The late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was the last person with a Parliamentary majority before you, described people’s expectations of him as “scary”. At the end of one year, what is your impression of running the government?
From the potential I have seen in the country, I believe there is no logic in it staying poor and underdeveloped. Countries that attained freedom much later have developed more than us; we too could have been there. There is nothing lacking in the country. I won’t go into where we went wrong or who did wrong. When I spoke of Swachh Bharat on August 15 last year, I knew I was taking a risk, but I was amazed at the response that I received, it was beyond my imagination. Even the media that is usually critical of the government (which is natural and how it should be) has been furthering this particular campaign. Such has been the awareness created today that children point out to their parents if they litter. I must admit even though I am pained to see filth, I was not confident if I would be able to create a culture of cleanliness, but people have caught on. They are not going to have any personal gains from this, yet they are working for it. This has shown the real strength of the country.
Then I have seen the strength of the government machinery. When I declared we’ll open bank accounts before January 26, everyone was shocked: this is something that has never happened in 60 years, what is this man saying! But within around 100 days, before December 25, the targets were nearly met by all. The government machinery and bank employees went to people’s homes. This shows if given clear guidance and road map are given, government employees have the ability to deliver results.
What has been your main thrust in the first year, what did you want to do?
The country had seen such ‘burre din’, everything was at a standstill, so the foremost question on my mind was where do I begin? I was new for Delhi, Delhi was new for me, I had also not had much interaction with Delhi or its bureaucracy. So to shed light to see how things were, I started with small trials to see if the system’s frequency matched mine or not. And within three I months I found it matched perfectly. That gave me a huge confidence. For instance a concept like being punctual to work; we didn’t take out a circular, I just started arriving on time myself and soon I saw people all around had started doing that. So far no one has faced action for being late; I take a sympathetic view of the matter, a person could be late because of some family issue, he can’t be sacked for that. So I combine self-discipline in personal life with a humane approach to others. In all of this, my 13 years’ experience has been of tremendous use.
What is the difference you find between running a state, as you did in Gujarat, and running a nation?
Fundamentally there is no difference. Ultimately, you have to run the administration, do human resource management. But at the Centre there are certain new domains, such as defence or foreign affairs. One issue is that in states you have an organic team, but at the Centre it is an assembled team that has come in from states for two or three years. So to run the government in Delhi, one has to set up a team that is homogenous and has members who will spend 30-35 years here, a team that will be able to function here.
People keep taunting you with the question where are the ‘achhe din’? What exactly do you mean by achhe din and have you delivered?
When visiting an ailing person, we say don’t worry, he’ll be well [“achha ho jayega”]. The word ‘achha’ [good] here is in the context of the ‘burra’ [bad] that the patient is going through. So my idea of ‘achhe din’ is riddance of that bad. And I believe we have achieved this. Our opponents started with making fun of the idea, asking every time a train would be late if it were achhe din. It would have been good if these people had asked the Congress ‘gareebi hatao’ has been your slogan since 1970, has it happened? They had a strength of 415 in Parliament, four people of one family have run the country, what did they achieve? So my definition of achhe din is in the context of everyday life and the ‘bad days’ that prevailed — corruption, scams, policy paralysis, black money, coal, spectrum.... The country was fed up with all of this.
And you have changed that in this one year?
There is no question of such things now. What do you hear on coal auctions now? Rs 3 lakh crore will come to the government’s coffers.
How did you bring about this ‘cleaning up of corruption’?
There has to be zero tolerance on this matter at the top. Just my being honest is not enough. It should be visible in my speech, conduct, manner, policy, tradition, everything. I alone being ‘pure’ will not do. The way to achieve this is to lay down a policy on everything in black and white. The grey areas should be minimal, even if they can’t be zero. Bureaucrats then have very little scope for discrimination; that in turn leaves no scope for corruption.
Are there going to be more measures to block corruption like this?
I’ll give you instances: The government used to buy LED bulbs at Rs 348, now it is Rs 80. A cement sack was procured at Rs 360, now it is Rs 150 — though my figures may not be exact.
What about bringing back the black money that was promised?
First of all, none of those who have been in power thus far have any right to question my government on black money. All this black money was generated because they took no measures to check it. Despite directions from the Supreme Court, they did not constitute an SIT for three years. This means people holding black money were given that period to cover their trails. Had they acted the day the court gave the orders, the country would have gained billions of rupees. The first decision of our first Cabinet meeting was to create an SIT, which is given all information, and it passes it on to the Supreme Court in sealed covers. Yes, we don’t inform the media because there are international legal issues involved. To get black money back from abroad we need cooperation of countries around the world. At the G20 Summit, I ensured an entry regarding cooperation on black money in the final resolution.
So can we expect all people hoarding black money will be caught and their names revealed?
Names we can give only to the Supreme Court because we are bound by law, but we are going to spare no one. I would ask The Tribune as well to give us any information it may have on black money. Has anyone dared to create a law as tough as we have on this?
Despite your efforts against corruption the Opposition calls you are a ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’, you favour corporates.
I want to request a group of senior journalists to compile a list of all the criticism that has been there against my government. Someone finds meanings for the acronym M.O.D.I., some say NDA is MNDA, some call us arrogant, others discuss a suit or a boot, or coat or hair. Just look at their bankruptcy, they are not being able to identify a single concrete issue. This is the greatest achievement of this government.
An issue that concerns Punjab and Haryana particularly is farmer distress. The charge is that the Centre did not move quickly enough when unseasonal rain damaged farmers’ crops and they were committing suicide. Also why did you not visit the affected people?
Let us look at the record. As chief minister of Gujarat — which was struck by calamities every other year — I had got tired of submitting memorandums to the Central government, but they did not so much as glance at us. This year after the hail damage, chief ministers in all BJP-ruled states immediately visited farmers, officials were sent out to survey the damage. There had been a long-standing policy that compensation would be paid to farmers only if the damage was more than 50 per cent. We brought that down to 33 per cent. The compensation was increased by 50 per cent. Earlier, damaged grain was not procured by government agencies. This time we decided to procure all grain, and that too without any cut in the MSP. These were decisions for which farmers had been crying for years. As for my visiting farms, tell me if a Congress leader has visited a farm in the past 10 years. Were there no farming calamities? As chief minister I used to regularly visit farmers. My job now was to collect information, take decisions, mobilise the machinery. I did not go to Nepal either, but did we not do work there?
Your party agreed with the Land Acquisition Bill. Now it is trying to amend it. Why? People allege it is anti-farmer and pro-corporate.
For 60 years they went with the old land acquisition laws. Were they anti-farmer all this while? Those who have forced 3 lakh farmers to commit suicide have no moral authority to complain now. The earlier law was 120 years old. For political interest they hurriedly brought in a law. In Parliament they agreed orally to accept the changes suggested by the BJP, particularly regarding irrigation. But later on they removed those from the draft. After the NDA came to power, we realised there were certain points in the law that would have made the farmers’ situation worse if we did not bring in the ordinance. Also, chief ministers of several states ruled by various parties came to demand changes in the law, including Kerala. We could not have made it a point of ego to say that we won’t change the law just because we supported it in 2013. Our intention is to amend only those provisions in the 2013 Act that militate against the process of growth and are against the interest of farmers. The reforms in this Act will ensure greater irrigation potential, rural infrastructure, including electricity, schools and hospitals. The debate should be on merit.
Are you confident of getting the Bill passed in Parliament?
This is not a matter of life or death for me. And neither was it the agenda of my party or the government. The initiative was in response to a demand from the states, and being a federal structure it was my duty to respond. So I am trying my level best. I am still prepared to accept any suggestions.
Do you plan a new deal for the farmers?
The farmer is the backbone of our nation; 60 per cent of the population is engaged in farm-related activities. However, agriculture’s contribution to the GDP is only 15 per cent. We need to modernise agriculture to improve productivity and quality. We have introduced Soil Health Cards which would help the farmer in reducing his cost and increase productivity. The Prime Minister’s Krishi Sinchai Yojana will improve the irrigation potential. To provide banking facilities to farmers, we have successfully launched the Jan Dhan Yojana, which provides overdraft facility also.
What would you list as your major achievements in the past one year?
I can say with pride that there has not been a single instance of corruption. Our mission and commitment is towards the country’s progress. We have embarked on a path of transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in our policies. Initiatives like the Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Soil Health Card and the recently launched Social Security Schemes for the people at large are aimed at giving more income and security to the common man.
On infrastructure, last year we awarded projects for the construction of more than 20 km of roads per day, and the construction has been achieved at a rate of more than 11 km per day. Electricity generation has shown a growth of 9 per cent in 2014-15 over the previous year. Emphasis on renewable energy is demonstration of the fact that we not only care about the present but also the future. The recent Union Budget gave a boost of Rs 1 lakh crore to the infrastructure sector through public investment. Pooling of gas for stalled power projects and fertiliser units shows our commitment to address the bottlenecks of the previous government.
We have taken up the task of construction of toilets in every school. It is unfortunate that even after almost 68 years of Independence our schools did not have functional toilets. Our initiative of distribution of LPG and scholarships through direct bank transfers to beneficiary accounts is evidence of our intentions to focus on the poor and needy. New interventions on Ganga rejuvenation, skill development, mobile and broadband connectivity for all villages, and ‘Make in India’ is going to open new vistas of growth. This is just a beginning.
On the economy, are you satisfied with the progress made so far with regard to inflation, jobs, growth in production, investment and exports?
The 10-year period of the previous government was characterised by high prices and spiralling inflation. Our efforts on both the demand and supply side have ensured that inflation is under check. It inflation is now well below 5 per cent. Our efforts on economic front have been appreciated not only within the country but also by international organisations like IMF, World Bank and the OECD. As soon as we came to power we took proactive steps against hoarding, released additional food grains in the market and imported items that were in short in supply in the country. These steps have borne fruit and the inflation that was hovering around 10-12 per cent has now been moderated.
In spite of inheriting an economy with huge problems we have been able to take corrective action that is visible from the fact that we have in the last year limited our fiscal deficit to 4 per cent as against our target of 4.1 per cent. Foreign Direct Investment has risen by 39 per cent and Foreign Institutional Investment (FII) has grown by 800 per cent. The foreign currency reserves are at an all-time high of US $35 billion. This also shows tremendous confidence of foreign investors in our economy. The GDP growth last year was 7.4 per cent. In the current year India’s GDP growth is expected to be the highest amongst all major economies of the world.
We have taken more initiatives in this budget. Mudra Bank will help more than 6 crore small vendors and businesses, 61 per cent of who are SC, ST, religious minorities or OBC. We have also introduced the GST Bill in Parliament and are committed to its rollout from April 1, 2016. On ‘ease of doing business’, we have made substantial progress. These measures will mark a watershed in our growth story. We have made substantial progress in rationalising our procedures and forms. We are putting more and more approvals online. We have also relaxed FDI in various sectors, especially insurance.
But people say you have been lucky with inflation, as oil prices went down substantially.
When I say I am lucky, people attack me, they don’t like it! What is this? We have taken steps on inflation, but this is a volatile matter, and needs continued efforts. We’ll not leave it to luck.
Your call to “Make-in-India” is significant. What has been the response?
The response to the initiative has been very significant not only within India but outside as well. Wherever I travelled in the past one year, I met senior executives of industry in that country and they all were very excited about our “Make-in-India” plan. We have undertaken not only policy reforms but also focused on administrative reforms. We have laid emphasis on ease of doing business, making government more accountable, introducing technology in governance and reforms in all layers of government. We have essentially taken the reform process to an entirely different level where both the Central and the state governments respond through a policy-based system and not by way of discretion or nepotism. Similarly we are emphasising that the companies supplying defence equipment to us undertake to manufacture in India also.
On Defence, you went to France and made a bold decision to purchase 36 Rafael fighter aircraft. People have questioned the rationale behind this step.
A good government has to strike the right balance between different priorities. “Make in India” is very important for me. So too is ensuring national security. I will not compromise on either. The purchase of Rafale aircraft was guided by the need to respond to the immediate operational requirements of the Air Force which was affecting our defence capability. How can that be questioned? In fact, the challenge is to break a logjam that we inherited from the previous government. Some decision had to be taken. We consulted all concerned and decided that we will have only a government-to-government deal. There will be transparency, so no one will be able to raise questions. There will be further discussions on this matter soon. I would mention that during my recent visit to France, the senior leadership of their defence industry showed great enthusiasm for participating in our “Make in India” programme.
Do you think this way is going to be the future of defence procurement?
That will be decided case to case.
Will you deliver on the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) promise to the defence personnel?
We are committed to OROP, but we are in consultation with defence personnel regarding the definition of OROP. Our government is here for five years, and we cannot do anything without consulting the people concerned. The dialogue is being actively pursued. There is no need to have any doubt on this. The Tribune has a large readership among defence personnel, and through you I would like to assure them we are absolutely committed. It is just that there are too many definitions going around yet, and we are looking for one on which all stakeholders agree. For me this is not a political agenda.
Skill India is something you have championed. How do you plan to make India the skill capital of the world?
We have a large young population and it is very important to provide them with requisite education and skill-sets for gainful employment. Accordingly, the government has placed maximum emphasis on this and has created a new Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. The strategy is to upgrade and create new institutions to provide modern skills to our people. The ministry in consultation with state governments is mapping the available skills in each district. The skill curriculum is being revised, quality training of trainers and collaboration with private sector is being initiated. I am confident that with these efforts, we should be able to create a large pool of very skilled manpower that would act as a catalyst for our programme of “Make in India”. It would also be available to other countries facing shortage of such skilled manpower.
Foreign policy has been a success area for you. What is thrust of your foreign policy, what is the mission with which you went to all these nations?
First, I have travelled abroad no more than earlier prime ministers. The media needs to bring out facts, and not create wrong perceptions. Then you can look at the outcomes. Thus far we have been a balancing power, always seeking others’ favour. How long can we continue to do that? Why don’t we grow into a global player? It is clear in my mind we are no more just a balancing power, but a global player. We speak on equal terms with all, whether it is the US or China. Today we approach the world with greater self-assurance. We have shown the confidence to engage all major powers simultaneously and effectively.
With our seven neighbours, our guiding principal is to have a humanitarian approach. Even foreign policy ‘experts’ in the country have not noticed that our interaction with all these seven countries has been on humanitarian issues. We helped the Maldives with drinking water; Sri Lanka pronounced the death sentence for five Indian fishermen, but we brought them back alive, when they (UPA) could not get one Sarabjit from Pakistan; in Afghanistan we rescued Father Prem who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. In Nepal, we arrived immediately to do our duty as a neighbour. From Yemen, we rescued people of 48 nationalities trapped amidst the fighting there; we saved some people from Pakistan, and Pakistan saved some of our people.
What about Iraq – Punjabis are still being held captive there.
In Iraq, we have saved so many people, including nurses. On the other missing Indians there, we don’t have very definite information, so we are hoping for the best.
You are visiting Bangladesh next week after resolving the border issue. Will there be also a deal on the sharing of Teesta waters?
We had settled the long pending land boundary issues with Bangladesh by taking all parties into confidence. The media has not realised this was a massive achievement and is talking of other issues. Had this been elsewhere in the world this would have been cited as an example as big as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The entire mood of our neighbourhood has changed dramatically because of our message of shared prosperity being implemented on the ground. Mine is practical and outcome-based diplomacy.
Do you think India can sort out the border issue with China as we did with Bangladesh?
I have just met the people of China, and realised that a window of trust is open. Let’s see where it takes us. This is a very important relationship which has its complexities and challenges. I am deeply committed to improving our ties. President Xi expressed similar sentiments during his interactions with me. Creating a more positive environment to expand our economic cooperation and address outstanding differences on the border is the immediate goal. This can only happen if we ensure peace and tranquillity on the Line of Actual Control. We need to show sensitivity to each other’s concerns. At the same time, mutual interest must guide our cooperative endeavours and I am confident that this will be the case. We have a huge negative trade balance with China and our engagement with them on the economic front is an attempt to address this by encouraging Chinese companies to come and invest in India.
But the Chinese appear to be playing a dual game?
India must have confidence in itself. World relations are not founded on suspicion.
You invited Nawaz Sharif for your swearing-in ceremony. But after that relations have not moved forward?
Our effort at all times is to promote friendship with Pakistan. All I can say is bombs do not help. We have had done enough of fighting, there have been wars, terrorism, but that has not got us anywhere. It is time we joined hands to fight poverty. People on both sides will benefit. The vision of cooperation, connectivity and contacts that I presented to leaders of our neighbouring countries remains very much on the table. With Pakistan, obviously we can only progress in an atmosphere free of terror. They know that the basis of our engagement is the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. If they take a step forward accordingly, I am willing to take two. But there can be no compromise on our national security.
In J&K, your party has formed the government with the PDP. That is historic. Do you think the government will stabilise? Will the issue of AFSPA be a hurdle?
There is a larger picture there. We have to respect the mandate of the people. It could either be an elected government or Governor’s rule. In the latter option, we would have had total control, but that is not what we wanted. It is a fact that the ideologies of the two parties are very different, but people wanted us to work together in both Jammu and Kashmir regions. The alliance in the state is one of the most important developments on the political scene. It has the potential to resolve one of our most difficult national problems through people’s participation and good governance. We need to understand that the two parties have varied views on some very important issues. However, we have taken a pledge to work for the development of the state and its people. Both the parties have come together on an agreed Common Minimum Programme. It is now our duty to rise to the expectations of the people of the state and implement the Common Minimum Programme in letter and spirit and not digress from it.
And the demand on lifting AFSPA?
As I said, strictly follow whatever is agreed upon in the minimum programme.
You have strong development agenda. But there are some leaders in the party and ministers in the government who speak out of turn. There is a feeling that some of your own people are not respecting the moratorium on communal tension that you had called for on Independence Day.
It is not correct and wherever an individual view might have been expressed which is not in consonance with our ideology, we have immediately negated that. How long would you flog one instance? One minister said something inappropriate, he apologised in the House; the party as well as I condemned his statement. Continuing to harp on these issues will not serve any purpose. It is a country of 1.25 billion, you can’t ascribe to the government everything that someone mutters. Tell me what crisis has been there in the country in the past one year.
So there is no reason for the minority communities to feel insecure?
I have mentioned this earlier and let me emphasise it again: the Constitution of India will be a guiding force for us and the unity and integrity of our country is our top-most priority. All religions and communities have the same rights and it is the responsibility of my government to ensure that all Indians have equal rights and opportunities.
In the second year, what can we expect from the government?
It will be development, development and development. Jobs, jobs and jobs.