12 September 2019
New Delhi: The performer, the go-getter and accessible to all -- that's the image Union Minister Nitin Gadkari carries. But there are indications to suggest that the Narendra Modi government may be out to contain him.
1. Gadkari left alone defending MVA:
The amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, which sharply increased fines on traffic violations, were objected to by not just the Congress-ruled Rajasthan or the TMC-ruled West Bengal, but at least three BJP-ruled states. The first among them was Modi's Gujarat.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani held a press conference to announce that his government had reduced the fines. While the new Act stipulated a fine of Rs 1,000 for riding without a helmet, the Gujarat government halved it. Rupani also slashed the penalty for driving without a licence from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2,000 in the state.
Interestingly, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019, passed by Parliament in July, has been advertised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as one of its 'achievements' in the first 100 days in power.
Other BJP-ruled states, like Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, soon walked the populist path. They either came up with announcements or indicated they wanted to water down the amended Act. Maharashtra Transport Minister Diwakar Raote also urged the centre to "reconsider and reduce" the "exorbitant" penalties.
Significantly, Gadkari hails from the state, which is ruled by the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.
Meanwhile, the Goa Transport Minister said, "We will enforce the amended fines from January 2020", leaving Gadkari alone to defend the amendment that he says he stands by.
2. PMO says, stop making roads:
One of the biggest accomplishment of Gadkari in Modi 1.0 was his delivery of key road projects. So much so that he is often referred to (jocularly) as 'Roadkari'. According to those who have visited the spacious room in the Road Transport Ministry where Gadkari sits, there is a wall hanging that reads, "American roads are good not because America is rich. America is rich because American roads are good."
But the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) recently urged the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to stop building roads.
In a August 17 letter, Nripendra Misra, then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, wrote to Sanjeev Ranjan, Secretary of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, "Road infrastructure has become financially unviable, private investors and construction companies are withdrawing from greenfield projects".
Mishra, known to be eyes and ears of PM Modi, called the NHAI "totally log-jammed by an unplanned and excessive expansion of roads and it's mandated to pay much higher costs for land acquisition and construction." He also asked the NHAI to ensure that new roads were commercially viable.
In other words, a speed breaker was put to the NHAI, which was on a speed never seen before and appreciated even by the opposition.
Since 2014, Gadkari had revived Rs 1 lakh crore stalled highways projects. From 12 km a day in 2014-15, the construction reached 27 km a day in 2017-18. He envisioned a "Bharatmala" project under which many expressways, like the Delhi-Jaipur, the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra and the Vadodara-Mumbai, were planned.
3. Gadkari dropped from GoM:
One and a half months into the new government, the panel to decide on sale of Air India was reconstituted and Gadkari was dropped. The new panel has four Ministers -- Amit Shah (as the head), Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce & Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Earlier it had five Ministers.
When the Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM), as it's known, was first constituted in June 2017, it had five members and was headed by then Finance Minister late Arun Jaitley.
In the new cabinet power equations also changed. Earlier, the meeting would take place at the Finance Ministry where Jaitley would sit. With Shah around, it started convening at the MHA, where Shah sits.
As many as two BJP leaders, one Rajya Sabha member who is from the opposition, and one top bureaucrat who has worked with Gadkari, whom IANS spoke to, said on condition of anonymity that these were not isolated incidents.
The bureaucrat said, Gadkari's office would see visits by opposition Chief Ministers as much as those of the NDA. According to him, once a not-so-high-profile opposition MP from South dropped in to request a small stretch of road in his constituency that would connect it to the main road and cut down on travel time. Gadkari immediately sanctioned it.
At the fag end of Modi's first tenure, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi thumped her desk in Parliament in an act of support when an MP praised Gadkari for his "wonderful" work. Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress) as well as other opposition leaders too joined in. It's a rarity in today' fiercely animated discourse in the House.
But after three strong indications within a year, each stronger than the previous, many are left wondering whether Gadkari has been contained by the BJP?