NEW DELHI :
Union minister Nitin Gadkari is often in the spotlight not just for the development work of his three ministries—transport, water resources and shipping —but also for his political heft as a former chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Soon after the announcement of Lok Sabha polls, Gadkari, in an interview, spoke about the work of his ministries, issues in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, regional politics in Maharashtra, alliance with Shiv Sena as well as national issues like unemployment and rural distress. Edited excerpts:
The general elections have been announced; what are the major issues that you think will play a decisive role in the polls?
During elections, the performance of the Union government is assessed by the people and the assessment is done at all levels. The assessment of the government’s work and performance in the five years in also discussed for a healthy democracy. It is for the people to decide on the performance of the government and there should be healthy competition on the good work done.
I can confidently say that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has succeeded in achieving what was not done by any government in the last 50 years. For example, all the saints who visited Kumbh in Prayagraj said that Ganga was clean this time. The cleaning processes have only done 30% work although discussion over cleaning of Ganga happened since 1980s. The government has made a commitment that Ganga will be 100% clean by the end of March 2020. The concept of express highways did not exist in the country, we have built a 14-lane express highway in Delhi. The Delhi-Meerut road will be completed by April. People used to talk about waterways but we have done work on 10 waterways.
BJP and Shiv Sena have finally decided to contest together, how did the two parties agree, because the Shiv Sena had passed a resolution that it won’t contest elections with BJP.
The BJP decided to continue with all the alliance partners in NDA in the general elections. And then we held individual discussions with all stakeholders of NDA. There were certain compromises made because there are so many political parties. If all political parties had similar views then we would all have been part of the same political party. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis handled the situation and talks with Shiv Sena well and we were successful in our attempts. As a result of this alliance, we would be able to perform well in Maharashtra.
How does the BJP-Shiv Sena in Maharashtra battle the perception that it is an ‘alliance of convenience’ because all the year round, Sena has criticized the Union government?
All alliance is about convenience. Politics is a game of compulsion, limitations and contradictions. All alliances happen because of the convenience of two political parties. The criticism made by Shiv Sena leadership are a thing of the past now.
Do you think Ram mandir is an election issue?
The matter is sub judice in the Supreme Court and it is not correct to comment on issues which are before the Supreme Court. Let us hope that the efforts made by the Supreme Court in solving the Ayodhya dispute succeed.
The Union government has carried out two major surgical strikes against Pakistan, the most recent one at Balakot. What kind of an impact would this air strike have on the elections?
I am of the opinion that there should be no politicization of the issues related to national security of the country. Opposition parties should not criticize these acts and we are also not taking credit for it. These are issues related to national interest and national security, everyone should rise above politics. These issues should not become a reason for political debate.
Sharad Pawar is a regional giant and he recently announced that he would not contest this time. How do you see it?
I think Sharad Pawar realised that it will be difficult for him to win elections this time; that is why he decided not to contest Lok Sabha polls.
Many opposition parties are coming together against BJP-NDA in different states, be it in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. How will BJP manage multiple battles?
Since many political parties are coming together against BJP, it means that we have become strong and we are a force to reckon with. These political parties are coming together because they know they cannot defeat us.
The construction of national highways gathered pace to touch a record average of 31.87km per day in December, but you had said that it could reach 41km per day. What happened to the target?
I had said that construction of 40 km of road per day is my target but when the final data for March-end comes it would be 34-35km. At one point it was around 12km and it got reduced to 2km per day during the tenure of United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Nearly 34-35km per day is a great achievement. We are making three times more roads per day and now India has the biggest network of national highways in the world.
BJP is depending on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to power. Do you think party is over-dependent on the PM?
The thing is whoever is leading the government, earlier when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was leading the government, we contested under his leadership. Now, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is heading the government, we are contesting the elections under his leadership. The popularity of leadership, the strength of the party and the work done by the government will be the main poll plank. We will get good results in the elections.
Opposition parties have been split in key states like UP and seat-sharing arrangement is yet to be announced in most states, including Bihar, whereas NDA’s situation is more or less clear. How do you see this?
Alliances are made on the basis of ideologies. Some are on the basis of opportunism, they never even looked at each other or said hello to each other, they have come together now. I think the people’s court will take the right decision.
A very big issue which opposition has made is of unemployment and that the government could not meet the targets it was promising...
In our department, we have okayed road work for ₹11 lakh crore (trillion), ₹5 lakh crore of shipping material and ₹1 lakh crore of water resources, ₹26,000 crore for Ganga, ₹40,000 crore for irrigation projects. We are consuming 40% of cement—are these not creating jobs? Construction equipment have doubled, does that not create jobs? It is a fact that some sectors are doing very well and some like agriculture are facing some problems because of global economy. Some policies have immediate effect, some mid term and some long term. The problems of today are not of five years but of 50-60 years old.
Both Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee have earmarked election tickets for women in Lok Sabha elections. What is BJP’s view on the issue?
I think our party’s parliamentary board and party president will take a decision in this regard. Our party has always encouraged women’s participation. Our council of ministers has six women ministers. We do not do any politics that discriminates on the basis of caste, creed, religion or gender. “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" is our principle.
In the recent state assembly elections, farm and rural distress played a key role. Do you think it will still be a significant electoral issue?
We recently announced the PM-Kisan scheme where farmers will get ₹6,000 directly in their bank accounts. Fasal Bima Yojana is also working. We made loan provisions for ₹12 lakh crore in the priority sector. Agriculture export is also increasing. Certainly, this will have an impact. Changing crop patterns and explaining to people takes time. We are seeking alternatives for petrol and diesel from agriculture. I think there are challenges due to global economy and our policies will find solutions. Farmers also know that the kind of work our government has done, no one has done before.
Anuja contributed to this story.