In an interview for The Quint, veteran journalist Karan Thapar questioned Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources Nitin Gadkari on various facets that assess the success or failure of the Narendra Modi government. The interview comes ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the party’s popularity will be put to the test.
On being asked if ‘acche din’ have arrived: Nitin Gadkari said the definition of ‘acche din’ is subjective and it differs from person to person. However, he cited the progress report of various government schemes and how they are benefitting the people.
The expectation of people is always increasing. But I feel that the most important thing for comparison is the track record of the past and present government performance, by which we can easily understand. I am giving you an example. The 10 crores of poor people are getting gas cylinders under the Segdi Ujwala Yojna. Is this not good for them? Only 3.5 crore bank accounts were there. Today, there are 31 crore bank accounts. They are operating bank accounts, getting loans. Is this not a good thing? (sic)
On assessing the performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and comparing it with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi:
All are great leaders and it would be inappropriate to compare them with anyone. But one thing I assure you, as far as Modiji is concerned, he is a leader with a vision, he is a leader with commitment – working 18 hours – not only in one department, he has got a vision of all departments – from agriculture to infrastructure. India enjoys a good position on the global map because of Modiji.
On being asked if Modi dominates ministers in the cabinet: Gadkari said he has countered Modi’s argument on multiple occasions, but has never faced any backlash for it.
PM Modi allows everyone to speak. Every minister speaks against the views of the Cabinet and the views expressed by Parliament. But Modiji has courage. He listens to everyone. Sometimes you feel that his approach is correct. Then you feel that this is also a point we have to think on.
On how the BJP-led government at the Centre will defend the Opposition’s criticism of their handling of the Indian economy:
We are expecting a growth rate of 8 percent next year from 6.7 percent this year. Agricultural production has increased.
However, Gadkari was quick to point out that even though some ministries, including his own, have performed well in the last four years of Modi’s governance, there are others which have scope for improvement and there are concerns that need to be dealt with.
In the manufacturing sector, the industrial sector in particular, we have more expectation. We need to concentrate more on it. We need to increase our export. We have to have more foreign investment. But at the same time, in comparison with the rupee-dollar fluctuation, we have to increase the value of the rupee.
On Modi’s promise of creating 10 million jobs everywhere, Karan Thapar asked if the NDA government at the Centre was getting confused between creating new jobs and formalizing jobs, considering the government’s dependence on EPFO figures: Gadkari that job creation is a very important issue for the government as it is for the country, saying increasing population is a challenge for creation of jobs. He added that stern criticism from the Opposition is creating a frenzy among people regarding dearth of jobs.
Take it from me, there are some people, some leaders, some institutions, some parties that are permanent critics of the government. It is because of politics. I was also in Opposition. The benches are the same. When you go on to that bench, you have to spit the same language. If the Opposition party cooperates and gives thanks to the government, then media will indicate that this Opposition party is managed by the ruling party.
On the Centre’s initiative to privatize Air India and its failure because the government’s terms weren’t right:
The present atmosphere is not good. Because of the hike in fuel prices, the economic condition of the airline is not good.One thing is very clear — there is 22% growth in passengers. We are talking to the people. Our terms are not rigid.
When Thapar asked that no private player was ready to invest in Air India because the government wants to keep 24% , the airline is running losses of Rs 34,000 crore and that the government doesn’t want to reduce staff despite it being the most overstaffed airline in the world, Gadkari said these terms are open for negotiation.
On the issue of Kashmir and the Modi-government’s muscular policy being able to successfully handle it or not:
Kashmir is not a problem that has emerged during Modiji’s government. It has been facing India since time immemorial. The main issue that we are facing today is the proxy war with Pakistan. It is the import of terrorism, terrorists and terrorist organisations that are constantly creating problems. And it is a fight with Pakistan, not Kashmiris.
On being asked if he approves trolling of his colleague in cabinet, Sushma Swaraj, over the inter-faith couple passport row: Gadkari said it was “absolutely wrong”. However, when he was told that most of these Twitter trolls claim to be BJP bhakts, he said:
Who says? This is the habit of the media. They make any person with the saffron cloth a BJP representative. He is not at all related to us. As an ex-president of BJP, many times during TV discussions the people who are representing BJP have no connection with us. It is a planned conspiracy.
On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on burning issues like attack on Dalits, lynchings, etc:
Firstly, Modiji and BJP does not wish to play politics on the basis of caste, creed, sex and religion. We are crystal clear about it. Our concept of democracy and Hindutva is totally different. We are not against minorities. We feel we are a part and parcel of the same family.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh supports Sushmaji. Ex-president Nitin Gadkari supports Sushma Swaraj. This would unnecessarily create a false impression of the Prime Minister. He is equally in support of Sushmaji. When we speak, we are representatives of the Prime Minister.
On how the BJP will perform in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections:
I feel that the performance of the BJP under the leadership of Modiji will be good and we will easily get reasonable majority, i.e. 272 seats will be won by BJP alone. We will definitely form the government and Modiji will be the Prime Minister.
On Nitin Gadkari being made Prime Minister (if they get less than 272 seats) as he is more ‘acceptable to allies’:
I have got way more than I deserved. I do not belong to any race. I follow the party’s ideology. I am happy as a minister. I do not wish to be a candidate. I am fully confident that BJP will get majority. Narendra Modi will be prime minister.