Fighting perhaps what may be the toughest and most significant political battles of his career, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari has taken umbrage to ally Shiv Sena's vitriol against him after he reached out to Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) requesting it not to put up candidates in the Lok Sabha polls to prevent a division in the anti- Congress vote.
Gadkari, who has a business empire in Vidarbha, told Dhaval Kulkarni that the Sena needed to hold its horses when it came to criticising the BJP and its leaders to ensure that the relations between the allies remained smooth.
Gadkari, who initiated large-scale construction of roads through the privatisation route in his tenure as PWD minister in the erstwhile Sena-BJP government, stuck to his contention that the promise by senior BJP and Sena leaders, including his rival in the party Gopinath Munde, to scrap toll if elected to power was unviable.
You are contesting from Nagpur, which is a traditional Congress seat. How do you hope to breach this stronghold? What will be the state and national scenario according to you?
I have been working in Nagpur for 35 years. I feel we will get 30 to 40 seats in Vidarbha and the NDA will come to power in the country.
Your outreach to MNS chief Raj Thackeray earned you the ire of the Sena.
Basically, I tried to ensure the benefit of the BJP-Shiv Sena and Mahayuti in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena and BJP had declared their candidates and hence, there was no question of roping in a new alliance partner. I had requested them (MNS) not to contest and this would have helped the Sena and the BJP. However, unnecessary misunderstandings occurred. This is a closed chapter now.
Sena leaders and even the party mouthpiece Saamna launched a vitriolic attack on you. Do you think the Sena overreacted to your initiative?
Such criticism used to occur even when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the prime minister. I feel that if the BJP-Sena relationship is to remain good, such comments and criticism, especially from the Sena, must be avoided. I tried to ensure that the BJP-Sena's seat tally went up. However, if they do not want this benefit, I have no need to initiate it.
Party leaders like Gopinath Munde say that if elected to power, the Mahayuti will abolish toll. What's your take?
If we want to close down toll, we will have to pay compensation and this will need entire funds from the budget for a couple of years to be diverted for the purpose, leaving no money for any other work. Perhaps, Munde saheb may have something in mind. However, where there is lack of transparency, action must be taken.
There are indications that the old guard in the BJP is at war with the new order. Please comment.
This is a democratic party, hence such things will happen. Some people (Jaswant Singh) are angry at being denied nominations. It would have been good if such things had been avoided.
Detractors say your party is gradually developing a personality cult (centred around PM nominee Narendra Modi). What do you think?
There is no personality cult in the BJP. The party's credo puts the nation and party before the self. We do not believe in propagating cults centred around individuals.
What will be the impact of the AAP?
They make irresponsible allegations and even Anna Hazare has asked them to desist from making charges without evidence. Their credibility among the people is finished. They do not have a cognisable presence in Nagpur.