Mr Prime Minister, you’ve been campaigning across the length and breadth of the country. How do you see the mood, particularly in comparison to 2014?
The mood is quite evident for all to see. Every day, I attend on an average of three rallies across the nation. Every rally is drawing huge crowds as if they are competing with the previous rallies.
People usually rally behind political parties when they are voting against an opposite party. But we are witnessing an unprecedented reverse trend where people are rallying together to re-elect a government because they know it is transforming their lives and assuring a vibrant future.
2014 was about hope for change. 2019 is about the confidence that change has happened and the expectation that more good work will happen. Prior to 2014, people were fed up with corruption. There was hope that corruption would reduce. We showed a corruption-free government is possible.
We have moved our nation from ‘fragile five’ to the fastest-growing major economy. Now, from the fastest growing major economy, we want to be a 5 trillion-dollar economy by 2025. People have appreciated what we have achieved so far. They are with us.
Is there a message in the party’s decision to field almost all the ministers, including a few from the Rajya Sabha, in the elections?
For the past five years, all the ministers have been working as Team India. We have delivered a corruption-free, efficient and effective government. Now, together as Team India we are going to the people, conveying to them the good work we have done and seeking their blessings.
We were in the government as a team, we are accountable to the people as a team and we are facing the elections as a team.
Will the recent election results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have any bearing on the BJP’s seats tally?
Yes, it will have a bearing. The Congress governments which came to power in these states by making many promises have got exposed before the people.
None of the promises have been met properly. There are power cuts, corruption, crime, apathy and other issues, typical of Congress regimes. What happened to their loan waiver promise to farmers? In less than 3-4 months, Congress has turned some of these states into an ATM for their own party.
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It is shameful that the funds meant for the nutrition of young ones are being stolen for their party activities. They are playing with the future of the country by stealing the food meant for children. People of these states have already realised that Congress’ DNA will never change.
This anger against the Congress will show up in the Lok Sabha polls where the people of these states will reject them.
Your government has been focusing on Bengal and the Northeast. But two issues, NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, have angered the people in the region.
Our brothers and sisters in the Northeast understand the Citizenship Amendment Bill in letter and spirit. It is a propaganda that has been spread by the Congress but it will fail. I am shocked they have the audacity to speak about the Northeast. They discriminated against entire East India and especially the Northeast.
Do you know that thousands of villages in the Northeast continued to be in darkness even 70 years after Independence? We electrified all of those villages in the last five years. Don’t you realise the loss of trade and development due to the delay in the Bogibeel and Dhola-Sadiya bridges? We completed them.
Do you know they laugh at the dress and culture of the people of the Northeast? But I love to wear them. Do you know they couldn’t change a law that classified bamboo as a tree, making the cutting of bamboo unlawful? We changed the law and declared bamboo as grass, which made life easy for the people. Don’t you realise the difference between insurgency during the UPA and the NDA? Insurgency is almost nonexistent.
Coming to Bengal, what is happening is known to everyone. A leader who is fast losing the trust of the people is feeling insecure. I am getting overwhelming love and response from the people of West Bengal and the Northeast. These areas will script history on May 23. What we saw in Tripura will happen in West Bengal.
The BJP has considered Karnataka to be the gateway to enter peninsular India. Your party has stitched up an alliance with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and is going all out to make the contest in Kerala a triangular affair.
Be it the north, east, west or south, people today are aspirational and they want the government to deliver. There was a misinformation campaign against the BJP that ours is a party of one particular region. We have successfully countered that misinformation by winning the hearts of people across India and I would like to remind that ours is a party which has MPs from Jammu & Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
People in the southern states have seen our commitment and ability to deliver. When there is an assault on the faith of the people of Kerala, we stand in support. In contrast, it is the Congress which has always insulted the local leadership. The Congress never built any memorials for leaders from southern India such as MGR or Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. For them forcing the name of family members across the nation has always remained a priority.
On Sabarimala, people say the Congress and not the BJP will reap the electoral dividend. Do you agree?
For us, Sabarimala is a matter of principle and not about the electoral dividend. We are committed to preserving the traditions and culture of Kerala. BJP activists continue to suffer as they are standing firm between the evil designs of the Left and the Congress and the traditions of Sabarimala.
Congress has never cared about Indian traditions. They say one thing in Delhi and another in Kerala. They said one thing in Parliament and a completely different thing in Pathanamthitta. We all know how Sonia Gandhi prevented Congress MPs in Delhi from raising the Sabarimala issue. Wasn’t that an insult to the culture of Kerala?
Our stand is of respecting the traditions and culture of Kerala, irrespective of whether it results in electoral gains or not.
This is going to be the first election without J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi on the electoral scene in Tamil Nadu and alliances have been stitched up to make it a two-way fight. How confident are you?
The choices available in Tamil Nadu are evident. By establishing an AIIMS, upgrading health facilities and making the state a hub for defence and aerospace industries, the Modi government and the AIADMK government have walked hand-in-hand to meet the aspirations of Tamil Nadu. We together helped the fishermen community and have put great focus on fisheries in our manifesto. There is a lot more good work happening.
On the other hand, the DMK-Congress alliance is a combination of corruption and dynasty which has no development agenda. People have moved onto high-speed internet using 4G but the 2G scam under the UPA is still fresh in people’s memories.
The Opposition’s main poll plank is lack of job opportunities for the youth. What do you have to say?
The same group of people who spread this false narrative against the (A B) Vajpayee government is trying to spread a fake narrative around jobs today. But remember their track record on this issue and how they tried to mislead the nation against Vajpayeeji, in whose era job creation was among the best.
The only people whose jobs are being lost are political leaders whom the people have continuously rejected in the elections and are set to reject them again. It is these political parties and their friends who are saying there are no jobs. But what do the facts say?
There are three facets: formal jobs, informal jobs and various indicators. Let us first look at formal jobs. The EPFO and ESIC data suggest that in the last one year we have been adding almost 10 lakh jobs a month, which is around 1.2 crore jobs a year. 55 lakh new subscribers have enrolled in the NPS in the last four years.
Around 1 crore people have benefitted under the PM Rozgar Protsahan Yojana. A Nasscom report says IT sector jobs are increasing at a good pace. If crores of jobs are being created in a sector which only constitutes 15% of the total jobs, then imagine what the total number of jobs being created is. Employment opportunities in the informal sector have received a big boost through the PM Mudra Yojana and other initiatives. 17 crore Mudra loans have been given in the last four years out of which 4.25 crore loans were given to first-time entrepreneurs. This clearly shows that over 4 crore entrepreneurs started their business.
A survey by the CII says that around 6 crore new jobs were created in the MSME sector in the last four years. The number of tourists and revenue from tourism has increased by around 50% in the last four years. Would this have not created more jobs in the tourism sector?
Now let us look at the indicators. India has been the fastest growing large economy in the last few years. In fact, the average growth rate during our government has been the best since 1991. Is this possible without more jobs?
International reports say that poverty is declining at a very fast pace in India. Is this possible without job creation? FDI inflows in India are at a record high. Is this possible without job creation? Roads, highways, railways and houses are being built at more than double the previous speed. Is it possible to create this infrastructure without jobs?
India is one of the largest start-up hubs in the world. We have a booming start-up economy with various app-based businesses thriving. Would this be possible without jobs? West Bengal, Karnataka and Odisha are saying they are creating a good number of jobs. Is it possible that the states are creating jobs but the Centre is not?
The Opposition is still trying to corner you on demonetisation. Do you think the decision was justified?
It seems their loss was so severe that they are still stuck on demonetisation. What else explains the attachment with this issue despite losing UP and Gujarat even after making it their main poll plank.
Coming to the merits of demonetisation, everyone knew that there is a problem of black money. Someone had to act and I did. We have achieved very good results in our fight against black money.
The anti-black money measures taken by us during the last four-and-a-half years have brought the undisclosed income of Rs 1,30,000 crore on which tax and penalties have been applied. It has led to seizure and attachment of assets worth approximately Rs 50,000 crore.
During this period, benami assets worth Rs 6,900 crore and foreign assets worth Rs 1,600 crore have been attached. As many as 3,38,000 shell companies have been detected and de-registered and their directors disqualified.
The tax base has almost doubled and there is a large transition from an informal economy to a formal one.
Defence deals have always been mired in controversies, Rafale is no exception. Shouldn’t there be a consensus through the involvement of Parliament to make defence purchases free of controversies?
Defence deals were previously mired not only in controversies but even corruption. This was due to the involvement of mamas.
There is no controversy on Rafale. In order to remove any scope of corruption, Rafale saw a government-to-government deal. There are no third parties or mamas involved. The Congress president is trying his best to create an issue in order to clear the blot of Bofors in his father’s name. But the people of the country know it all.
It is also the duty of the independent media to ask questions from those making baseless allegations when the Supreme Court and the CAG have cleared the deal. The media should have the guts to ask counter questions where they get such baseless numbers and conspiracy theories from. You have the courage to speak the truth to those in power but I wonder why that courage is lacking when it comes to speaking the truth to those, not in power?
On relations with Pakistan, we insist on tackling cross-border terrorism first but they say resolve Kashmir first.
I can tell you about India’s stand. The whole world is with India on terrorism. The world recognises terrorism as the biggest issue. India has stated that we are ready for talks on all issues but first Pakistan must stop exporting terrorism. India’s stand is crystal clear. Export of terrorism must stop forthwith. The factory of terrorism must be shut down in Pakistan.
Despite a number of countries supporting our stand against terrorism, China keeps blocking the UN’s efforts to list Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
One must realise that there was a time when only Russia was with us. But today the whole world is with us and only China is with them (Pakistan). Recently, there was a summit of Islamic countries in which Sushmaji (Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj) was invited and she delivered a keynote address. We had no entry in this summit when the Congress was in power. The member-countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation didn’t pay heed to Pakistan’s protests. Our achievements on foreign policy should be evaluated in this backdrop.
NPAs (non-performing assets) are said to be the principal reason for the slump in private sector investment and consequently affecting job creation.
The UPA government presided over the culture of phone banking. In eight years from 2006-14, the UPA government presided over reckless sanctioning of loans while disregarding all norms so much so that the quantum of loans disbursed by the banks exceeded the cumulative credit extended by them since independence till 2006. The economy bore the brunt of this phone banking culture. The banking sector suffered the most and we have taken steps to cure the ailing financial institutions by enacting strong laws. It’s to the credit of our government that Rs 3 lakh crore of bad loans have been recovered and there will be more recovery in future.
The Opposition often targets you on economic offenders running away from the country. How is it that such offenders have found safe haven abroad?
I would like to ask the neutral people, is it a small story that (Christian) Michel mama has been brought back. Isn’t it worthy to mention that Deepak Talwar and (Rajiv) Saxena have been brought to the country and face the laws of the land? They were fugitives from the UPA government’s time. But we got them extradited. Even the fugitives who were able to run away are now in jails and are making rounds of courts in foreign countries. We’re taking all legal steps to ensure that such fugitives are held accountable for their misdeeds.
The BJP has expanded its base after 2014. Do you think it compromised by ceding space in Bihar and Maharashtra?
First and foremost, it’s not proper to use the term compromise. Those who are drunk with arrogance in the Congress had passed a resolution in Pachmarhi that there would be no alliance with any party. We are of the view that India is a country of diversity. We have to strengthen and address the regional aspirations for a robust federal structure. This is our ideological commitment and role. We want to take along all our friends. It will be arrogant on our part if we don’t cede space to allies and expect them to be part of the NDA.
One of your first decisions was to phase out the Planning Commission and form the NITI Aayog. Do you think the new institution has lived up to your expectations?
Even before me, people like Dr Manmohan Singh had stated that the Planning Commission had lost its relevance. State governments were full of complaints against the Planning Commission. I, too, as a chief minister had a similar experience. There was a sense that the Planning Commission had become a political tool. But it wouldn’t be proper to compare five years of NITI Aayog with 60 years of the Planning Commission. What I can say is that there has been a good beginning.
There’s a feeling that politics these days is more personalised while issues have taken a back seat. Why is this so?
If you analyse my speeches, it will be evident that development is at the core when I speak. I would like neutral people to bring the truth out for the people. We have given houses to the poor. We have constructed the toilets. We made robust arrangements for the distribution of urea for the farmers. We are focusing on development-oriented subjects.
Your government has allowed private sector specialists to enter the domain of policy-making through lateral entry. What impact will it have on governance and is there scope for more reforms in the bureaucracy?
We do not believe that politicians and bureaucracy have a solution for all issues. We believe in harnessing the best talent to solve issues. We are a country where there is no dearth of talent. There is a big talent pool working in the vibrant private sector. Why shouldn’t we tap that talent pool for the betterment of the country?
The issue of lateral entry was being discussed for a long time, but no one wanted to let go of their monopoly on decision-making.
There are bright and passionate individuals in the private sector who have ample experience. They should be given an opportunity to work for the government and bring ideas inspired by their outstanding careers. Remember that these people have not just domestic but also international exposure.
What’s the one thing you would like to do most in the event of the NDA retaining power?
For me each aspect of the Sankalp Patra (election agenda) is important. For me, one commitment is no less than the other. Besides, allow some secrecy for what we could be doing after May 23.
After five years, do you have any regret at not being able to finish any work?
There are some who do a few things and draw satisfaction from them. There are others who after doing work sow the seeds for new work. Naya, phir naya, aur naya (new, again new and more new). My strength is that I am not satisfied with anything. Aspirations remain alive all the time in me. I would like the energy to remain strong within me to complete my dream for the country.