Politics

Nitin Gadkari: Government Didn't Have the Means to Buy More Than 36 Rafales

"No one in the government has given this honest answer before," says Karan Thapar on Nitin Gadkari's comment about the Rafale deal.

As the campaign is coming to an end, it’s time to question the government on areas where its performance has been below par, and all aspects of its manifesto that are troublesome. We’ll raise these key issues with one of the most senior members of the cabinet, Union minister for road transport and highways and shipping and water resources, Nitin Gadkari.

Let me start with the Balakot strike. Your government says you sent a strong message to Pakistan, but Pakistan dismisses it, says Balakot didn’t succeed, and now Imran Khan says he wants Narendra Modi as prime minister again. What do you make of that?

I feel that we should not politicise issues related to the security of the country. Otherwise, it creates a bad impression of the country on an international level. And Balakot is a very sensitive issue. After three wars with us, Pakistan has realised that they can’t win against India like that. So they have resorted to proxy war, by supporting terrorists and terrorist organisations.

It’s not Balakot I want to talk about so much as the right of Indian people to ask questions. Abroad there’s doubt about what happened at Balakot, whether we downed an F-16. But when the people of India ask questions, the government says it’s unpatriotic, it’s anti-national. Why, in a democracy, do people not have the right to question the government, to question the army?

You are not questioning the government, you are questioning the armed forces.

And why can’t I do that?

I am sorry, as far as I am concerned, if we talk anything against this, it’s an insult to Indian defence forces, and in a democracy, with a responsible political leader, a democracy has four stakeholders — media, judiciary, executive and the people who have taken this with a very responsible approach…

Also read: New High Res Satellite Imagery Suggests Balakot Airstrike a ‘Very Precise Miss’

Mr Gadkari, India is a democracy, it’s Pakistan that is a semi-military state. In Pakistan, you can’t question the military because you get into trouble for that. Have you forgotten that in 1962, in the middle of the Chinese war, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a young MP, demanded a special parliament session to question the army’s reverses and Nehru agreed, and that was during a war?

There is no problem in that. (But here) You are creating a doubt. About something the Indian military has done, about the attack in Pakistan, this is an insult to our Forces.

But why is it an insult?

This is different. I don’t have any problem with a discussion in parliament as far as the security of the country is concerned. But you are creating doubts, which is going to create a bad impression about the country in the whole world.

It’s not creating a bad impression. Some of these doubts exist internationally.

Some people are talking on the lines of the Pakistani media.

No, I am simply saying why does a citizen of India not have the right to question the government or the Army? If there is doubt internationally, don’t I as a citizen of India have the right to ask my government ‘clarify the doubt’?

The government has clarified everything. Everything is clear. But despite clearing everything, some politicians are creating doubts, which means they are insulting the Indian forces. As far as I am concerned, this kind of discussion is an insult to the Indian defence forces, and so I won’t give any more answers on it.

But you are happy for Vajpayee having a special parliament session on the 1962 war?

Sir that’s totally different. Vajpayee never took objection to the armed forces fighting China. Here, the problem is some people in the media, some citizens are creating doubts about the armed forces’ decision, their airstrike in Pakistan. Despite clarification from the armed forces, if something like this is done just to create a political debate, it’s not good.

Kashmir

Some people would say the clarifications are inadequate, which is why the questions are being raised. But let’s leave this aside, I won’t quarrel with you on that. Let the audience decide if your answer is acceptable, or inadequate.

Let me come to the first area of concern people have about how your government has run the country. I want to start with Kashmir. Since 2014, terrorist incidents have increased 300%, bomb blasts have increased 330%, last year, more local Kashmiris joined militancy, more people were killed than in a full decade. Can you accept that the situation in Kashmir has sharply deteriorated under Mr Modi?    

It is not because of the people of Kashmir. It’s because of Pakistan. Again, I want to repeat the same thing. After three wars with us, Pakistan has realised that they can’t win against India like that. So they have resorted to proxy war, by supporting terrorists and terrorist organisations, and they are creating problems. Some of the incidents in Kashmir are happening because people of Pakistani origin are coming to Kashmir and creating this problem.

I don’t deny Mr Gadkari that Pakistan is responsible for a lot of the problems…

It’s a proxy war.

Also read: Distrust, Discontent and Alienation: Kashmir During the Modi Years

No sir, there is another side to it. Almost every day you see young Kashmiris, young girls, 13-14 years old, throwing stones at security forces to prevent them capturing militants. Those children have no fear of their lives. A whole generation of young Kashmiris has been alienated by the Indian government. That’s not been done by Pakistan, that’s been done by us.

Actually, there’s also support from Pakistan.

Which makes it worse, but…

There’s a section of people supported by terrorists from Pakistan and Pakistani government, they want to create trouble. And when we fight them, they take shelter from Kashmiri people, and are making it look like a war between Kashmiri people and Indian forces.

I don’t deny, Mr Gadkari, that Pakistan has a role to play, but are you saying to me that the tough policy Mr Modi has followed has succeeded? Clearly it has alienated people, clearly it has led to more violence and terrorism internally. Can you not accept that over the past 5 years, the situation in Kashmir has deteriorated?

No, no. Actually, in my own department, we have started work worth Rs 40,000 crore in Kashmir. We are building roads, tunnels, and government has taken many decisions to support Kashmiris. The economic progress of Kashmir is our agenda.

Credit: Reuters/Files

Credit: Reuters/Files

Your department has done a lot of good work, everyone acknowledges it. But in comparison let me point out tweets by the governor of Meghalaya, Tathagata Roy, a former president of BJP in Bengal. He first tweeted ‘we should boycott everything Kashmiri and not visit the state’, and then he went one step worse by saying Kashmir should be treated like the Pakistan Army treated East Pakistan, and he used the words ‘slaughter and rape’. Was that acceptable? A governor tweeting like that about an Indian state and Indian people?  

Some of the things, some of the people might give whatever comment they want, they like. But by and large, and the party as such, we don’t accept any such policy. We are very fair. About the progress and development of Kashmir.

I am glad to hear that. But why was Roy not made to resign? Why did you not admonish him? Your government heard the tweets, and kept quiet. You didn’t do anything to admonish him, to make him resign.

I feel you should neglect all such statements, we should not support them. If the PM, BJP president, party general secretary, former presidents make such statement, then you can take them seriously.

But a governor tweeting you’ll ignore?  

Governor is making the statement in his individual capacity.

He’s the constitutional head of a state. He’s suggesting that people from another state should be ‘slaughtered and raped’.

No. Actually, his statement was something different. But I still feel it was an individual statement, the government doesn’t belong to any one party, and we are not with him if the statement is indeed along those lines.

Let me end the section on Kashmir by putting this to you: your manifesto promises to abrogate Article 370 and annul Article 35A. Practically the whole Valley says this would be like a red rag to a bull, it would be inflammatory. Why are you taking this risk when Kashmir is already a deeply troubled state?

For the progress and development of Kashmir, we need IT industries there. We need more hotels, restaurants, resorts. We need to increase tourism.

But this is not in your manifesto.

But because of Article 370, no one can purchase land there. IT firms can’t establish their companies there. And that’s the reason people are not getting employment.

Mr Gadkari, you really mean this is the solution?

Just a minute. The basic problem in Kashmir is poverty and unemployment. To alleviate this, we have to create more industry, more investment, take more initiatives to bring IT firms there. Now there’s an IIT there, engineering colleges are there. Education is important.

Mr Gadkari, land can be acquired from the Kashmir government for a period of 100 years at any point of time. You don’t need to abrogate Article 370 for industry to go there. Former CM Omar Abdullah has said this repeatedly.

Karanji I am sorry to say, no big company like Taj or Oberoi is in a position to start a hotel in Kashmir.

The Taj already has a hotel in Kashmir. The Oberoi had a hotel there for decades.

They don’t want to expand now. I have held discussions with them. Because there are a lot of legal problems because of this law, they can’t construct there, cannot expand. That is the problem.

Watch | Shah Faesal: If Article 370 Is Repealed, India’s Relationship With Kashmir Will Also End

I hear what you are saying but the route you are following could break the constitutional bridge and endanger the very accession itself. Article 370 is the bridge that links Kashmir to India, and you could break it if you are not sensitive and sensible about this.

Sir our party has been committed to abrogating Article 370 for long. But because of the sensitive situation there, we aren’t doing it. We were in power with full majority this time, still we are not going to implement it. However, as far as the party’s philosophy, policy and approach to it is concerned, we are firm on it.

You’ve said a very important thing. It is part of the party’s philosophy, but you may not implement it.

Because of the sensitive situation, it’s not appropriate to implement that.

That’s a very…

But as far as the party is concerned, for the past many days, it is there.

That’s a very reassuring answer, I am simply underlining it – because of the sensitive situation, it’s not appropriate to implement it now.

Rural distress

Let’s leave Kashmir aside, let’s come to a second area of concern. Rural distress. Government figures put out by the NCRB say that in the first three years of the Modi government, farmer suicides increased 42%, and then the NCRB stopped putting out these figures. In your state Maharashtra, farmer suicides doubled in five years under the Fadnavis govt. Can you accept rural distress is a problem your government has not handled adequately?

Rural distress is a problem, I admit it. But it has not been created by the BJP government. In the last 72 years, wrong economic policies, bad and corrupt governance, and visionless leadership of the Congress party is responsible for that. Now I am telling you, I am the water resources minister, I am working to create irrigation for 1,88,00,000 (1 crore 88 lakh) hectares of land, we have Pradhan Mantri Sinchai Yojana, lots of river connectivity schemes. Now I am asking you: the previous UPA govt had decided to purchase aircraft of Rs 70,000 crore, but they never gave priority to water. Now water is going to the sea, I am giving you just one example.

Also read: The Ten Big Failures of the Narendra Modi Government

I accept your point that rural distress is not a new problem. The question is this, it might have gotten worse under the Modi government, and I will give you the reason why I say so. The Indian Express has done a story based on labour bureau figures that in five years of this government, rural income growth was just 0.5%, and for two of those years, rural income grew less than inflation, so for two years, people lost money.

You are not correct.

These are government figures.

I am giving you the example of two states. In BJP-ruled Gujarat, agricultural income was 18%, and in Madhya Pradesh, 23%. Is it not an achievement for our government?

But look at Maharashtra, also a BJP-ruled state.

 When Fadnavis took over, it was in negative. Now it is 8-9%. It is increasing.

A farmer plants rice saplings in a paddy field against the backdrop of pre-monsoon clouds in Amritsar June 13, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Munish Sharma/Files

Fadnavis took charge in 2014. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 6,266 farmer suicides. Between 2015 and 2018, the figure nearly doubled, to 11,995.

This is because of the water problem in Maharashtra. For the first time, we have started two irrigation schemes — Baliraja scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Sinchai Yojana — through which we are going to build 134 dams. Fifty percent of the work is done. The Centre gave 25% money as grant-in-aid, and 75% is loan from NABARD. Once these projects are complete, irrigation in Maharashtra will increase from 18% to 48%.

I accept that irrigation is a major problem in Maharashtra. But look at the solutions your government is coming up with on the national level. Four months ago, you came up with the PM Kisan Yojana, where you give Rs 6,000 per year to small farming families. That’s less than what Odisha and Telangana give, and much less than what Congress is promising under NYAY. Many say this is a half-baked, gimmicky response.

Earlier, there would be lathi-charge, law and order problems to get fertiliser. For the first time, we have surplus fertiliser. We are increasing irrigation facilities. We have changed the Fasal Bima Yojana. For the first time, we’ve made provisions of Rs 12 lakh crore for priority sector for crop loans. We are boosting river connectivity, taking water from one basin to another basin. But these are long-term methods for which we need some time.

They are very long-term. But in your manifesto, you’ve promised you will double farmers’ income in three years. Now you are a farmer, I am not, and you know that assumes a 30% rate of growth every year. That’s impossible, and if, Mr Gadkari, you are making an impossible promise, that’s fooling the people. 

You are absolutely wrong. For the first time in the history of India, we have taken the decision of diversification of agriculture towards energy, power and plastic. The ethanol economy is of Rs11,000 crore, we want to make it of Rs 2 lakh crore. We are making ethanol from molasses…4% molasses…

But can this double farmers’ income?

One hundred percent. I am giving you the confidence. Come to my area and see. We are allowing 6% V/V molasses. We have a policy of converting sugar cane juice to ethanol, making ethanol from corn and rice cut. Ethanol from biomass, cotton straw, rice straw, wheat straw…

So you are saying to me…

Just you listen…

I am accepting the details…

No you don’t accept. First you have to receive all this information. Because I am telling you from my practical experience. I am a person who is working on the grassroots level for the farmers, and maximum farmer suicides are in Vidarbha. Now we are making bio CNG from rice straw, by which we are going to create an economy of Rs5 lakh crore. For the first time on January 26, we had all our defence aircraft and helicopter running on bio aviation fuel.

But Mr Gadkari, are you giving me the assurance that in 2022, three years from now, farmers’ income in the whole of India would have doubled?

Hundred percent. I am giving you the promise.

The let’s wait for three years, and see if you are right or wrong.

Jobs

Let me come then to another area where people are doubtful of your government’s performance. I am talking about unemployment and jobs. You came to power in 2014 promising to create two crore jobs a year. NSSO data for 2017-2018 says that unemployment rate hit 6.1%, which was the highest in 45 years. And the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy says since then it has grown from 6.1 to 7.5. So as far as jobs and unemployment are concerned, this is not achhe din, this is bure din.

What my feeling is, your total mind setup is totally negative about this government.

No it is not negative, I am just raising questions.

You are only talking about, every time, just like opposition leaders, you are making allegations against the government. I am giving you an example. In my own department, we have order giving contracts of 17 lakh crore.

For jobs?

No, no. In road contracts. I am giving you an example. Just listen to me. Rs 11 lakh crore in road construction. Rs 5 lakh crore in port, shipping and Rs 1 lakh crore in water resources and Ganga rejuvenation. When Rs 10,000 crore is spent, it creates direct and indirect jobs for one lakh people. Now the problem is that, there are somewhere problems.

You accept that?

Yes. Now the steel industry, for eight months was facing problem because Chinese steel was very low price. Now when we increase the duty on Chinese steel, the steel industry is doing good. Now the problem is that in some of the sectors, particularly the banking sector, we are facing problem.

You have admitted that, you actually once said in a tweet that there are no jobs in the banking sector.You admitted it yourself last year.

Hundred percent, because of computerisation. And we are not expecting more jobs in banking but now by giving loan, giving finances to rural, agricultural and industrial sectors, we need to create more investment by which increasing more export, by which creating more employment, that is the policy of the government.

Also read: As Economists Bicker Over Jobs Data, Underemployment Chokes Young Graduates

Mr Gadkari, I can hear the plans you have for investment, I hear the plans that you hope will create jobs.But look at the facts on ground. Last year, when the Railways advertised 89,400 jobs, 23 million people applied, that is the extent of job hunger. If there wasn’t job hunger, why would the unemployment rate be 7.5%? You have to ask yourself that question, why would it be so high?

I am telling you, lakhs of people are working in private sector. When there is a government job, they apply for that. There is a difference between service and job opportunity. Now, by MUDRA Yojana, we have financed 3,50,00000 new entrepreneurs, to finance them for their business.

Daily wage workers wait for employment on a street side at an industrial area in Mumbai. Credit: Reuters

Mr Gadkari, 95% of Mudra loans are for Rs 50,000 or less. They can’t create a job, they simply cannot. You can’t say Mudra is creating jobs when this is the case.  

Understand that to create jobs, to create job for even one person, is very important. Now I will tell you an example, now they are using this TV camera; in place of this, journalists yesterday were using mobile phones and now some of the companies, particularly TV companies, they don’t need cameraman, they need a journalist who has a mobile phone.

Right! If you don’t need a cameraman, you are losing a job, you are not creating a job. The cameraman has lost his job, this is the problem. Technology is denying people jobs, it is not increasing them.

At the same time that technology is denying jobs, technology is creating jobs.

Let me put this to you, You know when you look at your manifesto, Mahesh Vyas, managing director of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, says, and I am quoting him, “There is no specific suggestion in the BJP manifesto about creating jobs.” Actually, if you search ‘unemployment’, the word doesn’t feature in your manifesto.

Sir, our total economic policies are based on the philosophy of how we are going to create more employment potential. To liberalise the economy, to [create] public private investment, creating hundred airports, encouraging airlines for jobs, now the increase in the job…

Airlines are closing at the moment; they are not growing. Jet is in trouble; Kingfisher has closed down – those jobs are going.

Because of the fuel price. The world, the global economy is in problem…

I don’t want to quarrel with you over jobs, I want to move to other subjects, but every poll suggests that the single most important issue in this election for the Indian people is unemployment and jobs, are they wrong?

No! Unemployment is not a problem created by BJP in the last five years. It is a problem since 1947.

But hasn’t it got worse?

It is because of the wrong policies, bad governance, bad and corrupt governance and visionless leadership of the Congress party.

You don’t think it’s gone worse?

No, we have taken lot of new decisions, we are encouraging investment, foreign investment, we are creating more industries, we are using science and technology for creating jobs, we are creating new innovation in the infrastructure, we are making 100 airports, we are investing a lot in the private airlines, people are coming.

You are saying to me that the 7.5% unemployment rate that CMIE has established for April…

Within two years, I am confident that this rate will come to 3-4%.

That’s a guarantee you are giving me?

Hundred percent. Because of our economic policies. It will take some time, it is not just like you prepare and take it, you do make long-term policy.

In two years, the unemployment problem will be taken care of? Of course, we are assuming that your government will come back.

First of all, I want to clarify one thing, our government has definitely very much given highest priority to the unemployment problem, and that is the reason that by creating more irrigation, agro-processing industries, creating good infrastructure, new initiative, new investment, our interest is to create jobs.

And in two years, the unemployment problem, you are saying to me, will have ended.

Yes! Not ended. I am not saying that.

But reduced substantially.

Substantially reduced. It will come to 3-4%.

Institutions

We are assuming, of course, that your government is re-elected, but let’s leave that aside.

Let me now come to an issue you must have read about many times in papers – concern about the way your government is handling critical constitutional institutions. you first attempted in fact, you did first dismiss governments in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the Supreme Court struck it down angrily. Repeatedly, chief justices have complained in public about the government dragging its feet over the appointment or transfer of judges.

As you know, one chief justice even cried in public. And then you know, there is an enormous concern in the press and civil society about the way you politicise the Election Commission and the CBI. When people turn around and say that Mr Modi’s government has not handled institutions fairly, objectively and properly, how do you respond to them?

This is a totally false allegation against our government. We respect judiciary, we respect Election Commission.

Then why did the chief justice cry in public?

No. Actually, there are some communication problems. Still, in a democracy, it is important for all of us to have a good dialogue with the judiciary also. We have got a good coordination, communication and cooperation between the judiciary and presently we don’t have any problem.

You attempted to dismiss the Uttarakhand and Arunachal governments and the Supreme Court struck it down.

Under the Congress governments too, such decisions were taken many times and struck down by the Supreme Court.

But you are supposed to be the better party, the party with a difference, you are not repeating Congress’s mistakes and yet you did. You made the same mistakes like that of the Congress, and you got rapped on the knuckles the way Congress did.

Actually, in politics everything is fair, you know that. The way in which the politics move, some people are bound to leave the party…

You are a remarkably honest man, Mr Gadkari, and one of the problems I face in putting difficult issues to you is that you have a clever way of admitting your mistakes, you are admitting…

Politics is a game of compulsions, limitation and contradiction.

But you are accepting that the attempt to dismiss the governments in Uttarakhand and in Arunachal was a mistake, you are accepting that?

Not at all. It’s a political decision taken by the party.

Also read: Since Modi is India and India is Modi, Who Needs Elections?

A wrong political decision.

See, you can challenge the decision everywhere. There are some people challenging the decision of governor of Uttarakhand also. So already debate is there. In a political battle, everything is fair. Sometime people belong to some party they want to join your party, you cannot say, on the moral basis we will not allow you.

Let me as an example quote to you your government’s handling of the former CBI director Alok Verma. This is what Justice Patnaik, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the matter, said. He said that the decision to transfer Alok Verma was very very hasty, he said there was no evidence against Verma regarding corruption, most importantly, he said that the government should have applied their mind thoroughly, which means he is saying you acted without thinking, isn’t that embarrassing?

Sir every time one decision taken by the high court, that may be struck down in the Supreme Court. There are two sides here, it is regarding transfer, appointments, it is the right of the government. How you can challenge the intentions of the government?

Alok Verma leaves the CBI headquarters on January 9. 2019. Credit: PTI/Manvender Vashist

But a judge appointed by the Supreme Court is saying that the government should have applied their mind, which means you acted without thinking.

Sir, actually, I don’t make comments on the judgements of the Supreme Court. But the fact is that a decision taken by a court anywhere, can be challenged another court. So, the problem is that it doesn’t mean that because one decision is there, the other side is totally wrong. Arguments are out there. Suppose, your company dismisses a TV reporter, he can go to the court and the court may give order to appoint him again.

I hear your defence which is that you don’t want to quarrel with what the justice has said but this is the retired justice and not a serving justice. I am simply pointing out that many people thought this was embarrassing, I acknowledge that you have a right to say, you have a right to transfer people as you want.

Sir, this is happening in the routine process from last 70 years in India. Many decisions taken by different governments challenged, somewhere the judiciary is supporting them, somewhere they are making decisions against them, this is a natural thing happening in the country.

Governments in India have frequently embarrassed themselves and it’s not new and it’s not unique for the BJP government to be embarrassed; I am simply pointing out that you were embarrassed.

Sometimes, decision taken by one Supreme Court judge go to another bench. If that bench takes a different decision, does it mean they are embarrassing the other judge? That’s not its meaning.

Rafale deal

Let’s come to a subject that is very much in the news, Rafale. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have repeatedly said that Supreme Court has given them a clean chit. Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to look into the matter again and accepted the review petitions, can you accept that the clean chit has been withdrawn?

Before the review petition, whatever was the Supreme Court’s decision is on record. Now the review petition has been submitted, it doesn’t indicate anything positive or negative.

No, but it indicates that the position could change.

Presently the decision on record, given by the Supreme Court is only on record. And I am telling about this Rafale. We have a factory in Nagpur from Dassault and that factory is for Falcon, it’s with the collaboration of Reliance.

The offset factory with Reliance. And I am not questioning that, I am going to raise with you two other issues. You agreed to accept a letter of comfort in place of the financial guarantee. You went against the advice of Indian Negotiating Team, you went against the advice of Sudhanshu Mohanty, the financial advisor in the defence ministry. Why did you go against that advice?

The bureaucracy, the executive are supposed to give their opinion and it is the right of the political leadership to overrule them. Is there anything written in the constitution, I am asking you a question Karanji, that any advice given by a bureaucrat is binding on the political party to implement that? You are talking both ways. Sometimes you are asking why you are not overruling the decision of the bureaucrats, and now you are asking me why, if he has given an advice, you are taking the decision.

I accept your right to not follow the advice given to you, but I am questioning whether in doing so you made a mistake, because (a) A letter of comfort is not as reassuring as a financial guarantee and (b), as the CAG has pointed out, and the CAG was appointed by your government, the financial benefit of not getting a financial guarantee didn’t come to the government, it went to Dassault.

I am also from the financial field, letter of comfort, guarantee, everything I can understand. In a liberal economy, even in road contracts, now I am telling you there is a provision that we need bank guarantee, no bank is ready to give bank guarantee. It takes years and years for them to start the work. So now this is the time, I ask them, you take their personal guarantee and go ahead.

Anil Ambani (left), Eric Trappier of Dassault (fifth from the left), with Maharastra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union minister for transport and Nagpur MP Nitin Gadkari at the foundation laying ceremony for the Reliance-Dassault joint venture plant in Nagpur, 2016. Credit: Dassault

Anil Ambani (left), Eric Trappier of Dassault (fifth from the left), with Maharastra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union minister for transport and Nagpur MP Nitin Gadkari at the foundation laying ceremony for the Reliance-Dassault joint venture plant in Nagpur, 2016. Credit: Dassault

Are you saying that if you had insisted on a financial guarantee, Dassault and the French government wouldn’t have given it? This contract is worth something like nine billion euro for them, they would have definitely given it.

Have you got any track record of default of the government of France? Why are you talking all these things? In the liberal economy, the letter of comfort is equally important in the business field.

Have you taken it on trust?

 Yes. I am asking you a question. You are dealing with the France government, have you got any evidence against the credibility of France government, is there is any letter of comfort with which there is any problem, can you give me a single evidence? So, letter of guarantee and letter of comfort is one and a same thing. A company like Tata…

The problem with the letter of comfort is that it only becomes enforceable after adjudication – that means there will be a long gap between Dassault defaulting and the letter of comfort coming into implementation and it’s that gap that could leave India vulnerable, that’s why people say it’s not the same thing.

I am not with you.

You are not with me?

Letter of Comfort is equally important from the government, it’s just like a guarantee.

Also read: New Rafale Affidavit: Key Issues Modi Government Continues to Duck

Your government has repeatedly said in price terms, the deal you have negotiated is better than the deal UPA negotiated. Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sitharaman have said, the simple plane is 9% cheaper, the plane with equipment is 20% cheaper, if that is correct, why did you buy only 36 planes, why didn’t you buy all 126 that the Air Force needs; if you are getting a cheap plane, buy everyone you can?

But the fact is that the price is 20% less as compared with the UPA. Now I am asking you a question, 8-10 years you are only discussing the issue, you are only appointing committees, is it good for the defence of this country? People like you in the media keep saying, ‘if you are taking decision, why are you taking decision, if you are not taking decision, why are you not taking the decision’. This creates an atmosphere that doesn’t give people the confidence to take any decision. And I am asking you a question, in the Kargil war, if Rafale was with us, from 150 km range we can make missiles there, but now we cannot make it.

But Mr Gadkari you are giving me two reasons actually, why you should have bought all 126: (a) because deciding to buy planes takes forever and now when you have to decide on a new plane you go through the same process and delays and (b), if the Rafale such a good plane, buy all 126.

What is the reason that eight years we are spending to delay this matter, is it good for the internal security of this country?

It’s a different issue.

Why it’s a different issue? You are not taking decision, you are not transparent, and you are playing the interest of the country.

My question was if you are getting the plane cheap, as you claim you are, why only buy 36? Buy all 126, you need 126, why not buy them in one go?

It is depending upon the finance sale availability.

 You mean the French wouldn’t sell more?

No no, financial availability with the government of India. How can you advise me that you can take 100 planes? At least we need that much money to spend them, so it is depending upon the government’s financial position to purchase 36.

You have given the clear answer. No one in the government has given this honest answer before. The government didn’t have financial means to buy more than 36.

First of all you are just taking it the way — your purchasing system is wrong, you are violating this rule, then we purchase, then why are you purchasing 36 and why not purchasing 100, what is the meaning of this? Anything, anywhere you purchase, you take first phase, second phase, third phase and then you increase. Suppose, after 36 planes, if there is an availability of new technology, new plane with a cheaper price then we are free to purchase that, why we should purchase from Rafale?

Alright, that explains in some sense why you didn’t buy more. I repeat for the benefit of the audience, this is the first time anyone in the government has given this answer.

Majoritarianism

Let’s come to the next issue, which has a lot to do with the mood of the country today. In the last five years, we have had Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, Bharat Mata ki Jai, Beef bans, gau rakshaks, attacks on Dalits…

What is the problem for you for Bharat Mata ki Jai? Is it an anti-national slogan?

No, it’s not anti-national but why should people be required to say it, they have a choice not to say it.

Why not? India is not our motherland? Is it any problem for you to say Jai Motherland?

It is not a certificate of my nationality or anyone else’s. If I don’t say it, I am not nationalist.

 I am sorry to say there is no problem regarding Bharat Mata ki Jai. And love jihad and other things, that are happening from last 60-70 years. These are not the incidents of the Modi regime.

All these things that I have mentioned, including the treatment of Dalits, gau rakshaks, beef bans, including the anti-romeo squad in UP, have led people to believe that under Mr Modi, India has become a majoritarian society and intolerant society where nationalism trumps liberalism and Muslims and Dalits are marginalised.

There are some intellectual people who are directly supporting Naxalite and Maoist movement, they are claiming that it is our fundamental right, freedom of speech, we can do anything. You are expecting me to support them?

I am not talking about them. What about the Muslims who are beaten up because they are suspected of being cattle traders, which is not an illegal profession? What about the Muslims who are beaten up and killed because they are suspected over beef?

First of all, we oppose the incidents of people taking law into their hands, we are not with them. What proof have you got that these people belong to BJP and RSS? You are making a false story, creating false image of the government. These incidents have been happening for the past many years.

Let me give you the proof. Repeatedly, BJP MPs, MLAs and ministers, even from the Modi cabinet, say hateful things about Muslims. A BJP MP in UP said, ‘Muslims got India divided, there is no need for them to live in India. They should go to Pakistan or Bangladesh’. A Rajya Sabha MP said, ‘Muslims have been harassing Hindus and one should be cautious about them’. Another Lok Sabha MP said, ‘terrorism, rapes, causes of sexual harassment are prevailing in India only because of rising Muslim population’ and then last month, your colleague in parliament Maneka Gandhi publicly said that if Muslims don’t vote for her, they must not expect her to work for them. Is this justified?

You are actually confusing the people. Maneka Gandhi already cleared what she said.

She was on video saying it, the whole country heard it.

It was totally misreported.

But it can’t be, it was on video, we all heard it.

Secondly, all these statements you are taking, these were against terrorists and terrorist organisations. The Muslim who have affection for Pakistan, they are talking everything.Those who are in India and have affiliation to Pakistan, they talk in that language.

When a BJP MP in UP says Muslims got India divided, when another one says Muslims have been harassing Hindus, when another one says terrorism, rapes are because of Muslims.

This is all false propaganda. I don’t need to answer these questions, because this is totally misreported. Some sections of the media, they want to create confusion and misimpression about the BJP in the minds of the minority. Fear is their capital. To create fear about BJP and for vote-bank politics, that is the reason they are making false propaganda. These incidents didn’t start in the past five years, these incidents, riots, have been there for 60-70 years. In Congress regime too, they were there.

You are seriously telling me these people I have quoted have actually not said what I have said? They were on TV, they were there on paper, they don’t deny saying it, how can you deny?

A section of the media wants to create an impression. They are against the RSS, BJP and Hindutva, they have been for many years, they have an agenda.

So you are victims of the media, you claim? Do you think the media has a conspiracy to make the BJP look bad?

Sir 100%. First of all, we oppose many such incidents.We are not with them.

Are you really? This is the question I am asking. Nitin Gadkari opposes them, I don’t deny it. In interviews to me in the past you have opposed it.

Yes. I am the ex-president of the BJP, a responsible man.

But what about the prime minister? The prime minister doesn’t say anything.

Prime minister has also issued statements in his speech against all these incidents. I know that. Even gau rakshaks have criticised his remarks.

Let me point that out that when in fact Muslims, Dalits are targeted, the prime minister is usually silent.

First of all let me clear it, we never targeted Muslims and Dalits, we never support anyone for targeting them and our basic philosophy is Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. We don’t want to discriminate against Muslims, Dalits, any caste, religion creed and sex.

You may not yourself, but when in this country Muslims and Dalits are targeted, the prime minister is silent. On the odd occasion when he speaks out, he takes so long people feel it is being dragged out of him. Most importantly, when Gauri Lankesh was killed, brutally assassinated, it was found that the prime minister was following on Twitter people who were applauding and congratulating her killers. In one case, he was following a man, forgive me, who called Gauri Lankesh a kutiya and the prime minister did not disassociate. Amit Malviya went on record to defend the prime minister’s right to follow who he wants, and people asked a simple question: Does Mr Modi lack moral leadership, or is he reluctant to exercise it?

My feeling is this is a totally false propaganda from a section of media, to create an impression in the minds of people that BJP and Modi is against minority Muslims, against Dalits and against Scheduled Tribes, this is because of vote bank politics. I am just clearing — we are very much clear that we don’t support any such incident happening in the country, we are opposing them. Second thing, we have faith that Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas with equal opportunity to all, irrespective of religion, caste and creed, will get justice. That is the spirit of our government.

Also read: What Hemant Karkare’s FIR on Malegaon Says About Hindutva Today

The problem is you have just put up Pragya Singh Thakur as a candidate, a lady accused of terror, court has taken cognisance of the charges – that is not the message of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.

That was a political conspiracy of the Congress party to create Hindu terrorism.

But is this the response?

Yes. It was totally a conspiracy to make innocent people culprit. There is no evidence against Pragya.

You say you are trying to teach Congress a lesson, but actually what you have done is damage the BJP’s image by making her a candidate. Your image was of a clean government, you claim you are committed to fight terror. How can you be committed to cleanness and fighting terror if a terror suspect charged by the court is made the candidate for the party?

Frankly and fairly, I am from Maharashtra, she is not involved in any act, it was a political conspiracy, there was no evidence. The lower court has cleared it, there is no evidence available.

High court has taken cognisance of the charges, the case is continuing. You can’t decide there is no evidence.

The previous court has already given a decision that there is no evidence against Pragya Thakur.

Yes, but there is a case in the high court and the court has taken cognisance, you can’t decide there is no evidence, the court has to decide.

It’s the decision of the court, this is not from my side.

There is a case in the high court where she is charged.

Yes, the lower court’s decision has been challenged in the high court. But what’s present on record, the decision which is given by the lower court, is that she is innocent and there is no evidence against her.

Sir, you don’t think this has damaged the image of your party?

I don’t feel that.

You claim to be a party with a difference, does that difference now get eliminated?

I feel that she is innocent, there is no problem in giving her a ticket. We don’t have any problem for that.

Modi’s campaign

I am looking at the nature of the election campaign that Mr Modi has been waging for the last 40 days. He is not campaigning on his five-year track record in office, he is not campaigning by raising issues that matter to people like education, health, employment, rural distress.

Instead, he is campaigning by creating fear, fear of terror, fear of Pakistan, fear of India’s vulnerability, is this the right campaign for the world’s largest democracy? For a country that believes next year we will be the fifth biggest economy, for a country that wants to join UN Security Council, is this the right campaign for India?

My feeling is our campaign is for the development of this country. The politics of 21st century is progress and development, we are changing infrastructure, we have now power surplus, we are increasing irrigation capacity, we are improving agriculture, we have more foreign investment in different fields, we are increasing tourism, we are increasing aviation sector, and it is the fact that we are the fastest growing economy in the world.

I let you say all of this on purpose, to make the contrast with Mr Modi, who doesn’t say any of this. When Mr Modi makes speeches, these are not the messages he gives.

The problem is with the media.They don’t look at all these developmental issues in his speeches, they want to take up only controversial issues.

Gadkari sahab, Mr Modi’s speeches are carried live. If he said the things you are saying, it would be a different speech.

In many speeches, PM Modi talks about development. But you never give priority to that, because majority of the media is interested in controversy.

Do you know what Mr Modi has begun speaking about, now that he has slightly moved away from terror and Pakistan because that message has become old? He has begun picking on Rajiv Gandhi, he suddenly called Rajiv Gandhi Bhrastachari No. 1 and that forgive me, is not just wrong, it’s a lie, because the Delhi high vourt exonerated him and more importantly, the Vajpayee government did not appeal against the exoneration. So Rajiv Gandhi cannot be called Bhrastachari No 1, yet he did.

It’s a political debate which is going on. Rahul Gandhi calls the PM a chor, this is a game of action and reaction. What I feel is this is the time for Indian democracy to think positively, and it is time for political parties to increase the standard of political campaign. I am expecting it from the Congress party.

And are you also expecting it from your PM? Are you saying this to him as well?

I will give you details of 56 bhog, the details of all the gaalis given to the prime minister. PM doesn’t belong to the BJP, he belongs to the country, we should respect and recognise him. Even in the old days also, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Indira ji, they respected everyone.

You are very reassuring, you are saying Indian politics should rise above tu tu mai mai, we need to raise issues that matter, and you say you have given this advice to PM, and to Rahul Gandhi. But you know the PM hasn’t listened to your advice, because after Bhrastachari No 1, he claimed Rajiv Gandhi used INS Viraat as a private taxi. Two retired Naval chiefs have written letters to Prime Minister that you are wrong, Admiral Arun Prakash has written the letter, Admiral Ramdas has written the letter. And once again, Prime Minister has made up a story. Is this the right way for a big and proud democracy to be campaigning?

It is time for Indian political parties and the political leadership to have a debate on the basis of policies, economic policies, reforms, decisions, foreign policies, defence policy.This is the time that by all stakeholders, this quality of politics should increase.My feeling is, we should all cooperate to increase this quality of politics, that is the need of the country.

So would you yourself, while campaigning, make personal comments about someone’s father or tell stories, would you ever do this?

I don’t want to make any comment on it. But fortunately my feeling is this is the time for Indian democracy that we should speak about policies, decisions, reforms. There are a lot of issues of development, infrastructure development, defence policies, this is the time.

The 2019 results

In literally nine or ten days’ time, we will have the result, will the BJP get a majority on its own?

Hundred percent, we will get more seats

More seats than 2014?

Yes

Do you really mean this?

Yes, we will get a good majority. Modi ji will be the next Prime Minister.

If the BJP on May 23 does not get more seats than 2014, if the BJP on the 23rd actually doesn’t get a majority on its own, will you at least be man enough to say ‘I was wrong’?

I am fully confident that we will get the majority and Modi ji will be the Prime Minister.

Whether you get the majority or not depends critically on how you perform in UP. Every analyst says that the Gathbandhan has reduced you from the 71 seats you had on your own or 73 with Apna Dal to perhaps 30-40, are you losing 30-40 seats in UP?

Not at all, we will get good results in UP also.

What does good results means?

It means more than 71 seats.

More than 71?

Haan, yes.

You are really saying that to me and you are not just being brave and bravado?

No, no, I am confident, anything can happen in election.

Anything can happen, you can also collapse to 20.

How can you say that we will get only 40 seats? No evidence, its only expectation you are indicating.

The polls are suggesting that you will come down to 30 seats.

No, I am confident that we will get more than 71 seats.

One other area where there is doubt about how you will perform is Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, three months ago you lost in state elections.

Sir I am giving you the answer of all your questions, you see after May 23 that we will get reasonably good majority and we will have a government under the leadership of Narendra Modi ji, I am 101% confident about it.

In what way will a new BJP government under Narendra Modi be different and better than the old one?

My feeling is the present government is better, and the next government will be also better.

Thank you, great talking to you, Mr Nitin Gadkari.

This interview was conducted for Tiranga TV, and will be broadcast at 4 pm and 8 pm on May 13.

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