Editor’s Note: Firstpost editors Sandip Roy and Lakshmi Chaudhry report on the ultimate celebrity conference. A five star line up of authors, intellectuals, biz tycoons, actors, politicians and more have gathered at the Grand Hyatt in Goa as part of Thinkfest. Co-organized by Tehelka and Newsweek, this haute version of TED brings together an eclectic and intriguing range of A-list names, from Nobel peace prize winning Leymah Gbowee to Omar Abdullah to author Siddhartha Muherjee to Arvind Kejriwal. Their reports on some of the most interesting conversations continue.
The big idea that drives me
Nitin Gadkari started his political career as a grassroots worker for the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP. He holds a Diploma in Business Management, apart from a law degree and a Master’s in Commerce, all acquired in his hometown of Nagpur.
As Cabinet Minister of Public Works in Maharashtra between 1995-99, he was the moving force behind the construction of over 55 flyovers in Mumbai alone, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and connecting over 13,000 villages in Maharashtra to each other by road. In policy terms, he is widely credited with introducing the concept of Public-Private Partnership in infrastructure development, clearing the way for the Build-Operate-Transfer model on which a significant portion of infrastructure projects are based today.
In conversation with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, he spoke not as BJP president but as an individual politician, dwelling on his career and its achievements.
It was a different Nitin Gadkari on view in Goa. Funny, relaxed and charming, he revealed his softer side. And here’s the funny thing, his inner idealist sounded at times like a retro socialist. As he joked, “My friends in the CPI(M) will look at the work I do and say that I’m leftist.”
There was no talk of rising India but of poverty, hunger and unemployment. “We’re a rich nation with a poor population,” he said. He repeatedly shied away from taking the staple BJP lines. Asked to define nationalism, he said, “I want to work for poor people. That to me is nationalism.”
Hindutva? “Main mandir jata nahin. Puja nahin karta,” he said, “It is a way of life. Not about religion.”
On Pakistan: “Mein dil se Pakistan ki pragati chahta hoon,” he said, expressing sympathy for its various socio-economic problems, and promised that he will “100 percent go to Pakistan if invited.” As he put it, “If your friend is doing well, then so are you.”
Asked why the BJP opposed the nuclear deal, Gadkari ducked the question and touted instead the greater benefits of bio-fuels and solar energy, claiming they were cheaper and safer. Surely, he said, if the world is rethinking the benefits of nuclear energy, so should we. Nitin Gadkari, eco-warrior.
Pressed on Advani’s Rath Yatra, he said merely, “Well, it is one of the many ways available to reach out to the people.” He was much more excited talking about his Twitter account and his plan to equip his Lok Sabha campaign workers with “iPods” – well, actually iPads. But never mind the iConfusion.
He was much more vocal when it came to defending Narendra Modi at length as a great man without a communal bone in his body. Well, we don’t need to guess who Gadkari is backing for PM.