Excerpts of Shri Narendra Modi’s interview to ANI

Q: How close are you the magic number of 272 seats?

First of all we might address more than 180 rallies as I have been campaigning all across the country. BJP nominated me as its prime ministerial candidate on 13th September. When I addressed a rally in rewari of ex-servicemen, since then I have addressed more than 360 rallies. After the announcement of elections, maybe 180-190 rallies. I have used new technology/3D technology I try to reach the people.

If there is no technical fault, then I might address more than 1000 3d meets.

In a democracy, elections are a way of teaching parliamentary education.  All political parties and leaders should reach out to the people. This is my aim and that is what I am working on. As far as the result of the elections are concerned, I have worked as a backroom boy for all these years and I am used to work for the party organisation. Election preparation and strategy and all the intricacies, it’s today that my role has changed and I am seen public more. That is why I never see an election as an aggregation of numbers.

According to performance of the Congress party in the last ten years, in the history of the Congress party, this will be probably be their worst performance, and it will be historically be the best performance for the NDA and the BJP.  One of our best performances.

Q: Why did you choose Varanasi? Is it because it leads to Delhi via UP?

A:  It was not my decision whether to fight the LS polls, where to fight from and from how many constituencies I will fight from.  It is done by the BJP, Central election committee and parliamentary board. Since I am a worker of the party, I do as I am told.

Q: Since you are fighting from 2 constituencies, which constituency would you be more loyal too and which one will you give up?

A: Firstly my loyalty lies with 125 crore people of this country and in any part of world, if anybody does some good to you, then you always feel like returning that favour. For example if someone even offers you water, you always feel like repaying back the generosity shown. These are my principles.

Q: So you have paid the debt of the Gujarat and its people. Will you leave Vadodara?

A: Leaving and selecting will decide on the mood of the people and the strategy of my party. After winning I belong to everybody and I will work for everybody. That is my nature.

Q: Who will you handover Gujarat to when you move to Delhi? You haven t zeroed in as of yet

A: There will some worker of the BJP (who will be the CM if Modi becomes PM)  As of yet Modi cannot do it since BJP is the organisation. There are elected leader, election committee, parliamentary board and central leadership. Everybody will decide together.

Q: I was in Varanasi a few weeks ago over there...there is a perception that Muslims fear that Hindutva agenda would forced upon them? Are their fears justified?

A: I am not going to Banaras to defeat anybody, it is not my aim. I m going there to win hearts of the people. Whenever they will meet me in person and not through media or my opponents, then I am sure they will love which they haven’t to any political leader.

Q: But your opponent Kejriwal has already reached there, He says he is an anarchist? He is attacking you directly. What will be your strategy?

A: I don’t know any strategist who divulges his details on TV

Q: In UP, the local leadership is pretty upset about ticket distribution, leaders like M M Joshi and Lalji Tandon, which they say might affect at least ten seats? So you think there is any mistake?

A: This issue is an old one, has been debated enough. Analysis that winning these seats is difficult is incorrect. This information is wrong as well as the analysis.

Q: So you are confident that this is not going to affect you?

A: Not just UP, the whole country will not be affected.

Q: The reason for Modi wave is sidelining of the old guard and emergence of aggressive new guard.

A: I don’t understand the term ‘Guard’. You find them in train bogies.   All my leaders are like the engine of the train.

Q: Leaders like Advani and MM joshi being guides in the party, and main job is being takeover by the 2nd generation

A: There is nothing such as takeover. Guidance is still with the experience leaders and they are guiding us.

Q: There is no Modi wave in Southern India like in the northern part, is this because of a mistake in the pre poll alliance

A: There is a long perception process in our country. There is a wrong perception in our country and I want political pundits and mediaperson to come out of this thought process. During Jansangh days, it was said that the BJP only belongs to Baniya-Brahmin. Sometimes it was said that it was the party of the cow belt or Hindi belt. Sometimes it was said that it belongs to urban India. All this thinking belongs to people who refuse to read new material and continue to dig into this.

If you look at the analysis, Gujarat is not a Hindi speaking state but still we are in power for the last 25 years. Same can be said about Goa and Karnataka. We were a part of the coalition govt. in Odisha. Same ways we were a partner in the govts in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and J-K.

So there is a perception and not the reality. Today, the BJP belongs to the rural people, farmers, backwards, north-south-east-west, on every crossing of the country. In these elections also we are performing on every front. Thirdly, earlier BJP was considered as untouchable party where only RSS and Shiv Sena were considered the allies. But for the first time there has been a party that has forged a prepoll alliance with 25 parties. It is unprecedented.

Q: Why not forge an alliance with Jayalalithaa, instead of indulging in delivering bitter remarks to each other? She was there in your swearing in ceremony. Both of you were considered close to each other. This looks like a fixed match.

A: Firstly, there has been no bitter criticism. In Democracy everybody has a right to put forth their views in their own language. BJP and all other parties have this right.

Q: You had good relations with Jayalalithaa and considering yesterday speeches, you both were taking potshots at each other. How did this happen?

A: In politics, I don’t believe an inch in untouchability.  No matter how much political enmity exists but on personal level friendship is considered , this is the beauty of our democracy. There can be views and opinions, there can be differences. You must have seen Sharad Pawar, who had bitterly criticized me, and even I had indulged in the same on political platform, but personally we share good terms, which both of us acknowledge.  Even with Jayalalithaa it’s the same thing. Even in Congress, there are many leaders with whom I share good terms. There is nothing such as enmity. There is competition and there is an ideological revolution. Therefore, politics of untouchability never empowers the democracy.

Q: While campaigning Rahul has alleged that state machinery was being used for snooping on a woman?

A: If you look at the records of crime against women, out of the first the ten states in the country where the rate is highest, seven are being ruled by Congress governments. And three are partner states of UPA.

Not even one of them belongs to BJP in that list of first ten states and also no state belong to a BJP ally.  This is very satisfying and pleasing record of BJP when it comes to crimes against women.

In our country, crime against women is not limited to any one family or individual. It is a matter of shame for entire humanity. It is affecting the image of India in the whole world. That is why like a county, a part of human society and government we should try to be more sensitive towards the issue. If there is Modi government then it too, should be sensitive to this issue. This issue should be kept away from political bickering. Women dignity should be our priority. I should not abuse congress on this issue nor Rahul Gandhi. I think we will keep on doing our politics but it will be our mother and sisters who will continue to suffer and be insulted. For God’s sake I appeal to everybody. Recently Mulayam Singh too said something and then there was Nirbhaya case going on in Delhi. Media asked me repeatedly, but I maintained that my priority is just woman dignity. Me blaming other political parties I forget that I am hurting women dignity. That is why I ensure that my thinking is apolitical on this issue. It should be apolitical.

Q. As far as we talk about political bickering, it has become standard for political parties who often issue wrong statements or language. Will there be some score settling if your party comes to power?

As far as Narendra Modi is concerned you can see my track record of last 14 years in Gujarat. People don’t choose me for score settling or to do some wrong to a particular leader. The priority of the government is ensuring maximum welfare of the people. If we indulge in political score settling then we will never be able to do any good work for the people. There is no negativity inside me. I keep working like a crazy person for positive work.

Q. You have said that those people who have done some wrong will be put behind bars.

A. In our country, criminalisation of politics is a grave issue. And this concern is shared by every citizen of the country. It should be the concern of every party and all the leaders. In the beginning the leadership that emerged was from the revolution for Independence. Then it came from social welfare. Then it went towards casteism. Slowly and slowly leadership started emerging through gunpoint. This was a big deterioration which is of grave concern. Earlier political parties use to seek help of criminals to for gains. But then criminals felt that why shouldn’t they themselves do this? So this was the situation which started developing. Even if this was in small percentages like 2 percent or 5 percent, it was an issue of concern.

Q: Now what is the solution for this?

A: One solution is that political parties feel determined and don’t give tickets to such leaders. But this situation hasn’t arrived as of now. So should we let it continue like this? I have made up my mind that this time the MLAs or MPs who have been elected, to whichever party they belong, even if they belong to BJP. If they have criminal charges against them, then I would request the SC to arrange special courts for them and all these criminals’ cases be disposed off within a year. So that if a person is convicted, and his seat is vacated then a person of non criminal background can takeover. In this way the criminal layer in politics would be erased.

Q. Would you try to bring political consensus on this issue in the parliament?

A. Every party raises this issue, but nobody actually takes an initiative. I want to do this and I think this is the best way but I am open to other good ideas. This should not be taken in a political context to put someone in jail but the real issue is that if Modi has 4 FIRs on his name then he should be tried within a year. This is what I am saying, there is nothing vindictive. It’s not that we will start a new CBI inquiry or dig out files of certain leaders. I don’t want to commit this sin.

I want the credibility of the Indian institutions and the respect of the constitutional organization to be increased. If the country stands on multiple pillars of constitutional institutions then it will emerge stronger.

Q: Sanjay Baru’s Book. Will you investigate how files from the PMO went outside? Will you constitute any committee just like there was NAC in the UPA?

A:  I don’t take a vindictive approach towards anything. If the people will give me time, then that will be limited to 60 months. In these 60 months, I will rather make a new garden than wipe out other people's garbage.  I don’t want to waste my time in such things and have greater things to do. I will invest my time and energy in doing something constructive.

Q: The Congress has alleged that there are certain big businessmen behind your emergence and they talk about you benefitting Adani and Ambani when you come to power? People think one type of crony capitalism will go and a new one will emerge?  Will sweet heart deals be given to such businessmen?

A: To be specific, the per capita income of Gujarat is higher than that of India as a whole. In India, 57 percent of the total employment was generated from Gujarat. Now who benefitted? It was the poor. Earlier there was 2 percent agriculture growth in my state but in the last ten years it has grown to 10 percent.  It was the farmer who has benefitted. There was no tourism in Gujarat, but today the growth in tourism in Gujarat is much higher than that of national average. Who benefitted? It was the chaiwallahs, auto drivers, handicraft workers etc. So there was growth for everybody and this is what that should happen. Not only these small scale industries. You will be pleased to know that at least 80 percent of growth in small scale industries in India happened in Gujarat. So people who accuse me have nothing new to say.

Secondly, how come the government in Delhi who says that I have done wrong in Gujarat is not able to investigate their charges properly? Therefore, such a government should not continue who have so much to accuse me of in its speeches but has nothing to take action on. Such a non performing government should not continue even for a minute.

Q: They also say that you are very good in marketing yourself and that you have spent 10000 crore on elections.

A:  They talk about the figures which they dream about while sleeping. I have requested Anand Sharma, who made these allegations, to conduct an inquiry into these allegations, as the present government still has 25 days. Is it not there duty to unearth the truth? Therefore it is my appeal and all those who have leveled charges against me should investigate them.

Election commission has constituted observers for electoral expenses in every constituency. The ECI is scrutinizing everything. Still, I ask the Congress leaders to submit all their evidences with the ECI and there should be a strict investigation into this. Secondly, shouldn’t there be a good campaign in the country? I am surprised. I have the power to visit 500-600 zilas of the country, then is it crime? You should also go. In a democracy, you have a responsibility. It different thing that they don’t go.

Q:  Their allegation pertains to that “Advertisement is good but doubts are there about the product”

A: By marketing they mean Gujarat. Marketing is considered an important aspect in all over the world. But if I say that I have made a good road here and advertises it nicely, but to people the road will be visible. They don’t know about marketing. I say that I have given water to people, then it won’t reach through marketing. They will only believe after they get it.

The people of Gujarat agreed with us in 2002, 2007 and again in 2012. For the last 15 years, the whole Gujarat only believes in what it feels and what people has seen through their eyes. They don’t agree to marketing. Maybe the people living in Assam, Tamil Nadu or any other state might get confused because of marketing but the people of Gujarat will actually ask about the work. Therefore the performance of the Modi government has been weighed on the grounds of truth and has been passed with distinction marks.

Q: Why did you maintain a silence on Gujarat riot till you was cleared by the SIT?

A: Since 27 February 2002, the compilation of all the interviews and press conferences should be presented before the country. There was no top journalist to whom I hadn’t given an interview.  I answered all the questions of every newspaper of this country. I have been giving answers to these questions from 2002 to 2007. I later realized that this is not an effort to know the whole truth. This is some unknown world which is actually conspiring. Then I thought that I have said enough. The court of the public has acquitted me. Same happened in Supreme Court also.

I have gone through all the mediums through which you actually test a person. Therefore, I think the people, who are still stuck, will keep on doing what they are doing. But I don’t have to waste my time anymore. I have so much to do for the people of this country. So I have focused myself on this work only.

Q: They also raise question regarding the validity of the SIT report in High Court?

A: I have given all the answers.  I have even written a blog on this. Just study my interviews from 2002 to 2007. Everything is available on YouTube.  Why mislead the country and yourself? I am accountable and the people of this country have a right to ask for an account of every moment. They have a right to ask for an account of my views and opinions. I am committed to democracy. I am not a son of a rich person or the Prime Minister. I am just a common person and am answerable to the people. Even a kid has a right to ask for an account from Modi. But, it is also responsibility to study the answers the person is giving.

Q: Because of 2002 Gujarat riots, you had a complicated relationship with the media?

A: It is a very lovely relation. If the media had not worked hard to defame Modi, then who would have known Modi today?

Q: Even your supporters allege that the media is defaming Modi?

A; I view it differently. I respect the media very much and in a democracy it is the job of the media to criticize. If it does not happen then it will be very costly for the country. Therefore I pray that the media should become even stronger and should criticize more as it will benefit the country. But the problem is not the media. It is the news traders which is the problem today. Media and news traders are two different things. News traders have vested interests. They have sponsors. The country has to be made aware about the real media and news traders. Improvement cannot be done without criticism. It is impossible. Does Modi not have any shortcomings or faults? Does he not have negatives? Who will tell that? The media should point out that.

Q: Are you open to change or suggestion?

A: Yes, yes. I have a system in Gujarat.  Suppose, there is a news report about manhole in some village, then I take that very seriously. I give importance to it. If there any negative news about anything, then I don’t feel bad about it. I immediately direct it to my office and ask for an explanation. Therefore it is a source of information for me.

Q: Kejriwal has alleged that if Modi government comes to power, then all the editors will not be spared.

A: My government in Gujarat has been there for 14 years, how many editors are victimized? Here not even a reporter was victimized.

Q: Your puppy analogy was severely criticized. Looking back, do you think you should not have said that?

A: Again it was the news traders who made an issue out of this interview. The person who took my interview had tweeted that Modi had not meant what has been made out of interview. He was a foreigner. Secondly, those who know India’s language and sentiment will be able to understand it better. Both the language and the sentiment are important. If we say that even if an ant dies, we feel pain, then it does not mean that we are comparing an ant with a person who died. Now it is the problem of those news traders.

Q: Media has many questions regarding 2002. One is regarding an apology and regret.

A: If I had lost the assembly elections in 2002 and in 2007, then nobody would have asked this question.  There is certain group of people who think that despite of all their vicious campaign and attacks on Modi, why he hasn’t lost the elections. It is their obstinacy that they will show ground to Modi. Secondly, I am convinced that even if there is one percent truth in their allegations, then for the sake of India’s prosperous future and traditions Modi should be hanged in the middle of a street. Such a condition should be made of him that nobody can commit this sin ever again for the next 100 years. If you have committed a sin, then what is this that you ask for forgiveness for it? It is absolutely wrong.  Modi should never be forgiven. Modi should be thoroughly investigated through all the legal systems, and should be hanged to death if there is even an inch of fault is pointed out.

Q: Secondly you haven’t worn the traditional skull cap of the Muslim community?

A: My mind is defined that I will respect my traditions. I honor the traditions of everybody. Secondly, everybody knows that Gandhi never had to wear any cap. Same can be said about Nehru and Sardar Patel. It is in the last two decades that this has taken a political color. I am against appeasement politics. I will never follow the symbols of appeasement politics. Yes, I will ensure punishment for anybody, who plays with Muslim’s skull cap.  The government has to ensure that their cap is respected.  Nobody can compel me to wear a cap for a photo op.

Did Sonia Gandhi wear a cap? With all love I had accepted their traditional cloth.

Q: Let’s talk about foreign policy. It has been reported in media that the Modi government. If voted to power, will have a muscular foreign policy?

A: Firstly, a person who has never spoken or done anything, is it not a sin to make presumptive allegations. Is it not wrong to make such presumptions? Secondly, we are the people who consider the world a family. Times have changed now. We are not living in 18th or 19th century. We are living 21st century.  Days of showing eyes to others are gone. It is the time to make eye contact. We should have an eye contact business with everybody.  Neither should we let our eyes down nor should show it to anybody.

Q: You have an issue with America over your visa?

A: A country does not work according to a preference of a certain individual. What happened with Modi does not affect the policies of the country. India’s policy should be according to its traditions. It should be according to the legacy left behind by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A country does not run if we keep on bickering over past sayings. It is run while looking at the future. Therefore whatever is in interest of India then that should be done.

Q: You talked about Atalji. His government was giving mixed signals regarding  Pakistan. Even you have delivered some anti-Pakistan speeches? What is the view of the BJP about Pakistan?

A: Firstly, whether it is BJP or any other part, their approach should such that upholds the supremacy of India’s interests. There should not be any compromise on this. Secondly, it is always better to keep good relations with other and then move forward. The path of struggle is not at all beneficial to anybody. Therefore we were strong for struggle but we want to live with respect, and should also uphold the dignity of others. This should be our system.

Q: What is Modi’s vision about India’s relation with China?

A:  There should not be any compromise on India’s interest. We should have look at each other eye to eye not lower our eyes.  Neither should we let our eyes down nor should show it to anybody.

Q: In BJP manifesto, it has been mentioned that there will be a relook at ‘No first use Policy’. It signals that Modi government might go for weaponisation instead of disarmament. Will we still maintain our commitment to disarmament?

A: Firstly, it is the land of Buddha and Mahavir. It is the land of Gandhi, and therefore we don’t speak in such way just because we have a political agenda. It is the country which speaks not a political party. We want the world to be free of its struggle. We want it to be free of its race for weapons. And this is not a political agenda. It is a part of India’s legacy and every political party has accepted it. Therefore there is no dilemma in our minds.

It is our necessity to be powerful. But it should not be used to crush another country. Power is for our defense. ‘No first use’ is a very good initiative of Atalji and there is no compromise on this. We are very clear on this.  It is a part of our legacy.

Q: In Sanjay Baru in his book has claimed that 24 hours before the budget was presented, Pranab Mukherjee informed Dr. Singh about the retrospective tax being included in the Budget. It leads to withdrawal of FDI from the country. If your government comes to power, what steps will be taken to bring back confidence in the Indian market?

A: Anywhere in the world, even in Gujarat, if changes things retrospectively, then nobody will have confidence. Breach of trust is the biggest problem which should never happen.  Therefore we are committed to this. But for the future there should be open policies. People will decide that this is our policy and the country will work accordingly. Those who want to come will come and to those our policies are not suited will not come. But if we make policies and accordingly we invite someone, and then suddenly we change it. So the trust does not form there. It does not even form in personal lives, how come it will form in context of a country. Therefore, there is a problem of breach of trust problem in our country. It is not that other countries hate India, they want to invest here. But there are constant ups and downs in the policies of the government. This is has caused them (investors) a dilemma. If we are able to stabilize this confidence will surely build up.

Q: You have backed the demand for strong federal structure and decentralization, but if you will become the PM, what would you do- decentralization or centralization?

A: I was successful as the Chief Minister of Gujarat because I have no power in Gujarat. Everything is decentralized, and my strength lies in team formation. I feel the federal structure should be implemented in letter and spirit with lubricating attitude. A chief Minister and a Prime Minister should work in a team. State and centre are colleagues and not competitors. There should be cooperative politics and cooperative agenda. There should be the approach.

What happened with the Congress is that earlier everything was with them only so they never understood this.  Afterwards they felt threatened by states, so they started attacking through Article 365. After that they thought of defection and brought destabilization. So the way they have victimized the states created lack of confidence. Today states do not trust the centre and vice versa. This should not happen in a country like India. It is my wish to fill the void created by the Congress in the Centre-state relationship. The whole country should work like a team. Every state has its own power

Q: You have sought a debate on Article 370. Farooq Abdullah has demanded that there should be a debate on Kashmir’s accession to India also? Is the BJP government ready for this debate?

A: For a democracy, having a debate is not bad. Rahul has repeatedly claimed that that his party has brought the RTI act but is it applicable in Kashmir? There is reservation for OBCs and right to education, but are they applicable in Kashmir? If Kashmir is not getting benefit from these acts and remains a backward state, then is it good for our country? Therefore the progress in Kashmir should be exactly like it is happening in other states. We have to take everybody onboard.

Now even the people of Kashmir are getting aware about where there is benefit for them.

Q: If you become the PM, then will you raise the issue of POK with Pakistan?

A: Firstly this issue is not of the BJP or Atalji. The Parliament has passed with majority a proposal. Such a proposal cannot be overlooked by any political party. So the issue is not about Atalji or the BJP, it is related to the parliament of India and nothing is bigger than this.

Q: You have taken three different pledges in your manifesto?

A: It is not the first time I have said this publicly in 2002, again in 2007 and in 2012 also. I had said that whatever I day after the election, then I will ask the same question again in next election. I ask whether I have fulfilled whatever I had promised or not. I say that you have given me a post and it is not for enjoyment. I will work hard and will not let you down. This I have been saying since 2002. Secondly I say, that I am not for myself, I work for the people. Thirdly, I say that while working I might make mistakes, but I never do anything with wrong mind. This is what I have said in all these elections.  This is my direct communication with the people.

Q: Amit Shah made some remarks but he has your blessing?

A: In the BJP, there is no culture of maintaining favorites. This perception which is being created is injustice to me as well as to Amit Shah. Whatever he is today is on the basis of merit and the structural organization of BJP. To say he is a Modi favorite would be to undermine his excellence. Secondly the concerned issue, on which the debate has risen, has already been answered by Amit Shah to the election commission. I haven’t heard his whole speech since I keep touring but according to the information I have got, he was referring to democratic processes only. He was talking about election procedure and hasn’t used any words which can be questioned. This is what I have heard. The matter is with EC. Let’s wait for its judgment.

Q. Rajnath Singh keeps saying that Modi is BJP and BJP is Modi which sounds similar to D.K Barooah’s ‘Indira’ is India, India is Indira’

A. Both have a lot of difference, I feel. The wave is a wave of aspirations of the people of India, wave of hard work of lakhs of workers of BJP. This wave is of mental strength, capacity of top BJP leaders. It is a wave for change. It belongs to lotus and BJP and I am just a small soldier of the party.

Q. How do you stimulate your social media team?

A: Firstly, the social media should not be viewed in political paradigm. The people of the country are still not understanding that it is a very big canvas. Today, I know so many people like farmers who can decide where to sell their yield. It has offered a wide range of communication facility. He can get access to markets in different states through social media.

Secondly, I used to watch programmes where kids used to perform on stage. I felt there is so much talent in this country. And then I also come across the creativity of the youth on social media. I feel that every leader of this country, sportsperson, mediaperson should learn from this platform. I have taken   social media as a source of information. I have used it as a highway to connect to the people, which have added to my strength. I have not used it to disseminate my views but to grab the views of the masses.

Q: How do you take criticism of the opposition which is centre on you?

A: I used to feel upset about it and I am not a very social person who has friends etc. When there is no work, I stay alone. I believe in God. I have recently released a book ‘Sakshi Bhav’. It discloses some important aspects of my life. It has been written by me even before I started my political career. At that time I used to write letters to Goddess of which many were destroyed. But some of them which were left from the 80’s have been compiled into a book. This will give an insight into Modi’s inner self.

I have taken 125 crore people as my confidantes. No individual is more special to me. But never take criticism in a negative manner. I analyze it and try to use it for my benefit.

Slowly I started understanding that it was a professional hazard and that I have to live with it and bear it. So, I chose to use it as my strength. I don’t have any bad feeling about anybody even after what all happened. I might have said something’s about Rahul, Sonia, Manmohan and Nitish but it was just under election fever.

Q: What wail be your priority in first 100 days after coming to power?

A: I want to run the government professionally. Secondly, the biggest crisis in the country is lack of trust, crisis of stagnancy, where we need to give some momentum. If we start all this everything will fall into place.


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നടന്നു പോയിക്കോളും എന്ന മനോഭാവം മാറ്റാനുള്ള സമയമാണിത്, മാറ്റം വരുത്താനാവും എന്ന് ചിന്തിക്കുക: പ്രധാനമന്ത്രി മോദി
Forex reserves rise $3.07 billion to lifetime high of $608.08 billion

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Forex reserves rise $3.07 billion to lifetime high of $608.08 billion

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New India believes in market forces, will be the most preferred investment destination: PM Modi
October 29, 2020

1.It’s been seven months since India launched its fight against coronavirus through the first lockdown in March. What’s your assessment on how we have fared?

I am sure we all agree that this virus is something unknown, nothing like what has happened earlier in the past. So, while tackling this new unknown enemy, our response also evolves

I am no health expert but my assessment is based on numbers. I think we should assess our coronavirus fight against the metric of how many lives we are able to save.

The virus is proving to be very fickle. At one time, some places like Gujarat were seen as hot spots while the situation seemed to be under control in Kerala, Karnataka etc. After a few months, things have improved in Gujarat but turning for the worse in Kerala.

This is why I feel there is no room for complacency. I stressed the same in my recent message to the nation on October 20 that the only way forward is to take precautions such as wearing mask, hand washing and social distancing because ‘Jab tak dawai nahin, tab tak dhilai nahin.’

2. But has it broadly panned out the way you expected or have you had to improvise and innovate constantly?

We decided to be proactive and introduce a timely nationwide lockdown. When we introduced a lockdown, the total number of cases was in a few hundreds, unlike many countries that adopted a lockdown when the cases were in the thousands. We imposed lockdown at a very critical point in the pandemic trajectory.

We not only got the broad timing of various phases of lockdown right, we also got the unlock process right and much of our economy is also coming back on track. The data for August and September indicates that.

India has taken a science-driven approach in response to Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Such an approach proved beneficial.

Studies now show that this response helped avoiding a situation which could have led to rapid spread of the virus with many more deaths. In addition to the timely lockdown, India was among the first countries to mandate wearing of masks, use a contact-tracing app and deploy rapid antigen tests.

For a pandemic of this dimension, it would not have been possible to manage if the country was not united. The entire country stood together to fight this virus. The Covid warriors, who are our frontline healthcare workers, knowing well the threat to their life, fought for this country.

3. What’s your biggest learning?

One positive learning in the past few months has been the significance of delivery mechanisms that reach the last mile. Much of this delivery mechanism was built in the first term of our government and it has helped us immensely in facing this once-in-a-century pandemic.

I will give just two examples. First, through the Direct Benefit Transfer regime, we were able to transfer cash straight to the bank accounts of millions of people almost instantly. This entire infrastructure to enable this was built in the last six years. Earlier, even in relatively smaller natural calamities, relief did not reach the poor and there was massive corruption.

But we were able to reach relief on a massive scale to people in a very short time, without any complaints of corruption. That is the power of technology in governance. To give a contrast, perhaps you could enlighten your readers on how India fared during the smallpox epidemic in the 1970s.

And second, the behavioural change that a billion-plus people had adapted to in such a short span of time — wearing masks and maintaining social distance — is a world model of public participation without any coercive enforcement.

Union and state governments have been working in a seamless manner as one team, public and private sectors have come together, all ministries converged to shoulder diverse responsibilities, and peoples’ participation ensured a united and effective fight.

4. What’s your assessment of the state of spread of Covid-19 in India?

The pro-active measures taken in the early stages of the virus has helped us prepare our defences against the pandemic. Though, even one untimely death is extremely painful, for a country of our size, openness, and connectivity, we have among the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world. Our recovery rate continues to be high and our active cases are significantly falling.

From a peak of almost 97,894 daily cases in mid-September, we are reporting only around 50,000 new cases in late October. This has been made possible because entire India came together and worked as Team India.

5. Recent trends suggest a bending of the curve both in active cases and fatalities, raising hopes that the worst may be behind us. Do you also share this view, based on data available with the government?

This is a new virus. Countries which had initially controlled the outbreak are now reporting a resurgence.

The geographical spread of India, population density, the regular social gatherings must be kept in mind when we look at these numbers and seek to compare with others. Many of our states are larger than countries.

Within the country, the impact is very diverse — there are some areas where it’s minimal, while there are some states where it’s very focused and persistent. Yet it must be kept in mind that in a country with more than 700 districts, the impact is seen only in some districts of a few states.

Our latest numbers of new cases, mortality rate and total active cases do indicate a lower phase than some time ago, yet we cannot be complacent. The virus is still out there. It thrives on our complacency.

I feel that our response should be focused on increasing capabilities to handle the situation, make people more aware, create more facilities etc in keeping with the dictum ‘Hope for the best but prepare for the worst’.

6. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a debilitating impact on the economy, which you have sought to address by aiming to strike the right balance between lives and livelihood. How successful do you think the government has been in this endeavour?

It has been more than seven decades since we got Independence, but still some people have the colonial hangover that people and governments are two different entities. The perception that this calamity has fallen on the government emanates from this mindset. The pandemic has affected 130 crore people and both the government and the citizenry are working together to combat it.

Since the time Covid-19 started, it was frightening to witness scores of people dying in various countries all over the world. Their health systems were crumbling under the sudden load of patients. Both old and young were dying indiscriminately. At that point, our aim was to avoid a similar situation in India and to save lives. This virus was like an unknown enemy. It was unprecedented.

When one is fighting an invisible enemy, it takes time to understand it and evolve an effective strategy to counter it. We had to reach out to 130 crore Indians and make them aware of the dangers we are facing from the virus and the manner in which we could save ourselves and our family members.

It was a very challenging task. It was important to awaken Jan Chetna. Awakening of Jan Chetna becomes possible only through Jan Bhagidari. Through Janata curfew, signifying the collective national resolve by banging of thaalis or by coming together by lighting lamps, we used Jan Bhagidari to bring all Indians on one platform. This is an incredible example of mass awareness in a short span of time.

7. And what was the economic strategy?

Saving lives was not limited to saving lives from Covid-19. It was also about providing enough food and essentials to the poor. Even when most of the experts and newspapers were asking the government to release an economic package for the corporate sector, our focus was to save lives among the vulnerable populations. We first announced PM Garib Kalyan package to alleviate the suffering of the poor people, the migrants, farmers.

One special insight and understanding that came early to us was that the agriculture sector is one where the rule of social distancing can be more naturally maintained without compromising on productivity. So, we allowed agriculture activities almost from the very start. And we all see the results today with this sector doing exceptionally well despite so many months of disruption.

Record distribution of foodgrain, Shramik Special trains and proactive procurement were undertaken for both the immediate and medium-term needs of the people.

To ameliorate the hardships being faced by people we came up with an Atmanirbhar Bharat package. This package addressed issues being faced by all sections of the society and all sectors of the economy.

This also provided us an opportunity to carry out reforms that were waiting to happen for decades but no one earlier took the initiative. Reforms across sectors such as coal, agriculture, labour, defence, civil aviation and so on have been undertaken which will help us get back on the high growth path that we were on before the crisis.

Our efforts are bearing result as the Indian economy is already getting back on track faster than expected.

8. Your government has initiated two key second-generation reforms — the farm and labour reforms. How optimistic are you of these initiatives delivering the desired economic dividend, especially in the light of overall economic slowdown and political opposition?

Experts have been advocating these reforms for a long time. Even political parties have been asking for votes in the name of these reforms. Everyone desired that these reforms should happen. The issue is that the opposition parties do not wish that we get the credit.

We also don’t want credit. We brought reforms keeping in mind the welfare of farmers and workers. And they understand and trust our intentions because of our track record.

We have gone about reforming the agriculture sector step by step in the past six years. So what we have done today is one piece in the chain of actions that we started in 2014. We also hiked MSPs multiple times and in fact, we procured many times more from farmers at MSP than earlier governments did. Both irrigation and insurance saw huge improvement. Direct income support was ensured for farmers.

What has been lacking in Indian farming is commensurate return for all the blood and toil put in by our farmers. The new structure brought by these reforms will significantly increase the profitability of our farmers. As in other industries, once the profits are earned, it is reinvested back in the sector for generating more produce. A virtuous cycle of profit and reinvestment emerges. In the farming sector as well, this cycle will open doors for more investment, innovation and new technology. Thus, these reforms hold immense potential to transform not just the agriculture sector but the entire rural economy.

On MSP, in the just completed Rabi marketing season, the Central government has procured 389.9 lakh MT of wheat, an all-time record, with 75,055 crore going to farmers as MSP.

In the ongoing Kharif marketing season, up to 159.5 lakh MT of paddy has been procured, compared to 134.5 lakh MT at the same point last year, an increase of 18.62%. All this happened after we brought the three ordinances, which have now been passed by Parliament.

MSP payment to farmers for paddy has gone up by 1.5 times, wheat by 1.3 times, pulses by 75 times and oilseeds by 10 times during the last five years compared to five years of UPA-2 (2009-10 to 2013-14). This proves the lie and dishonesty of those who are spreading the canard about MSP.

9. And what about labour reforms?

These reforms are very pro-worker. They are now entitled to all benefits and social security even if hired for fixed term. The labour reforms will help create significant employment while also protecting the worker by ensuring minimum wage reforms, provision for social security for workers in the informal sector, and minimising government interference. It will ensure timely payment of wages and give priority to occupational safety of the workers, thus contributing to a better working environment.

In the last few weeks, we have finished what we had set out to do. The 44 central labour laws with over 1,200 sections have been assimilated into just four codes. There will now be just one registration, one assessment and one return filing. Along with easier compliance, this will lead to a stable regime for businesses to invest and create a win-win situation for the employee and the employer.

For manufacturing sector, in the last six years, we have taken a number of reform measures from cutting down corporate tax rate to 15% for new manufacturing units to raising FDI limits and allowing private investment in strategic sectors like space, defence and so on. Essentially, reforms for the manufacturing sector were in place with one piece of the jigsaw remaining — the labour reforms. We have done that as well. It was often jokingly said India had more labour laws than labour in the formal sector. Labour laws often helped everyone except the labour. Holistic growth cannot happen until India’s workforce gets the benefits of formalisation.

I am confident that these reforms undertaken in the last few months will help increase the growth rate and returns in both the manufacturing and agriculture sectors. Moreover, it will also signal to the world that this is a new India which believes in markets and market forces.

10. One criticism is that the flexibility to lay off employees has been extended to factories employing up to 300 people. But giant factories in electronics, garments and other sectors employ many more. Why not extend this flexibility to all factories while sharply increasing compensation for those laid off? Also, what are your views on the criticisms around curtailment of the right to strike?

India was suffering from a twin problem: Our labour laws were such that most workers did not have any social security. And companies did not want to hire more workers for the fear of labour laws, which disincentivised labour-intensive production. The inspector-raj system and complicated labour laws had a strong deterrent effect on employers.

We need to come out of the mindset that industry and labour are always in conflict with each other. Why not have a mechanism where both benefit equally? Since labour is a concurrent subject, the law gives flexibility to state governments to modify the codes further as per their unique situation and requirements.

The right to strike has not been curtailed at all. In fact, trade unions have been conferred with a new right, enabling them to get statutory recognition.

We have made the employer-employee relation more systematic and symmetrical. The provision of notice period gives an opportunity for amicable settlement of any grievance between employees and employers.

11. The GST system has come under considerable stress from Covid-19. The Centre has for now agreed to borrow money and pass on to states. But looking ahead, how do you foresee the situation for state governments?

The last six years have seen the spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism in all our actions. A country as large as ours cannot develop only on the one pillar of the Centre, it needs the second pillar of states. The fight against Covid-19 also got strengthened because of this approach. Decisions were taken collectively. I had video-conferences with CMs multiple times to hear their suggestions and inputs, which has no parallel in history.

On the GST, this is by all accounts an extraordinary year. Most assumptions and calculations did not take into account a once-in-a-century pandemic. Yet, we have proposed options to move forward and most states are fine with them. A consensus is evolving.

12. You have been a chief minister for many years. What kind of collaboration do you propose with states on the economic side in the current context?

It’s important to remember that the Centre-state relationship is not limited to GST. Despite the pandemic and the fall in gross tax revenue, we have provided enhanced resource transfers to states. Between April and July, the sum total of devolution of taxes plus grants-in-aid to states, including centrally sponsored schemes, increased by 19% to 4.06 lakh crore from 3.42 lakh crore in the same period last year. In short, while our revenues fell, we sustained the flow of funds to states.

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the central government also allowed additional borrowing limit of up to 2% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) to states for the year 2020-21. This amounted to 4.27 lakh crore being made available to states. The Centre has already granted permission to states to raise the first 0.5% in June 2020. This made an additional amount of 1,06,830 crore available to states. On the request of states, the limit of using the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) has been increased from 35% to 50%. This was done to ensure more finances with states to fight Corona.

13. Many argue that the Centre passes its troubles to states. Your thoughts?

Let me give you an example of what used to happen earlier. When VAT replaced the CST under the UPA government, they had promised to compensate states for any revenue shortfall. But you know what UPA did? They refused to compensate states despite their commitment. Not just for one year but continuously for five years. This was one of the reasons why states did not agree to GST regime under UPA. Despite the fact that it was a different government which made that commitment, we took it upon ourselves to clear those dues when we assumed power in 2014. This shows our approach to federalism.

14. The government’s critics have said India ended up high on both columns — number of infections and economic contraction. How do you respond to such criticism?

There are some people who are so intelligent that they use absolute number of cases to compare our country with other countries which have population similar to our states.

However, I expect The Economic Times to do better research and not regurgitate such arguments. While looking at our current numbers, we should also look at what kind of huge numbers were forecast by experts in March.

15. What are the five economic parameters you would point to as clear indicators of a bounce back? Specifically, what kind of a rebound do you expect next year?

We are on our way to economic recovery. Indicators suggest the same. First, in agriculture, as I said earlier, our farmers have broken all records and we have also done record procurement at the highest ever levels of MSP. These two factors — record production and record purchase — are going to inject significant income in the rural economy which will have its own virtuous cycle of demand generation. Second, record high FDI inflows indicate India’s growing image as an investor friendly country. This year, despite the pandemic, we received the highest ever FDI of $35.73 billion for April-August. This is 13% higher than the same period last year, which was also a record year. Third, auto sales along with tractor sales are either reaching or surpassing previous year levels. This indicates a strong resurgence in demand. Fourth, a steady recovery in the manufacturing sector helped India climb two notches to the third position among key emerging markets after China and Brazil in September. The manufacturing growth is reflected in the first year-on-year rise in exports in seven months. E-way bills and GST collections growth has also been healthy.

Finally, in terms of new net subscribers of EPFO, the month of August 2020 registered a 34% jump compared to July 2020 with addition of more than a million new subscribers. This shows that the job market is picking up.

Other than that, foreign exchange reserves have touched a record high. Key indicators of economic recovery like railway freight traffic increased by more than 15% and power demand by 4% in September over the same month last year. This shows that recovery is broad based. Plus, Aatmanirbhar Bharat announcements are a big stimulus to the economy, particularly to small businesses and the informal sector.

16. What’s your plan for further stimulus?

We will take all measures needed to constantly stimulate the economy in a timely manner while ensuring overall macro-economic stability. Remember, we are still not over with the pandemic. Yet, our economy has shown a remarkable capability to bounce back, largely because of the resilience of our people. This is something which is not captured in these numbers, but is the reason behind those numbers. The shop-owner, the trader, the person running a MSME, the person working on factory floor, the entrepreneur, all these are the heroes responsible for the strong market sentiment and revival of the economy.

17. You seem to believe that India can still emerge as a major world hub for manufacturing, especially by becoming part of global supply chains at a time when companies are looking to de-risk their exposure to China. What is the progress in this regard? Can India emerge as a credible alternative to China in global supply chains?

India has not started speaking about manufacturing only after the pandemic. We have been working on increasing manufacturing for sometime now. India is, after all, a young country with a skilled workforce. But India doesn’t believe in gaining from the loss of others. India will become a global manufacturing hub on its own strengths. Our effort is not to become some country’s alternative, but to become a country which offers unique opportunities. We want to see the progress of all. If India progresses, 1/6th of humanity will progress.

We saw how a new world order was formed after World War II. Something similar will happen post Covid-19. This time, India will ride the bus of manufacturing and integrating in global supply chains. We have specific advantages in the form of democracy, demography and demand.

18. So, what are the policy measures you propose to enable India take this giant leap?

India’s pharma sector, during the past few months, has already demonstrated the way ahead. India has emerged as a key player in global pharma supply chains. We have become the second largest manufacturer of PPE kits in a very short duration. India is also making a mark in manufacturing technologically advanced items like ventilators and from almost negligible capacity earlier, we are now manufacturing thousands of ventilators in quick time.

From independence till the pandemic started, around 15-16 thousand ventilators in working condition existed in government hospitals across India. Now, we are moving rapidly towards adding another 50000 ventilators these hospitals.

Now, that we have successfully established this model. We can emulate it in other fields. Our recently launched production-linked incentive (PLI) schemes for mobile manufacturing, pharmaceutical and medical devices are good examples of this focused and targeted approach to attract internationally reputed investors to create capacities with global scales and competitiveness, as well as make India their export hub. In the mobile phone segment alone, it’s expected that production worth over 10 lakh crore will take place over the next five years, of which 60% will be exports.

According to Moody’s, 154 greenfield projects from the US have come to India in 2020, compared to 86 in China, 12 in Vietnam and 15 in Malaysia. This is a clear indication of global confidence in India’s growth story going forward. We have laid strong foundations to make India the foremost manufacturing destination.

The corporate tax cut, introduction of commercial mining in coal sector, opening up of space sector for private investment, lifting defence restrictions on air routes for civil aviation use, are some steps that will go a long way in boosting growth.

But what we should also understand is that India can grow only as fast as our states do. There needs to be healthy competition among the states in attracting investment. States are also competing on the Ease of Doing Business rankings. Incentives alone may not be enough to bag investments, states will need to build infrastructure and follow good development-related policies.

19. There is fear in some quarters that the Atmanirbhar initiative marks a return to the days of autarky. Some say there is a contradiction between India seeking to become part of global supply chains while restricting imports. Your views?

It’s not in the nature of India or Indians to be inward looking or self-centered. We are a forward-looking civilization and a vibrant democracy that looks to interact with other countries to build a better world. Aatmanirbhar Bharat is not just about competition but also about competence, it’s not about dominance but about dependability, it’s not about looking within but about looking out for the world.

So, when we say Aatmanirbhar Bharat, we mean an India that is, first of all, self-reliant. A self-reliant India is also a reliable friend for the world. A self-reliant India does not mean an India that is self-centred. When a child reaches the age of 18, even the parents tell him or her to become Aatmanirbhar. This is natural.

Today we are using our aatmanirbharta to help the world in the medical field. For instance, we are producing vaccines and drugs without increasing costs or putting restrictions. A relatively poor country like ours incurs a huge cost to educate doctors, who are today spread across the globe, helping humanity. We never stopped them from migrating.

When India becomes Aatmanirbhar in a certain field, it always helps the world. If someone doesn’t understand the ethos and spirit of India, they won’t understand this concept.

20. So, there’s no contradiction?

Confusion among experts is not necessarily a contradiction in our approach. We have just eased restrictions for FDI through reforms like you see in agriculture, labour and coal. Only a country that believes in the power of international trade and commerce would go on opening up more and more avenues to work with the world. At the same time, it’s also true that India has been unable to realise its potential in sectors where it has inherent comparative advantages. Take coal for instance. India imported nearly 1.5 lakh crore worth of coal in 2019-20, despite having one of the biggest reserves in the world. Defence is another area of import dependence for us. While we have increased the FDI limit from 49 to 74%, domestic production for 101 items worth 3.5 lakh crore over the next five years has also been announced.

In the past, while opening our markets, we also signed 10 free trade agreements (FTAs) and 6 preferential trade agreements (PTAs). The assessment of existing FTAs should happen on the metric of how they have benefited for India and not on the basis of ideological standing.

India is keen to be part of global value chains and wants to do trade deals but they have to be fair and non-discriminatory. Moreover, since India would be providing access to a large market, the agreements must be reciprocal and balanced.

We gave preferential access to our large market under our FTAs. However, our trading partners have not always reciprocated with the same treatment. Our exporters have often faced ill-intended non-tariff barriers. For example, while our trading partners can export steel to India, few trading partners don’t allow the import of Indian steel. Similarly, Indian tyre manufacturers are unable to export due to technical barriers. While India remains committed to openness and transparency in trade, it will use the measures and instruments at its disposal in ensuring free and fair access for its exporters.

In the case of RCEP, India made its best efforts for a final conclusion. We wanted a level playing field based on fair trade practices and transparency. We expressed serious concerns over non-tariff barriers and opaqueness of subsidy regimes in some RCEP countries. India took a considered position not to join RCEP, highlighting the fact that the current structure did not reflect RCEP guiding principles nor address outstanding issues.

21. It appears from government assessments that FTAs have not worked in India’s favour. We also walked out of RCEP. How has your thinking evolved on subject? Do you think we should pursue FTAs at all?

The guiding principle behind International trade is to create win-win solutions for all countries involved. And I am told by experts, that ideally trade deals should be global and multilateral through the WTO. India has always adhered to global trade rules and stood for a free, fair, equitable, transparent and rules-based international trading system, which should fulfil the intended developmental objectives and aspirations of developing countries, as envisaged under the WTO.

22. India has emerged as a major producer of PPE and masks. Pharma has emerged as a strategic sector. Going forward, how do you strengthen our advantage in this area?

We realised at the start of the pandemic that we were dependent on imports for PPEs. The problem aggravated after countries imposed lockdowns, which affected manufacturing, resulting in disruption of global supply chains. This essentially meant that the country was to quickly think of ways to become self-reliant in the time of crisis.

We followed a very focused hands-on approach, identifying and sourcing each and every raw material for this purpose. We worked 24x7 with the industry and state governments to meet the objective of making and procuring PPE Kits, N-95 masks, ventilators, diagnostic kits etc. Once these issues were sorted, indigenous production started and orders were placed on domestic manufacturers for procurement. India is now in a position where we are not only meeting our domestic demand but are also capable of meeting the demand of other countries.

India lived up to its name of being the Pharmacy of the World in the last few months, supplying drugs and medical equipment to around 150 countries. The Indian pharma sector has a size of about $38 billion. To strengthen this advantage, government has approved an outlay of 1,40,00 crore for production of medical devices and active pharmaceutical ingredients. Bulk drug parks and medical devices parks are being created for attaining global leadership position.

23. A vaccine is likely to become available next year. Is there some thinking on distribution and priorities in terms of who will be vaccinated?

First and foremost, I would like to assure the nation that, as and when a vaccine becomes available, everyone will be vaccinated. None will be left behind. Of course, initially we may focus on protecting the most vulnerable and the frontline workers. A National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 Vaccine has been constituted to chart the way forward.

We should also realise that vaccine development is still work in progress. Trials are on. Experts can’t say what the vaccine will be, its dosage per person, periodicity or how it’s to be administered etc. All this, when finalised by experts, will also guide our approach on taking the vaccine to citizens.

On logistics, more than 28,000 cold chain points will store and distribute Covid-19 vaccines to ensure they reach the last point. Dedicated teams at state, district and local levels will see to it that the vaccine distribution and administration is done in a systematic and accountable manner. A digital platform to enroll, track and reach the beneficiaries is also being prepared.

24. Given the setback on account of Covid-19, where do we stand on the target of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024?

Most people who are pessimistic remain in doubt. If you sit among them, you will hear only things of despair and despondency.

However, if you discuss with optimistic people, you will hear ideas and suggestions on how to improve. Today, our country is optimistic of the future, it is optimistic of reaching the $5 trillion target. And this optimism gives us confidence. Today, if our Corona Warriors are working 18-20 hours to serve patients, it also inspires us to put in more hard-work.

So what if we could not move at the desired pace this year due to the pandemic! We will try and run faster in the next year to make up for the loss. Nothing great ever gets done if we get deterred by obstacles in our path. By not aspiring, we guarantee failure. India is the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. We want India to become the third largest in terms of current US dollar prices as well. The $5 trillion target will help us achieve that.

Also, our government has a track record of meeting our targets. We met the rural sanitation target before the deadline, we met the village electrification target before the deadline, we met the 8 crore Ujjwala connections target too well before the deadline. So, going by our track record and continuing reforms, people also have confidence in our abilities to reach the target.

We have given a fair chance to those who have invested in India, shown their trust to expand their capacities and become globally competitive. The Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative is about unlocking India’s latent potential, so that our firms can serve not just domestic markets, but also global ones.

Source : The Economic Times