New Delhi: Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party, can be termed as one of the fittest politicians in the country. This former college teacher became the youngest legislator in the Bihar state assembly in 1990 at the age of 26.
Later he won the Lok Sabha election from Chhapra in Bihar and was inducted as federal Minister of State for Commerce and Industry in 1996. Rudy's calling came when he was elevated as Civil Aviation Minister with independent charge in the National Democratic Alliance government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He initiated several reforms that had sweeping effects.
He lost to Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad in 2004 and was nominated by the BJP to the Rajya Sabha.
Gulf News met the articulate leader at his Shah Jahan Road residence for an exclusive interview.
GULF NEWS: You recently said that the government should launch an all-out offensive on Maoists and that the BJP will support the government.
RAJIV PRATAP RUDY: The menace of terror now has far-reaching consequences. Irrespective of governments in place and their failures or success, if terrorism succeeds, then democracy as an institution would collapse. And that's what we have addressed by supporting the government. Other issues and modalities can come later. But as of now, we stand by the government in the fight against the Naxalites.
Are there any issues you personally disagree upon with the current government irrespective of the party's line of thought?
As BJP's official spokesperson, I cannot have an independent opinion. But yes, generally speaking, there are issues of appeasement — reservation policies that are based on religion and the way the government wanted to set aside the Supreme Court order on the IMDT Act (Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals) on the issue of infiltration. Then there are larger aspects where they compromise nationalism for want of votes. We had a level of disagreement on the process adopted for the nuclear deal. And have been hitting hard on the United Progressive Alliance government on policies related to China — its intrusion and infiltration. And also on how we are deepening our stand on certain diplomatic issues.
On the economic front, the government has failed miserably despite the fact that we have an economist as the Prime Minister. Off and on, the government has tried to hoodwink the nation on issues that concern the common man.
It was interesting to note that the Aisha [Seddiqi]-Shoaib [Malek]-Sania [Mirza] episode figured among the BJP's ‘core concerns' at a function organised on the party's foundation day.
I'm not aware that this had been discussed. But the broad reference must have been brought in when picked up by the media. But it does not deserve the attention and I don't think it can be discussed beyond that. It does not concern us at all.
What's BJP's gameplan for the forthcoming assembly elections in Bihar?
We are jointly going ahead with the Janata Dal (United), which has been our partner. The BJP has a strong presence in Bihar and we have given a new direction to the State. We have just made a beginning and a lot needs to be done.
Is the party doing something about the ‘sulking' Shatrughan Sinha and the ‘silent' Shanawaz Hussain, who are not happy with party President Nitin Gadkari's new team?
I would outright reject any aspersion on the functioning of Nitin Gadkari.
Does the BJP have plans to take back the disgruntled leaders — Kalyan Singh, Govindacharya and Uma Bharti?
I'm clueless about it. No one has discussed it with me, nor have I tried to find out. I am not privy to any action on this front.
Your term in the Rajya Sabha expires in July and there's all likelihood of your re-nomination. Any particular issue close to your heart that you'd raise in the Parliament?
I keep raising issues and poverty is one. I strongly feel that many problems of the country are the outcome of the political thought-process. We, politicians have completely failed the nation on poverty front. My core areas of interest are aviation, poverty, environment and infrastructure. I worked hard during my days as civil aviation minister and although I had only one year to spend there, I introduced several reforms. And you'll agree that post-Madhav Rao Scindia, this country witnessed the first dose of civil aviation reforms during the last phase of the Vajpayee government.
You had simplified the rules. As a result even the common man can fly now.
Not only that, Delhi and Mumbai airports were privatised and Greenfield projects were launched in Bangalore and Hyderabad. We launched low-cost carriers, allowed private airlines to fly international and revised the charter policy. While in 2003 there were only 250 charters, there are about 1,800 now. The country then witnessed a growth of 40-45 per cent in domestic and international sector. Unfortunately, post 2007-2008, when the boost of the initial reforms ended, the government did not do anything to spur the largest and the fastest growing sector in the country. And what we see today is completely the reverse of what we had created.
Reforms in the civil aviation sector have been put on hold. A pause button has been pressed. The impetus, the incentive, which should have continued because it gives connectivity, improves economic activity and provides large source of employment, is lost. Today we have 5,000 young unemployed commercial pilots. The airlines are in the red, except a couple of them.
What's your take on the Air India (AI) and Indian Airlines (IA) merger and de-merger plans?
We opposed the merger from the beginning. AI and IA were mammoth organisations, having a different culture and both spoiled to the core in the last 60 years. The biggest error the present government has made was to agree to the merger. There is no way now that they can retrieve the organisations. They will keep pumping millions of rupees into it, because it's the flagship company of the country. IA was doing much better than AI, which never had the capacity to fly international. Now they have both collapsed. (Global consultants) Accenture has completely messed up the situation. They claimed to make profit of Rs10 billion (Dh825 billion) in 2010, but have already incurred a loss of Rs50 billion. There is complete demoralisation in both organisations and in the last three years, except the names, nothing has merged!
Had you been the civil aviation minister for more time, what other reforms would you have brought in?
In politics, merit is a stand-by affair; positioning matters. It's not necessary that if you are meritorious, you always get an opportunity. It is given irrespective of merit. I don't think it will happen again.
Aviation apart, major reforms are required in the country's lifeline, which is the Indian Railways. Visit any platform at the Delhi Railway Station and you see the reforms and achievements are net zero. Railways are doomed. The largest public sector undertaking in the world cannot even be rated as sub-standard. It's shameful.
You're the only politician with a licence to fly an A320.
I have completed my training and did my commercial pilot licence in the last couple of years. Flying began as a hobby and remains a hobby, because I am a full-time politician. Since I have to keep my licence rated, I have joined Indigo Airlines as an honorary pilot. My training for initial operating experience is on and once all formalities are complete, I'll be positioned as a first officer. I'll then become the first politician in the world who'll also be a first officer on A320.
Making a mark at an early age
- Rajiv Pratap Rudy was born on March 30, 1962 in Patna, Bihar.
- Educated at St Michael's High School, Patna.
- His early political days commenced when elected as President of the Government College student union, Chandigarh.
- Became general secretary of the Punjab University Student's Union.
- Went back to Bihar and worked in remote rural areas.
- Had active association with the youth wing of the BJP, holding the post of National Vice-President of the Yuva Morcha.
- Worked as a lecturer in Patna's AN College before taking the electoral plunge.
- At 26 became the youngest member of the Legislative Assembly in Bihar in 1990.
- Elected to the Parliament from Chhapra in Bihar representing the BJP in 1996.
- Re-elected in 1999 and inducted as Federal Minister of State for Commerce and Industry.
- Subsequently, put in independent charge as Civil Aviation Minister in 2004.
- Presently, member of Rajya Sabha and national spokesperson of the BJP.
- Holds a commercial pilot's licence with specialisation to fly the A-320 from the US Federal Aviation Administration-approved SimCentre in Miami, Florida.