India Insight

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.

Promises and more promises: India’s parties pitch their visions

Campaign season in India means it’s also promise season, and political parties aren’t short on pledges for what they would do if they come to power after election results come out in May. From the Tamil Nadu-based MDMK party’s pledge to rename the country “The United States of India” to the Odisha-based BJD‘s promise to “guarantee” development projects, there are plenty of promises floating around to help parties capture, retain or regain power.

There has been plenty of coverage of the manifestos from the biggest national parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, so here are some highlights from the others.

Lok Satta Party: This Andhra Pradesh-based party has promised to nationalise the sale of liquor and to limit the number of stores where people can buy it. Families of liquor “victims, meanwhile, would get pensions.

Young professionals in Bangalore favour Modi’s promise, shrug off riots

As far as Vinod Hegde is concerned, Indian prime minister candidate Narendra Modi bears no responsibility for the 2002 Gujarat riots. More to the point, Hegde doesn’t care.

Hegde, a 26-year-old stockbroker in Bangalore, said that for people like him, the Gujarat chief minister is the only choice to lead India after countrywide parliamentary elections that began this week.

Allegations that Modi failed to stop or even allowed deadly riots in 2002 don’t sway his vote, Hegde said. And if the ruling Congress party’s candidate is Rahul Gandhi, the choice becomes even clearer.

Facts and figures for India’s 2014 general election

Voting in the 2014 election begins on April 7. More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — will be eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Voting will be held in 10 stages, which will be staggered until May 12, and results are due to be announced on May 16. Elections to state assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously.

Around 930,000 polling stations will be set up for the month-long election using electronic voting machines, first introduced in 2004.

Not funny – jokes Indian politicians crack

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Politicians facing outrage over their comments often say that they didn’t mean what they said to come out that way. Lately in India, they say they were joking.

One of the latest was Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose self-confessed attempt at a joke earned him the ire of the Election Commission of India just before the beginning of this year’s elections that could boot the Congress out of power. Addressing a community of labourers in Maharashtra last week, the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party urged listeners to vote twice for his party – and told them how to do it.

“This time, Election in Satara is on 17 and as per my information election here is on 24. So cast your vote on ‘clock’ (party symbol) there and cast your vote on ‘clock’ here. Wipe the ink,” he said, referring to the indelible ink to mark the fingers of people who have voted, noting that people should be able to remove it.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Railway Budget 2014: Highlights at a glance

Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge left train fares and freight rates unchanged on Wednesday, in an interim rail budget ahead of a national election due by May.

It wasn’t really a surprise. In 2012, Dinesh Trivedi was forced to resign as railways minister after his decision to raise passenger fares for the first time in eight years prompted a furious response from his own party — the Trinamool Congress — that was part of the Congress-led coalition government at the time.

The government did raise fares last year, this time with a Congressman at the helm of affairs, as a cash-strapped railways ministry tried to raise money to pay its employees.

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