Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari believes the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will come to power in Maharashtra and, if necessary, will forge a post-poll alliance with Shiv Sena as the two parties are natural allies.
In an interview to Hindustan Times, Gadkari lamented that the Sena leadership was suspicious of him though he always wanted the alliance to continue as a strong political force in Maharashtra. Gadkari -- popular across the state for his work on the infrastructure front -- said he was not interested in chief ministership and was happy with the responsibility at the centre.
You have been addressing rallies in the past few days. What is the impression you have got?
I can see people are extremely unhappy with the Congress-NCP government. The past 15 years were very bad for Maharashtra. The state has a debt of Rs. 3 lakh crore, Rs. 70,000 crore were spent on irrigation but the government’s figures show only 0.01% of the land was irrigated. Maharashtra was number one among Indian states but it is now in sixth position. It is very important to have a single-party government. We appeal to the people to hand power to us. Coalition politics has affected the state badly. Single-party rule of the BJP will definitely change the picture.
Don’t you think the BJP-Sena split will affect your chances to win power?
I can see voters are getting polarised. The fight will be between the BJP and the Congress, small parties will become less relevant. We will get a clear majority. People voted for one party in the Lok Sabha election and the Modi government has shown what it can do even in a short span of time. Today, India’s image has improved internationally. There was a lot of negative campaign against us but now people are realising the benefits of a single-party stable government.
Why do you think the alliance broke? The Sena is blaming your party for the split.
We wanted the 25-year alliance to continue. For us the late Balasaheb Thackeray was as venerable a person as Atalji Vajpayee. However, the Sena leadership remained adamant on 151 seats and was also insisting on chief ministership. It didn’t want to compromise on anything. As such, the alliance broke. We wanted more seats and that too from the 59 constituencies that they never won but they refused to part with.
You remained aloof during the seat-sharing talks. Why didn’t you step in to save the alliance?
In the beginning itself, I requested the party president that I wanted to stay out of the seat-sharing talks. I had a grudge against the Sena. When I tried something in the interest of the alliance (asking Raj Thackeray not to contest Lok Sabha polls), they got angry with me. I was criticised a lot. Actually my proposal to Raj would have helped both the BJP and the Sena but the whole thing was unnecessarily distorted. I thought they would blame me again if something went wrong. That’s why I requested that the state leadership and party’s in-charge of Maharashtra should only handle the talks.
But couldn’t the state leaders have handled the talks better?
The Sena remained adamant on contesting 151 seats. It was not ready to climb down. Normally there is always give and take in such talks. However, they were not ready. It is unfortunate that the alliance broke.
Now we can see much bitterness between the allies. On Tuesday, Uddhav Thackeray asked why PM Modi needed to address rallies if there was Modi wave.
Look, we have been avoiding criticism of the Sena. I addressed over 20 rallies so far but I didn’t criticise the Sena or Uddhav. I don’t want the bitterness to increase. Tomorrow if there is need, we may come together. It will depend on the political situation. The Sena is our natural ally, so we will definitely consider it. Of course, they should also be interested in the same.
Do you see any realignment of forces in the state after the polls?
See, five parties are contesting separately. Everything depends on the outcome of the polls. We will decide as per the political situation then. No point in talking about it now.
Is a BJP-NCP tie-up on your agenda?
This is propaganda by our rivals. We had no such plans, else we would have forged an alliance with the NCP. There is no such proposal. The Congress and the NCP are our enemies in this election. We are targeting the corrupt, inefficient government that ruled the state for 15 years. I had never seen an inefficient CM like Prithviraj Chavan. He kept talking about clean government but I was told he cleared a lot of files 15 days before the elections. There should be a probe into this.
Are you still keen on getting the MNS on board?
It depends on the verdict. Today, there is no point in this debate. I am confident that we will win power on our own.
Aren’t you interested in the chief minister’s post if the BJP wins power?
When I was called to Delhi [to lead the BJP], I was not keen on going there. Now I am in national politics and happy being in the central government. I don’t want to return to state politics. I have been doing what I can for the state. Under my ministry, I have started infrastructure work of Rs40,000 crore in Maharashtra. We have some capable leaders here for chief ministership.
There is intense competition among your state leaders for chief ministership. Won’t it affect the party’s performance?
It is true that the politics is less about principles and more about power now. It is happening in all parties. Still, we don’t have such bad power politics in the BJP. We have leaders who are here for the organisation and principles. When the time comes, we will decide who should become CM.
What are the BJP’s plans for the state?
Most important is that the state should be surplus in electricity, which will help farmers and industries. The state is lagging behind in infrastructure. We need good roads. There is also need for developing inland water transport. Mumbai’s coast should be used for water transport. I have offered to build a sealink from Virar to Nariman Point through my ministry. I am also keen on building a six-lane undersea tunnel between JNPT and Mumbai port (in place of Sewree-Nhava sealink). We need to build smart cities around Mumbai to decongest the metropolis.