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Shri Narendra Modi spoke to ABP News’ Special Programme – Ghoshana Patra – and put forth his views on various topics doing the rounds of the political discourse in the country.

Edited full excerpts from the interview -

Q Shazi Zaman (Group Editor, ABP News): According to the format of the show, first question we put up is that why should the country vote for you?

A (Narendra Modi): 2014 poll has brought hope. There is distrust, stagnancy and immense corruption around. On one hand people are hugely disappointed and on the other hand people are thinking whether there is a place where such dirty politics doesn’t exist? Will the country run with a squabble (tu main main). BJP with its track record has developed a trust among the people. This is on the basis of good governance and other is of development. The Country needs a change and even the poor people now realise it now. This election is not of arithmetic calculation but of the chemistry feeling of 125 crore people. 232 seats which have gone to polls has exposed the body language of Congress, you can see the kind of language they use. Due to these reasons, people will make BJP & NDA victorious.

Q SZ: Will NDA attain the majority? You may get seats but what if some parties refuse to give support, then your seat count would be reduced?

A: This is good arithmetic point of view. But this election is not of arithmetic calculations and is of chemistry. Prediction of lot of political pundits would go wrong this time. I have been directly involved with people in this poll; have travelled all over the country. I was a political science student. So I believe BJP will get the clear cut mandate and come to power. With NDA we will grow stronger. In India ‘perception politics’ happens. We have a pre poll alliance of 25 parties. First time in history it has happened.

Q Rajiv Khandekar (Editor – ABP Majha): You have good relation with Mamata, Jayalalithaa but you are making personal attacks on them which you didn’t in your initial campaigning. BJP didn’t have such confidence to attack then? There were talks in Maharashtra that you and Sharad Pawar are good friends and are coming together in this election?

A: If we used such kind of a language earlier then we would have been labelled of having an arrogant approach. It could have affected us. That’s why our strategy was placid and then there was a progressive enfoldment. In the next 10 days more of such will happen which is a part of our strategy.

Q RK: Yeda Bankar Peda Khao…

A: When I will go to Maharashtra I will talk about Sharad Pawar. When in Tamil Nadu I will talk about Jayalalithaa. In West Bengal will talk about Mamata. In Orissa about Naveen Patnaik. Whichever state I go for the first time I express my thoughts. It’s not that the situation changed so our strategy changed. In elections BJP should be clear cut in their thoughts portrayed to people. We do not want to create confusion or else confusion in masses will grow. Why this hypocrisy? In elections we are actually facing a challenge from Mamata and Patnaik. So why mislead the nation?

Q RK: Is there truth that you and Sharad Pawar had plans to come together?

A: No it’s not true. As far as friendship is concerned you will be surprised to know that I have friendly relations with Lalu Yadav (RJD chief). We are in a political life and due to our ideologies our stands are different. But we are all a big family and we are not enemies.

Q Suman De (Editor, ABP Ananda): When you were sure that Mamataji would not enter NDA you became strict, your softened approach turned into a strict Masterji?

A: We knew well in hand that Mamaji would not enter NDA. There were no doubts about it. I said the way the LEFT conditioned this state; Mamataji is taking a very long time to bring the state out of it. The symptoms are not to be seen. More than being angry I am disappointed with the condition of the state.

Q SZ: In your initial campaign your tone was not like this but now it has shifted to personal attacks, why?

A: See nobody wants to make personal attacks but during heat of election such attacks do happen. You call it personal or public. But you tell me if Wall Street Journal has published then is it personal? 2G scam happened, Raja had this role, PM had this role, and so would we call it personal? Some news traders are used by them to divert the issue. I remember during Mumbai attacks these news traders refrained us from commenting on Congress. There should be political satire in the country. Once in Parliament debate, Sharad Pawar gave a speech then Sushmaji also spoke. Sushmaji said she didn’t know if it’s Sharad Pawar speaking or Lalita Pawar. All enjoyed this in Parliament, so did Sharad Pawar. If it would have happened today then news traders would have taken this joke in a completely different direction. There has to be humour, happiness, satire.

Q SZ: You called Robert Vadra jijaji (brother-in-law)

A: We have to identify the person; he is related to a family. If I had another word for it, would have said that.

Q SZ: You are also in public life, personal attack on you also?

A: Country will decide if my allegations or allegations on me are true?

Q RK: Till when this allegation will continue you must have thought?

A: Until I don’t lose, until I am not defeated such allegations will continue. People who have been trying to defeat me for the past 12 years have been using all their strength. They couldn’t give me even a scratch. This is their ego problem.

Q RK: Ever thought such a debate and criticism you will have to face over your marital status?

A: I am not surprised about it. Talks also happen of things which are not related to me also. They don’t have anybody so what to do? They will keep on doing it.

Q SD: Mamata Banerjee is going to every district talking about your marital status on your affidavit. How do you feel?

A: I don’t feel anything about it. The ploy they have let them use it. Why should I think so much about the criticism? Let people judge.

Q SZ: There are lots of talks inside & outside BJP. Even about Murli Manohar Joshi issue. With your candidature do lots of people think doors are closed for them?

A: I never proposed my candidature for anything or for any post since I have been born. Decision of me is taken by BJP. I have never asked for my position, never snatched or done any kind of scheming. Whenever I have been bestowed a work, I do it with full dedication, hard work and have sacrificed my life for it.

Q RK:  Is the RSS fighting election or the BJP? What’s your take on it?

A: Not any candidate, party or organisation is fighting elections. It’s being fought by people and the entire country.

Q SD: Do you think you have won if you become PM?

A: What is our aim, aim of the people is to eradicate this current government. That happens then the aim is fulfilled or else there is no win.

Q RK: You have been associated with RSS. Will reflection of RSS be seen in your future tasks if you become the PM?

A: I have to run the country. There is only one religion that is “India first” and we work according to the constitution. We have to take everyone together for development and that’s my only prayer.

Q RK: You and Mohan Bhagwat are both 1950 born. You have benefitted from him for what you are today?

A: His father has benefitted me a lot. His father was a pracharak in Gujarat. Lot of love I got from him.

Q SZ: Important question are Muslims scared of you? You look at people who support you and the one ones who don’t from the same lens. BJP leader Giriraj Singh said Modi’s critics should go to Pakistan. What do you have to say about that?

A:  Nobody can agree to those (Giriraj) comments. My 2002 speech after winning polls would be in your library. After 2002 victory, in Maninagar that evening I thanked the electorate. I thanked people who voted, who didn’t. This government is for the people who voted, who didn’t and who voted against. My government’s mantra is abhayam, abhayam and abhayam. You can check the 2002 tape.

Q RK: In Bunch of thoughts it’s mentioned that minorities should accept culture of majority and it will then solve a lot of problems. What’s your say?

A: Programme of Bunch of thoughts book review should be organized. Experts should be called. The country would benefit we call these experts who are for and against it. It should be aired on ABP News.

Q: SZ: You are fighting on issue of development. But there is a communal stand on your Pink revolution comments. Your comments.

A: I don’t understand why communalism angle is infused into it. Somebody just make me understand. Ones who do cattle breeding should not lose their animals. The cattle which are not in good circumstances give 1.5 litre and not 4 litre. In many states and villages farmers are dying and their cattle is also destroyed. We need to worry about milk productivity. Need to think in a scientific manner. In India it is difficult for a person to undergo cataract operation. In my state cattle are undergoing cataract operations, dental treatment. I sent team of veterinary team of doctor to US. The cattle should not lose blood. Now with their study these doctors came and now these animals are undergoing laser operation technique. We cannot neglect them; it is unfortunate that people are calling it communal.

Q SZ: Lot of families are run due to slaughter houses. Another question is the meat export during NDA rule. Why didn’t your government do anything then?

A: I will see what problems they had then. I don’t have much initial detail of it, could be that cattle which didn’t produce milk were in huge number. Today the situation is more serious. It is not right to say that just one community is linked to it. My Jain brothers are in this profession as well. If due to environment businesses flop then we don’t look at religion involved in it right? We worry about environment; similarly we have to look at the rural economy. So country’s problem is not Modi but a “stagnated perverted mindset”. They want to take every issue to that one corner.

Q SD: When you talk of Delhi sultanat, Shehzada…people say it targets a specific community? You never say Rajkumar.

A: We used to read the word Shehzada in our history books. For Soniaji I used to call her Rajmata.

Q SZ: You have been questioned a lot about riots and taking responsibility for it, your court cases and puppy remark. My question is a little different, a person loses his/her life in a state, CM takes accountability for it, and do you take responsibility for it?

A: From Day 1 I have taken. In my State Assembly speeches, in all my interviews, everything is available.

Q SZ: It feels like you are trying to increase your rapport with the Muslim community.

A: My responsibility is to reach out to 6 crore Gujaratis in the state. I am trying my best to reach out to 100 cr. This is part of my responsibility and I must do it. Primary job is to reach out to every citizen from every state.

Q SZ: In that even the Muslim community is there?

A: I understand only one language that they are Indians and are my brothers. You can look at it from any colour. This kind of language what is being used has ruined the nation. I don’t care if I lose elections but will never own such kind of a mindset.  I would request you to stop attacking me on my swatantrata.

Q: RK: Whenever 2002 question is put up, you say you have talked about it earlier.

A: Till 2007 I have responded to everyone to all questions asked. You can read it in print media, electronic media. Yes, in 2007 when UPA again tried to take all legal routes to drag me to court then I stopped talking as I didn’t want it to influence the issue because of Supreme Court ruling. Has any CM been grilled for 9 hours? SC has seen the tape as it ordered the questioning. I have been through all those hurdles and I am ready for it. Modi won’t surrender to such false political intentions.

Q RK: The demands that are asked to you are politically motivated?

A: That you decide whose agenda you have brought forward.

Q SZ: How will good days come? I have read your manifesto, lot of claims and promises are not mentioned in it, so how will it happen and when?

A: Everywhere is there an expiry date on it? Some tasks are there which are primary and some need to be addressed soon, some take 5 years. This manifesto is not for the entire century but is for a government’s 5 year tenure.

Q SZ: Will black money really come back to India? Are you raising a hope which would never be fulfilled?

A: There is a debate in the country that black money in foreign banks and no dispute about it. Lot of information channels which say there are hundreds of crores, some say thousands of crores. We will set up framework of legal team, with international relations and in accordance with international law.

Q SD: Inflation is the biggest problem which has been witnessed in our survey. How will your government control it and which sector you will give priority?

A: There are different set of problems. There is no real time data of our agriculture produce. We export pulses and then at four times the price we import pulses. Similarly we do it for sugar. In eight rupees we first export and in 80 rupees we import. This is a mess. If we have real time data we know how much wheat we have in stock, how much the requirement is? We can then analyse that if South India has started consuming wheat we should transfer then and in storage houses.

Q. SD But this is a longer term plan?

A: No this is not long term. This is done immediately. Secondly Food Corporation of India has failed miserably. They should be divided in three parts. One is farmers’ cultivation, second is storage. Our grains are being eaten by rats & gets damp. Third is distribution. In Railways marble is being loaded first and tomatoes are being ignored which get rotten. Agriculture has to be given priority. Farmer’s produce has to reach people in time. It’s about applying mind and then only can find a solution to it.

Q SZ: I heard you called us news trader.

A: Didn’t say to you

Q SZ: Ok, Thank You

A: You decide if you come in the news trader category or media. Why would I charge you?

Q SZ: If you form government, should media be afraid of you?

A: If any media org is scared of somebody then they should leave the industry itself. We don’t want a media which cornered by any force, we need media which is stronger & projects the truth. If someone is running away due to fear let me know, I will help.

Q RK: Media will be scared if a big leader in the country gives it a stamp of being a news trader.

A: Again verify. I only talk of news trader and not the media. I respect the media & it is your job to hunt such news traders. Media is the strength of democracy and should run in any kind of fear.

Q SZ: Your government will be of Ambani and Adani?

A: This is not your question. This is a myth spread by political parties which is being carried by you. We don’t expect this from you. Since 14 years people are talking about my government, that’s my identity. No middlemen roam in our corridor people say. My track record says. People say this government cannot be rushed or works under influence.

Q SZ: Rahul toffee remark. You haven’t responded to his Adani allegations?

A: I don’t have full details with me but want to tell you. Congress ruled between 1985-95 and at what price they gave away land is available. In 1997 Shankar Singh Vaghela government was there. Land was given is 25 paise and some land in 5 paise.  We came and set parameters. SC has said other states should follow our policies in land issue. Its upto you to believe Rahul or SC. I request you should send a reporter to do research and then prove that this leader is lying.

Q SD: Rahul Gandhi, your political opponent, has said that if your government is formed, it will be a government of rich people. What is your response?

A: See, you should judge this in accordance with my track record. I hold a Vibrant Gujarat Summit every year to promote investment in my state, and it has been so successful that every state is doing it now. So in a way we have set a trend. But I do this only once in two years, for two days. But every year in June, on 13, 14 and 15, when the temperature in Gujarat is 45 degrees and it is next to impossible to step out of the house; the Chief Minister, with all the ministers, all IAS officers, all IPS officers and all officials of the forest service, all of us go to the villages, from house to house, sweating in the heat to get girls to go to school, and this is the reason that today my state has 100% enrolment. Thousands of cattle camps are organised at my place, and it is the result of this that milk production has increased 85-90%. There used to be minus agricultural growth in my state, we are not an agricultural state at all, there is no water source, but every year we have a month long agricultural festival every year, that too, before the rainy season. Meaning that in the heat of May and June, the 800 agricultural colleges of the university, nearly thousand progressive farmers of the state, the government’s whole agriculture department, irrigation department, animal husbandry department, and the ministers and chief minister himself, all of us go to the villages for a whole month. We sit with the farmers and discuss how old methods can be discarded and new ones adopted, what fertilizers and pesticides should be used, what shouldn’t be used. We are the first in India who started the soil health card. In India people don’t have health cards, but in our state farmers have a soil health card. The soil health card tells him what the deficiencies of his land for his crop are and what is needed. As a result, while the agricultural growth of India is not going beyond 2.5%, Gujarat, which has never been an agricultural state, has an average of over 10% of the last 10 years. Do you call all this work, the work of the rich?

Number 2, the growth of small and medium scale industries in our country is 19%, but in Gujarat it is 85%, do you call this the work of the riche?

When I came to power in Gujarat there were 11 universities, today there are 43, do you call this the work of the rich?

When I came to Gujarat there were 13 thousand engineering college seats, now there are 1 lakh 13 thousand, do you call this the work of the rich?

When I came to Gujarat, cotton growers used to produce 23 lakh bales, today it is 1 crore 23 lakh bales, is this the work of the rich?

This politics should end; these balloons of lies should end. The country will not accept these toffee sellers now.

Q SZ: A question about your image now. Those who like you, they like you so much that they wear masks of your face when they step out, while those who don’t like you say that your face itself is a mask. What do you say?

A: If god had given me the power to know and understand myself, then I could have scaled unknown heights, which is way God has probably not given me that power to understand myself. I try to understand myself through friends like you. Sometimes you like me, sometimes you don’t, but I respect them all. Weather it is bitter criticism or blind love, I respect them all. I try to turn the criticism and opposition to love, and show truth to those who blindly love. I will not live a double faced life, I will not face the nation like a mask, I will try to live as I am.

Q RK:  Modi ji, the love for you has led to a new problem in Maharashtra. Raj Thackeray is supporting you, he says that he was the first one to say that you should be Prime Minister, but now the senior leaders of your party are calling him an uninvited guest and saying that if he wants to support then he should come in, or just leave. What is your response to all these exchanges?

A: When the results come on May 16, I am confident that we will not need any such support to form the government. But to run the country we will need everybody’s support, and I believe that in a democracy we need to rise above politics and take everyone’s cooperation to run the country. For running the government we won’t be needing any support, the people will give enough of it. But to run the country, everybody’s support should be taken. If Rahul Gandhi wins from Amethi, even though chances are slim, but if he does and sits as leader of Opposition, then his support should also be taken, that is my opinion. A country does not run like this, everybody has to be taken together to run the country. To run a government it is ok to take the verdict given by people.

Q SZ: There seems to be a difference of opinion within the party on whether action will be taken against Robert Vadra or not?

A: I think this is a very dirty question. On one hand, no one is above the law. Suppose there is an allegation against Narendra Modi, and suppose tomorrow Narendra Modi become the Prime Minister, then should the case against him be initiated or not; just because I became the Prime Minister everything be closed. It cannot be like that, right? I am not above anyone. But I am talking about myself here, not the person you asked about, don’t mix it up, I am sure you won’t play the news trader gimmick. I have 14 years to experience of running a government. I tell you, I have never opened anyone’s file ever. It is my opinion that I had gotten involved in all that then I would just have gotten more lost in it and would have been unable to do any good work. This is my personal opinion, I am not telling this as a government policy. I have separated myself from all this in 14 years and gave support only to new positive initiatives. I am not even aware of them, they are old things and must be in progress, the government knows it’s work. We come in for five years, if we start lugging this garbage around then when will we do some good work. So it is my opinion that my energies not be wasted in garbage. My energies should be directed towards good constructive work. Five years is very little time, if we get caught elsewhere then how will we do any good for the country. Rest the law should take its own course.

Q SZ: This question came up, and I asked this question, because voices within your party said that ‘the son-in-law will go to jail.’

A: See, you asked the wrong question. What is good or bad is not my issue. If you pick up things from every nook and cranny and demand answers from me, then aise kaam kaise chalega (how will we manage). Whatever my party’s official stand is, I will reflect that only.

Q SZ: Now an important national question. Is it true that you initiated a dialogue with a separatist leader?

A: I am just astounded since I heard. Where did this come from? Either way I haven’t kept track of the media today, but I think this had been cleared up, they have stated they are not Modi’s ambassadors. I don’t even know their names; these stories come on the news just like that.

Q SZ: Your party has accused UPA of having a weak stand over Pakistan. What is your definition of a tough stand towards Pakistan?

A: First of all, we want to run the country such, to make the country such, that koi hume aanken na dikhay, and hum bhi duniya kea age aanken dikha kar vyawahar nahi kar sakte hain. The world can neither function with glaring at each other, nor with keeping our eyes down. The conversations should be carried out looking into each other’s eyes, in international groupings; it is reciprocating and the best way.

Q: Did you take any initiative to talk to Kashmiri separatists as Geelani had claimed recently that two persons met him on his behalf?

A: I am surprised. Where did it come from? I do not even know their names...Now it seems it has been clarified by the persons concerned that they were not my representatives.

Q SZ: Another question related to this is, will you go to America if elected Prime Minister?

A: This is a very loaded question. The country’s people have selected me for doing the country’s work.

Q SZ: There is one aspect of your personality that we all see. The face that is visible here and on stage. But there must be another Narendra Modi as well. Once the official work ends, what does Narendra Modi do?

A: My work never ends. I am a workaholic. Other than sleeping and eating, I spend all my time working for the people. Even today, I have just come from the airport, the whole day I was in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. I held three meetings but when I left Jalgaon I found out that there is a huge storm. So started to check from there itself, what the condition is, if there were any casualties, if there had been any loss. This I why also got late in reaching here. So you see, I cannot sit still. To me I am a worshipper and the people are my god.

Q SD:  Modi ji, the moment you stepped in here it was obvious that you are a bhakt of Swami Vivekananda, and he also figures in your speeches. We have heard that you are very attached to the Bellur Math and at one time you even went there to become a sadhu. Will you share that part of your life with us?

A: Swami Apasthanand is still there, he is very old now, but I had gone to see him and stayed with him for quite some time. But it is a different world, why get into it here.

Q SD: Do you miss those days now?

A: I am still much attached to them, but now since I am unable to go, it pains me to think of them. So I just stay busy with this work.

Q SD: Now a few questions about West Bengal. The TMC has accused you of trying to break the state, that for the one seat of Darjeeling, you have assured the people that you will view the demand for Gorkhaland with sympathy.

A: In a country this big, if you try to suppress regional expressions, then it will only inflame tensions. Their emotions should be viewed with sympathy and an effort should be made to understand them. Dialogue can open up a way; I thought I should say this publically so I did.

Q SD: So you will talk away the demand for Gorkhaland?

A: No, I am explaining the meaning of my speech, if someone has challenged it.

Q SZ: A question on your manifesto. Ram Mandir and Uniform Civil Code have been on your party’s agenda for a long time, but has never been fulfilled. You are known as a sharp leader, do you think you can fulfill these?

A: The country does not function with sharpness, it functions according to the constitution, and it will continue to function according to constitutional integrity. Sharpness is for elections only, not for running the country.

Q RK: Shiv Sena and MNS both are supporting you in Maharashtra. People believe that it will be good if their two leaders, Raj and Uddhav Thackeray, come together. So, have you ever tried to do something to bring the two together?

A: See, it is not right to weigh personal relations on a political scale. Which is why I have never crossed my limits. I kept things confined to friendship only and never taken an initiative in this issue; nor has anyone ever given me this task, so why should I get involved in such things.

Q SZ: Has Bollywood gotten divided over support to you?

A: I have very little familiarity with Bollywood, I don’t know that world. A few people have come to meet me since I became CM, but that too for business reasons. I don’t really know that world. Rest, people continue to take their personal positions.

Everyone has a right to their own opinions. Do we ever discuss weather there is a division in IITians or the media? 6 media in favour of Modi, 8 against, we never do a debate like that, do we

Q SZ: If you are given the option right now of watching whether an Aamir Khan movie or Salman Khan movie, which will you choose?

A: First of all pray that I get time to watch a movie. When I do, I’ll watch the first one I get. But watching both would not be possible.

Q RK: So you don’t watch movies at all?

A: I just don’t get the time, earlier I used to watch. Once I saw Paa on its launching with Amitabh ji, and once with Anupam ji I saw A Wednesday. These two films in the past 10 years, and a film on made on Swami Vivekanand on his 150 anniversary, that I saw because I also worked to make it successful.

Q RK: So how did u like the film on Vivekanand?

A: It was good. It is good for giving a message to the young generation, on an international level too. I liked that they did not show any miracles but kept it simple, the story of a social worker.

Q SZ: So Narendra Modi never relaxes?

A: My work is my relaxation, I don’t need anything extra.

Q When does your day start?

A: Usually I get up at 5, it’s a habit I have had since I was in the RSS. I don’t need much sleep, three hours is enough for me. My friends and my doctors complain that it is too less, but it is sufficient for me. You can see, I have worked all day but even now I am sitting here easily talking to you.

Q SD: The biggest issue in West Bengal right now is the Saradha scam. You raised this issue in your Siliguri rally too. So do you think there should be a CBI inquiry?

A: A lot of very poor people have lost money in this chit fund issue. Many even went to the extent of suicide. In such a situation, steps should be taken to reinforce people’s trust, it doesn’t matter what for it takes.

Courtesy: ABP News

 

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Comments

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