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‘Not choosing class monitor’ PM Modi breaks down BJP’s election strategy
In an exclusive interview with a New Delhi based national daily, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a wide range of issues ahead of the last two phases of the Lok Sabha elections.

  (Media reports) New Delhi:
“The 2019 elections are special because it is the first time that those born in the 21st century are voting. These youngsters are not burdened by the past, they are in pursuit of a better future. These youngsters do not want to be bogged down by dynastic shenanigans, they want a nation where merit is recognised. They do not want old-school caste politics, they want a new age development agenda,” the 68-year-old Prime Minister said.
Interview began by explaining the importance of the 2019 mandate. He said the election is being fought on the basis of performance, not perception.
Asked how he had changed since 2014, when he led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a majority on its own, Modi replied: “My digestion powers have increased. I can digest insults more easily.”
Q. Are you confident of coming back to office?
Absolutely. From the first day. 26 May 2014.
Q. What are the big issues in this election?
Three issues are there. One development. Two, inclusive development. Three, development in all directions.
In 2022, India will mark 75 years of Independence. It is up to us to create an India that will make our freedom fighters proud. The 2019 elections are special because it is the first time that those born in the 21st century are voting. These youngsters are not burdened by the past, they are in pursuit of a better future. These youngsters do not want to be bogged down by dynastic shenanigans, they want a nation where merit is recognised. They do not want old-school caste politics, they want a new age development agenda.
Hence, in these elections, people will vote for those who they feel can build a better nation and lay the foundations of a strong and inclusive India. People will see our exemplary track record of 60 months, contrasting it with inertia of those who got the opportunity to rule for almost 60 years.
Q. Are you sure, because at least in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, we hear that caste is still the most important factor.
People of all castes want development. Especially, the young generation, women – they want a solution for their problems. And all the schemes and programmes of my government not only provide them a solution, but also brings them hope of the 21st century.
Q. Do you think this is just an election being fought on a pro- or anti-Modi platform?
People are weighing their options based on track record, vision and development work offered by various parties.
For me, our work and our vision ahead are the prime issues. The Opposition, which has a galaxy of PM aspirants but a total bankruptcy of vision, plan and agenda is taking to abusing Modi, using caste and communal politics. Rest assured, people are going to reject this Mahamilawat (grand adulteration) alliance.
Q. What is your view on alliances? You have called the opposition’s alliance a Mahamilawat but you also have one of your own.
One of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s big contributions in India is two-camp politics. One camp led by the BJP, and the other by the Congress. Alliances are important to address regional aspirations. But you also need a government with a clear majority at the Centre.
Our model is a majority government at the Centre, and a focus on regional aspirations – that should be evident from our record over the past five years. The Congress party has a different understanding of alliances. Make Charan Singh PM; pull the rug from under him. Make Chandrashekar-ji PM, then pull him down. Make IK Gujral PM, then get him down.
Q. Why is the narrative of this election so polarizing — on both sides?
You have to understand that we are not choosing a class monitor here. We are deciding the direction this country takes. We are deciding the future of 130 crore Indians, especially the 65% of the population which is under the age of 35. A lot is at stake.
This is an election that will prove to be the turning point in India’s rise in the world. I am glad that this election has brought out the differences between the two sides clearly. Now, the people of India will be able to make a clear choice between the two ways of looking at the country.
Those who say family first or those who say India first. Those who send love letters when terror strikes or those who answer terrorists in their own language. Those who stand with “tukde-tukde” gang or those who stand with the armed forces.
Those who stand to protect those who are guilty of sedition or those who live and die to protect and preserve India’s integrity. Those who did dalali (brokered) defence deals and weakened Indian defence or those who proved India’s mettle even in space. Those who made headlines for scams after scams in every sector or those who have ended the culture of scams. Those who tried their best to besmirch India’s 5,000-year-old civilization or those who stand for learning from India’s glorious past to build a bright future.
The choice is simple and clear. Therefore, if you call such an election, where the two sides have been clearly identified the positions they take on vital issues, as polarized, then I would say it is a good thing.
Q. The quality of discourse in this election seems to be falling. Mamata Banerjee said your hands are drenched in blood. You made your comment on Rajiv Gandhi (called him Brashtachari No.1 or corrupt person No 1), and the Congress has responded in equal measure. What’s happening?
I can give you a list of what various important people of the Congress, including those of the family (the Nehru-Gandhi family) and people close to the family have called me. I have been called Duryodhan by Priyanka Gandhi, Aurangzeb by Sanjay Nirupam, a Hindu terrorist by Deen Dayal Bairwa, a namard (impotent person) by Narayan Rane. Even in the past, I have been called names. In 2016, Rahul Gandhi said I am a dalal (broker) in the blood of soldiers. In 2007, Sonia Gandhi called be merchant of death. There’s more. Many of these were targeted at a sitting Prime Minister.
So, if we are speaking of respect for the post, then it’s the same respect for everyone in that post – then it is true for Deve Gowdaji in Karnataka. It is true for (former PM Manmohan Singh) whose government’s order, was torn in public (by Rahul Gandhi). If you are speaking of respect for the post, then what about former Andhra CM Anjaiahji, a Dalit, who was humiliated in Hyderabad airport (by former PM Rajiv Gandhi). So anyone complaining now has to see the whole thing in perspective. As far as Mamataji is concerned, you should decide, as a journalist, whether you are fine with her tone and tenor of speaking. Her language. Ask reporters in Bengal whether such statements do anything for the state.
Q. But surely, the quality of discourse has never been so bad…
Ever since electronic media (TV) came, since then, these things are being given primacy. In an election meeting or rally, in a funny way, to make a point…. I remember going and listening to speeches of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes. Their speeches had such statements too, but back then there was only print media. Now, from a 50-minute speech, a 10-second statement is taken and played on loop 24 hours. That said, there should definitely be courtesy.
Q. In many parts of the country the contest seems to have been reduced to a presidential one with the biggest factors being the Modi effect. Doesn’t this erode the relevance and importance of MPs in a parliamentary system?
This whole election is on the basis of performance, not perception. By performance, I mean the various schemes of the government of India; and the local MPs are involved in the implementation of these schemes locally at the grass-root level. To just say that in these elections, there is just a name that is working, that isn’t correct. Naam bhi chal raha hai; kaam bhi chal raha hai (the name is working, sure, but so is the work).
Q. There is a school of thought that says your party will not get more than 180 seats this time
Professors and teachers used to take the syllabus and make a diary of it. Every year the student would be new but the teacher and the diary. The world will change but they will teach from that. This is a similar section of people. They said the same thing in 2014. They are saying the same thing now.
Q. There are so many complaints being made to the Election Commission these days; and the whole thing has become controversial.
The Congress and its durbaaris have decided not to allow the EC to do its job well. Therefore, everywhere, they have people, professionals, who e-mail complaints, making sure the EC can’t do anything else.
The other thing is that in our country, courts never interfered in elections. These days, unfortunately, the court has also been pulled into it (with cases on the EC’s actions being filed before it).
The third thing is that before the great loss in the elections, just like a student who hasn’t done well makes excuses, they (the opposition) are pointing fingers at EVMs {electronic voting machines}, EC. Irrespective of whether there are elections or not, we have to respect institutions.
Q. With the responses to Uri and Pulwama, have we rewritten the escalation matrix with Pakistan and called its nuclear bluff? Do you think this will have the desired long-term objective of preventing Pakistan from nurturing terror groups?
For a decade or so, the Indian government had tied its own hands as far as Pakistan-backed terror was concerned. Pakistan kept mounting attacks after attacks and there was no cost imposed upon the perpetrators of attacks. This gave terrorists and their sponsors a kind of impunity that we can do anything and get away.
First with the surgical strikes, and now with the air strikes, we have sent a message that there will now be significant costs to sponsoring terror. We have also conveyed an unambiguous message that no matter where the terrorists are, even if they are deep within the Pakistani territory, they are not safe and they are within our reach. This is a significant change in the way India deals with terror. Pakistan has also seen the world reaction to our pre-emptive strikes. In future, they will be aware that their strategy of sponsoring terror against India will be detrimental to their own existence.
Q. Sure, but hasn’t this dialed things up? For instance, the next time there is an attack, doesn’t this put pressure on us to act?
So out of fear of that pressure, we should do nothing?
Q. Former PM, Manmohan Singh, said in an interview with us that his government conducted six surgical strikes. He added that they didn’t use it for votes
To the extent that I know of such things – all army chiefs have said such a thing has not happened on their watch. What kind of surgical strike was it? Who issued the orders? Or was it a non-violent procession? Where are the orders? These are the questions they should be asked to answer. After all, I wasn’t in charge then. I can only say that we have not found any records of this.
Q. About the Masood Azhar listing as a global terrorist by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee, does it mean we are now in a good place with China?
We have always said ‘India First’. When foreign policy of a government is clear in what it wants, the results happen as a by-product. Throughout the last five years, we have reached out and made new friends, we have strengthened relationships with old friends and more importantly, we have brought about a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we are perceived. We are now seen and respected as a nation that will leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.
This is the reason major nations of the world stood with our decision of surgical strikes and air strikes. This is also the reason why the long-pending listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist has happened. But the Azhar issue isn’t about China. Why do we keep making it so? It is a global terrorism issue.
Q. Is there a new and more friendly India-China dynamic brewing?
India and China are both leading power centres, with an important say in today’s geopolitics. It is important for our nations to work together for the greater global good. Our history shows that there was a time when both our nations controlled a lion’s share of the world’s GDP. I think both our countries understand that there is a lot more common ground between us. Both our countries realise and accept that we have disagreements but we are also conscious of the fact that we will not let these disagreements become disputes. There is a great deal of respect that our countries have for each other and it is out of this mutual respect that even if there is a disagreement, we resolve it through high-level negotiations.
Q. If you are re-elected you will inherit the same Kashmir problem you faced in 2014. Would you agree that there has been no progress there and that things are maybe even worse? What do you think needs to be done to address this?
We have to understand that the problem which media defines as the “Kashmir Problem” is a problem limited to two-and-a-half districts. We have been successful in confining the problems to a limited area. This is also not a problem that cropped up all of a sudden in 2014. Successive administrations have had to tackle the issue.
The problem in Kashmir is the match-fixing being done by a few families there, who have taken the garb of conscience keepers of the people there. These families play their part with great finesse. In the process, people’s aspirations have been long ignored. We are still suffering from what Rajiv Gandhi and JKNC {Jammu and Kashmir National Conference} did in 1987. Has anybody questioned the Gen Next of Congress and JKNC about it? Those who preach hate and separatism in the valley lead comfortable lives themselves. Yet, they misguide youngsters to take to violence.
Our work in Kashmir is to care of the citizens of the state, not a few families. We have done that with utmost diligence and sincerity. Jammu and Kashmir has got substantial modern physical and social infrastructure in the last five years. We want the youth to have books in their hands, not bombs. We want the youth of Kashmir to pursue their dreams. And, I know that the state is home to very talented youngsters who can give so much to their own state and the nation. The enabling environment is what we are trying to provide.
We are inspired by Atal Ji’s vision of Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat {humanism, democracy and Kashmiri culture} of and will continue working to fulfil the aspirations of the state’s youth.
Q. Let’s talk about economic policies. When your government came to power, there was an expectation that you would, over time, reduce role of government in business, make the market more open, do away with inspector Raj by reforming tax policies and move away from subsidies. Your farmer payout suggests a move away from subsidies, maybe even a move to a Universal Basic Income. Can we expect this to happen, if only in stages, if you return to power?
We believe that a country as vast and as complex as India needs solutions which are contextual. We firmly believe that our approach to social welfare must be a combination of creating a ladder of opportunity for our farmers to grow and to provide a safety net to help mitigate risks so that they may bounce back from economic hardship. This is reflected in our 360-degree approach where farmer income support is supplemented by other interventions such as insurance, soil health etc while we are laser focused on doubling farmer income. Hence it would be a mistake to look at any one intervention in isolation.
PM-KISAN is a program to support farmers for their input costs of cropping. PM-KISAN ensures cash availability at important points in agriculture cycle. Farmers are free to deploy their own cash as per their requirements. We believe that our programs will lead to higher productivity and new jobs in the economy not just in agriculture but in all other sectors.
Q. The world over, countries are becoming more protectionist and closed. How does a developing country, which stands to benefit from globalization, prevent itself from falling into a tit-for-tax protectionist stand off?
India believes in the tenet of Sarvjan Hitay, Sarvjan Sukhay. We will protect our interests in the global trade arena but we are not trying to needlessly start conflicts. That’s never been Indian philosophy. Each country acts as per its own requirements. We believe that an efficient industry can overcome some of these barriers. Our Make In India program, encouraging manufacturing in India are all steps in the direction of becoming stronger and competitive. We want to focus on India’s innumerable strengths.
Q. Are you happy with the progress of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which seems to be stabilizing in terms of returns every month? Do you think it can be made more friendly. Also, irrespective of the long-term impacts, both GST and demonetization hurt the MSMEs, even if only temporarily. Many of them have been forced to formalize. Was this part of your plan? Don’t you think there was/is a risk of losing political capital because of this?
The objective of GST was not merely tax collection. The concept of “one nation, one tax” has been implemented through GST. India’s biggest strength lies in being an emerging big market. This market has been unified and various inefficiencies have been removed. While implementing any major reform some problems are natural and an alert system solves those problems quickly. Learning from our experiences of 21 months with GST, we are taking multiple steps towards making GST more consumer friendly, trader friendly, business friendly, manufacturer friendly and service provider friendly.
If I also had kept thinking about the risk of losing political capital, then what is the difference between my government and previous governments. Some steps need to taken in national interest. I am thankful that the people of India have given us uninterrupted support and co-operation in this journey. This is possible when people also know that the steps are being taken with the right intentions and in the larger good.
As a result of formalization, MSMEs get the benefit of institutional credit. In India, the MSMEs are always deprived of formal credit as per their requirements. Due to this, their cost of capital was always disproportionately more. Because of inclusion in GST, the MSMEs have a new window of credit Workers will get benefit of facilities of social security from formalization. Millions of workers start getting facilities of pension, health insurance, life insurance and maternity benefits with formalisation of firms.
Q. Which would you consider your governments most significant policy campaigns and why? Swachh Bharat? Ayushmani Bharat? The PMAY? The farm insurance scheme? Ujjwala?
Each of these schemes you have mentioned, have been unique in their speed and scale. With Swachh Bharat, a women’s dignity was made the focal point of social governance. Over 9 crore toilets built in 5 years ensured that women are not forced to defecate in open and the sanitation coverage of India went up from just 38% in 2014 to 99% in 2019.
With Ujjwala, again, more than 7 crore women and especially their children were freed from the choking life that they were subjected to for so long due to cooking with firewood.
Take Ayushman Bharat, the world’s largest healthcare insurance programme is transforming the entire healthcare system in the country. It has made quality healthcare accessible and affordable for the poorest. Same with Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, which is fulfilling the dream of owning a house for all Indians, irrespective of which class, caste, region they belong to. PM Fasal Bima Yojana has brought immense relief to a farmer’s family who no longer fear impoverishment due to crop damage.
Each of these initiatives has fundamentally changed people’s lives, in a way that they have been freed from the fear and uncertainty that poverty, sickness, and homelessness bring in people’s lives. These fears had tied down generations of Indians and trapped them in a cycle of poverty. But that feeling of fear, anxiety and helplessness is being driven away now. This helplessness is giving way to hope and the anxiety is giving way to aspirations.
Q. You have been CM of Gujarat for over a decade. And you have been PM for five years. What is the biggest challenge facing the country?
We have lots of opportunities, but we don’t seem to mind if we miss them. It’s almost as if it’s OK to miss these. We have to now challenge ourselves to not miss a single opportunity.
Q. What’s the difference between the Modi of 2014 and the Modi of 2019?
My digestion powers have increased. I can digest insults more easily.
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