As the debate over RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s reservation policy remark rages in Bihar giving the BJP’s rivals fuel to project the party as anti-quota, Union minister Nitin Gadkari dubbed it as a misleading campaign by the Opposition.
In an interview with dna’s Amita Shah, the minister for surface transport, highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari spoke about the Bihar elections, Opposition-government relations, how the government planned to overcome the numbers hurdle in Rajya Sabha, land acquisition and the road map for the NDA’s reforms agenda. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Has the reservation issue, after the RSS chief’s comments just ahead of the Bihar elections, caused discomfort for the BJP?
We have not opposed reservation. It is a misleading campaign. Where has he (Bhagwat) said he opposed the reservation policy? The Opposition is misleading. Its interpretation is incorrect…. A perception is created and then there is an attempt on how to create confusion. But, our leadership is directly reaching out to people. We are fighting the election on development plank and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 1.25 lakh crore package has given hopes to the people of the state.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has described the RSS as the BJP’s Supreme Court. How would you describe relations between the RSS and BJP at this juncture?
The RSS is my “jeevan nishtha”. I am very proud of it. We are working for the poor, for the interests of the country.
Some of your ministers and MPs have made controversial statements that have shifted the discourse from the development agenda. Is the government worried about it?
Individual to individual, party to party everybody has a view. When you say everybody has a right to their own views then it should be respected…. The problem is when what leaders say gets misinterpreted. A political party is a mass organisation. But, what a MP or a minister of state says is taken as party line.
Why do you think issues like moral policing get highlighted in BJP regimes?
It gets highlighted in the media. Certain issues do call for a debate like how much our children should be exposed to on the internet. These are debatable.
What about the meat ban in Maharashtra?
This is again perception that the Fadnavis government banned meat. The Congress banned it in 2004.
How do you see the government-Opposition relations? Why has the distance widened so much?
We are trying to narrow the gap. The Prime Minister wants cooperative federalism. Politically Congress is frustrated and its politics is a reflection of this. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who gave parliamentary democracy to us. Its a Congress legacy. Its as much the Congress reponsibility to protect it. Do they want to end it themselves?
How does the govt plan to tackle the hurdle for legislations in Rajya Sabha where the NDA is in minority?
Till the situation in Rajya Sabha changes, obstruction will continue. But it will not last long. We will find a way out. Some smaller parties are also upset with the Congress over its strategy in the House.
Has the govt reconciled to leaving land acquisition law to states or is it still striving to bring a central law?
The bill is stuck in Rajya Sabha. In certain states, however, land is being acquired under their respective laws.
What is the future of the government’s reforms agenda.
Over the years, nations were guided by capitalism, socialism or communism. But none have been a complete success. Our economic agenda is to move towards Deendayal Upadhyay’s vision of Antyodaya.
What is the biggest challenge before the government?
The expectations are very high and to fulfill them is one of the challenges. We want to strengthen the economy, free the country from poverty and make it a super economic power.
There may be some despondency among corporate India on the progress of economic reforms and policy making, but ministers in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government have continued to display optimism on the way ahead, when queried at Zee Ministerial Conclave organised in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi brushed aside the delay in the passage of Constitutional Amendment Bill for goods and services tax (GST) in upper house, saying he was confident it would get through in the Parliament in the Winter session.
“GST (Bill) will be passed in the coming (Winter) session. This government is performing and reforming as we have moved ahead in labour and administrative reforms,” he said.
Nitin Gadkari, minister of road and highways, said stalled infrastructure projects needed to be kick-started so that businessmen are able to service their debts, and for acceleration of economic growth.
He said there was no dearth of funds for the road, bridges and highway projects that his ministry has approved.
“I have a budget of Rs 42,000 crore and I can get Rs 1.2 lakh crore from pension and insurance funds. I have another Rs 70,000 crore from tax-exemption bonds that I am not able to spend. Then, I have a toll income of Rs 8,000 crore, which if I securitise for 15 years I will get Rs 1.4 lakh crore. There is no shortage of funds,” said Gadkari.
The minister also wants to take on the cement cartel for pushing up the cement prices as soon as he announced his plans to go for concrete roads. “I will not allow cartelisation. If they (cement producers) indulge in it (cartelisation) then I will break them in my own way,” he said.
The transport and highways minister claimed his ministry’s spend of Rs 5 lakh crore over the next five years would create 40-50 lakh jobs and contribute 1-2% to the GDP growth. Minister of state (MoS) for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma said the current government wanted to see more Indians, especially the middle class, flying.
With the Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising the issue of very high last-minute airfares, the minister said there must be some mechanism to control ticket price shooting up closer to flight take-off time. He reiterated the same at the conclave on Wednesday.
“The last-minute hikes in airfares should be controlled. We believe in free market economy and follow an open sky policy, where prices are regulated by market forces. So, we do not want to indulge in restrictive practices.
That is why we are trying to adopt a consultative approach with the airlines,” said Sharma.
He asked the airlines to take self-regulation approach to the issue; “We do not want to resort to any other ways, like controlling through DGCA (airline regulator directorate general of civil aviation) or others. All airlines have supported this and have asked for a week to come back with a solution,” MoS for civil aviation said.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar said there should be focused approached to innovation in green technology, for which India should import the culture of research as well as create an environment for it.
The conclave was also attended by railways minister Suresh Prabhu and senior bureaucrats from the government.