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Manifesto not the last word: Arun Jaitley

Saturday, 12 April 2014 - 6:05am IST | Place: Amritsar | Agency: dna

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley has indicated that the NDA could come out with a national agenda saying every coalition government runs on a common minimum programme.

In an exclusive interview to dna's Amita Shah during his campaign trail in Amritsar, the key BJP strategist who is likely to be the finance minister if Narendra Modi takes charge at the Centre, spoke on a range of issues from the party manifesto to his first experience of fighting the Lok Sabha polls.

On core issues — Ram temple, uniform civil code and Article 370 — in the BJP manifesto, Jaitley said while the party's faith in them remained undiluted, the agenda of this election is predominantly governance.
Jaitley, whose mother is from Amritsar and father from Lahore, dismissed the "outsider" tag, saying he was more of an "insider" than Congress' Amarinder Singh, who is pitted against him, besides AAP's Daljit Singh, a doctor.

Edited excerpts:

How do you feel... fighting Lok Sabha polls for the first time?
The heat and dust of a Lok Sabha election is different from that of Rajya Sabha. For somebody like me who has had various kinds of political experience, contesting a direct election was missing. If that were to come then that in itself is a good experience in life. Political experience is incomplete without it.

In your manifesto you have reiterated the uniform civil code. Does that make your ally, the Akali Dal, uncomfortable?
Our formula is for gender equality. But anyway it is the BJP manifesto.

Do you mean the NDA will come out with a Common Minimum Programme?
Normally, when you have an alliance government, it has a national agenda and it runs on a common minimum programme.

You have also included other core issues like Ram temple. But neither you nor Modi or any leader is talking about it. Why these mixed signals?
Every election sets its own agenda. Our faith in our core issues remains intact. That's not diluted. But, every election throws up its own agenda. And in this election, it's the issue of governance that dominates the scene... because of the Congress misrule.

There are reports that Walmart will open more stores in India... How do you propose to go about barring FDI in multi-brand retail?
Once the government starts functioning, we will decide on that.

Your manifesto touches on a range of issues but on most points it goes into generalities rather than specifics...
A manifesto has to indicate direction of policy domain. It's not a budget document.

The election appears to be getting polarised, particularly in UP. Congress' Imran Masood as well as your leaders Amit shah and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan CM) have been accused of playing divisive politics. How do you see it?
I see nothing objectionable with what Amit Shah has said. He has asked people to vote against the SP or the Congress. The code of conduct has to be balanced with free speech.

Are you reaching out to more allies?
Our target is to get as many parties on board before or after polls.

What do you see as an advantage in Amritsar?
It's a combination of three things. The BJP-Akali Dal is a powerful social combination. Then the groundswell of support to make Narendra Modi the prime minister will help and thirdly the kind of affection and support I have got is unexpected. People are reasonably certain that a non-Congress government will come to power. They believe that in case there is a Modi-led government, they should have a powerful voice in Delhi and I probably qualify for that. So, the constituency's interests will be best served by me...

What challenges do you face?
It's too long a campaign to sustain its momentum. Our campaign has more momentum than the Congress'.

Aren't you seen as an outsider?
I am more an insider than Amarinder (Singh). I have my roots here. He has none.

Will the anti-incumbency against the ruling Akali Dal government hurt your prospects?
There may be some minor irritants but this is a Lok Sabha election.

What would be your first priority here if you get elected?
There are a lot of challenges. It's a city that has the advantage of religious tourism. This city can sustain itself on tourism alone with the Golden Temple, Jallianwalla Bagh and the border among other attractions.

The city gets about a lakh tourists daily. They stay for a day and then return. So, Amritsar needs better infrastructure, highways and improved preservation of monuments. We need to create additional tourist centres, food streets, amusement parks and attractions near rivers. Once you attract tourists for more than a day, it will have a spiral effect.

Expansion of tourism is doable. We are on the verge of expanding border trade. That needs a push. That will make Amritsar the hub of international trade.

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