Campaigning for Lok Sabha polls is in full swing. Voters will cast votes considering Narendra Modi government’s achievements in the past five years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is travelling the entire length and breadth of the country holding campaign rallies. Despite his busy schedule, PM Modi gave special time exclusively to Sakal Media Group’s Managing Director Abhijit Pawar to discuss the issues that are important in this election. He spoke on allegations levelled by opposition parties and about his future policies. The PM said that in last five years, the government has fulfilled people’s needs and in next five years, the government’s agenda is to fulfill their expectations. Excerpts from this exclusive interview with PM Modi.
Q. You are contesting the Lok Sabha elections for the second time. Are you confident of winning this election? And if you are confident, what are the reasons?
A: Considering the phenomenal work done by us in the last five years, compared to last Lok Sabha elections, we are far more confident this time. In the last five years, we have been able to reach to the last man on the social ladder. Through our schemes like Mudra loan, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, providing health cover to up to five lakh people through Ayushman Bharat Yojana, we have created an atmosphere among people that this government is empowering them. I feel there should be a balanced development in our country. If only western India is developing, that is not balanced development. Western India from Kerala to Punjab is developing, similarly, eastern India which is rich in natural and human resources, should be equally developed. I paid attention to the development of eastern India. I feel in recent future, western and eastern India will match with each other. Now, people from the North Eastern part of our country feel that they are in the mainstream.
People have realised that we have paid special attention to improving transportation facilities. Now, households in Bihar are getting cooking gas through the pipeline. This has raised hopes among the people.
Q. The Congress and the BJP both have published their manifestos. Which are the three things that are on the top priority list that you plan to accomplish in the next five years?
A: I urge you to consider both manifestos and you will realise the difference. One manifesto is responsibly presented by the party (BJP) that runs the government. While other is by a party (Congress) to merely stay in the election fray. The Congress has made several compromises on the issues of national interest including Kashmir issue, sedition charges. On the contrary, the BJP has taken a strong stand. We have mooted amendments in Citizenship Act. Members from several communities like Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain were driven away from Pakistan and Bangladesh. I am of the firm opinion that we need to accept them. The Congress cannot end section 35 (A). In the last five years from 2014-2019, I have fulfilled the needs of the common man which was not done in the last 70 years of Independence. There were several lacunae and the gaps needed to be filled. I have a clear cut vision for the next five years. After fulfilling the primary needs, now, we will work to fulfill their dreams. We identified 150 districts which are lagging behind in development. These districts even did not have a district hospital. We need to bring these districts at par with other districts. If this happens, then there would be a transformation in the country. You have asked me three priorities, the first priority is empowering the poor and then creating more employment opportunities and thirdly, ensuring the development of women.
Q: How the NDA will perform in Maharashtra? How will you rate Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ performance in the State? There are rumours that if NDA returns to power again in the Centre, Maharashtra CM will be included in the cabinet in New Delhi?
A: Maharashtra is playing a significant role in strengthening the nation’s economy. We need to strengthen the State as much as possible as it is important for our country. We cannot afford to have instability in such a State. The residents of the State currently are not experiencing the bitter past that they had experienced during the alliance regime. In all BJP-ruled states, the government’s performance was good. New opportunities are being created. Devendra Fadnavis’ government is among them. The development in Maharashtra was impressive. Maharashtra needs stability and there is no need to create instability.
Q: In last few days, the BJP has brought in many leaders from other parties. On one side, you criticise dynastic politics and while on the other side, you are seen bringing in leaders from Congress who have a dynastic lineage. How do you look at this?
A: We need to understand the meaning of dynastic politics. I do not believe that if an MP’s son becomes MLA, it falls under the category of dynastic politics. Preferably it should not happen but if it happens, we can not label it dynastic politics. If in some party after the father, son, nephew or cousin takes the reigns of the party and becomes the leader and runs the entire party as if is a private limited company, then we can call it dynastic politics. It is happening in many parts of the country. In Haryana from INLD, two brothers had an ugly dispute and the party was split into two. Ultimately, the party workers who were chanting slogans of ‘Jindabad’ had to suffer. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had told in 1937 that the biggest enemy of politics is dynastic politics. If one family has five MLAs, then I shall not call it dynasty politics but I will call it dynasty politics when it is run like a party private limited company.
Q. Those who change the party come with their original ideology. Do you think that those who have crossed over from Congress to the BJP will sincerely imbibe the BJP’s ideology?
A: Our experience says so. Many leaders from different parties, as well as several professional, have joined our party and they have accepted our ideology and culture. There may be some exceptions.
Q. Recently you have become aggressive against Nationalist Congress Party and Sharad Pawar. What are the reasons?
A: I am not personally against Sharad Pawar. I feel that he is a very clever political observer. Hence, it raises a few questions when he supports Congress President for the post of Prime Minister. The party has the word ‘Nationalist’ in its name. I wonder how a Nationalist person can support the demand for having two prime ministers in one country. How can a Nationalist support to making the AFSPA weak thereby demoralising the Army? But if some Kashmiri leaders say that there should be two PMs in the country and both will be your friends, then I ask the question Sharadrao you too! Then, I have to speak against him.
Q: India launched an air strike in Balakot in Pakistan but recently, Pakistan took international media to the site and showed that there was no destruction. What do you think of it?
A: During surgical strikes, in the areas falling under 250 km had several battalions. Few of them were at a distance of five kilometres while a few were at a distance of two kilometres. Yet they had perfect sync. Later, the Pakistan media showed through their national television that nothing has happened, they could show this as there were many empty pockets falling under this vast area as it was easy for them. They did not allow anyone to visit the actual area where the strikes happened for 43 days. Journalists too were not allowed. But the interviews with the villagers were the testimony to it. Pakistan then declared that the strike did take place. We had decided to declare about the strikes in the morning, but Pakistan declared it during the dawn saying someone came into our territory and struck us. Now, in these 43 days, either they have cleaned the area, constructed new things or would have taken the media to altogether new place as it was the only building among the hills. They are showing that no surgical strike took place on an area spread over 250 km eyeing the elections in India. Pakistan is trying to play with India during the election time and hence, they are making such statements.
Q: It was said that nearly 600 to 700 people were there at Balakot. Is that the reason your people made a guess that 300 persons died in the strike?
A: You must have seen that an American journalist had published a video showing Pakistan army officers consoling the citizens. They were seen saying that one who was killed must have gone to heaven and it’s a jihad. They were seen crying and hugging their children. This is enough to guess how many may have been killed in the strike.
Q: How do you react to Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s recent statement that if you become PM again, Indo-Pak relations will improve?
Modi: When Imran Khan was contesting elections in Pakistan, he used my name to his benefit. You must understand how he targeted Nawaz Sharif. Do you remember what was his slogan then - Modi’s friend is nation’s traitor. ‘Modi ka jo yaar hain, woh gaddar hain, gaddar hain’. Imran is originally a cricketer. He knows how to play a googly. This is a googly played by Imran to create disturbance in Indian elections and nothing more than that.
Q: You are emphasising on Nationalism, is it an attempt to divert attention from other pertinent issues.
A: Nationalism is not keeping your nation dirty and just announcing slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. In my view, cleanliness is Nationalism. Mahatma Gandhi had given a new form to struggle for Independence, one who used Khadi was also known as a freedom fighter. One who spun the yarn on a ‘charkha’, was also known as a freedom fighter or the one who conducted adult education classes was also a freedom fighter. I believe that building homes for the poor is also Nationalism. To take India on the path of excellence, we have to resolve the issues and set universal parameters for us.
Q: What is your definition of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’? I feel considering our traditions our foreign policy should give a new direction to the world? What do you think?
A: Nowhere in the world, an Indian person is a nuisance. Indians living aboard have proved this. They respect law and order, contribute to the economy of the country of their residence. This is an effect of our tradition ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. Secondly, India cannot be a part of any group. With all our strengths, we have to include the entire world in us. Today, there is a tension between the US and China but India is a friend of both the nations. Iran is our friend, Arabs are our friends. There is a fight between Palestine and Israel, but both are our friends. I feel we need to maintain cordial relations with all while giving highest priority to India’s well-being.
Q: Through International Yoga Day, you took yoga to an international level. We are seeing that there has been a considerable increase in the number of diseases. What are your strategies to promote Ayurveda? Chinese medicines have become popular in the world. When I travel to Germany, I realise that people want Ayurvedic medicines and want to learn yoga. Germany has a Yoga City project too.
A: Look, India has 5,000-year-old traditions. The entire world is travelling back to basics. The world is moving towards holistic health care. Hence, people are attracted towards India. I agree with you on your opinion on Ayurveda. Chinese traditional medicines and Ayurveda are totally different. Chinese medicines are animal-based medicines, while our’s are plant-based. When I was in Gujarat, in Jamnagar, we have the oldest Ayurvedic University. This is a unique institution which is working in collaboration with German institutes. During Pandit Nehru’s tenure, under Jaysukhlal Hathi, Hathi Commission was formed to study how Ayurveda can be propagated in the world. According to Hathi Commission, we need to first change the packaging of Ayurveda. Our Ayurvedic medicines have become like allopathy. Secondly, we need to create human resources in this field of medicine. When I was in Gujarat, we started Ayurved College in Bali, Indonesia. We need to start such institutions where there are people of Indian origin. Thirdly, we need to work on international laws. Currently, our medicines are exported as food supplements and not as medicines. When we become a powerful nation, we will be able to amend these laws.
Q: Do you consume Ayurvedic medicines?
A: I am generally not dependent on medicines, but my inclination is towards natural medicines.
Q: We cannot imply western standards to few of Ayurveda medicines? We have something like ‘suvarnasiddhi jal’, we cannot imply western standards to that?
A: It is not necessary. We need to create our own standards. If one needs medicines for constipation and if you have ‘Hirda’ or Isabgol’, then you will realise that your problem is solved without having any side effect then the person will search for it. And there is a large group of people who believe in traditional medicine.
Q: Are you confident winning elections on the basis of welfare schemes?
A: I feel that the ruling party should seek votes on the basis of its achievements. And we too are seeking votes on the basis of our achievements. And I am confident that we have provided one or the other scheme to 22 crore of people. These schemes are not free candy distribution but they are aimed at empowerment. We gave 1.5 crore houses in just five years while the Congress could provide only 25 lakh houses in 10 years. Same is the case with Ujjwala, Urja schemes. During the Congress regime, one had to shell out Rs 350 to purchase a LED bulb but we made it available for Rs 40-50. We have distributed crores of LED bulbs, if we study a lower middle-class family, these LED bulbs have reduced his power bill by at least Rs 1,500. Another point is inflation. I remember, during the campaign for election in 2014, I used to speak on inflation of pulses for over 15 minutes. But now, there is not a single party in the country that has taken inflation as the poll point. This is our biggest achievement. Just imagine that if the inflation rate had remained at 10 per cent, it wouldn’t have been possible for a person to have a day’s meal.
Q: The Opposition has alleged that many fugitives were successful in running away from the country during your period. What you have to say on it?
A: One thing is certain that if we were not in power, all these fugitives would have had not run away. And if the government changes, they will happily return home. This is a vicious circle of money. During the Congress regime, phone banking was going on. We put an end to all this. They had to run away from the country, as they thought that they will survive only if they leave the country. But we changed the act. Now, we can seize their property anywhere in India. When we hold discussions about these fugitives, we have seized their properties through the implementation of stringent acts. We have created a situation that they will have to languish in jail, even in other countries. This was not the situation earlier when we discussed about the people who managed to run away. But we got Christian Michel extradited. We also need to discuss those who have been successfully brought to India. We have got three of them. And I am sure that we will get 13 others too.
Q: Industry is a business. Some seek loan through banks, but if a company faces shut down due to some challenges, then an atmosphere is created wherein the businessman is denied loans. The US has the scheme called ‘Chapter 11’ where a businessman can stand again on his feet. Are you planning to propose similar initiatives?
A: The Reserve Bank of India has made some good suggestions. As we took some bold steps, banks have got Rs 3 lakh crore back. This shows that they have the capacity to return the money, but despite that, they chose to shy away from their responsibility. These people travel through business class, buy new cars every six months and do not change their lifestyle. They are looting the common man. We will not take a lenient stand against them.
Q: Are you shocked over the Supreme Court’s directive over the Rafale deal and what do you have to say about Rahul Gandhi’s repeated invitation to hold a debate with him?
A: The Supreme Court has earlier given a decision which supports our stand on this issue. I am restless thinking about what is wrong with Indian media. What happened in Rafale, one regarding the purchase of Rafale, the court has already announced its decision. CAG has given us a clean chit. Secondly, this is a deal between the two nations. It is a simple topic. The SC has said that they will consider only the two-three documents which are in discussion. We have nothing to say about this. Media is selective about raising issues. We oppose this. If you want to do a story, do it completely. If you are going to take up only two points that you like, we will oppose this. So, we have not shocked by the court’s decision as portrayed by media. Talking about Rahul Gandhi, he is under tremendous pressure. His father’s image was tarnished due to Bofors. Now, he is desperately trying to wash their sins. But while doing so, he is relying on falsehood.
Q: What do you think about the scarcity of jobs in India?
A: There are three issues concerning job: formal, informal and different parameters. Firstly, about the formal jobs - In last one year, 10 lakh jobs were created in each month as per the figures of EPFO and ESIC and considering this, 1.2 crore of jobs were created. In the last four years, 55 lakh became members of NPS. Nearly, one crore people were benefited through PM’s Employment Guarantee Scheme.
According to NASSCOM, there is a good momentum of jobs in IT sector. The IT sector has only a 15 per cent share in the entire job market. If this sector has created crores of jobs, then you can think of the total number of new jobs created. Secondly, schemes like Mudra have created jobs in the informal sector. In the last four years, 17 crore people got loans sanctioned through Mudra. Out of them, 4.35 crore are starting a business for the first time. It means that nearly four crore people started their businesses. Small and Medium Scale Industries have created six crore new jobs, as per the CII survey. In the last four years, the number of tourists and jobs created through tourism has seen an increase by 50 per cent. Does that not mean the tourism sector created new job opportunities? Several lakh seva kendras are running in India, thereby creating new jobs.
The third point is different parameters. If we compare governments after 1919, the growth rate in our tenure is the best. The rate of poverty is decreasing. This is what the international report says. Is it possible to achieve all this without creating new jobs? Foreign Direct Investment in India is highest. Roads, highways and railways, houses are being built at double the speed. Is this possible to achieve to create fundamental infrastructure without creating jobs? India is an important destination for start-ups. Businesses based on mobile apps are increasing. How is it possible without jobs? West Bengal, Karnataka, Odisha are claiming to create jobs on a greater scale. Then, how it is possible to say that the Centre is not creating jobs while state governments are creating?
Q: The opposition parties have alleged that GST and demonetisation killed the economy and burdened the common people. What is your reaction on it?
A: Demonetisation was a step against the black money. This was a decision fraught with political repercussions. To stop the use of black money, late Yashwantrao Chavan had advised late Indira Gandhi to take up a similar step. But she had said, “We have to win the next elections. How can we take such steps? In last four and half years through our steps against the use of black money, we have exposed undeclared assets worth Rs 1,30,000 crore. We have also collected tax and fine on this. Through this, we have seized properties worth Rs 50,000 crore. During this period, undeclared properties Rs 6,900 crore and foreign properties worth Rs 1,600 crore were seized. We could identify 3.38 lakh companies that existed only on paper. Their registrations got cancelled and their directors were declared incompetent. The tax base has doubled. All this was possible due to demonetisation.
We can look at GST through two perspectives: Firstly from that of businessman and secondly, from the common consumer. Due to GST, the tax burden on both has reduced. Let’s talk about this elaborately. If we consider the traders’ perspective, GST has brought transparency. Many indirect taxes like octroi, sales tax, entry tax etc., were abolished. One has been freed from maintaining different sets of documents. In GST, traders have to evaluate their taxation on their own. In the case of transportation of goods, they have to evaluate GST on their own. For smaller traders, there is the Composition Scheme. Under this scheme, those with an annual turnover of Rs 40 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore pay one per cent tax of their annual turnover. They have to fill up one income tax return annual. Through simple declaration, they can pay tax, quarterly, small taxpayers will get GSTN accounting and billing software. Traders having a turnover less than Rs 40 lakh are excluded from GST net. If we consider GST from common consumers’ perspective, GST has reduced tax burden, as people are able to save four per cent per month. On essential goods, there is only zero to five per cent GST. Considering the suggestions made by citizens on July 1, 2017, we made several corrections in GST percentage. The GST was reduced on more than 80 items like food grains, sugar, curd, idli-dosa batter, washing powder, footwear, sewing machine, furniture, electrical appliances, television and mobile phones.
Q: The opposition parties are repeatedly raising the agricultural crisis. Are you satisfied with whatever your government has done for the farmers?
A: We should get evaluated on the schemes we have implemented for the farmers. Under Congress leadership between 2009-2014, 7.28 lakh metric tonne pulses and oilseeds worth Rs 3.117.38 crore were purchased by giving minimum support price. From 2014 to 2018, our government purchased 93.97 metric tonnes of pulses and oilseeds worth Rs Rs 44,142.50 crore. In Maharashtra, Congress-NCP spent Rs 450 crore in 15 years to purchase foodgrain, while BJP-Shiv Sena government spent Rs 8,500 crore on foodgrain purchase. Till 2022, we will strive to double the income of farmers. For small farmers, we have introduced Pradhan Mantri Kisan Yojana. Money has been deposited in the bank accounts of farmers. We have promised about this scheme in our manifesto. We have mentioned about farmers’ pension scheme in our manifesto. This decision is historic and it will have far-reaching impact on improving farmers’ condition. Through Kisan credit cards, we will distribute interest-free loans to farmers and we are going to invest Rs 25 lakh crore in the rural agriculture sector.