'Opposition uniting because BJP is too strong to be defeated': Gadkari

Gadkari talks about boosting infrastructure, raising farmer income and winning polls

29-Nitin-Gadkari Nitin Gadkari | R.S. Gopan

? There was a lot of scepticism when you made big promises after becoming minister nine years ago. But changes are visible now. How do you see your journey as road transport minister?

A Credibility is the biggest strength in politics. I don’t know if my habit is an asset or a liability, but I always tell people that yes is yes, and no means no. I never give false promises.

It is for the first time that India is seeing the BJP ideology―nationalism, good governance and development, and antyodaya (social welfare of the downtrodden).
The diversification of agriculture to the energy sector is the most important policy that is going to change the future of our country.

Q What has been your approach to address the country’s infrastructure needs?

A We are the fastest growing economy in the world. Our economic approach is the most important key to success for all of us under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee before him.

Just look at history: After 1947, there were three [types of] economic thinking: socialism, communism and capitalism. But today, after 75 years, we feel that there is no answer for our situation in all these ideologies. It is for the first time that India is seeing the BJP ideology―nationalism, good governance and development, and antyodaya (social welfare of the downtrodden). Our conviction is the social-economic thinking of Deendayal Upadhyaya. And for that reason, we need to develop industry, trade and business. But without good infrastructure, we cannot develop trade and business.

Developing water, power, transport and communication infrastructure will increase productivity in trade and development. Through this, we will get capital investment from domestic and foreign industry. On the basis of that, we will create job opportunities and eradicate poverty. People who are wealth creators are also employment creators. We need to support entrepreneurs and new technology.

Q Have you introduced many innovations to this effect?

A We are using 30 lakh tonnes of municipal garbage from Delhi in tier-two roads, and another 30 lakh tonnes in the Ahmedabad highway.

Earlier, we used to call our farmers annadaata (food producer); he is now turning into urjadaata (energy producer, as ethanol is produced from various crops). He will also become ‘bitumen daata’, as rice stalk and biomass can be converted into bio-bitumen. We require 80 lakh tonnes of bitumen; we produce 50 lakh tonnes and import 30 lakh tonnes. What is being imported now will be given by farmers. It is going to economically strengthen the farmers.

Q You often say cities are, in terms of time and distance, coming closer as new highways are built.

A I will give one example. If we start from Manali [in Himachal Pradesh], there is Atal Tunnel at Rohtang Pass, which has reduced travel time from three hours to eight minutes. After exiting the tunnel, you are on the road to Ladakh. We are constructing roads, and four to six tunnels there. Work has started on Asia’s biggest tunnel at Zoji La in Ladakh, which was supposed to be built at a cost of Rs12,000 crore. We are already in the process of saving of Rs5,000 crore.

Gadkari with his wife, Kanchan | Vishnu V. Nair Gadkari with his wife, Kanchan | Vishnu V. Nair

After Zoji La, there is the Z-Morh tunnel [in Ganderbal district]. Between Srinagar and Jammu, we planned 18 tunnels, of which 14 are complete. Then there is the Katra-Delhi Expressway, which will allow travel from Delhi to Amritsar in four hours, from Delhi to Katra [in Jammu and Kashmir] in six hours, and Delhi to Srinagar in eight hours.

Q The Atal and Zoji La tunnels are of strategic significance, as Pakistan disrupted traffic during the Kargil War.

A Yes, it is very important. We are building all the border roads. We have 30 roads where we can land airplanes. We are going to develop 670 roadside facilities that will also have heliports and drone ports.

Q We also hear about sky buses. Is this the vision of New India as to how we will move and interact with each other?

A Our target is to make the Indian economy the number one economy in the world. I will give you an example related to me: the automobile sector. The number one [automobile market] was China; the second was USA, the third was Japan, and then India. Now, we have bypassed Japan to reach the third position. The size of our industry is 07.5 lakh crore. The maximum GST comes to states and the Union government through this sector. Till now, 4.5 crore jobs have been created by this industry. My dream is to make it a Rs15 lakh crore industry in the next five years. Then we will be number one.

Q Talking about the automobile industry, there are electric vehicles as well as flex-fuel vehicles. What to opt for and what is the future?

A People can make a choice according to the availability of material. Toyota is going to launch its new Camry in August, which is 100 per cent ethanol-powered and can generate 40 per cent electricity. The average cost of petrol will be 015 (because ethanol’s rate is around 060, while petrol costs Rs120 per litre. It would also generate 40 per cent electricity. The average would be Rs15 per litre). Bajaj and TVS have already got two wheelers with flex engines. We are now opening ethanol pumps. I am 100 per cent confident that it will be a success.

1231491970 Linking people: The Qazigund-Banihal highway project, which ensures all-weather connection between Qazigund in Kashmir and Banihal in Jammu | Getty Images

Q And farmers benefit when ethanol is produced.

A Sugarcane farmers are getting money only because of ethanol…. The diversification of agriculture to the energy sector is the most important policy that is going to change the future of our country. And, particularly, the future of rural agriculture and tribal India.

Q How is public transportation poised for change?

A We are building 60 ropeways and cable cars, and electrifying public transport. We are in the process of having more electric buses. I feel that public transport will totally change in five years. There will be less pollution, and the import substitute will be cost-effective.

Q You had promised to reduce accidents and fatalities on highways by 50 per cent by 2024.

A It is one area where I have not had much success even after doing my level best. I accept that.

This is a problem related to automobile and road engineering, and people’s education. The people don’t respect the law and that is a big problem…. So, first we need to change human behaviour: the mindset of people about law and road safety. The government alone cannot do it. We need help from the media, social and educational organisations and NGOs. We are taking help from many people, including celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar.

But the fact is that we have five lakh accidents and 1.5 lakh deaths every year, and loss of 3 per cent of GDP. It is very unfortunate.

Q You are known as a minister who gets work done. The National Highways Authority of India was known for its corrupt image and slow pace of work.

A Actually, we are transparent. In the past nine years, I had an opportunity to award projects worth more than Rs50 lakh crore. No contractor needs to come to me for sanctioning the contract. We are transparent, time-bound, result-oriented and quality-conscious, and we fast-track the decision-making process. And we consider the contractors, the ministry and the bankers as one family. We come, think and work together as a team.

When there is inspiration and motivation for a good cause, people work. That is my experience. The credit goes not just to me, but to all stakeholders who are working day and night for quality improvement.

1235560990 Going by the book: Gadkari signs a register while inspecting the construction of the Zoji La tunnel in September 2021 | Getty Images

Q The projects require huge investment. How do you arrange the money?

A We have the InvIT (Infrastructure Investment Trust) model. We just launched [InvIT bonds] in the Mumbai stock exchange. Our bond issue was to be open for 10 days, but it was oversubscribed seven times within seven hours. I had to return to Mumbai to stop it. We had enough.

This was the response from the people. If there is credibility, trust and transparency, people will respond.

Q How do you intend to decongest traffic in metros like Delhi?

A We are undertaking projects worth more than Rs65,000 crore, including the Rs9,000-crore Dwarka Expressway, a six-lane urban extension road at a cost of Rs8,000 crore, the Eastern Peripheral Expressway at Rs12,000 crore, and the Delhi Meerut Expressway at a cost of Rs8,000 crore. Work is on for other projects, too.

Q During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, building highways was a major selling point. But it could not win elections. The BJP felt that it needed emotional issues to connect with the people. So, as we saw in 2019, will the 2024 campaign also be a mixture of development, welfarism and hindutva?

A These are all policy issues that the prime minister and the party president will decide. I am not part of that now. But I am confident people will support us and we will win the polls because of our development work―for the country, society and the poor.

Q The opposition parties are getting together. How do you look at their challenge?

A It means that the BJP is too strong. It is difficult for them to defeat the BJP; that is why they are coming together.

Q How do you look at the freebies vs development debate?

A I am focusing on my work. I know what my responsibilities are. I always feel that politics is an instrument for socioeconomic reforms. I am working for society, for the people. It is not my permanent job; it is a job given by the party, the prime minister and the people. Every day, every minute, I try my level best to be useful for the people. [I think about] how I can build good infrastructure, and how I can make lives sustainable.

Q How confident are you of 2024, against the backdrop of the Karnataka results.

A I am fully confident that we will win the majority in the Lok Sabha polls.

Q How do you manage your constituency?

A Every three days, I am in my constituency, meeting people. The meeting time is from 2pm to 5 pm, and around 3,000 people meet me. The people in my constituency are family for me and my workers. Making their lives sustainable is my moral responsibility. My biggest strength is the sincere hard work I do for the people. This is the reason that people cutting across caste, creed, religion and gender support me.

Q You are a foodie, but you also talk about maintaining health. How do you find a balance?

A I enjoy food and listening to music, and being happy about it.

Q Can we, at some point in the future, see Gadkari as a prime ministerial candidate?

A I never think about it and neither do I expect that. I always tell people that politics is an instrument for socioeconomic reforms. My mission is to bring as much sustainable development as possible.