What is your mission statement?
Main to chala jidhar chale rasta, mujhe kya pata kahan meri manzil (I go wherever the roads lead me, I don’t know where my destination is). That is how my story is.
In my life, I have got a lot from my party, my ideology. As party president, I used to hold three things dear—nationalism, good governance and development, antyodaya (uplift of the weakest section). Whatever best in these areas I can deliver to the country, I must. That is my mission.
Who is your inspiration?
My mother, Bhanutai Gadkari, was a big social worker and ran a school for the poor. She used to work for the Jana Sangh. I am from a family related to a king, but our circumstances deteriorated. Still, feeding the poor and helping them was her nature.
I consider [Atal Bihari] Vajpayeeji and George Fernandes my icons. The RSS and the Vidyarthi Parishad are my inspiration. I have seen many big people do service to the nation.
How do you view politics?
I believe that politics is an instrument of socioeconomic transformation. So, I work just for that. I do not have much of a political swabhav (political nature). I have never indulged in chhal kapat (wheeling dealing), gutbazi (factionalism), makkhan nahin lagaya (was never a sycophant) and I did not take my biodata to anyone. I have not changed the way I dress, I have not changed my nature. If people do not like me the way I am, let them not.
What is the BJP doing to win the trust of the dalits and Muslims?
It is a case of image versus reality, and ground reality versus perception. The BJP is not anti-Muslim or anti-dalit. Projecting us that way is the agenda of our rivals, for vote-bank politics. We do not do caste politics. Dalit, peedit (oppressed) and the poor are for whom we want antyodaya.
One crore people ply cycle-rickshaws. I decided that this inhuman act must stop, and gave them mechanised rickshaws. I went up to the Supreme Court, made laws, and today I am happy that the beneficiaries of the mechanised rickshaws are mostly dalits and Muslims. Poverty does not know caste and religion.
What has been the biggest challenge for you?
The time I felt hurt, even though I was not at fault, was, when I was [BJP] president, I was hounded [about the Purti Group]. Nothing came of it. I was not looking for a second term, and I did not even want to become president in the first place. So, I said, if the party is in difficulty because of me, I will leave the post. Truly speaking, I had set up the sugar factory because farmers there were committing suicide. I felt I should leave politics and go back to the village.
Tell us about a work that gave you satisfaction.
I believe that politics is not only for power, but for social uplift, national uplift and development. I am happy when I find people benefiting from my work.
Now, this 14-lane road connecting [Meerut to] the NCR has been built. So many people have told me that I have saved them one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. They said they were obliged to me. I have not obliged anyone. It is people’s money, spent for the people’s benefit.
You underplay your political role. You built a BJP government in Goa.
In Goa, all the parties that were elected had faith in me. I landed there at midnight and asked them what can happen and how it can. They said do this. I spoke to Manoharji (Parrikar) and Amit Shah. By 6am, I had prepared the whole deal, at 7am it was signed, and the government was made. The Congress prabhari (in-charge) woke up at 8.30am and realised the government had been formed.
Do you think you could have formed a government in Karnataka, like you did in Goa?
We should have estimated whether we could form the government or not. The other thing is that after the court decision, the Congress and the JD(S) [Janata Dal] went into hiding. But, it is true that many were angry and wanted to leave those parties. In politics, all decisions are not successful. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
How do you get along with your opponents?
Many of my opponents, hardcore opponents of the BJP, like (Oommen) Chandy of Kerala, Mamata Banerjee, (Arvind) Kejriwal, have a good word for me. The reason is, whatever work anyone wants of me, if it is in my hands, if it is legal, I try to do it. Besides, I am transparent. I have awarded contracts for 010 lakh crore. Not one contractor has come to me, and I have not taken a rupee from anyone. I did it through e-governance. Tender opens at 10am, and the order is given at 1pm. I do not play politics with anyone. Even my driver, my secretary, my staff, all are happy with me. I believe the biggest strength of politics is human relationship. I do not calculate in relationships.
Do you think the Shiv Sena and the BJP will be allies in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
In Maharashtra, there is no ideological difference between the Shiv Sena and us. Balasaheb Thackeray was a largehearted, firebrand leader. He loved me a lot. He was outspoken, just like I am. Even now, I believe that if the BJP and the Shiv Sena stay together, it will be good for Maharashtra and India.
Are you doing anything towards that?
No, and I will not. The work given to me is my department, and my energy, strength, all go into it. But, if the party wants me to do something small, I [will] do it. I do not interfere in any state affairs, do not get involved with organisational matters. I have so many departments under me, and I have so much of work to do that I start at 8am and finish by midnight.
Will the party make you prime minister in the near future?
There is no possibility. I do not dream of it either. I do not have the stature. And I have got much more than I had ever imagined or deserved.
What does the BJP want in Kashmir?
The development of Kashmir is the BJP’s agenda. I have given Rs 60,000 crore to Kashmir, by way of roads and tunnels. We want to take industry to Kashmir, we want the poor boys of Kashmir to get jobs, we want improvement in the IT industry and in tourism. Pakistan wants to keep Kashmir unstable.
We will not tolerate it if people live in India and display Pakistani flags. Stay in India and we will do whatever you want. We will live like a family, we are one blood, one history, one heritage. You go to the masjid, and do namaz, we have no reservations about that.
How do you view the opposition unity being forged?
We are growing stronger and stronger, therefore [there is] opposition unity.
Do you see Rahul Gandhi growing as a leader?
My best wishes are with him. A strong opposition is imperative to a democracy. God willing, he should work well.
When you became minister, you were optimistic about waterways for passenger and freight traffic.
I have started work on 10 waterways. From Varanasi to Haldia—1,680km—work started with Rs 5,400 crore World Bank funding. We are making four multimodal hubs. In October, I will inaugurate the hub at Varanasi. We have made 60 river ports. We have launched the river traffic control system between Patna and Haldia. The next will be Varanasi to Allahabad. By the [time of the] Kumbh [Mela] in 2019, we will start passenger traffic, auto traffic. In similar line, we have started work in 10 rivers. [From] the funds we got for roads, we diverted 2.5 per cent of it—Rs 2,000 crore—to waterways. My aim is to develop 7,500km of coastline and 20,000km of inland waterways for passenger and freight traffic. This will take time, but will happen. The reality can be sampled on the Ganga very soon.
How do you see the BJP faring in the assembly elections due later this year?
If anyone from those states come home, I help. Or if the party president gives me some work there, I [will] do [it]. But, I am confident that the work done by this government under [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi will get us good results, making us win.
What are the qualities of Modi that you like?
One is that he works for 18 hours. The next is that he has a vision. He is a decisive leader. He has a tremendous feeling towards villagers, the poor and the labourers; he has affection for them. He has gone all over the world and raised India’s prestige, name and respect a lot.
But, now, our relationship with the US and China seems not good.
In international politics, sometimes there are happy tidings, and some other time there is tension. It is part of the game.
How do you see the BJP faring in the Lok Sabha elections?
Ten crore people have got gas cylinders under the Ujjwala Yojana, 25 crore people have Jan-Dhan accounts, and we have implemented schemes to bring more land under irrigation—1.88 crore acres. All this will pay off.
Not everything can be done to 100 per cent satisfaction. When some work gets done, people’s expectations increase. The Congress and the Gandhi family got almost 50 years. I can confidently say that what they could not do in that time, we did in four and a half years. We have more to get done, and we will do that, and take the country forward.
Demonetisation and tardy implementation of the GST have had an adverse effect.
Because of GST, we have got so much more revenue; tax chori (fraud) has reduced. This money will be used for the development of people. Black money has slowly shut shop. We have control over the stashing away of money abroad. Demonetisation made people realise that the parallel economy will not work.
But, there has been a fresh surge in deposits in Swiss banks in 2017.
That money is on account of our economy’s growth. It is legal money.
Are you satisfied with your work?
I never am. I keep increasing my target. There is no shortage of funds. We have awarded works worth Rs 10 lakh crore, but I feel I have to do work worth Rs 25 lakh crore in five years. The Sagarmala [flagship programme for port-led development] work alone is worth Rs 16 lakh crore, and Bharatmala [highway development programme] has work worth Rs 7.5 lakh crore. I feel this will help employ people, and make the country progress. These are my concerns too, not [only] my family. In fact, no one from my family has ever asked me for a party ticket. I am against dynasty [politics].
You have focused hugely on road safety. Any personal reason?
That has been my biggest failure. There are five lakh accidents [every year], and 1.5 lakh people get killed. I had decided that I will save at least half of them. That has not happened. And, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill is yet to be passed. Around 20 to 30 per cent of driving licences are bogus and I am not able to investigate those. With my efforts, it has reduced just by 7 to 8 per cent.
How difficult is it to deal with the bureaucracy?
I have good relations with all. If they convince me, I go along with them. If they are wrong, I hold my ground. They also know that I have no vested interest. So they cooperate.
Do you have any, even an advisory role, in the Purti Group?
I have left it completely.