Nitin Gadkari (56), elected BJP president in December 2009, is contesting his first Lok Sabha election. Mr. Gadkari, whose website describes him as an RSS Swamysevak to the “core,” is pitted against seven-time MP Vilas Muttemwar of the Congress and Anjali Damania of the AAP in the Nagpur constituency. After a hot morning campaign in an open vehicle, he spoke to Amit Baruah at his Nagpur residence. Excerpts:
How does it feel to be contesting your first Lok Sabha election?
For Parliament, it is the first election for me. But, when I started my political career, I did contest an Assembly election. And, in every election, I was busy with being more than a candidate. So, it’s not a new experience for me, but, yes, as a candidate it is new. Already, I have started meeting people. I have good contacts in Nagpur, working with labourers, poor people, slum-dwellers — different types of people. My relationships penetrate all sectors of society. I am very confident that it will pay off for me.
Do you feel that the Congress-NCP alliance will have to pay for farmer suicides during election time?
I don’t want to politicise the subject. Natural calamities are not in the hands of anybody. So, in this situation, the government is supposed to take decisions with permission from the Election Commission. In such a case, we are ready to support them [the government]. Not taking a decision or avoiding the decision in such a chronic situation is sending a very bad message to poor farmers that no one is with them. In such a situation, farmers are tempted to commit suicide.
What is your overall sense of how the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance will fare in Maharashtra?
I am expecting 40 seats [of a total of 48].
What about the working of your alliance with the Shiv Sena? Your meetings with Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena created some ripples.
(Laughs) The subject is already closed. Actually, at the time [of our meeting], the Shiv Sena-BJP combine had already declared its candidates; so there was no question of giving any seats to them [MNS]. Second, the NDA has already decided that without every party’s permission, no new member will join [the alliance]. I told Raj Thackeray why do you only want to be a kingmaker for the victory of the Congress alliance because the Congress-NCP benefits from the division of votes.
So, Raj Thackeray agreed not to put up candidates against the BJP barring in a couple of seats?
Three or four [MNS] candidates are there [contesting against the BJP]. It is not a fact that he is not fielding candidates against the BJP. My proposal to him was that the MNS should not contest the Lok Sabha election but support the leadership of Narendra Modi. In the national interest, they [the MNS] should decide not to contest the Lok Sabha election but only the Assembly [election].
So, he’s accepted half of your proposal by supporting Mr. Modi.
He supported Mr. Modi, but by contesting the elections, they [the MNS] will divide the vote of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Mumbai. The subject is now closed but the proposal was in the interest of both the Shiv Sena and the BJP.
Is the Aam Aadmi Party going to be a factor in the elections?
I don’t take them very seriously. In some urban areas like Mumbai and Nagpur, there activities are going on, but even in Nagpur I feel there is no impact of the AAP.
The AAP and its candidate from Nagpur, Anjali Damania, have made very serious corruption allegations against you and will that impact the contest here?
Not at all. These are baseless allegations. I am not bothered about these allegations and I am not going to give any answer to these allegations because the people of Nagpur