December 11, 2018, was a setback for you and your party with defeats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. This is May 11. In this time, you have held more than 200 public rallies. What has been your learning?
Every pollster, media, Lutyens Club, the Khan Market gang, was eager to defeat us and predictions were being made that we will wind up with about 40 seats in all three states. We were in power for 15 years in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. There was some natural anti-incumbency within the cadre as well as stakeholders. They (the Congress) could not form a full majority government, neither in Madhya Pradesh nor Rajasthan… We had more votes than them (in Madhya Pradesh). So, the results, in a way, were a confidence-builder for party cadres. The public thought that they (the Congress) may have mended their ways but their old habits began surfacing the moment they returned. This news became viral across the country, bundles of notes began re-surfacing.
This may not have been corruption for The Indian Express which does investigative journalism — the money meant for feeding the poor kids in Bhopal (being siphoned off) — I take news in The Indian Express very seriously; by and large, it has made a name for itself in the world of investigative journalism. In that, it is still ahead of others.
Your paper has always been at the forefront of raising issues relating to crime against the backward community. But the horrific rape in Alwar, Rajasthan, missed the relentless follow-up you are known for. Your paper has always been at the forefront of protecting freedom of speech. But when people are booked by police in MP for chanting ‘Modi, Modi’, it missed your front page. Farm loan waiver, unemployment allowance for unemployed youth (were the promise). But the Congress has been busy amassing wealth. So we do not need much to boost the morale of our cadres.
This question is because we saw swift steps after the defeat — 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections, PM-KISAN, Income Tax relief up to Rs 5 lakh of taxable income and pension for unorganised sector. Seemed there was fear that the defeat would impact the Lok Sabha elections.
There was a different reason. There has been a complaint with my government (from the media) that why don’t we get information (about government decisions) in advance? This is your problem. I did not think (of all these steps) after December 11. If you try to find out, you will find that it has taken two years of deliberations on files.
When you see Maratha, Jat, Gujjar and Patidar agitations… if such unrest persists, where will the country go? So connecting it with December 11 is part of journalistic limitations.
You mentioned unrest in three communities…
Do not see it through the prism of only these three communities. The large number of NGOs that operate with support from foreign funds have also been involved in creating an unrest like this.
You have been in constant campaign mode, targeting the Opposition for the last five years. This means that even you are their target. Democracy involves negotiations, give-and-take between Treasury and Opposition benches. Doesn’t this constant campaign shrink space for that to happen?
Good point. But it lacks one point. Those who ran the government from Vigyan Bhawan and Cabinet rooms (will find) this objectionable. They should be questioned. If the Prime Minister doesn’t keep travelling across the country, how will he be aware of all that is happening? This should be acknowledged — that this Prime Minister does not go travelling on a holiday. If I have gone for a function related to water, I do not speak on anything other than water. If it’s a function related to power, I speak on power. I do not speak on anything other than development.
Except during elections, you will rarely find me speaking against a party or its leaders. Unless there have been some remarks (from the Opposition) that day, which I need to respond to. You can see this from my speeches since the days as Gujarat Chief Minister. This is my commitment… even in Parliament.
I will tell you two incidents which I would like The Indian Express to write about in the correct perspective. From where did this INS (Viraat) subject come? This is not a new issue that I wasn’t aware of. Why did it come? When the Congress president, at a press conference, says that the Army isn’t a personal jaagir (property) of Modi — all of you missed this —then I have to say what’s it like to have a personal fiefdom. Rajiv Gandhi is not my issue. You are free to highlight Rajiv Gandhi, if you want to help him. It is your call. These things were reported by The Indian Express even then, these admirals did not step out then. Kehte hain ki baat niklegi toh dur talak jayegi (It’s said that when talk starts, you never know where it will end).
The second time was when I read in Jharkhand that he (Rahul Gandhi) said he wanted to dismantle Narendra Modi’s image. Inherent is to demolish my image anyhow.
Modi ki chhavi, Delhi ke Khan Market ke gang ne nahin banayi hai, Lutyens Delhi ne nahin banayi hai. 45 saal ki Modi ki tapasya ne chhavi banayi hai. Achchi hai ya buri hai (Modi’s image has not been created by the Khan Market gang, or Lutyens Delhi, but 45 years of his toil… good or bad). You cannot dismantle it. But Lutyens and the Khan Market gang created an image for a former Prime Minister, ‘Mr Clean, Mr Clean’; how did it end up? My image? That was the answer. It is your job to investigate and educate the people.
Not only the Congress, even with Mamata Banerjee and Chandrababu Naidu, the campaign is now so personal, one wonders whether all of you can work together on national issues after elections?
I have tried continuously for simultaneous elections. I have spoken to members of the Opposition; they agree to do something, but their parties take a different position. Personally, leaders in the Opposition admit they have not seen a PM giving so much time (to them), but they do not say it publicly. When Parliament functions, on an average each day I meet 40-45 MPs across party lines. Dialogue is very important in democracy.
When the cyclone came, I called up Mamataji and Naveenji immediately. I delayed one of my election programmes and took a meeting of disaster management. I was taking stock every two hours since the time the cyclone was about 1,000 km away (from landfall). In Kerala, 18 people had died (April 10, 2016, when there was a Congress government in the state) because of a cracker explosion in a temple. I had gone there with topmost doctors. This is the truth, you do not need to paint me as good.
Rarely, on our photo desk, have we seen a picture of you and top leaders of the Opposition in the same frame and all of you smiling…
I do not manage such things. Otherwise, I am a fun person…My Cabinet meetings are also filled with light moments. But it has been given a political colour.
But the power of the image, no leader knows this better than you.
(When I am working) I believe in focused activity, I am totally involved. And when I am free (relaxed), I really keep myself free.
The image is that Narendra Modi always wants to be in control. The question is: do you brook dissent? Have you ever been over-ruled in Cabinet meetings or party meetings?
I can give you an example from my days as Gujarat Chief Minister. I bunched eight to nine MLAs together, one of the ministers was earmarked to be in touch with them. Tuesday used to be my MLA day when they (MLA/MP/ex-MLA/MP) could drop in to meet government functionaries (including me) without an appointment. Ministers would meet their MLAs and seek feedback on the pulse from the ground. Cabinet meetings used to be on Wednesday. There used to be a Zero Hour of 45 minutes ahead of every Cabinet meeting where these ministers would discuss Tuesday’s feedback, openly express their opinions before I joined the meeting.
In the first 15 minutes, I would be briefed on these deliberations… I would say don’t tell me where the feedback is coming from so that I could avoid any prejudice on the issue… I got a workshop done between my ministries and CAG for an open discussion on where they had differences. It educated my team and they corrected themselves. Isn’t that democracy?
Similarly the LAQ (Legislative Assembly Questions). During (LAQ), the Opposition will criticise the government and members of government will try to run them down. It will appear in the media as officials have fun. Assemblies are meant to mount pressure on the executive system. Instead, they have turned into a slugfest for politics that gets published in papers the next day. It is my conviction that Assemblies are not for this…
Similarly in Parliament (at the Centre), all you need to do is to find out the average time of Cabinet meetings during the Manmohan Singh government. The average time was 20 minutes. The average time of my Cabinet meetings is three hours. What do you think happens over that time? There have been several Cabinet proposals which have gone back. Several have been referred to a temporary GoM (group of ministers). Additionally, I have done meetings of my entire Council of Ministers where everyone is invited to speak and deliberate. Presentations are made but, these are not for media.
But what do we get as news?
That is your problem. I am not undemocratic. I have met 250 people in Delhi for three hours each of freewheeling discussions. I believe that the thinking of the government as well as the thinking of the people in media should be transparent. Whether news gets published is not the only thing in a democracy.
What was not possible for your government even with 282 (seats)?
Getting The Indian Express to be objective in criticism of Modi (smiles).
We asked this to BJP president Amit Shah too. Atal Bihari Vajpayee didn’t have the numbers, he had demanding allies, a restive Sangh. On all three, you are secure. His legacy was Golden Quadrilateral, disinvestment, electricity reforms, Pokharan… will be remembered 20 years from now. What is yours?
I would not like to answer this question as it will be injustice… whatever I say. Unfortunately, we have tried to identify governments with only one or two things and not in a holistic fashion. This creates a temptation for governments to do one or two things for being remembered. I want to build the country on multi-pillars. If someone says cleanliness is your legacy, I will say I got toilets built in a big way. Someone will claim preventive healthcare as legacy, I will remind you of Ayushman Bharat.
Just like Atalji’s government did, we have put the economy on a high-growth path and made it the fastest growing major economy in the world. Our government too, even our most vehement detractors concede, has done very good work in the infrastructure sector. We built rural roads at double the pace we inherited and highways at more than double the pace we inherited. India is, in fact, the world’s fastest builder of highways today.
The Opposition tried to slander Atalji’s government with cooked up allegations of a defence scam, but all these allegations were found to be false. Now, they’re trying to malign us with cooked-up allegations of a scam. Yet again, the truth is with us.
The Congress and its friends tried to create a ‘data-free mahaul’ around unemployment and lack of jobs. Eventually, it turned out that Atalji’s one-term government created many times the number of jobs the UPA’s two terms did. The same ‘data-free mahaul’ tactic on jobs is now being employed against our government.
If you would like to limit my government to one or two issues, it will be a great injustice to Modi. They (the Congress) could not chant beyond MGNREGA about their entire government. I do not want to be stuck to one item. I have been in Gujarat for 13 years, you cannot single out one item. But you will find many things done in almost every area. So how the government should function, I have tried to create one model.
The Gujarat Model was talked about in the 2014 elections. In the UPA, we saw a rights-based model — right to information, rural jobs, education, food etc. We can’t see a clear model in Delhi. On one hand, you highlight Mudra, loans as a tool for self-employment. On the other, dole in the form of PM-KISAN.
I give advertisements to The Indian Express. It doesn’t benefit me, but is it a dole? Advertisements to newspapers may fit into a description of dole. After December 11, DAVP rates were enhanced. It is a dole? But if I am getting houses built (for the poor), is it a dole? Then I do not get the definition of a dole.
A lot needs to be done in the health sector. But if there is no client, who will build infrastructure? Now when we have created a chain over which the health sector will be built up — is this empowerment or dole? I have never called Right to Food a dole. I have never called Right to Education a dole. But I called it an election stunt. Just look at what was the status of Right to Food on May 25, 2014, a day before Modi came to power? That should be discussed.
We ask this because your election slogan of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ signalled that you will give more space to the play of market forces, but…
There are two parts to it. Char-dhams are said to be sufficient for moksha, but files can’t redeem themselves even after passing through 32 places in government. I had to change this. You will be surprised to know that files reach me after just four to six stops in between. Cabinet notes used to take six months earlier. It takes 15 days now.
Minutes of the meeting would be sent to me six months later for my signature. What nonsense! Now it is a rule that minutes should be approved within 15 days of the meeting. This is governance. This saves time and effort.
As far as disinvestment is concerned, government has no business to be in business. Disinvestment is such a process that we have to keep in mind whether there are any takers for something that we are keeping for sale. We create a perception. But maximum disinvestment has happened during this government.
But you have sold with one hand, bought it with another hand. ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) buys HPCL (Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd), PFC (Power Finance Corporation) acquires REC (Rural Electrification Corporation)…
You can give such examples. But take the example of — The Indian Express’s one-time karta-dharta had written an article on the merger of banks in the country as a big reform. I have merged five banks into SBI and three more banks have been merged. Where is he? It is not a small issue to merge banks where unions are present. We have merged five banks in State Bank (of India). The process is on. These things do not happen overnight. One man is doing in five years what hasn’t happened in last 70 years. Would you not take this into account?
What was the nature of the demonetisation decision? You kept shifting its goalposts.
There is no question of shifting goalposts here. Right from day one, have we not spoken of demonetisation as a measure against corruption, as a way to identify and crack down on black money? Through our initiatives against black money, have we not brought undisclosed income of Rs 1.30 lakh crore to tax? Have 3.38 lakh shell companies not been detected and de-registered? Have their directors not been disqualified? This apart, as I keep saying, now every rupee in the system has a name tag attached to it, something we did not have earlier.
Demonetisation was also a good means to boost formalisation, curb tax evasion and ensure a cleaner economy through digital payments. These too have happened. The number of returns filed increased from 3.8 crore in 2013-14 to 6.8 crore in 2017-18, showing 80% growth in tax base. The rise of digital payments is there for all to see, both in terms of statistics and as a way of life.
There has been significant progress on the bankruptcy code and GST, reforms in resource allocation. What is next?
You can observe one common thread between GST, IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) and the reforms in resource allocation: we are moving from an arbitrary system to a rules-based order that offers a level playing field for everyone. We brought about more transparency, technology for taxpayers while reducing chances for inspector raj with GST. GST has also meant lower rates for the people. IBC has ensured that nobody, no matter how big or small they are, escapes accountability for the hard-earned money of the people of India that is in the banks… For your question on what is next, I can assure you, more reform, wide-ranging reform and far-reaching reform.
Inflation has been low throughout your term but farmers are unhappy. How do you balance this consumer vs producer tension, looking ahead?
Taming inflation is important for the poor of the country, or else we would be burdening them with a hidden tax that eats away their income. At the same time, increasing farmer income is important. Conventional understanding suggests that both cannot happen together, but we are thinking out of the box to ensure that both producers and consumers are happy. First of all, the historic MSP hike is an important step in augmenting farm incomes. Now, the important question is whether an MSP hike is enough. Certainly not. An MSP hike remains on paper if procurement at MSP does not happen. In this respect, let me outline some data that I often quote and I wish more political pundits spoke of this.
During the five years from 2009-10 to 2013-14, under UPA, only around 7 lakh MT of pulses and oilseeds were procured at MSP. During 2014-15 to 2018-19, under NDA, 94 lakh MT of pulses and oilseeds were procured at MSP. This is almost a 15-fold jump. Such a huge jump in procurement happened and ensured MSP for more produce than earlier, but at the same time, inflation was kept in check. Along with initiatives like e-NAM, this will put more money in the hands of farmers. Another important way to ensure farmers’ benefit is direct income support. While it assures them some income support, it also helps the small and marginal farmers cut some part of the input costs going out from their pocket. We have announced in our manifesto the intention to extend this scheme to all farmers.
Is our demographic dividend in danger of turning into our demographic despair?
This is perhaps the most important issue in this election. Does the country want to move towards demographic dividend or demographic despair? There are two distinct visions at play here. One vision focuses on creating opportunities for the development of every youth in every family in India. Another vision looks at creating opportunities for the youth of only a few political families. Which is the one that can ensure demographic dividend for India? Who has put out a roadmap that will create opportunities for the youth at a scale that India needs? It is we who have spoken of making India a $5-trillion economy, investing Rs 100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector, investing Rs 25 lakh crore in the agri-rural sectors, doubling the number of operational airports, doubling the length of highways and building a New India.
Tapping the demographic dividend means becoming a global manufacturing and innovation hub. Tell me, who has outlined a vision for it? It is we who have said that we will take India into the top 50 of Ease of Doing Business Rankings. We have also said that we will facilitate the establishment of 50,000 start-ups in India by 2024 and promised to provide collateral-free loans of up to Rs 50 lakh for our youth who want to become job creators.
Today’s youth do not carry any baggage of the past. Youth do not fear the future either because they want to create it. They dream big and they also want someone who can deliver big for them. Youth do not want the same-old, tired and retired rhetoric that has been repeated by generation after generation of one family that held India back for six decades. We offer a vision for demographic dividend while the Opposition offers division and despair.
Moving to social issues, it is your prerogative to make nationalism a part of electoral discourse. But the issue is the nature of nationalism. For a section of the population, the minorities, visualising nationalism through the prism of Pakistan and Kashmir has an undertone that casts doubts upon their nationalism… Covering these elections, our colleagues found across villages, from Jhunjhunu to Bina, people saying they like your videsh neeti (foreign policy), that it has given them izzat (respect). We haven’t heard this in any other Lok Sabha campaign. That may be one positive effect of nationalism. But a nationalism that questions criticism… Several economists had questions about demonetisation but you said only two kinds of people are against demonetisation — either the corrupt or those who have taken supari (contract) from the Congress. So to link questioning to nationalism…
Pandit Nehru laid the foundation of Sardar Sarovar Dam. It was inaugurated by me recently. The project was estimated to cost Rs 6,000 crore but it eventually cost over Rs 1 lakh crore. If I say that deshdrohiyon ne desh ko barbad kiya hai (the traitors have destroyed the country), why should it bother you?
There is a law to disclose foreign funds to the government. It was not framed by me. It was framed by this khaandan (family). I only demanded an account. It was not provided. Automatically, 20,000 (NGOs) were closed. Main kahunga ki deshdroh hai. Aapko kyon bura lagta hai ji (I will call it treason. Why do you mind)?
It is in this context. Criticising demonetisation by analysis on economic grounds has not been objected to by me. You can even find my 20-year-old speech when I was not even a CM, during a BJP youth wing function — that chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai is a waste if you go and spit your paan-gutkha over the same Bharat Mata. This is my nationalism and patriotism. Aapke dimaag mein Pakistan bhara pada hai (You can’t think beyond Pakistan).
Did The Indian Express, which does investigative journalism, write that 100 per cent electrification has been achieved after Governor’s rule (in J&K). Isn’t it news? Not a single incident of violence during elections in Jammu & Kashmir. More than hundred were killed in violence during the panchayat elections in West Bengal. Not a single election passes without violence there. Meri deshbhakti Jammu & Kashmir mein dikhti nahin aapko kya (Why turn a blind eye to my nationalism in Jammu & Kashmir)? The Northeast, which was grappling with insurgency, has been peaceful. Haven’t we instilled a sense of nationalism there? Brought them into mainstream.
Of course, the law must go after the corrupt, but is that deshdroh?
We have created an impression of things being sarkari (government)… We have to change this mindset, that it is ours. This is the tone of my deshbhakti. You may have seen how people damage, say, government bus seats. Is that nationalism? Why do we do it? We clean our oldest scooter four times but we deface government buses and properties. What kind of nationalism is this? Yeh sab desh ka hai matlab tumhara hai, yeh bhav jagaana chahiye ki nahin chahiye? Meri deshbhakti yehi hai (This is of the country, meaning this is ours, should this sentiment be created or not? This is my nationalism).
We, interviewing you, may not feel threatened by this definition. But in Muslim households, many feel they now need to go through a test of their nationalism. We found, as part of election coverage, a refrain among many of them: that they are not being counted in. Hissedari nahin hai (that they don’t have a stake).
This situation was created by those who played the politics of votebank. Used them as a vote bank and did not bring them into the mainstream.
Why do they not consider them (former president A P J) Abdul Kalam as their own? This question should be asked to them. Why do they not consider Sania Mirza as their own? Why do they not consider Abdul Hamid (1965 war hero) as their own? This question should be asked to them. Is it not our job to educate them? These MPs/MLAs who call themselves secular, have they given leadership to any Muslim?
Rahul Gandhi is Congress president. Can’t a Muslim get that job? Why did he not ensure that? As for Dalits/tribals, I have been of the opinion that why shouldn’t Dalits/tribals/Muslims be chairmen of, say, Lions Club. Why should everything be in politics? Why aren’t Muslims being made chiefs in journalism? Why have you kept it so? We are responsible? We have come just now.
We had requested for a second term for Abdul Kalam. What was wrong in Abdul Kalam? We believed he should have been given another term with consensus. But it was not done.
There are self-professed sympathisers of your party/ideology hatemongering online.
Please tell me a single incident where our government institutionally discriminated against any community. In my 13-year tenure as the CM of Gujarat and five years as the PM, you will not find any institutional discrimination that pits one community against another. However, there have been instances where leaders of other parties explicitly say and even implement division of resources between various communities. They go on to claim from high pedestals that only certain communities should have first right over national resources. There are definitions of hate speech based on the Khan Market consensus as to who should be allowed to speak and who shouldn’t. If the Khan Market consensus approves, you can speak anything and be applauded for it. But if the Khan Market consensus does not like you, then whatever you say is called hate speech. Today, sharing one’s experience of custodial torture (or just saying ‘I am not a terrorist’) is considered hate speech. But when someone calls Hindus terrorists, that is not hate speech. When a terrorist receives death from the Supreme Court of India, there was a headline like ‘And they hanged him’. But that was free speech, wasn’t it?
How do you view the non-BJP voter?
In a democratic set-up it is impossible to have every voter agree with you all the time. When we were elected, I had said that this will be a government for all those who voted for us and even for all those who did not vote for us. I look at every non-BJP voter as someone whose aspirations we must understand and fulfill. I look at every non- BJP voter as a reason for which we need to work harder and faster.
Many of your leaders tell us that the public has given the mandate to BJP/Narendra Modi, who are you to tell us what’s wrong. But democracy needs unelected institutions like judiciary and media for checks and balances. One senses there is discomfort over uncomfortable questions from unelected institutions.
Uncomfortable questions must be asked. It is my belief that criticism must happen, not allegations. Like you must ask some questions to us (government) for the sake of democracy, similar probing questions should be asked to others also for democracy. Isn’t it? This is my quarrel. It was a remote-control government for 10 years. How many press conferences did you ask for from those holding the remote control? An illegal institution was created which could overrule the PM. Did you ask them about democracy? Questions like what you are asking me? I have answered how my Cabinet functions. A Cabinet decision was torn (by the other side). Loktantra aap mujhe sikhaoge kya? Kabhi poochha kya (You will teach me democracy? Did you ask them any of this)? When I say this, you will tell me that I am getting angry at you. Absolutely not.
I have answered (your questions) politely. But you will have to answer some questions as well. A Dalit girl is raped in Alwar and it doesn’t become a headline in The Indian Express till May 6 (when polls concluded in Rajasthan), it will raise question on the neutrality of The Indian Express. It was not there until May 6 because there was polling till then. Can you listen to it whether you like it or not? You can ask all the questions to me, but if we make a counter-question, we are called offensive.
You tell me, chor (thief) has been a democratic word for the last one year but corrupt is a derogatory word for you. What is this dictionary of yours? All I said publicly was that Rajiv Gandhi passed away with this kind of image. Ek aadmi ki chhavi chor-chor-chor-chor-chor chal rahi hai, aapko us par kuchh nahin hai (One man is being constantly called a thief, you don’t have any problem with that).
One person cries and narrates her torture, of being (stripped) naked and ill-treatment, you call that hate speech. And an entire jamaat (community) was called terrorist, called Hindu terrorism, is not hate speech? Yeh jo do taraju hai na, mera neutrality se jhagda is baat ka hai (my quarrel is with the different scales of neutrality).
Now you cannot frighten us with the veil of media. Newspapers were a kind of satyagraha at the time of freedom struggle. Those people running newspapers faced several troubles because of it. The media’s legacy is born out of that struggle. Earlier when I used to pick up The Indian Express, it wouldn’t matter to me whether a report is by Ravish or Rahul or someone else. Because all that mattered was The Indian Express. But with the advent of social media, I can look at 50 tweets of Ravish and make an impression. Aaj aap benaqab ho gaye hain, sabhi patrakar (Today the masks are off all journalists).
Your personal views are visible on social media. People now analyse that… the personal views being reflected in the media are not the neutrality of the media. Isliye, aaj aapki pratishtha jo daaon pe lagi hai, iske kaaran lagi hai (That is why, if your reputation is on the line, it is because of that).
You will have to observe restraint to protect your pratishtha. The entire fraternity will have to do. Earlier, when editors would present their views in some seminars, it was not taken otherwise. Today, it is not the case. The crisis of credibility is not of the media but the person who is working there. So do not abuse us. Did I censor your questions here?
But you have made an image of me as someone who will censor. If someone is casteist, you have no problem. But if Modi says we can make only 50 of 250 houses this year, start from one side and then do it step by step, what problem do you have? Power has to be provided, provide them from one side till all. Do not differentiate whether he or she goes to a temple or mosque. Isn’t that democracy? What did I ask from the King of Saudi Arabia? Two things: one, release 850 Indian prisoners during Ramzan through royal pardon. It was accepted. But I did not label it. Second, I highlighted how our middle-class is expanding, more people would like to go for Haj. He informed me he hasn’t been increasing quota for countries as it is difficult to manage. I said that we are one of the nations with the largest Islamic population, you cannot do this to us. I called him as my friend. This is how I said. You will be surprised, he has increased the quota to 2 lakh people.
I do this for whom? Since I do not publicise it in the press, because I do not believe in this secularism…
India’s politics has been a record of rebels turning into stakeholders. That’s happened in almost all insurgencies. In this context, how do you see Kashmir?
You have seen the peaceful manner in which panchayat elections were conducted in the Valley. It has enthused us and shown the love of common Kashmiris for democracy. We, at the Centre, have ensured that funds for development reach panchayats… This should have happened earlier but it could not because democracy in the Valley has been throttled by the two dynasties, the Mufti-Abdullah dynasties. These two families have been playing with the future of Kashmiris to safeguard their own political fortunes… Once Kashmir is freed from their baggage, the fulfilling of Kashmir’s yearning for development will be at a faster pace. We have achieved this in the Northeast and now the region is seeing a new era of peace and prosperity.
How do you view the Naxal/Maoist problem? Just law and order or law and order and vikas?
A wrong notion is often made that Naxalism is the outcome of poverty. In fact, the flag-bearers of this ideology belong to the most elite background and are often seen moving about in big cars and they are often PhDs teaching at big universities. Naxalism or left-wing extremism destroys and denies development as it acts as hurdle in furthering their ideology.
We have gone about attacking Naxalism in a two-pronged manner. On the one hand, we have zero tolerance towards violence. More than 40 out of 120-odd districts have been removed from the list of LWE-affected areas. In just our first three years, from 2014 to 2017, about 3,400 Maoists surrendered, a record number. On the other hand, we are dedicating resources for development of Naxal-affected areas on mission mode. Thousands of kilometres of roads, thousands of mobile towers, state-of-the-art hospitals and schools, ITIs, skill development centres, bank branches, post-offices have been ensured in these areas.
Are we back to hyphenation with Pakistan? From Nawaz Sharif at your swearing-in in 2014 to you flying in to attend a Sharif family wedding in December 2017… to Pulwama and Balakot. What’s the way ahead?
The way ahead depends on the action Pakistan takes against terrorism.
On India and China, from Doklam to blacklisting of Masood Azhar, what have you put into that relationship?
The Azhar blacklisting is the result of a global consensus against terror and it would be unfair to reduce it to a China-centric issue. China is also part of the countries across the world concerned about terror. The India-China relationship is one of mutual respect. When the world is speaking of this century being Asia’s century, they are speaking of the rise of both China and India becoming the powers they used to be historically. So, we are working together, with the knowledge that we are both focusing on growth. Even if there are some differences, both the countries understand there is a lot we agree upon as well.
There has been a lot of literature by analysts that there was one politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a liberal order that went on until the 2008 global financial crisis that created economic anxiety and led to de-globalisation. This gave rise to strong leaders like Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan. You know each one of them. What’s your assessment of this trend?
I am uniquely placed… I have come to this place after being Chief Minister. This experience has been very useful to me. Second, I hail from Gujarat. Gujaratis are a global community, they are globalised. I travelled to about 45 countries before becoming the CM, for a variety of reasons. I will share an anecdote. Delta Airways used to have a $500 ticket with which you could travel for up to 30 days from the day of the first travel… I doubt anyone else would have used that ticket as much as I did. I planned my route perfectly, in such a way that I would be onboard at night, get six hours to sleep on the plane. It would save me hotel expenses. I would bathe and freshen up at the airport in the morning. I had a calling card which I used to ring up my hosts to come receive me. I travelled 23 states across America this way. This is my life. (I say this) because foreign policy has mostly been practised with an academic perspective. Foreign ministers, too, have been guided by academics or think tanks. I am away from this.
I do not have an academic background nor am I disconnected from the public. For me, my priority is the country. This is my patriotism. So that is how I make my relationships (with these global leaders). Personal relations play a strong role in understanding each other. My friendly equations with them are reflected in their policies as well. They will remember Modi and this is what he had said.