Interview: Nitin Gadkari on the election, BJP’s priorities and Amit Shah
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By Shyamantha Asokan
Nitin Gadkari is a top leader of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party, which is forecast to emerge as the front-runner in the country’s mammoth general election. A series of opinion polls this year say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, will win the biggest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs. Results are due on May 16.
Modi and the BJP have been wooing voters with promises to rescue India from its slowest economic growth in a decade, leading to much speculation over the party’s exact plans for economic policy. But critics say the party, and Modi in particular, could be a divisive force along religious lines.
Reuters spoke to Gadkari, a former party president and a member of the BJP’s manifesto committee, at his residence in New Delhi. Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions have been paraphrased.
Q: Most pre-election opinion polls have forecast that the BJP will win the biggest chunk of seats in the election but might fall short of a majority. Is your party conducting any research or exit polling to monitor how people are voting during the staggered election, which could then help you strategise?
A: [The sentiment] is against Congress – it is already identified. So our most important planning is how to make all type of forces come together, by which we can unite it, the vote percentage, by which we can get good results. From an organisation point of view and a political point of view, it’s [about] our mass rallies and motivation to the party workers – we are trying our level best to [gather] all this base with us.
Q: The constituencies that have voted so far have, on the whole, seen a much higher turnout than they did in the last national election in 2009. Why?
A: It is because of the people’s unrest against the establishment. It is the anti-incumbency. So the people are going to vote for change.
Q: The BJP released its manifesto earlier this month. Is it true that the party is now working on a “100-day Plan” that will set clear economic goals for its first three months in office, should it form the next government?
A: A committee has not been formed but we have already discussed informally, we have fixed up our priorities. It is to be decided now that after the government will come, [at] the appropriate time, the independent minister will take the task of it and he will implement those policies. And whatever the results we need, our priority is to get that result as early as possible, by which we can accelerate our economy. Presently $1 is equal to 62 rupees. Our target is that it comes to 45.
Q: If the BJP forms the next government, what are the top things that it would do to rescue India’s economy from its slowest growth rates in a decade?
A: The basic thing for the economy is how to increase the purchasing power for the people by and large, who are poor, belong to rural areas, in slums. Gujarat is one of the role models for development, where we have given highest priority to irrigation … a green revolution is there, so agriculture growth rate has increased. Secondly, the Gujarat government has completed [500,000] check dams, by which it increased the water level and that is also very useful for the green revolution. When you increase the purchasing power of the poor people, farmers in the rural area, the natural result is that it will accelerate the industrial economy and trading business. If you increase the purchasing power of the farmers, of the poor people, they will go to the market and purchase a car, they purchase motorcycles, scooters.
We will give infrastructure the highest priority … By taking the correct decisions, and appropriate policies, I feel that we will accelerate the economy and we will see that our growth rate will increase up to 8 percent, 9 percent, within one year.
Q: India’s election commission this month cautioned Amit Shah, who runs the BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, over a series of speeches deemed to have stoked tensions with Muslims. What is your take on this?
A: I don’t feel he said anything which is illegal. It was a spontaneous reaction because of the way in which the Congress candidate used the language. Because of that, he gave the answer for that … I feel there is nothing wrong with Amit Shah. He is not talking anything wrong, this is my feeling.
Q: Narendra Modi’s critics say that he should apologise for the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat, which took place while he was chief minister. What is your take on this?
A: When you are not committing anything wrong, what is the reason for making an apology? … Comparing with Gujarat, more riots are in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Why the section of media and the Congress party, they want to only make the target Narendra Modi? Because they want to play the politics of vote banks. Now their strategy is to create a fear in the minds of the minorities. And [these are] not the actual facts. In Gujarat also, minorities get equal rights, they get equal opportunities for their development and progress. And as far as Narendra Modi is concerned, already BJP has committed to the progress of all people belonging to different castes, creeds, sex, religions. We will not discriminate [against] anybody.