By Shantanu Nandan Sharma and Shubham Mukherjee The Economic Times | Saturday, 29 March 2008
Interview to Shantanu Nandan Sharma and Shubham Mukherjee in The Economic Times
How has been the response to your book? Any call from the Congress or the Left?
No one from the Congress or the Left has called me up for the book, but many people across the parties have praised my effort. Most of the top industrialists in the country attended the book launch functions in Delhi and Mumbai. In Mumbai, over 300 individuals, including top industrialists, attended the function.
Why did you meet Sonia Gandhi? Was it an ice-breaking exercise on the pretext of your book?
No. That was not the reason. I just decided to hand over a copy of my book to the Prime Minister and one to Sonia Gandhi. I did not consult anyone for that matter, and the move was not political at all. Mrs Gandhi was very cordial. I went along with my wife and we had a cup of coffee there.
Why do you think the meeting was politicised?
I dont think Mrs Gandhi was taken into confidence before the Congress decided to speak out on my couresy visit. It would not have been that way then.
Was the launch of the book timed according to the country’s political climate? India may witness general elections anytime this year...
No. I did not know a year back that I would be projected as the Prime Ministerial nominee for the BJP. in the last two to three years, I have not been so active politically, and hence I had more time for myself. My wife and daughter were insisting that I write about my life and I began writing the book.
Do you think we are heading for elections soon?
A few months ago, I thought we will have a mid-term poll, but at present, I feel, elections will be held in 2009 only. Both the Prime Minister and Prakash Karat talk tough on nuke deal, but none of them need to think about their own elections (laugh). The UPA is a prisoner of opportunistic alliances which have diametrically opposite views on economic and foreign policies. Unlike the Left, we are not opposed to friendship with the US, but we do feel that it should be a partnership of equals.
Had the Congress taken you on board from the beginning, would you have supported the deal?
We are opposed to the Hyde Act. Had the Congress consulted us from the beginning, we would have probably found a way out legally. But they were more concerned about the Left. We suggested setting up of a Parliamentary committee but that did not work out.
If the BJP comes to power, what would be your priorities?
We will emphasise on agriculture, irrigation and rural infrastructure. We will continue with the economic reforms. But at the same time, we need to ensure that the gulf between the rich and the poor is not widened.
What do you think of Congress’ projection of Rahul Gandhi as the future leader of the party?
I won’t like to comment on this subject.
But you had earlier commented on Rahul Gandhi?
I said this much that I don’t support dynastic politics.
Are you bringing in new faces to the BJP? It’s widely speculated that you want Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to be your successor.
We have quite a large number of young leaders. We are grooming future leaders. I have not said that Narendra Modi is my successor. We have a number of bright leaders, including Modi. Yes, what he (Mr Modi) has demonstrated in Gujarat by good governance is extraordinary.
BJP’s development agenda back-fired in the previous elections. What will be the agenda this time?
We became over-confident last time. The broad issues this year will be price rise, farmers’ plight and security lapses by the government etc. We will also project the contrast between our coalition and the present UPA. Let people decide which coalition is better.
Are you working on any new alliances? Your relations with the Shiv Sena are not the same...
Nothing as of now. We have good relations with the Sena. I just met up with the Sena chief on my Mumbai visit.
Recently, China has taken an aggressive stand against India. Is India’s response adequate?
Lately, their (Chinese government’s) attitude towards India has changed a lot. Whether it’s the issue of Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet or Dalai Lama, they have become very aggressive. And India’s response to that is not adequate at all
Do you think India is scared of China?
The way we have been handling the Chinese issue clearly conveys that we are scared of them. But that is not necessary. Why should we be scared of them? I used to praise China because they were willing to strengthen the economic ties with India even though border disputes remained. However, things have changed recently. The way they have been claiming Arunachal Pradesh as theirs is not acceptable. What our government has done — it has cancelled Vice-President’s meeting with Dalai Lama! These steps are not justified.