alternative sources of energy.
Here is the full interview:
Q: You have entered the last leg of your government now. Which are the showpiece infrastructure projects according to you?
A: The road that was inaugurated by the Prime Minister is a 14-lane access control highway, which is a part of the Delhi-Meerut Highway. It is the first Express Highway in the country with 14 lanes. There is a provision for cycle track of 2.5m on both sides and 1.5m for pedestrians. It also generates 1.5 MW of solar power at the same time. There are vertical gardens, along with fountains and a lot of plantation. The highway is expected to provide a lot of relief to commuters as the time taken to travel will be reduced by close to an hour.
Q: The opposition claims that your government believes in photo opportunities. According to them, Mayawati inaugurated the 165-km-long Taj Expressway, Akhilesh Yadav inaugurated 302-km-long Agra-Lucknow Expressway, but neither of them travelled in an open jeep and did a road show like PM Narendra Modi.
A: What’s wrong in holding a road show? In a democracy people are open to do inaugurations in multiple ways. Some organise functions and some put up road shows. I feel that political parties have an issue with the kind of response we got from the people as it threatened them. Probably that is why they disrupt such initiatives. Besides, there lies no comparison because the highway cuts through Delhi and Noida where people dwelling close to the roads came to garland the PM and bless him.
Q: Not all ministries have performed as well as yours. So, as one of the most successful ministers, where do you think your colleagues lag?
A: This is not the correct statement. It depends on the ministry. For example, say, today I can project my work in the form of construction of roadways, but what about ministries such as health, culture or education, where there is no tangible work that our people can experience. Therefore, their work goes unnoticed. All our ministries work collectively under the vision of the PM. Take the example of petroleum ministry that provides cylinders to 8 crore people, especially poor people. Is it not doing a good job?
Ultimately, the government works as a team under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi. A team is not about individual success. Even in my own department, it is not my only success. The secretary, the chairman, the engineer, the project manager, etc. have contributed to the completion of the project. Thus, this is not a success of Nitin Gadkari, but a success of the team.
Q: Why was the policy on electric cars dropped? Electric is future, cities after cities in China are ensuring that there are 100% electric cars and buses on roads soon.
A: Who gave you the information that the policy has been dropped? It is absolutely wrong.
Q: But, have you not pushed it back to 2019?
A: No. We already have charging stations. In my own own city Nagpur, there are 20 charging stations. 11 to 13 companies are now going to start the manufacturing of Lithium ion battery and all brands in India and foreign brands are now working on electric vehicles. We are encouraging an electric transformation within 6 months. It doesn’t need marketing.
Q: So the entire project is on time?
Q: Are you looking at some kind of timeline?
A: I don’t want to make any comment but I am going to give you an exact picture. Indians are moving towards adopting electric vehicles fast, import substitute, cost effective and pollution free. If the state government purchases electric buses, they can reduce the ticket by 25-30%. Also there will be less pollution. If people will accept it then it will be a success story. It doesn’t need a time period.
Q: Motor vehicle bill is stuck in the parliament. Are you sure that you will be able to push the bill in the next session?
A: I am pushing this bill from last one year. I am trying my best.
Q: The final push I am talking about. Do you think you will be able to succeed?
A: Yes, I am talking to all the opposition parties. I have also spoken to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker and requested them as it is beyond politics. In India, every year we have 5 lakh accidents and 1.5 lakh deaths. The problem is that without passing this bill we cannot enforce the law.
Take for example, in South Korea, they had 13,000 accidents in the last 10 years, but it has now diminished to 314 accidents only. Mostly, the average age of those who died is between 18 and 25. I really want to appeal to all the stakeholders and political parties that this is not a political subject and we must decide on how to save the lives of our people.
Q: Do you think that the opposition has converted that into a political subject? That opposition is more political in nature?
A: Actually, I don’t blame the opposition because it is within their political right and privilege. But, this is a matter of public interest. It is my request to all of them to clear the passage of the bill in the next session of Parliament.
Q: Is fuel price a matter of concern for your government particularly? Are you looking at trying to accommodate it in GST or go for slashing of excise duty?
A: Our fuel price is related to international price so when the price is low, consumers benefit. Now, the problem is that in the present situation, the price is at an all-time high. But fortunately, the prices are expected to decline. I feel that it will take some time, we will give whatever relief possible to the people at large.
The feasible solution is to increase crude oil production in India. Second solution is to shift to bio fuels such as ethanol, methanol, bio diesel, CNG and electricity. We can use the surplus coal and electricity for public transport, by which import will be reduced that will eventually save our economy. Besides, by putting petrol and diesel under GST, I am confident that it will reduce the rate and at the same time will increase the revenue of state governments.
Q: The Congress has made its unease on Pranab Mukherjee's participation at an RSS event very clear. Do you think the entire controversy is ill-founded because democracy is about indulging in different ideologies?
A: The Congress talks about being progressive and secular but they believe in political untouchability. Pranab Mukherjee has got his own thoughts and he want to discuss them with people and I believe this is the essence of democracy. The RSS invited him so it is his right to accept it or not. What is the problem of media or the Left and the Congress? Do RSS people belong to ISI or Pakistan? What is the reason behind the controversy? What reservation do they have? I feel that it is totally unfortunate and bad.
It's not a good precedence to be set in a democracy. In a democracy, pluralism of ideologies must be upheld. We either conform to an ideology or we respect it. When I became the president of BJP, I visited the headquarters of the Communist party to take blessings from AB Bardhan. He was one of the icons for me in Nagpur. I love him and respect him and that is why despite being the BJP president I visited him.
Mr. Mukherjee is free to elaborate on whatever issues he deems necessary. Is it not his democratic right? So what created this entire issue?
Q: The Congress is saying that they are not comfortable with that idea.
A: I don’t know. Congressmen in the past have visited the families of those involved in terrorist activities. It is their politics. At the same, they detest Mr Mukherjee for being invited to an RSS event? It is total hypocrisy. They have come far away from the principles of Pandit Nehru. It is very unfortunate for the country and the democracy.
Q: But Pranab Mukherjee is the same individual who had moved a resolution in 2010 asking the UPA government to investigate the links between RSS and its sister organisation in terror activities. Have you forgotten the history?
A: I feel now that all the judicial process is completed, now the people know the truth, they know the conspiracy. The way congress party tried to defame PM Narendra Modi when he was the CM of Gujarat and the way they tried to entangle Amit Shah. Unfortunately, all these are bad and unfair tactics. Today, by way of judicial inquiry everything is open now. In Kashmir, the Congress party says we should talk to terrorist groups and the same party condemns Pranab Mukherjee addressing the RSS. What kind of democracy is this? Which kind of ‘shahishnuta’ (tolerance) is this?
Q: Have your talks with Shiv Sena stopped? Recently, your party had a spat with Uddhav Thackeray on EVM malfunctioning. How did the oldest ally of BJP turn into an adversary?
A: See, whatever he said or why he said can be understood only if you ask him. I am not the one to answer. Although, one thing is certain - that Shiv Sena is with the Centre so they can't play the role of an opposition party.
Q: But they are doing so…
A: That's why you ask them the question. Another thing, as per the Congress’ claims, wherever it has been victorious the EVM’s worked just fine but whenever failed to win the majority, they have blamed it on EVM tampering.
You see in Badhal so many EVM's were not working, so it becomes the responsibility of the Election Commission to inquire about it. In fact, it is responsibility of the Election Commission to conduct free and fair elections in the country.
Q: So are you saying that the Election Commission must initiate an investigation on the basis of complaints of the opposition?
A: See the Election Commission is an autonomous body, it’s neither a part of the government, nor do we control it. It has all the right to initiate investigations regarding foul play during elections. We are being blamed for no fault of ours. Even in Bhandara, so many EVM were not working and the EC said it was because of the heat. What do they mean due to heat? It was always hot there. How is the PM or the BJP involved in all of this?
Q: So in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, will Shiv Sena and BJP contest together? With the current atmosphere it is clear Shiv Sena is very upset with the Centre.
A: Whether or not Shiv Sena is upset, it is still a part of the NDA Government as well as in the Maharashtra government. Politics is a game of compositions, limitations and contradictions, anything can happen in cricket and politics.
Q: But you have also said that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies.
A: It is absolutely right. People who never saw each other, never laughed together, or had tea together are today hugging each other and shaking hands. I actually said it considering the recent scenario. If the BJP wasn’t a formidable threat, the Opposition would have remained scattered and far from reconciliation. It is because of our solid voters’ base that the Opposition has united.
Q: Regarding the united opposition, about HD Kumaraswami’s becoming CM, you are aware of the show of opposition unity that we saw on his oath taking ceremony, does that challenge the BJP?
A: It rather indicates the strength of BJP and Narendra Modi. Weak political parties have now forgotten their mutual hatred and internal tensions to rise against the BJP, to break our strength.
Q: Recently, Nitish Kumar has asked for special status to be granted to Bihar and earlier the TDP chose to walk away from the NDA. All this shows that most of your allies are unhappy. Aren’t you worried about failing to accommodate your allies and taking care of their interests?
A: The Modi government strives to take care of every part of India, across various sectors, be it irrigation, road or the IT sector. But special status is not in the constitution, besides if we give in to the demand of special status proposed by one state, soon rest of the states will follow.
Q: But BJP had supported when Nitish Kumar made this demand. In Bihar your government was in coalition and it still is.
A: We were in the opposition that time, right now we are the ruling party.
Q: So it was just a statement?
A: See, if that time we had stayed quiet, our allies would have presumed that we don’t support them. Let me ask one thing. Is giving special status possible? What if all the states begin to ask for one, then how will the nation run? Should we all make the Centre stronger or weaker? The question is not about the Congress or BJP, but the country and we need to take care of it.
Q: But talking about your allies, is there any big brotherly approach?
A: I feel that when you work for a prolonged period in politics, minor disputes tend to happen. We are different parties. If our thoughts and work were same we would have been one party. But we need to take care of our differences and think beyond it. I believe that in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, we all shall fight together, setting our issues aside.
Q: You were cautious in you criticism of HD Deve Gowda but despite all of that, the JD(S) formed the government with the Congress. Let’s not forget that Rahul Gandhi has called the JD(S) the B-team of BJP. Even after putting so much efforts, JD(S) did not make the government with you.
A: Why don’t you ask this question to Rahul Gandhi that what made him form the Karnataka government with the party he called the B-team of BJP? Was his statement even mature enough? This kind of irresponsible and meaningless talks have just made Rahul Gandhi spoil his own image and played with the Congress party's trust. Blamed Modi ji for corruption. You can criticize Modi Ji's on various grounds however, you can’t accuse him of corruption.
All this is childish and immature politics, which is bad for the Congress. Honestly, if the JD(S) was our B-team, would they have allied with them? But now they do have an alliance, although the Cabinet distribution has not happened yet. The government won’t be able to stay. Such alliances of opportunities and convenience can never stay in the long run.
Q: As a member of the BJP Parliamentary board, do you think your strategy in Karnataka went horribly wrong?
A: Firstly, the Congress and JD(S) refused to come to a pre-poll alliance. They had fillers saying if anything like this happens they will leave it. So we thought that this isn’t happening.
Q: Fillers? Which fillers?
A: Politics works how it has to, everyone plays to win the position. This is the naked truth. When we felt that this will happen, despite being the largest party Mr. Yeddyurrappa resigned. So what is wrong in that?
Q: You are saying that this government will not work, so do you mean that the BJP will try again?
A: There is no need for us to try, they both have our good wishes but the way Cabinet portfolio grabbing is being shown on the television, do you feel that this government will stay?
Q: In the run up to the 2019 General elections, do you think you will be able to manage the numbers from the states because let’s not forget in Madhya Pradesh , Gujarat and couple of other states your strike rate was above 90%. In UP it was 73 and in Bihar it was 32. The numbers will go down in all these states so from where will you be able to manage the deficit?
A: Firstly, the media and the opposition says anything. We have worked to change the future and destiny of the country. The Modi government has paved the way for the country’s transformation and has established the name of the country in the entire world.
For the first time, an Indian person has been recognised as a world leader. It is the country’s achievement. The citizens will again vote for us and we will win with full majority and this is my belief.
If you trace history, then in 1971 all the opposition parties united against then PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi. At that time also they had said that now the opposition parties have come together and Indira ji will lose but it didn’t happen. Rather, Mrs. Gandhi got more votes and the opposition lost.
Q: So you think that history will be repeated?
A: 100%, it will.
Q: Your friend, Rajinikanth, whom you reached out to openly, has still not given indications whether he is going to join BJP or not. Is the BJP continuing to pursue him?
A: Rajinikanth has to decide what he wants to do. I feel that the relationship we have is not political. He is a nice politician, I have a good relation with his family. My good wishes are always with him. He will decide his politics on his own. Today I don’t even have to say anything about it and I also haven’t had any contact with him. I do not have any contact with Tamil Nadu politics.
Q: My last question for you, you had said that ‘acche din’ is a state of mind so as you look back at the 4 years of NDA, what are the misses of your government?
A: You haven’t understood this. The 8 crore poor people, who had to use coal at home, the smoke of which spoilt the eyes of their mothers and sisters, have now got gas cylinders. Isn’t this good for them? Didn’t they get acche din? There were 3 crore bank accounts that rose to 33 crore, in which Rs 23,000 crore were deposited. Is it not good days for them? The ones who didn’t have houses, 1 crore houses have been made for them. Is getting a home for shelter not part of good days?
The journalists who stay in Noida, told me that they are very happy with the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. Isn’t it ‘achhe din’ for them? Traffic and pollution in Delhi is expected to decrease by 50 times. Does this not count as ‘good days for the people at large?
The government must keep working as people build expectations and their wishes grow with each good day.
Complaints will never stop and one will never get complete satisfaction and infinite consent. It’s about believing. The chance Nehru family got, but couldn’t utilise in 48 years, was made full use of under the guidance of PM Modi. The BJP did the work of 48 years in 48 months. This is what we are showing to the electorates about this government.
We have done a little work and we have to do more as the wants of the people will only increase. We have to reach the villages and farmers of the country and make the nation corruption free. Our vision is to make India stronger in the world. The nation will keep moving forward and so will the BJP and Modi ji.