Nitin Gadkari | Govt didn’t think it important to consult us

Nitin Gadkari | Govt didn’t think it important to consult us

Mumbai: Seven years after losing to the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to capitalize on the spate of corruption scandals that have dented the image of the ruling coalition and its inability to control inflation to wrest control of the government in the next parliamentary elections, likely in 2014.

In an interview, BJP president Nitin Gadkari said his party is not involved in the anti-corruption agitations of social activist Anna Hazare and yoga guru Ramdev, but supports their cause. While conceding that the BJP needs to get its “act together", he predicts that the Congress’ troubles in Tamil Nadu, where its alliance lost the assembly elections, and Andhra Pradesh, where it is facing a rebellion, will prove to be its undoing in the next national elections. Edited excerpts:

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The Congress is claiming that both Anna Hazare and Ramdev are masks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP.

Since the Congress doesn’t know where to hide its face on the issues of corruption and black money, it is making all kinds of baseless allegations to divert people’s attention from the real issues. As citizens of India, both Hazare and Ramdev have every right to fight against corruption and black money, and if someone is fighting for the cause, which is in the national interest, is it wrong to extend your support to such an agitation? However, we as a political party were not involved in either Hazare’s or Ramdev’s agitations. We only protested against the brutal police action against peaceful demonstrators, which was completely undemocratic.

The government has sought the opinion of political parties and state governments on the Lokpal Bill. What is the BJP’s view on bringing the office of the prime minister and the higher judiciary within the ambit of the Bill?

We are the major opposition party in Parliament, but the government never thought it important to consult us on such issues. They started a dialogue with civil society (groups) without consulting us; they accepted civil society’s demand without consulting us; and when their dialogue with civil society was on the verge of breakdown, they sent a letter to us and asked for our opinion to show that the government is creating a consensus on the issue. So we will not express our opinion on the Lokpal issue till the government makes its draft of the Lokpal Bill public.

What could the government have done to bring black money stashed in tax havens back to India?

The United Nations almost five years ago asked member nations to ratify a convention against corruption, and nearly 117 member nations have ratified the convention since then. It gives countries the right to reclaim assets amassed through corrupt means and stashed away abroad. Even countries like Peru and the Philippines did it, but the UPA government chose to ignore it and has taken no steps in the direction of reclaiming these assets. (Note: India ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in May.) Germany and the US got assets back. (The government) is not making the names of persons who have stashed their funds abroad public, despite the Supreme Court asking the government to do so. The only reason for the government’s inaction is that it fears that names of key persons associated with the Congress will get exposed if it takes any steps.

The BJP has also criticized the draft Bill on communal violence prepared by the National Advisory Council.

The Bill proposes to turn the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) on its head and it is completely anti-national. It will disrupt communal harmony in the country and it is naked votebank politics by the Congress. By bringing this Bill, the Congress is trying to create fissures between the Hindu and Muslim communities, and I would like to warn the Congress that it is playing with fire on this issue.

It seems that because of the opposition from states ruled by the BJP and some other opposition parties, the country will miss the deadline for the Goods and Services Tax Bill.

We are in agreement with the government on this issue. But states have some issues over the Bill and they must be addressed by the government to create consensus. The opposition party-ruled states feel they are being discriminated against by the government when it comes to sharing of revenue and allocation of grants to them by the central government. If the government satisfactorily resolves the concerns of the state governments, then we have no issues with passing of the Bill.

The government seems to be unable to tackle inflation, which is hurting the common man and slowing the economy.

This is not a new phenomenon. Whenever the Congress is in power, you will find spiraling inflation. When the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was in power, we had successfully tamed inflation. It is because of wrong economic policies, wrong priorities and corruption...that the common man is suffering from inflation.

Has Uma Bharti been brought back into the party to show the BJP’s commitment to Hindutva and the Ram temple ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections due next year?

Uma Bharti has her own charisma and influence over people. People are fed up of the jungle raj of (Uttar Pradesh chief minister) Mayawati and do not want the goonda raj of Mulayam (Singh Yadav, former chief minister) back. Uma Bharti can play an important role in fulfilling these wishes of the people of UP. We want to expose to the people that there is match-fixing between the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party.

The Allahabad high court verdict has proved that the site of the disputed structure was indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram, and now the issue to be resolved is the creation of a huge temple of Lord Ram at the site. It is an issue of faith for us and we do not wish to make it a political issue.

In recent assembly elections, your party did not win a single seat in three states and a Union territory, and your numbers were reduced in Assam. How confident are you about coming to power in Delhi after the 2014 general election?

We did not have any seats in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, but we did not have any seats in these states last time also. Our vote share has increased and it is a good sign. In Assam, we need to get our act together and improve our performance. But these elections have brought real bad news for the Congress. The UPA came back to power in 2009 thanks to its performance in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In the Tamil Nadu assembly, the Congress managed to win only three seats. In Andhra Pradesh, we know the Congress house is in disarray. In Kerala, the Congress just managed to scrape through.

The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra was recently joined by the Athwale faction of the Republican Party of India. Do you think this will bring any political benefits to you, as Dalits are still apprehensive about your Hindutva agenda?

Dalits have realized their No. 1 enemy is Congress. Congress and Nationalist Congress Party invoke the name of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chattrapati Shahu Maharaj and Jyotiba Phule to gain power, but they have no interest in the economic welfare of Dalits. So, Dalit organizations were in search of a credible alternative and they feel that we are a credible alternative and I welcome their gesture. And after forming an alliance with us, their misconceptions about us, if there are any, will also get removed.