‘No rule on BJP leaders retiring at 75 years’ : The Tribune India

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‘No rule on BJP leaders retiring at 75 years’

‘No rule on BJP leaders retiring at 75 years’

Mukesh Aggarwal

The Tribune interview: Rajnath Singh, Union Defence Minister

As the voting for 379 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 constituencies concluded on Monday, BJP veteran and Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh exuded confidence in the ruling party’s third consecutive victory. In an exclusive interview with Aditi Tandon and Ajay Banerjee, Rajnath Singh dwelt on a range of issues from elections and politics to India’s position along the LAC. Excerpts:

Your assessment after four phases of polling?

We are moving towards the target of 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha.

How do you see the drop in voter turnout?

The Opposition’s voter base is disenchanted and has reconciled to the fact that they are not in a position to form the government. The drop signals Opposition’s failure to mobilise support.

You hit saturation in most parts in 2019. Where are you gaining seats?

In Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal and Assam. We are sweeping Chhattisgarh, opening our account in Kerala, doing better in Tamil Nadu and gaining in Andhra.

The Opposition has promised a caste census.

The Opposition must refrain from playing divisive politics. The purpose of politics is not government formation. It is nation-building. Why the Congress did not conduct a caste census when it was in power?

The BJP is also raking up Hindu-Muslim, Pakistan.

Our politics is not based on caste or creed. It is based on justice and humanity. The Congress should stop confusing minorities with the promise of religion-based reservations because the Constitution doesn’t allow it. We are only stating the truth that religion-based quotas are not permissible.

The BJP is also saying the Congress will snatch people’s jewels. Their manifesto doesn’t say that.

Sometimes you have to say things in a simple language to make people understand.

The Opposition claims the BJP wants 400 seats to scrap quotas.

The question of scrapping the SC/ST and OBC reservation doesn’t arise. As for changing the Constitution, the Congress changed the Constitution 80 times. They didn’t even spare its soul, the Preamble.

Your view on poll-time freebies?

We didn’t offer any freebies in our manifesto. We believe in socially empowering the deprived. In two terms, PM Narendra Modi raised the quality of life of the citizens and lifted 25 crore out of poverty. Our social empowerment schemes will continue.

On what strengths are you eyeing a third term?

The BJP’s greatest strength is its credibility. We delivered what we promised. The crisis of credibility arises when words and deeds don’t match.

The Congress says the BJP won’t cross 150 seats.

The Congress is not even a principal challenger to the BJP in this election. We currently have no challenger. The INDI Alliance is only in the name. In Delhi, AAP and the Congress are together, while in Punjab, they are at daggers drawn.

Kejriwal says if elected, PM Modi will retire at 75 and hand over the baton to Amit Shah?

This talk is grossly irrational… “fitoor hai”. I was BJP president when the debate on age was held. There’s no age bar in the BJP constitution. We have fielded candidates who are above 75. Why should there be any bar for those who can deliver?

LK Advani retired after 75.

He is a highly revered leader. You know he was unwell.

What after Ram Mandir, Article 370 abrogation and the UCC?

By 2027, India will become the world’s third largest economy and by 2047, it will be a developed nation.

In hindsight, were farm laws a mistake?

People demanded the withdrawal of farm laws and we repealed them. The MSP for farm produce was raised by 50-75 per cent in our term.

Then why is there distrust?

The distrust is politically motivated.

The Congress says 2024 will be BJP’s 2004 India Shining moment?

Times have changed. We have worked very hard. The Indian economy has jumped from 11th to 5th position and will be third largest by 2027.

Many surveys say unemployment and inflation are major issues.

Employment opportunities have surged also. Inflation is a global phenomenon. Where other countries have been wrecked by inflation, we have managed to insulate India. That’s a success.

Why is the BJP not contesting LS poll in Kashmir?

That’s part of the party’s larger poll strategy in J&K.

You completed five years as Defence Minister, how do you see the LAC standoff?

The commander-level talks are on and for now, the process is positive. Let’s see what would be the outcome.

How big a threat is China?

We don’t see any country as a threat. We are getting positive signals from the ongoing talks.

Since May 2020 and post-Galwan, you told forces to hold positions at the LAC. Are all positions being held?

Yes, we are holding all positions.

In 2020 when the stand-off started, you moved forces. It changed the focus to look northwards. How important is the change?

I see this as an achievement of the forces. They have shown valour. The country’s prestige and borders have been protected and whatever the forces have done during the India-China conflict needs to be praised.

You have personal ties with your US counterpart Lloyd Austin. He recently said “a new chapter” in the US-India military relations is set to begin?

We will make the GE 414 engine (for Tejas Mark 2) in India. We are also looking at more projects.

Are we seen tilting towards the US or are we neutral?

We are not in any camp. We want to have good relations with all countries.

So we are not aligning with the US or Russia?

Not at all. But in future as strategic needs arise, we will take a decision as per India’s interests.

After 10 years of the Modi government, is Pakistan a threat?

Pakistan is not a threat to us.

Can you give a timeline for theatre commands.

All three services have agreed to the concept. We are trying to get it done quickly, but I will not give a timeline for now.

There is upheaval in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

I have been saying this, we don’t need to do anything to capture PoK. The situation will be such that people there would want to be part of India.

You have said you are open to changes in the Agnipath scheme, if needed?

Any scheme is open to refinement. The Agnipath scheme is good. Once four years are complete (in 2026), people will realise this. I can assure the future of Agniveers will be secure.

Defence exports have grown to more than Rs 21,000 crore. What are the export targets?

Full credit to the policies of the PM. By 2029-30, defence exports should be more than Rs 50,000 crore and the domestic production would be Rs 2 lakh crore.

Your targets if you get to be Defence Minister again in case of BJP win?

That is the government’s decision. I have been a minister for long.

#BJP #Lok Sabha #Rajnath Singh

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