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"We have been able to move away from a feeling of cynicism and pessimism to a feeling of hope and optimism. This is the single biggest achievement of our campaign so far," said NDA’s Prime Ministerial candidate Shri Narendra Modi, during his recent interview to IANS.

Excerpts from the interview with IANS: Q: With less than a fortnight to go for D-Day, how is the feeling? Is it one of anticipation or anxiety?

A: There is no anxiety; but yes, there is a sense of anticipation. Change is in the air. And I think the results are going to be as unprecedented as this election has been in every way. I think finally the BJP and NDA may end up doing better than the best predictions among all opinion polls. The best thing is that the entire country is interested in the results. It is a welcome change from the feeling of disinterest if not contempt for Indian politics and Indian elections.

Q: India -- and possibly the world -- is widely expecting a change of guard in New Delhi and the anointing of Narendra Modi, a complete outsider to Delhi's power corridors, as the prime minister of a country of 1.2 billion people. Did you ever expect or dream that you will reach this stage in national politics? Or was it always your secret ambition to lead this country?

A: I never dream about becoming something. I always dream about doing something. I have always believed in doing every job entrusted to me by the party or the nation to the best of my ability. I always believe that I should give my best to every job that I do.

Q: All PMs-in-waiting worldwide have prepared a shadow cabinet. Do you have one, if not on paper, at least in your mind?

A: I think it is premature to talk about cabinet formation. However, I think that having led successful governments, both at the centre and several states, the BJP and its NDA partners have got several leaders with abundant experience, talent and commitment.

The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley have played a very important role in bringing important issues to the notice of the people. I think a lot of credit goes to both of them and other senior members of the party. They have all demonstrated that the BJP has got enough understanding of important national affairs as also the experience required to work in government.

Q: Do you have a plan for the first 100 days of a Modi government? Which areas would you want to prioritise in your early days?

A: I do not believe in shortcut politics and running the government to cater to the requirements of people who believe less in substance and more in sensationalism. However, we are going to work 24x7 round the year and we are going to work very hard to fulfil our promises and to realise the hopes and expectations of our people. We will be committed that we don't lose any time and get on to the job as early as possible. It will be our priority to restore confidence in the government, bring back credibility in the system and take effective steps to bridge the trust deficit that exists today.

Q: There is huge expectation from a Modi government. People expect you to tame inflation, accelerate growth, create jobs, improve infrastructure, build better roads, fix Pakistan and China, root out corruption and the list goes on. Are you not daunted by these expectations and that people might be disappointed if the government is unable to quickly fulfil these expectations?

A: Yes, I agree that for the first time we are having an election based on the positive idea of development and good governance and this is happening despite the efforts of the opposition to divert the attention of the nation and take the debate back to the issues of divisive vote bank politics. Due to this positive conversation with the citizens, we have been able to generate hopes and expectations. We have been able to move away from a feeling of cynicism and pessimism to a feeling of hope and optimism. This is the single biggest achievement of our campaign so far.

Yes, I agree that at times the expectations may be large, but India is no longer a poor country. The minimum our people can aspire to is having a good standard of living and an opportunity to build their own lives and careers. They have a right to dream and they have a right to get the enabling environment to fulfil their dreams. They have a right to elect a government which delivers. We will give a government which will work hard, work day and night to fulfil these expectations. We are confident that we will succeed in our endeavours. It will be a government that will not hesitate in taking decisions. Our government will be a truly representative, transparent and sensitive government.

Q: How many seats do you think the BJP win in the Lok Sabha? How many seats will the party get in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh where it is weak?

A: It has become a very difficult election to predict because, with each passing day, the support for the BJP and its allies seems to be increasing. The momentum is building even more as we move from one phase to another. A few things are very clear from the voting that has taken place till now: it appears that the present government has already been voted out of power. It is also clear that a strong foundation has been laid for a BJP-led NDA government. The last two phases will decide how big or clear the majority is. I am also getting a feeling that the BJP and its allies are likely to end up getting more number of seats than the ones predicted even by the most favourable opinion polls.

The party's performance in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, where it has traditionally not been very strong, is going to be the real surprise in these elections. We expect to do very well in these states.

Q: How has the campaign been so far? Do you think the discourse has hit a new low in terms of charges or counter-charges and is likely to get even more abusive in the closing weeks?

A: For us the campaign has gone very smoothly. So far the support we have got has kept motivation sustained among the party rank and file. The party workers at the ground are very energised.

Yes, I agree that the opposition parties staring at defeat have indulged in abusive language which has reduced the discourse of the campaign by several notches. I wish they had shown more maturity.

Q: A lot of people fear that the extremist elements in the Sangh Parivar, like Pramod Muthalik, Praveen Togadia, might rule the roost once the BJP comes to power and this is the part of the Hindu right that many among the middle class and young are finding it difficult to accept. Comment.

A: These are not genuine fears, but exaggerated analysis by vested interest groups. Those who have seen my government function in the last one decade in Gujarat would agree that we believe in the rule of law and the majesty of the judicial process. I firmly believe that this country has to be run as per the constitutional framework and the statutory provisions. Our motto is clear: "Be you ever so high, the law is always above you."

Q: There is apprehension among Muslims about BJP which has been further fanned by recent comments by some of BJP/VHP leaders. You had asked them to "refrain" from making such comments. Do you really think BJP would be able to gain the confidence of minorities, particularly Muslims?

A: I would only request all the people of this country to judge me and my party by the work we have done. I would appeal that nobody should judge us by the allegations levelled against us by our political opponents.

I will only add that we are committed to provide a government where nobody needs to be apprehensive or fearful. We are committed to go the extra mile to ensure that not only are we fair and just, but that we are also perceived to be fair and just.

Q: Many people think that riots will break out once Modi comes to power. How will you allay their concerns and fears in this regard?

A: As I have already said these are the kind of fears expressed by the fear-mongers whose only hope is to create insecurity in the minds of people and somehow get their votes. They do not realise that today's India no longer responds to such fear-mongering.

Q: Despite the BJP's efforts to reach out to Muslims, why has the party not given ticket in a sizeable number to members from the community that comprises 15 percent of India's population?

A: During elections ticket distribution is done by the Central Election Committee of the party after taking into account all aspects. However, it would be wrong to say that the BJP has not given representation to the minority community.

Besides, I don't think it is a correct yardstick to define a party's stand on such matters. You cannot forget that it was the NDA government which had proposed the name of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for the post of president even as the UPA had opposed his candidature.

Q: Will the BJP come clean on the huge amount of money spent on these elections and the sources of the funding to quell talk that Adani and Ambani are funding your campaign?

A: Sometime back, a senior leader of the Congress party had levelled this frivolous allegation. Immediately thereafter I had dared the Congress to inquire into this allegation. I had gone to the extent of saying that Congress can choose any agency under the control of the central government. However, I have heard little on this issue after that. It is clear that the Congress' bluff has been called.

Q: There have been charges that BJP's campaign is centred around a single personality and the promotion of a personality cult. You hardly hear from veteran leaders like Advani, Sushma Swaraj, etc. Have they been sidelined because they opposed your leadership?

A: The decision-making system in the BJP is of collective leadership. At times it is difficult for most of our political opponents from political parties which have a family rule or are dominated by an individual to appreciate the concept of collective decision-making.

In any case, I think if the credit or the blame for the election being dominated by a single personality has to be given to anyone, it has to be my political opponents. You would have seen how I have been targeted in the last 12 years by my political opponents. I think it is their single-minded focus on somehow attacking Modi and stopping him which has brought a lot of support from the people of India to me.

Q: Coming to policies, how will you step up manufacturing that has been steadily on the decline? Are you ready to adopt any changes in the land acquisition policy?

A: In the last 10 years, our economy has seen a sharp decline in its growth rate. And whatever little growth we are having can also be called jobless growth. This is because the UPA government has never given adequate emphasis on the manufacturing sector. We are very clear that we have to revive growth in the manufacturing sector. That is the only way to generate adequate employment for our youth.

To step up growth in manufacturing, we have to revive investor sentiment. We have to clear projects in a fast-track mode. If there are environment related concerns, they need to be suitably addressed, but all decisions must be taken in a time-frame. We cannot permit the present state of policy paralysis and indecisiveness to continue for long. Our procedures have to be made more transparent and swift. We have to move towards a single-window clearance system. We have to also ensure that in all such decisions, the state governments are taken together so that lack of coordination between central and state governments does not lead to undue delays in clearing project investments. As far as the land acquisition policy is concerned, we are very clear that the first priority has to be to protect the interest of the farmers whose land is being acquired. They have to be adequately compensated as per the market rates. As far as possible we should go through the private purchase route rather than compulsory acquisition. Even where compulsory acquisition is resorted to, the compensation should be decided in consent between the farmer and the acquiring authority.

I believe that there is a win-win situation possible here. The farmers should get adequate compensation and should also benefit from the development that comes. However, all this need not come at the cost of delaying projects.

Q: What would be the focus of international policy, something the world is waiting for? It is said that, because of the US' past attitudes to you, Indian foreign policy in your government would be less pro-West and more oriented towards China, Japan, Korea, Israel and other emerging powers. Comment.

A: I have made it clear several times in the past that relations between two nations should not and cannot be influenced by incidents related to individuals.

Similarly, relations between India and another nation cannot be predicated with our relations with other countries. We have a right to conduct our foreign policy affairs guided by the supremacy of national interest. We will continue to do so.

Q: Your critics slam you as a dictator, compare you to Hitler and say you tend to be a know-all leader. How do you respond?

A: I am essentially a team man. Those who have worked with me know fully well that I work by achieving maximum consensus among all stakeholders. Even when it is difficult to achieve unanimity on all issues, I always try to have maximum consultation with all stakeholders.

By no stretch of imagination I can claim myself to be a know-all leader. On the contrary, I believe that professionals and domain experts have a role to play in governance. It is better to be guided by expert advice wherever it is available.

Q: Why did you contest from two places? Is it because you were unsure of a Varanasi victory?

A: It is not the first time that a person is contesting from two places. Our law provides for the same. I would not have contested from Varanasi if I had been unsure of a victory. I have been certain from day one that I will receive huge support from the people of Varanasi. The kind of response I got in Varanasi on 24th April will satisfy even the sceptics.

Q: Will Robert Vadra go to jail if his wrongdoing is proved in his land deals in Haryana? A: As I have already said publicly, I am not going to waste my time in launching a witch-hunt against my political opponents or other individuals. I cannot afford to make the same mistake which the Congress party has made in the last 10 years.

However, it goes without saying that our country is governed by the rule of law and be you ever so high, the law is always above you. Even if there is a case against me, it has to and it should reach to its logical conclusion as per the due process.

Q: You address so many rallies in a day, plus the responsibilities of your state. What keeps you fit and going?

A: Yes, in the last one month it has been a very hectic and gruelling schedule. However, when I see the kind of support the people are giving to the BJP this time, it keeps me motivated to work hard. Also, when I see the kind of hopes and expectations we have been able to generate in the people after a long time, I feel a sense of responsibility to keep working hard.

Q: What kind of books do you read? Who have been your favourite authors? Do you listen to music?

A: Of late, I hardly get time to read anything. I certainly like to listen to music, but again for the past several months, my schedule has not permitted me to relax in any manner.

Q: You have been criticising the UPA's handling of the economy but have not spelt out how will you fix the problems of inflation, slow growth and lack of job opportunities that has frustrated the youth, including 150 million first-time voters? How will a Modi government's economic policy be different from that of the UPA's? Will the difference be on ideology or approach?

A: Our focus is going to be on reviving the economy and growth. For this we need to revive investor sentiment and start taking decisions to clear the various pending investment proposals. Our focus is going to be clearly on infrastructure and the manufacturing sector. It will not only encourage investment, but will also produce the required employment opportunities.

Our approach is going to be drastically different from the UPA's approach. The UPA government's approach was a legislation-based approach wherein they would just try to wish away problems by legislating against them. It was wishful thinking at best and lazy governance at worst. You cannot solve serious problems of poverty and unemployment by just coming out with pieces of legislation without backing it up with a concrete action plan to implement the provisions. Our focus is going to be on time-bound implementation of various initiatives.

Q: Can you please clarify once and for all your approach to FDI? The Swadesh Jagran Manch, which is part of the Sangh Parivar, has come out against blanket approvals to FDI.

A: I have categorically stated that apart from FDI in retail for which we have expressed certain reservations, our party is in favour of FDI in all sectors wherever such investment leads to growth, employment opportunities and sharing of new technology. I would reiterate our party's commitment to encouraging FDI in various sectors to boost economic growth and to create employment opportunities for our youth.

Q: Your party opposes FDI in retail but Gujaratis in the US are all for it and have been lobbying for opening up the retail industry to international chains, saying it makes the supply chain more efficient and provides lots of jobs to young people. There is talk that you will moderate your stand on this once you come to power.

A: Our opposition to FDI in retail has been consistent. We have stated our position on this issue very clearly in our manifesto.

Q: What will your priorities be in infrastructure development, which India sorely lacks? How do you plan to give a fillip to manufacturing that has been stagnating? Are you in favour SEZs? Will your government continue the policy of the UPA government in building industrial corridors, like the one between Delhi-Mumbai and Chennai-Bangalore?

A: To begin with, infrastructure development has to focus on highways, railways, port, power, etc. We will revive the National Highway Development Programme, which was so successfully started by the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It is unfortunate that the very good beginning made by the NDA government was not continued by the UPA in right earnest. We will bring back the focus by connecting the country through a network of good quality highways.

Similarly, as promised in our manifesto, we will start work on a High Speed Rail network. Railways have been ignored by successive Congress governments. We plan to focus on this sector and modernise it to begin a journey of transformation to take the railways at par with the most modern rail networks in the world.

To give a fillip to manufacturing, we will move towards a policy of faster and time-bound project clearances. We will try to usher in a regime of true partnership with the state governments to ensure that project clearances are given in a transparent and time-bound manner.

Q: Ahmed Patel has denied any closeness with you and has termed as "ridiculous" your contention (as reportedly told to DD News) that "Ahmedbhai is among the best friends I have in Congress..." What do you have to say?

A: I had myself said in the interview that these days Patel stays away from me. In fact, I would have been surprised if he had agreed to anything that I said. The kind of climate the Congress has created is not conducive to a healthy environment in politics. It is as if every senior leader in the Congress is under pressure to attack Modi and score brownie points with the Gandhi family. Q: Even the outgoing Vajpayee government had exercised its prerogative of naming a new army chief. Why has the army chief's appointment become a subject of unseemly political football? There is talk in military circles that this happened because Gen. V.K. Singh, a BJP candidate in these elections, wants his brother-in-law, who is next in line, to become the army chief. Comment.

A: Your question unnecessarily politicises the armed forces. I deem it fit not to comment on this sensitive issue. I think there has been a healthy tradition of keeping the armed forces out of the political discourse. We should all work together to ensure that the armed forces are not dragged into any unsavoury controversy.

Q: The Pakistan army chief has described Kashmir as his country's "jugular vein" and said they would be prepared to deter any aggression. Their interior minister sees your rise as a "threat to regional peace". How would you respond to these provocative comments, coming as they do on the heels of a very conciliatory and welcoming remark by their new Pakistani envoy in Delhi?

A: I see these comments as highly provocative and I think they amount to interference in the internal affairs of our country. I wish the Government of India takes a stronger stand on this uninvited interference. Q: Why are many countries in the region worried about the "rise of Narendra Modi"? What would you say to them?

A: This is a perception being held by a handful of vested interest groups, both within India and outside the country. I do not understand why the perceptions of these vested interests should be owned up by a news agency. I can only say that all such perceptions are either misguided or arising out of malafide intent on the part of certain vested interest groups inimical to the progress of India. Apparently, there are several people who cannot reconcile themselves to the emergence of a strong and resilient India.

Q: Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said the government will approach the courts to appoint a sitting judge to probe the so-called Snoopgate controversy. Do you think it is right for a lame-duck government to make such a provocative move against a likely successor? Do you think the courts will agree?

A: It is an act of despair by a government which is becoming increasingly certain about its defeat. It is one of those last-ditch efforts made by a government which seems increasingly inept at handling its defeat gracefully. Congress party needs to be reminded of the saying, "one must be humble in victory and gracious in defeat". Several top leaders in this present government did not even choose to contest the elections out of fear of losing. The few who have contested are staring at certain defeat. In such a scenario, it is highly unbecoming of a lame-duck government to resort to abuse of state power for political ends.

Courtesy - IANS

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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