Gadkari’s Motor Vehicles Bill: Is He Being Sabotaged from Within? 

Why is Gadkari being opposed by even his own party CMs on the implementation of Motor Vehicles Bill?

4 min read
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.

It is inconceivable that a disciplined party soldier like Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani would revolt against a central government decision without blessings from the very top in the BJP. Consequently, union transport minister Nitin Gadkari must be a worried man as he watches his first big initiative in the Modi government’s second tenure unravel in a rebellion led by Rupani against the hefty increase in traffic fines under the amended Motor Vehicles Act.

After Gujarat, state after state ruled by the BJP went against Gadkari’s decision by rejecting the increased penalties.

It is widely accepted in BJP circles that Rupani is Modi’s voice. When the former pared down the new penalties, some of them by as much as 90%, it was seen as a signal that the Modi-Shah duo is unhappy with sharp rise in fines. Rupani didn’t appreciate Gadkari’s initiative saying he didn’t want to harass people with hefty fines.

What followed was similar to a dam burst. After Gujarat, state after state ruled by the BJP went against Gadkari’s decision by rejecting the increased penalties. Even his own state of Maharashtra joined in. With assembly elections around the corner, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has decided not to implement the new act altogether.

Is Gadkari Alone in This Fight?

So far, 11 states are on the warpath against the amended law. Eight of them are BJP-run states. Ironically, the only chief minister who has come out on Gadkari’s side is Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party. He said recently that the increased fines have improved Delhi’s “undisciplined roads’’ (sic).

Gadkari’s is a worried man. Apart from being defied by chief ministers belonging to his own party, no-one has spoken up in his defence. The minister has been on his own as he dodges salvos fired at him from BJP colleagues. A minister in BJP’s government in Jharkhand was recently quoted as saying the new motor vehicles act is not in anyone’s interest.

Modi is being insulated from the popular backlash evident across states.

Gadkari has been doing the rounds of television channels to defend his initiative. The government’s intention is not to impose heavy penalties on people, he said. The idea is to bring road discipline and prevent loss of lives in accidents.

“The government does not wish to fine people. The thing is that a time should come that nobody has to pay such fines,’’ he told a TV channel.

Modi Insulated from Popular Backlash

But, for the first time since he became a minister in Modi’s government in 2014, he is looking shaken. Within the BJP, he is squarely being blamed for introducing an “unpopular’’ move. In Gujarat, for instance, people came out on the streets to protest the huge fines. Memes and WhatsApp messages are circulating mocking the new penalties and pointing out the pathetic condition of roads, traffic signals and other signs of neglect by the authorities.

In Rajasthan recently, traffic policemen were beaten up by members of the public for demanding huge fines.

Significantly, BJP leaders are pointedly describing the new penalties as a Gadkari initiative. Modi is being insulated from the popular backlash evident across states.

It must be upsetting for Gadkari. He had cultivated a reputation for himself in Modi’s first tenure as an efficient minister, someone who delivers. As highways sprouted all over the country, Gadkari took all the credit and seemed to be flying high.

It was also whispered that he was Nagpur’s blue-eyed boy in the Modi cabinet because of his close relationship with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. When he started taking pot shots at Modi and Shah following the BJP’s defeat in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December 2018, speculation was rife that he was speaking on behalf of the RSS boss to clip Modi’s wings.

An Attempt to Contain Gadkari’s Influence?

As Gadkari got bolder in his criticism of the Modi government (without ever actually taking the PM’s name), there was even talk that he could be propped up by the RSS as a consensus prime minister if the BJP failed to get a majority and would have been forced to form a coalition government.

Modi proved all the Doubting Thomases wrong by sweeping back for a second term with a larger mandate than he had. Gadkari stood no chance and now he is in the eye of a storm.

Some say the backlash against the new traffic fines is an attempt to contain him and show him his place in the Modi 2.0 dispensation. Others say it was inadvertent but has proved handy in recalibrating power equations within the top rung of the government to underline the supremacy of the Modi-Shah duo.

It is certainly an unfortunate turn of events for Gadkari. He had touted the amended motor vehicles bill as his showpiece legislation to modernize and update transportation regulations in India. The proposal to hike traffic fines was part of an effort to make the roads safer for everyone.

Something Went Wrong with the Motor Vehicles Bill

The bill was introduced two years ago, in 2017. It passed the scrutiny of the parliamentary standing committee on transport as well as a select committee of the Rajya Sabha. But it could not be passed before the Lok Sabha was dissolved ahead of the 2019 general election.

After the Modi government assumed office for a second term, it was one of the first bills to be introduced in Parliament and Gadkari pushed it with an eagerness befitting his reputation for delivery. Surprisingly, there were no objections to the hefty increase in fines by either of the committees that vetted the bill. Nor were there any objections from stakeholders including states, 18 of which were consulted before the bill took its final shape.

Clearly something has gone wrong. Perhaps the backlash was unexpected. According to former Director Transport in the Delhi government, Shumsher Sharief, “The timing was wrong. There should have been an education and awareness programme about the proposed increase in fines to inculcate a sense of discipline on the roads.’’

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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