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Not in PM race, I am neta by conviction, not by calculation: Gadkari

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In an exclusive interview to TOI, Union minister

Nitin Gadkari

junks speculation on differences with deputy CM

Devendra Fadnavis

, saying he was Fadnavis’ mentor who baptised him in

politics

. Talking on a wide range of issues, Gadkari says he’s not a career politician and would prefer to remain a grassroots worker and RSS swayamsevak.

What is your take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call of ‘Ab Ki Baar 400 Paar’?

Before 2014, people were upset with the policy paralysis in the Congress-led UPA.

This gave us an edge. Modi as Gujarat chief minister had done a good job and projecting him as PM helped us win the 2014 polls. In 2019, we showcased development to ensure another victory. Ten years down the line, we can say what BJP achieved in a decade, Congress failed to do in the last 60-65 years. People have reposed faith in the Modi govt and will once again elect us with a record margin. There’s positivity due to the development over the last decade and we will definitely cross the 400+ mark this time.

Do you think the fervour surrounding the consecration of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya and aggressive Hindutva will help BJP achieve the magical mark?

I frankly think the

Ram temple

issue should not be politicised. It’s a question of faith and people are happy their dream has come true. I do not believe in divisive politics of caste, creed or religion. The temple was mandated by

Supreme Court

after a protracted legal battle and people’s struggle. It was also in our manifesto. We are happy to fulfil the wishes of the people.

You were removed from BJP’s parliamentary board and central election committee in 2022 and Fadnavis was inducted. Did you feel left out by the PM?

I am not a not a career politician. I believe that politics is an instrument for socio-economic reforms. So, positions and posts don’t hold charm. My relations with PM Modi are very cordial.

What’s your equation with Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis? There’s speculation that you and Fadnavis are not on the same page on some issues

I initiated Fadnavis’ political entry after meeting his father. When there are two big leaders from the same region, people tend to gossip. I don’t interfere or complain. There are no differences between us. Even state BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule seeks my advice. I tell them to make decisions after weighing the pros and cons.

There’s speculation and suggestions that you could be the consensus PM face in case NDA fails to secure the majority mark. What’s your take on this?

I was never in the race for the prime minister’s job. I am content with whatever I am today. I am a committed BJP worker with conviction, not a politician by calculation. I believe in Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. Under PM Narendra Modi, the NDA govt is doing a commendable job. I am confident we will again form the govt at the Centre for the third time under Modi’s leadership.

Will this be your last election? And will you continue to handle the transport & highways portfolio if NDA gets a third term?

My portfolio or responsibilities in govt is the prerogative of the PM and party brass. I don’t think of tomorrow. I am a swayamsevak, a committed BJP cadre and social worker. This is my identity. There can be ex-PMs, ex-CMs, ex-ministers, but a party worker will always remain a worker.

You think a fractured opposition is an advantage to BJP in Lok Sabha polls?

I have a different take. I don’t mention my rivals in my poll campaigns. I tell voters how I performed in the last five years and what I propose to do. This generates hope. We should sound positive and tell people how we enacted changes in their lives in the last decade.

What is your take on the Supreme Court’s decision to ask SBI to release details of donors to EC?

The govt will follow the apex court’s decision. It’s a sub-judice matter. However, elections can’t be fought without money. The scheme was introduced by former finance minister Arun Jaitley to resolve the issue of an expenditure cap.

You are often referred to as highway man of India? How did you lay 82,500km in nine years?

We created seven world records in road building. I have completed projects of Rs 50 lakh crore without a corruption blot. When I took over in 2014, over 400 projects were stalled in the absence of clearance from forests, environment, railways. Also, land acquisition was on a crawl. Non-performing assets of banks had risen to Rs 3 lakh crore. In our tenure, we managed to save these banks by expediting work and cancelling non-feasible projects. We changed work culture and fast-tracked decision making. Now, we don’t grant approvals without 90% clearance from forests and other departments. The credit goes to the entire team.

You want to totally phase out petrol and diesel-run vehicles and introduce electric ones. How is it feasible?

We are aggressively promoting electric vehicles, which will cost at par with petrol/diesel ones in a few years. Today, electric buses are replacing diesel buses in city limits, and in five years we aim to replace the old fleet. Even long-distance buses would be electric-driven.

Your thoughts on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)?

The law was introduced to help persecuted minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians in neighbouring countries to get citizenship here. They do not have any other country to go to. The law is not discriminatory or against any community.

Collapse of the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel was attributed to NHAI’s faulty digging in fragile Himalayan terrain by the green brigade. What’s your take?

The collapse of a section of the tunnel, trapping 40 workers, was an accident. The terrain is fragile and difficult, but that does not mean we should stop constructing roads and tunnels. Now, we are using Swedish technology to build tunnels to avoid a re-run. Roads and tunnels are needed to stave off threats from hostile nations like China. Soldiers can move swiftly to the border through these tunnels.

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