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Nitin Gadkari is just being himself — critical, outspoken & unapologetic

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His recent remarks have created a stir but Nitin Gadkari has a reputation of saying what he feels needs to be said without necessarily working to a design.

New Delhi: Union Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nitin Gadkari has done it yet again. His outspoken statement Sunday that leaders who show dreams but don’t fulfil them get “thrashed” has sent ripples across the political circle, reviving speculation that Gadkari may be making a bid to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

The former BJP president’s string of ambiguously worded but tough statements in the past few months — from saying that the “leadership should own up to defeat and failures” to warning that “you can’t win elections only because you speak well” — have been construed as jibes at the Prime Minister.

Although he has claimed his statements are being distorted, there is a view that this is a strategy by Gadkari to take on Modi and party president Amit Shah, particularly following the series of electoral defeats as well as loss of allies that the BJP has faced.

While much is being made of his remarks, Gadkari is just being Gadkari.

The Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways has a reputation of being blunt, and sometimes even brutal, mincing no words and saying what he feels needs to be said at the moment, not necessarily working to a design.

He spares nobody from his straight talk and, in fact, it is his own party that has often been at the receiving end of it. His comments in the last few months have drawn much attention and are being seen in a certain context, thanks to a frenzied poll season. But this is hardly a new avatar of Gadkari, whose unapologetic remarks have always generated a buzz and left many baffled.

Also read: Politicians who sell dreams, but fail to deliver get thrashed by public, says Nitin Gadkari

The ‘Gadkari’ style

Consider this. Soon after he was elected the BJP president — becoming the youngest ever — Gadkari made a splash at the party’s National Executive in Indore in February 2010.

“The problems in the party are not because of small workers but those whom it has given much,” Gadkari said in his inaugural address. “They will have to think whether their political career is important or political ideology and spread of the party.

“While projecting your line as bigger, you should not do anything that would make lines of others smaller,” he added, in a reference to differences within the party.

What made many in the party particularly uneasy about these statements was that they came in the backdrop of two consecutive defeats for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections — in 2004 and 2009 — led by the party’s senior leadership under late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and veteran L.K. Advani.

It was among the first instances of classic Gadkari plain speak at least at the national level.

Or take this other example. At ThePrint’s Off the Cuff with Shekhar Gupta in February 2016, Gadkari rolled out some gems.

“We (BJP) have a manufacturing defect. When I entered politics I was a student leader so we used to burn effigies, court arrest, show black flags,” he said when the BJP government was just months short of completing two years in power. “So many people in our party are disturbed because we are made to be an opposition party. Our DNA is that of an opposition party. Unfortunately, we have not adopted the mentality of a ruling party.”

He also poked fun at the many talking heads claiming to represent the BJP and the Sangh world-view, saying only senior leaders should be taken seriously and not anyone clad in “saffron clothes” speaking on TV.

Bordering on the insensitive

His statements have often been more than just blunt, venturing into delicate territory and inviting much controversy.

In December last year, his insensitive remarks on the transgender community drew much flak. “Even a transgender would bear children but an irrigation scheme in Maharashtra’s Sangli district would never be completed,” he said.

Or take his threat to contractors, for instance. “I told many big contractors that if the quality of roads you build is bad, I will put them under a bulldozer,” Gadkari had said last month.

In January 2018, Gadkari earned the wrath of the Indian Navy when he questioned their need to stay in posh areas.

“Actually, Navy is needed at the borders from where terrorists sneak in. Why does everyone (in the Navy) want to stay in South Mumbai? I will not give them an inch of land,” he said at a public event, much to the horror of his party that always touts the interests of its armed forces as its key concern. “We do respect the navy, but you should go to the Pakistan border and do patrolling.”

He hasn’t quite spared the film industry either, claiming veteran actor Asha Parekh was “chasing” him for a Padma Bhushan.

Also read: Why Nitin Gadkari could be India’s next prime minister

The ‘doer’

It is, in fact, Gadkari’s no-holds-barred approach that has also earned him the reputation of being a doer, and an able administrator.

He earned the moniker of ‘the flyover man’ after successfully pushing through several infrastructure projects — the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and a series of flyovers in Mumbai — as PWD Minister of Maharashtra from 1995-1999 in the Sena-BJP coalition government. A lot of these projects were implemented despite opposition from certain quarters.

Gadkari is known to do some crisp, plain talking, which he believes is a must to get work done. How his reputation as a ‘doer’ precedes him is apparent from the portfolios he holds in this government — Road Transport and Highways, Shipping as well as Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.

Thus, while his blunt talk has, at times, facilitated his role as an implementer, it has also often led to a storm and much conjecture.

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  1. Gentleman has friends in high places. Even so, undermining the only asset the party possesses as it heads into an increasingly forbidding election may prove costly.

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