In his recent interview to India News, Shri Narendra Modi shares his firm stand on working towards a developed and empowered India.

From his views on tackling Pakistan & China related issues and focusing on foreign relations based on mutual understanding and cooperation to reinforcing the BJP’s focus on ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ and the Congress’ preference for caste politics, Shri Modi speaks on a range of national and international issues.

Excerpts from Shri Narendra Modi’s interview to India News:

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PM Modi's interview to India Today
December 31, 2023

Q. Prime Minister, congratulations, you are India Today’s Newsmaker of the Year 2023. How do you feel about it?

Thank you for the distinction of Newsmaker of the Year 2023. For me, there have been many newsmakers this year: our farmers who are leading a record agriculture production and bringing about a millet revolution globally; our people who made G20 a big success across the country; our Vishwakarmas who are charting a path of success through their skills; our athletes who made us proud at the Asian Games, Asian Para Games and other tournaments; our youth who are creating new records, be it in the field of start-ups or science; our Nari Shakti which is scaling new frontiers in all sectors, especially now that a new story of empowerment is being written through women-led development. I have been fortunate to serve the people of the country for many years now. During this time, we have seen many successes as well as challenges.

Q. What were these challenges?

India’s rapid ascent in 2023 has been very important as it sets the tone in our journey to Viksit Bharat. We’ve unleashed the latent potential of our nation. On global forums, India’s presence and contributions are now sought after. From a country that used to feel left behind, we have become a country that is now leading from the front. From a country that used to seek a voice in various platforms, we have become a country that leads and creates new global platforms. Today, the world consensus is clear: this is India’s moment.

Q. Looking back at 2023, are you satisfied with the journey so far and is this year a turning point for you and the country?

Evaluating my journey through a single year may not give a correct picture because there is a progressive unfolding of my vision and plans. When I start something, I know the endpoint. But I never announce the final destination or blueprint in the beginning. So, what you see today is not what I’ve worked on. A far bigger picture will unfold finally. I work on a big canvas. Like an artist, I start from one point, but at the time the final picture can’t be seen.

Q. Do give us some examples of this unique approach?

Take the example of the Statue of Unity [in Gujarat]. When I announced that we will build a 182-foot statue, many thought it had to do with 182 seats in the Gujarat Assembly. Some sections thought this was done to please a community ahead of the elections. But see how it has developed into an entire tourism ecosystem, with something for people of all age groups and interests. Just a couple of days back, it saw 80,000 visitors in one day, this is the level of its popularity. I had promised only one thing, but I delivered dozens of things there. This is my working style. When work on the Bharat Mandapam started, no one thought the G20 would happen here. But I was working with a plan. If I work towards the new Parliament building or 40 million houses for the poor, I do it with equal planning and dedication.

Q. India continued to be among the fastest growing economies in 2023. What are the guiding factors that shaped your policies while dealing with the economy?

I have had a unique journey in my career in terms of experience. I have served as head of the government for 23 years [in Gujarat and the Centre] but before that for 30 years I had travelled to different parts of the country and lived among the people. I also consider myself a life-long student and believe in learning from the experiences and wisdom of others. So, in a way, I am blessed to have a strong ground connection.

Q. So what is your management style?

My approach to policy-making is slightly different. I listen to all the economists and experts and formulate my policies and strategies through a mix of their advice, my ‘ground connect’ and the ‘lived reality’ of the country. As a result of my ground connect, I have strong convictions. Main kuchh bhi achha lage isliye nahin karta, lekin achha ho isliye karta hoon (I don’t do things because it looks good, I do it because it will do good). Growing up in poverty and having had the good fortune of being connected to people at the grassroots gave me an insight into how reforms should focus on improving the lives of the people, and not on mere headlines. It is the result of dozens of such reforms which focused on improving the lives of the people, their ease of living, their ease of doing business, that India’s growth journey has picked up rapid pace. We believe in optimum utilisation of resources and outcome-oriented monitoring. We believe in achieving national goals through jan andolans (people’s movements).

Q. Why do you pick up difficult sectors like cleanliness, sanitation and speak about them even during Independence Day addresses?

Makhan par lakir to sab karte hai. Karni hai to pathar par lakir karo. Kathin hai to kya hua, shuruat to kare (It is easy to draw a line in butter, if you have to, draw a line in stone. It is hard, but let’s make a beginning). This is what I believe in, which gives me the conviction to take on difficult and uncomfortable tasks.

Q. How are you ensuring that India becomes a 5-trillion-dollar economy and the world’s third largest?

Our track record speaks for itself. When I became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, the size of its economy was around $26 billion (Rs 2.17 lakh crore). When I left Gujarat to become the prime minister, the size of Gujarat’s economy had become $133.5 billion (Rs 11.1 lakh crore). And as a result of the various policies and reforms, today Gujarat’s economy is around $260 billion (Rs 21.6 lakh crore). Similarly, when I became PM in 2014, the size of India’s economy was $2 trillion (Rs 167 lakh crore) and at the end of 2023-24, India’s GDP will be more than $3.75 trillion (Rs 312 lakh crore). It is this track record of 23 years which shows this is a realistic target.

Q. The Opposition says inflation and lack of jobs is hurting the poor. What would you say to these critics?

Let’s put allegations aside and discuss the facts. Despite two years of a once-in-a-century pandemic and global conflicts disrupting global value chains and even causing recessionary pressures across the world, India has shown remarkable resilience. Despite heavy odds, global crises, supply chain breakdowns and geopolitical tensions impacting global prices of basic items, average inflation from 2014-15 to 2023-24 (till November) was only 5.1 per cent, compared to 8.2 per cent during the previous 10 years (2004-’14). Which is higher, inflation of 5.1 per cent or 8.2 per cent?

Q. What about creation of jobs?

As for creation of jobs, it has been the topmost priority of my government. All our efforts have been geared to this task. It is well-known that investments in infrastructure have a large multiplier impact on growth and employment. Hence, we have constantly increased capital investment outlay. The budget of 2023-24 has increased it steeply to Rs 10 lakh crore, up from Rs 1.9 lakh crore in 2013-14. I believe you should enlighten your readers on how this expenditure is productive and creates so many opportunities for the common man. Also, look at what is happening around us. Infrastructure creation is happening at a never-seen-before pace, and all sectors are doing much better than how they were 10 years ago.

Q. What is the outcome of the infrastructure creation that you talked about in terms of employment?

When India took the length of metro lines to 905 km from 248 km in less than 10 years, would it not have created more jobs? When India took the number of airports to 149 from 74 in less than 10 years, would it not have created more jobs? When the number of medical colleges increased from 387 to 706 in less than 10 years, would it not have created more jobs? Compared to the situation before 2014, if the construction of roads has doubled, would it not have created more jobs? If the number of tourists is increasing, would it not be creating more jobs? If agriculture production has risen significantly after 2014, has it not created more livelihood opportunities? This is why, in recent years, labour markets have witnessed falling unemployment rates, down from 5.8 per cent in 2018-19 to 3.2 per cent in 2022-23. This has been accompanied by a rising labour force participation rate, increasing from 50.2 per cent in 2018-19 to 57.9 per cent in 2022-23. The EPFO had 277.4 million members as of March 31, 2022, compared to the 117.8 million on March 31, 2014.

Q. The BJP has selected fresh faces for the three states it won recently, a trend that you have set since you became PM. What is the thought process behind this?

This is not a new trend. In fact, I am the best example of this practice within the BJP. When I became the CM of Gujarat, I had no prior administrative experience and was not even elected to the legislative assembly. Yes, it may appear like a fresh trend, because most of the other parties today are parivarvadi (dynasty-based) parties.

Q. How is the BJP different from these so-called parivarvadi parties?

Parivarvadi parties find this democratic churn difficult. The BJP has the ability to nurture multiple generations of leadership at the same time. Look at the presidents of the BJP and you will see fresh faces every few years. Ours is a cadre-based party, driven by a clear mission. We all began as grassroots workers and rose through the ranks on the back of dedication and hard work. This commitment is why the nation, especially the youth, feels a strong connection with the BJP. In a democracy, it is essential to provide opportunities to new generations and new blood. This democratic churn is what makes democracies vibrant. This churn is also what makes our party vibrant and keeps aspirations and hopes burning within our karyakartas. They feel that they too can rise in the party through their hard work. Our party is used to doing different experiments. In Gujarat, we opted for all fresh faces in ministries. In Delhi, we opted for all fresh faces in local corporation elections.

Q. The BJP is not ruling in any of the big southern and eastern states. What is the BJP gameplan to become a truly pan-Indian party?

This is an incorrect assessment, you are oversimplifying things. Since the time of the BJP’s formation, we have been hearing such contrived opinions on who we are and who we represent. At times we were labelled a Brahmin-Bania party, at other times a party that caters to only the Hindi heartland. We were even labelled a party that has support only in the cities. However, in election after election, we’ve proven these labels wrong.

Q. In what way is it a wrong deduction?

Today, there is no corner of the country where our party does not have support. From local bodies in Kerala to being the principal opposition in many states, our party is doing robust work among the people. In Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, we are the principal opposition party. In Bihar, people had in fact given their overwhelming support and mandate to us. Six months back, we had a government in Karnataka. Even today, we have a government in Puducherry. We currently govern in 16 states and are the principal opposition in eight. From no presence in 2014, we are now in government in six Northeast states, including Christian-majority states like Nagaland and Meghalaya. Further, we are the single largest party as far as southern India is concerned, in terms of Lok Sabha seats. Consider our journey from a modest beginning of two Lok Sabha seats [in 1984] to 303 now. Could we have emerged as a significant force in national politics without the support and strength of the people from all parts of the country?

Q. As the lead campaigner for the recent assembly elections, your rallies made a decisive differenceâ€æ.

Your assessment is incomplete here. The BJP is a cadre-based party. Right up to the polling booth, the BJP has a large network of committed karyakartas. At every level, it has leadership that finds resonance among the people. Victory comes from the joint efforts of all. So, it would be unfair to give me the credit. The credit belongs to our karyakartas for their hard work.

Q. What is the ‘Modi Guarantee’ for the 2024 general election?

For me, the guarantee is not mere words or election promises, it is the outcome of decades of my hard work. It is an expression of sensitivity towards society. When I talk about the ‘guarantee’, I bind myself to it. It doesn’t let me sleep, it propels me to work harder, it leads me to give my everything for the people of the country. So please don’t look for a dictionary meaning of guarantee.

Q. So what is your definition of guarantee?

Only someone who has experienced a life of poverty understands that the greatest force propelling a poor person forward in life is their trust, their hope. This faith of the poor is what keeps me going. Modi will put in his all but will not let the trust of his poor brothers and sisters break. Modi’s guarantee is not a formula made for winning elections, Modi’s guarantee is the trust of the poor. Today, every poor person in the country knows that Modi will not back down from his duty. Today, every poor person is aware of how political parties in the past have broken their trust. But they also know that Modi’s Guarantee can be trusted. This trust of the poor also gives me my energy—even if I completely exhaust myself or push myself over my limit, I will not let this trust be violated.

Q. Are you confident of scoring a hat-trick in 2024? What are the big issues that will determine the outcome of this general election?

Regarding 2024, it is not a question of my confidence. The only thing in my hands is to give my everything in the service of the people. I am trying to do this with utmost honesty and commitment. But today there is a consensus among the people, the experts, the opinion makers and friends from the media too that our country doesn’t need a mili-juli sarkar (hotchpotch government). We have lost 30 years due to instability resulting from mili-juli sarkars. People have seen the lack of governance, the appeasement politics, corruption in the era of mili-juli sarkars. This resulted in a loss of optimism and confidence among the people and gave a bad image to India in the world. So, naturally, the choice of people is the BJP.

Q. The Supreme Court, by upholding the abrogation of Article 370, has brought legal closure to it. What steps are now needed for political closure, including holding elections and restoring statehood?

The issue in front of the country is not the Supreme Court bringing legal closure. The people have an issue with the delay in terminating a temporary provision. Despite Nehruji having said in Parliament that “Ghiste ghiste ghis jayega (it would erode and disappear one day)”, for seven decades, the people of J&K were deprived of their rights, especially women and those from underprivileged communities. With Article 370 gone forever, the people of J&K and Ladakh, for the first time, are free to shape their destinies with their own hands. The Constitution of India, which protects the rights of socially vulnerable groups, is fully applicable to them. The women of J&K are today emerging in various fields, from sports to entrepreneurship. New industries are opening up. Terrorism has hit record lows while tourism is hitting record highs. International events, such as G20 meetings, have taken place, and the world has witnessed the hospitality and pristine beauty of the region.

Q. What are you doing to ensure sustained peace in Jammu & Kashmir?

The government has adopted a multi-pronged approach with focus on security, development, investment in infrastructure and human capital and a complete re-engineering of government processes through reforms. We are absolutely on the path of ensuring sustainable peace, stability and prosperity for the people of the region by improving their living standards, promoting economic growth and generating employment opportunities. J&K is already represented in our Parliament at the national level. At the local level, for the first time, we have been able to take democracy to the grassroots. A three-tier panchayati raj system has been established in the state and 35,000 leaders elected at the grassroots. Why do we underestimate the importance of these elections? Be it democracy, development or dynamism, today the people of J&K and Ladakh are seeing all-round progress in every aspect.

Q. The Modi government has given a major impetus to semiconductor chip manufacture and other critical and emerging technologies, apart from space exploration. What more do we need to do to make India self-reliant in these areas and become a technology superpower?

I am glad that you have noticed our efforts in these fields. It is unfortunate that for 30 years, people in power were merely running governments, not the nation. The semiconductor mission is something we should have started 30 years back. We are already late. They kept doubting the potential of our people and their abilities. Our people have tremendous abilities, be it in research or design. We have achieved great success in the field of atomic energy as well as space. The world is now seeing our dynamism in defence manufacturing through products like the BrahMos missile. I believe India has all the prerequisites to achieve success in the field of semiconductors. For this, we are focused on the right mix of policies, incentives and skilling. We have taken giant leaps in our semiconductor manufacturing mission. Our focus is now on bringing in the entire ecosystem of electronics manufacturing to India, which includes the entire value chain. We are working towards creating a favourable and enabling environment for this.

Q. What about AI?

We also want India to take the lead in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). We will be working on our own computing power in large indigenous language models, keeping in mind the diversity of Indian languages and our needs. This leadership in technology also requires a shift in mindsets. Today, from classrooms to boardrooms, we are ensuring the focus is on innovation and easy availability of capital along with progressive and stable policies. Remember, today’s innovation is tomorrow’s industry. And it is industry that brings investment and income growth.

Q. Coming to international issues, you have won worldwide praise for the successful presidency of the G20 and for bringing issues of the Global South to the fore. What do nations have to do now to sustain the gains of Delhi 2023?

Our G20 presidency came at a time of multiple and interlinked global challenges. I am happy that we were able to put the focus on human-centric development in the global agenda. We got the developed and developing world to forge a consensus. We revitalised multilateralism. Developing countries, in particular, have been significantly impacted by slowing global growth, rising debt, climate change and geopolitical conflicts. Our presidency became a platform to provide a rightful place to the Global South in shaping the global narrative. The induction of the African Union as a permanent member of G20 in New Delhi was a landmark decision that has given voice to 55 African nations. G20 has emerged stronger and more purposeful during India’s presidency, shaping the global agenda more effectively. This is manifested in important outcomes, including on Sustainable Development Goals, LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment initiative), digital public infrastructure, food security and nutrition, renewable energy, critical minerals, global health, skilled migration pathways, climate and development finance, MDB (multilateral development bank) reforms and much more. I am happy to inform you that so many of our decisions and initiatives at the G20 summit are being taken forward. It was towards this end that we convened the second G20 Leaders’ Summit, in virtual mode, before the end of our G20 presidency. We also convened the 2nd Voice of Global South Summit in November 2023.

Q. What was the result of the stocktaking done in these meetings?

It is good to see that many of the G20 achievements on energy and climate in New Delhi, such as tripling global renewable energy capacity [by 2030], developing hydrogen [as a fuel], and scaling up climate and energy finance, were echoed and carried forward at COP28 in Dubai. The G20 message on AI on pro-innovation governance and regulation has been cemented at subsequent international gatherings, including the Global Partnership on AI conference that we hosted earlier this month. MDB reforms, to help scale up climate and developmental finance, and making MDBs more representative, is now at the heart of the agenda of international financial institutions. Mechanisms on women-led development, disaster risk reduction and start-ups, created during our presidency, are being taken forward by the Brazilian G20 presidency. India, as a member of the G20 troika, will make constructive contributions to build on the gains of the past year and take collective steps for the peace and prosperity of our people and our planet.

Q. You had famously said this is not an era of war. Apart from Ukraine, the Gaza war and other mini conflicts rage. India played a deft balancing act throughout these crises. Is there a ‘Modi Way’ out of this global disorder?

I have always believed that honest dialogue and sincere diplomacy, in an atmosphere free from fear and coercion, should be the preferred path to resolve differences. Be it Ukraine or Gaza, our approach has been guided by this belief. We cannot let terrorists or violence set the agenda. Those who had no role in causing conflicts are often the most affected by them, either directly or indirectly. Giving primacy to diplomacy does not mean that we compromise when it comes to terrorism and territorial sovereignty.

Q. What about dealing with our neighbours, especially Pakistan and China?

The Modi way of dealing with our neighbours is to be constructive and cooperative when required and, equally, to be firm and steadfast when needed. Both on initiatives and challenges, you can see the difference with the past.

Q. Looking ahead, what are the key thrust areas your government will be focusing on to ensure that India becomes Viksit Bharat by 2047?

If you observe closely, there is a historic parallel to the times we are living in. A hundred years ago, there was optimism about gaining freedom. From 1922 to the period up to 1947, everyone wanted to contribute towards the freedom movement. Some contributed by spinning khadi, some by taking part in various movements, people contributed in whatever way they could. The next 25 years are crucial for the nation. I see a similar optimism among the people to make India a developed country by the time we celebrate 100 years of independence. This energy is my driving force. Hum GYAN pe dhyaan denge, GYAN ko sammaan denge, toh Viksit Bharat banega. (If we focus on knowledge and respect it, we will become a developed nation) GYAN means G for Garib, Y for Yuva, A for Annadata, N for Narishakti. India has a demographic advantage. This advantage must be converted to productivity and economic growth.

Q. How do you propose to press home these advantages that India has?

My foremost priority in making India developed by 2047 will be to ensure good health and fitness for our youth and equip them with appropriate skills. Skilling starts right from our schools, where each classroom has the potential to equip young minds to think innovatively and solve problems. Thus, we are developing an education system through National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 that prepares our children to face the challenges of the 21st century, one that teaches them to convert obstacles into opportunities.

Q. What would your approach be towards industry and investments?

It is our priority to support and nurture small and mid-sized businesses and improve their productivity. Growth in the size of these enterprises is vital for creating high-productivity and high-wage jobs on a large scale. We are working to provide them easy capital, access to technology, more opportunities and more regulatory flexibility. A growing India aiming to attain the status of a ‘developed country’ by 2047 will require financing of investments through varied and innovative sources. Preparing India’s financial sector and capital markets in terms of skills, capacity and regulatory framework to enable it to meet India’s investment needs is an important priority for me. In addition to the factors required for creating a facilitative business ecosystem in the country, we will focus on making India’s exports competitive. This will incentivise innovation and the production of economically sophisticated products. Governance reform is close to my heart. Performance accountability and capacity building are two pillars of effective governance that we will strengthen.

Q. On a more personal note, you have been in key leadership posts for over 22 years, whether as a chief minister and now as a prime minister. What would you say have been the key lessons that you have learnt, the mantras of your success?

My successes are in the public domain and so are my efforts. So people are free to deduce mantras of success. The one thing that I have adhered to is: Nation First. Everything I have done, as a karyakarta, as a CM and as PM, I have always put the nation first. Every decision I have taken has been taken with the national interest in mind. Often people ask me about how I took a difficult decision. For me, it does not seem difficult as I take all my decisions through the prism of Nation First.

Q. What is your wish-list for the coming New Year?

I am not a person who believes in a wish-list, rather I am someone who believes in a work-list for myself.

Source: India Today