‘We feel that we should have Ram Mandir. This is the issue of our asmita. We will not deviate from it.'
“Let the politics of the 21st century be politics for progress and development,” says Nitin Gadkari, the Bharatiya Janata Party's 52-year-old president, adding that he regards politics as an instrument of socio-economic reform. Further, “good governance is one of the essential pre-requisites … we are studying how we can increase the process of development in all fields of society by good governance in all the States where we are ruling. The second thing is the training programme for our workers. We have started it. This year our target is getting 10,000 trained workers.” The BJP president blames “the wrong economic policies and bad governance of the UPA” for the high rate of inflation and the sharp rise in the prices of essential commodities. He also criticises it for neglecting agriculture and rural India.
During his first visit to Chennai as party president, Mr. Gadkari came to the headquarters of The Hindu Group of publications and had an interaction with its journalists on Saturday, April 10. The issues covered in the on-the-record part of the 45-minute session included inflation, the steep rise in the prices of essential commodities, futures and forward trading in these commodities, the Women's Reservation Bill and the one-third quota for women in party posts, the naxalite challenge, and Ayodhya.
Excerpts from Mr. Gadkari's opening remarks and answers to our questions:
As the BJP president, my first priority is that politics is an instrument of socio-economic reform. When I was a student, I decided to work in politics for doing something for the country, for society, and for the poor. In my whole life, I have been working on this principle. Fortunately, I had a good experience with infrastructure. As Minister [for Public Works in Maharashtra during 1995-1999], I had a track record of constructing the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and flyovers in Mumbai. The Worli-Bandra Sea Link [connecting the western suburbs of Mumbai with the city] was also started by me. With Rs. 5 crore equity, I completed works of Rs. 8,000 crore. I am the only politician in the country to raise Rs. 4,000 crore from the capital market. And all my projects are economically viable. This experience stands me in good stead when I look for helpful ideas about development.
I feel that industry and agriculture are important. For industrial development, we need water, power, transport, and communication. For agriculture, we need water, power, seed and fertilizer. At the same time, irrigation is important. Unfortunately, after 1947, agriculture and the rural field have suffered neglect. Presently, the problems that we are facing are because of the neglect of agriculture and the rural areas.
After completing my tenure as Minister, I started to work in rural areas. I am not a corporate man or an industrialist. I am very much interested in biodiesel, ethanol, bio-fertilizer, bio-methanisation, solar energy, and power. My philosophy is that people have faith in two things — government and god. But here is the third thing — you can be an architect of your socio-economic life. I had started with my BJP friends and friends from Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad a cooperative departmental stores called Purti. Now we have attained a turnover of Rs 35 crore. Because of interference from the government, we selected the model of a public limited company. We have three sugar factories. I am generating power from biomass — 24.5 megawatt from bagasse and eight MW from rice husk. My vision was diversification of agriculture to power and energy sector.
My dream has been to get ethanol — a green fuel — and the know-how to make our engines run 100 per cent on the basis of ethanol. That is my preoccupation now. Basically I am working in biofuel. Because of distillery, we have got a biomethanisation plant. We are generating biomass from sugarcane. The main product is power; the byproducts are sugar, ethanol, and bio-fertilizer. I am very much interested in that development.
I feel that the 21st century is an important century in which, along with nationalist feelings and mode of thought, we need development and progress in all sectors of society. The BJP is the party that is devoted to developing all fields of society, with particular emphasis on agriculture and the rural sector.
Good governance is one of the essential pre-requisites. We have a good governance cell [in the BJP] and we have appointed Manohar Parikkar, ex-Chief Minister of Goa, for that position. We have nine States where we are the ruling party. We are making a syllabus, studying all schemes of all governments, including those of the Left and Tamil Nadu. We are studying how we can increase the process of development in all fields of society by good governance in all the States where we are ruling.
The second thing is the training programme for our workers. We have started it. This year our target is getting 10,000 trained workers.
As for Tamil Nadu's development, water is an important issue. The river connectivity project is one of the important projects for our country. From the Cauvery, you can get only about 800 TMC [thousand million cubic feet] of water. But by connectivity of rivers, you can get more than 4,000 TMC of water. Now, in Gujarat, which is a BJP-ruled State, we have a 20 per cent increase in the water table. Because of Narmada, the agricultural growth rate is 14 per cent in Gujarat. The Indian average is minus 0.2 per cent.
Now, as far as the party is concerned, we have a lot of political plans. I personally feel that price rise and inflation are related to the wrong economic policies and bad governance of the UPA [United Progressive Alliance]. That is my honest feeling. I am not talking politically.
As you can see, we exported sugar at Rs. 12.5 per kg to other countries. One-and-a-half years ago, the government gave Rs. 1.7 as export subsidy and transport subsidy. Now we are importing sugar at Rs. 28 to Rs. 35 per kg! We have purchased from abroad red wheat at Rs. 19 per kg. But the government is giving Rs. 9.5 to farmers. In essential commodities, there is a turnover of Rs. 4,50,000 crore but the delivery is of Rs. 4,500 crore. There is 99.24 per cent speculation and manipulation. In 2004, the government added essential commodities in the commodity exchange. The beneficiaries are manipulators, speculators, multinational corporates, and black marketers. The farmers are not getting good prices.
In Haryana and Punjab, the government is getting wheat from farmers at Rs. 11.5 a kg. You watch, after one month, the retail price will go to Rs. 26! Why should the government allow speculation? Why did they add essential commodities in the commodities exchange?
The country's agricultural sector needs cold storage, pre-cooling plants, and godowns. As far as my information and statistics go, we have only one-third capacity of godowns for our foodgrains. The government has never given priority to pre-cooling plants, cold storage, and the agro-processing industry.
Irrigation is a subject in the State List. Atal Bihari Vajpayee appointed a committee under my chairmanship for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, which was prepared by me for Rs. 60,000 crore. I was the main advisor for the four-laning of national highways. At that time, the question arose about village connectivity, which is a State subject. I told Vajpayeeji that because of this lack of connectivity, a lot of people in rural India were facing problems for many years. He took a bold decision: the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana would be financed 100 per cent from the Central government and it would be a scheme of Rs. 60,000 crore.
We need to add irrigation to the Concurrent List. We need a scheme by which States and the central government contribute 50 per cent each. This can double irrigation capacity, which is going to solve the problems of the agricultural and rural sectors. Our sincere emphasis is on development of agriculture and rural India. We are trying our level best in our State — Bihar — where the GDP growth rate was minus 0.5 per cent. Now, in Bihar, it is 11 per cent. In all BJP-ruled States, we have got good GDP growth. Today, we are preparing a plan to increase it. How can we increase employment potential, how can we eradicate poverty, and how can we increase GDP and per capita income in the States — that is our preoccupation.
Let the politics of the 21st century be politics for progress and development. I feel that politics is an instrument of socio-economic reform. I am not selecting politics as my career. I am a worker of the BJP, inspired and motivated from my Vidyarthi Parishad days. I want to do something for the country and for society. I am a small worker of the party. I started my work by pasting posters and writing on the walls. Still, I am working at the ward committee level. It is possible only in the BJP, that a small worker like me can become the president, the highest post. In other parties, it is unthinkable. Even Manmohan Singhji can't think of becoming president of the Congress party. That is a post meant for the Family. Definitely, our party is a party with a difference.
Any rethinking within the BJP on the Women's Reservation Bill?
Not at all. As far as supporting the Bill is concerned, there is no problem. When the party's policy is for the Bill, everyone has to come with me. We will not allow any MP to take any role against the party's policy.
But many parties have some reservations. Particularly, on the incident in the Rajya Sabha of eviction of members by marshals, there was unrest among members of all parties. That was not good for democracy. But as far as our principle is concerned, we have supported the Bill. That is our official viewpoint.
On implementing a one-third quota for women in party posts
We have 33 per cent women office-bearers. We have decided to give 33 per cent of posts to women. We have got qualified people. We have a lot of women workers. Their contribution is enormous. They have calibre. We need to encourage them. I select people who are ready to work for the party.
On food inflation and price rise
In Haryana and Punjab, wheat farmers are getting Rs. 11- Rs. 12 per kg. Two months ago, in the retail market, the price was Rs. 24 to Rs 26 per kg. Only related to sugarcane, in Maharashtra, we are giving Rs. 2,000 per tonne. Even in Tamil Nadu, the price is probably Rs. 2000 per tonne. But in the case of other essential commodities, when agriculturists produce grains, the price is less. Afterwards, futures and forward trading increase the value but farmers get a very meagre price. At the same time, consumers have to pay two times higher. This is in 80 to 90 per cent of the cases.
My party's opinion is that essential commodities should be eliminated from [the ambit of] futures and forward trading. [Union Petroleum Minister] Murli Deora has said that for crude oil purposes, this futures and forward trading has increased the value of crude oil in such a way that it creates a lot of problems for many countries. So he opposes it. We have to study this matter in depth. If this commodity exchange, particularly futures and forward trading, is going to be helpful only to the people who have got money power, is it good for society? Because of this speculation and manipulation, the common man — the farmer, the journalist, the teacher, and the professor — is paying a heavy price. It is not in the interests of the poor.
On the Maoist challenge
The way in which the Maoist movement has spread from Pashupathi to Tirupati shows the wrong polices of the UPA government. In the Andhra Pradesh election, the Congress party made an agreement with naxalites and their sympathisers. For political purposes, they take help from naxalites. We feel that this is a very, very problematic issue. It is against the nation. As far as the government is concerned, we give full support for the government to fight terrorism. We will fight against all types of terrorist elements.
There is an impression that your former ally, the Trinamool Congress, is hand in glove with Maoists in areas like Nandigram.
We are not concerned about Trinamool. I do not know what type of policy they pursue. But we do not compromise with national interests, whether we are in power or not.
In Assam, political parties are inviting foreigners to come into the country and they are given voting rights — this type of politics, we oppose.
Why should the BJP not drop the Ayodhya issue when it is focusing on development?
As far as the Ram Mandir issue is concerned, I have already, in my presidential address in Indore, declared my policy. We feel that this is the issue of our asmita. We have got only one place where Ram was born. So this concerns the faith of crores of people. We feel that we should have Ram Mandir. We will not deviate from this issue.