A CHANCE meeting with BJP chief Nitin Gadkari proved to be very productive. But it has left me confused. I found him saying more or less what the leftists uphold. I wondered whether their ideological differences had got rubbed on him and the BJP after their joint boycott of parliament and joint demonstrations over the past few months.

Gadkari too talked about overhauling the system, lifting the living standards of the lower half and criticising the successive governments since independence for not doing anything for the poor. At one stage, he said he was a leftist. Yet he made one thing clear lest he thought he had given me a wrong impression. He is a cent percent RSS pracharak and was proud to be so. “I wear kakhi knickers and I feel elated when I stand in a shaka,” he said.

I felt confused on yet another point. He admitted to the infighting taking place in his party. “They are already staking their claim to the prime minister’s gaddi. I have told them that I am not a candidate.” Yet he had no doubt that his party would lead the next coalition government at the centre.

Gadkari assessed that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would get 200 seats in the 526-member Lok Sabha. At present the NDA’s strength is 114. “Once we cross the figure of 150, you would see how the political parties rush to join the NDA.” He was confident about the Akali Dal’s support and even expected Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK to come to their side.

The BJP president had no hesitation in admitting that his party would need to get the Muslim vote if it wanted to make the majority. Turning towards me, he said: “You people have spread the impression that we are anti-Muslim. The Hindutva does not mean hostility towards Islam. Our priority is nationalism.” I corrected him by saying the country should be the priority, instead of nationalism. He said: “Yes, the country,” and elucidated that Hindutva meant a pluralistic society which took pride in the spirit of accommodation and the sense of tolerance.

And then he singled out the Congress Party for all that had gone wrong with the country. “It is a party of manipulators and conspirators and it was the Congress which had divided the country into secular and non-secular parts.” The Congress had done little for the Muslims either in the field of education, health or employment. It has used them only as a vote bank, he reiterated.

“And see what is happening? They pick up some boys from among the Muslim youth and dub them as terrorists. Certain crimes are framed against them so that a particular act of terrorism had ready-made perpetrators. What choice do the poor Muslims have?” The police has done the greatest harm to the community by filing false cases against them, added Gadkari.

He was, however, vocal about one thing. “If ever India had a Muslim majority, it would be converted into an Islamic state. Islam does not know secularism.” More or less, a similar remark was made by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when I was a member of the Rajya Sabha. “India is secular because it is a Hindu majority state. The day Muslims have a majority, they will convert it into an Islamic stage. See the world over where the Muslims are in a majority.”
Only on Gujarat, did Gadkari make some observations off the record. But he claimed that the state chief minister Narendra Modi would sweep the assembly election once again. “The state is on the top of development in the country,” said Gadkari, in support of his claim.

It was three years ago when I met Gadkari—the only time—when he and I were on the same dais to inaugurate a Marathi newspaper which has folded up since. He recognized me instantly in the waiting lounge of the airport and inquired about my wellbeing. This was in sharp contrast to most Congress leaders, whom I know intimately, just look through me even when I have wanted to talk to them. True, they are politically powerful and make no bones about it. They emit an air of arrogance and authority.

Gadkari was effusive and conversed for half an hour. I found him a down-to-earth person who was miles apart from me ideologically but was not defensive about his views. Even otherwise, I did not find him debating his pronouncements by raising his voice which would have lessened the impact. A gleam in his eyes was at times more expressive than what he said in words. Those in the BJP should know this. I congratulated him for getting another term as the BJP chief. “I pleaded with none. Nor did I stand in the queue to ask for the position. It has come to me without asking for or canvassing,” said Gadkari.

The BJP chief wanted best of relations with Pakistan. “I have told the Pakistanis that both of us should live peacefully as neighbours and jointly fight against poverty. They are wasting money on buying weapons and so on. Imagine the crop the two countries can reap if the money is diverted towards ploughs, tools and technology, instead of guns, tanks and ammunition,” he said. Yet, he made it clear that the greatest enemy of the world was Muslim fundamentalism and he was sorry to see Pakistan getting contaminated by it.

Gadkari does not like China. Even during his visit to the country, he said, he was unhappy because “they think no end of themselves.” He has been hurt by some anti-India remarks he had heard. “We can become friends of Pakistan, but not China which has unlimited ambitions,” said Gadkari. These were, more or less, the words which Lal Bahadur Shastri had used when he, as Home Minister, visited the forward areas after the India-China war in 1962. I was his press officer.

I had to end my roving conversation with the BJP chief because the plane had landed at Delhi. “Whenever you want I can come down to your house and resume our talk,” said Gadkari in his earthy way.