By Prarthana Mitra
ANI’s exclusive interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes at a critical moment in the political career of the BJP-led NDA alliance. The news agency on Saturday asked the head of the nation some important and timely questions, holding Modi accountable for several of his government’s public and economic reforms that have significantly impacted the fabric of the nation over the last five years.
The Prime Minister’s assertive replies without follow-ups, sounded prosaic despite the eloquence, rehearsed and with the occasional bite, coming just weeks after the centre was made to sit through an uncomfortable no-confidence motion vote. Raising several of the concerns voiced that day by opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, the interview sheds critical light on the priorities of the present government, and continuing promises if voted back into power in 2019. Here are some of the highlights from the official transcript of the Q&A.
On the economy and rising unemployment
The BJP government under Narendra Modi has always put the country’s economy ahead of any other determinant of growth and development, perhaps more than any ruling party before them. More than one crore jobs have been created in the past one year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday claimed in response to the opposition’s claims to the contrary. In fact, it is absurd for the jobs market to stagnate, he said, when global data puts India as one of the fastest-growing economies under the Modi-government.
“When investment into and the pace of execution of infrastructure projects like making roads, laying down rail lines, setting up power generation including solar parks and transmission lines is at all-time high, how come the jobs will not be created,” he asked when probed to explain the methodology of computing job numbers, that has been touted as outdated by the opposition.
Modi further asked, “When FDI inflows are at an all-time high, will it not translate into manufacturing and job creation?” He also mentioned the historic boom in the aviation sector, tourism, start-up ecosystem, mobile manufacturing units (from two to 120 in just four years), that are all contributing to job creation. With over 3.5 crore loan already sanctioned for first-time enterprises, Modi economic policies also look out for entrepreneurs.
On the National Register of Citizens
Dismissing the possibility of a civil war over the NRC fiasco in Assam, he rebutted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s remarks saying, “Only those who have lost faith in themselves, fear the loss of popular support and lack faith in our Institutions can use words like ‘civil war’, ‘bloodbath’ and ‘Desh Ke Tukde Tukde.’” Repeating what his party’s spokespersons have been saying regarding the register, the PM said, “The NRC was a promise of ours, which we are fulfilling under the guidance of the Honourable Supreme Court. It is not about politics but about people. If someone is making it about Rajaneeti, it is extremely unfortunate.”
Assuring that the centre does not intend to exclude Indian citizens and adequate opportunity will be provided to address claims and concerns, he blamed the Congress who had sowed the roots of NRC when they signed the Assam Accord in the eighties. “The Congress knew a problem exists but allowed it to fester for decades because they were guided by vote bank politics, he said, “I want to assure the people that no citizen of India will have to leave the country.
GST model sensitive to states and their concerns
Clarifying his diametrically opposite stance on GST when he was Gujarat CM, Modi openly stated his distrust of then-finance minister (appointed by the UPA government), for refusing to pay GST compensation to states as promised. They were also unwilling, he said, to provide GST compensation to the states if they suffered losses in the first 5 years.
The NDA Government discharged this liability which made GST was possible, he said. Accusing a few parties for opposing everything for the sake of opposing, including Yoga, Ayushman Bharat, Swachh Bharat, NRC, surgical strikes and now GST which has been renamed Gabbar Singh Tax, Modi said, “people who have seen only dacoits around them will naturally think of dacoits only!”
In his tacit acknowledgement of the role played by India’s business sector in GST adoption without question, Modi said, They deserve all compliments. He also provided circumlocutory answers when asked about the real benefits it has brought after a year of implementation.
The GST, fondly nicknamed Good Simple Tax, he claims, is responsible for the rise in the number of registered enterprises. “In just one year after the introduction of GST, 48 lakh new enterprises were registered, around 350 crore invoices were processed and 11 crore returns were filed in 1 year.”
On reservation and minorities
Modi also dispelled speculation about BJPs plan to abolish reservations, saying that the quota system is an important and indispensable tool to fulfill the dreams of Ambedkar. “Our Mantra is Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and to achieve this, it is most important to protect the rights of the poor, marginalized, downtrodden, Dalits, Tribals and OBCs,” he said. Even as the government seems non-committal about addressing caste-based lynchings which are on the rise, or the usurpation of tribal lands for commercial projects, Modi claims that these anti-minority allegations are spread by vested interest groups “to sow seeds of doubt and mistrust among the weaker sections of society.”
On the rise in gender crimes and lynching
Asserting his commitment towards fighting for women’s safety and empowerment, Modi pointed towards what he claims were quick disposal of cases, referring to the capital punishment meted to Nirbhaya’s rapists 6 years after the crime.
With respect to the growing incidences of such crimes and in light of India being labelled as the unsafest country for women, Modi refused to reduce these incidents to mere statistics or indulge in politics over them. “That shows a kind of perverse mindset that looks at violence and criminality as something to be milked, instead of unitedly opposing,” he said.
Going a step ahead of women development, Modi claims that his government is working towards a “women-led development”. He further claimed that ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ has played a huge role in levelling the Child Sex Ratio and educating girl children in India. Among other accomplishments on that front, he cited the appointment of two women in the Cabinet Committee on Security for the first time in history, the induction of women into Indian Air Force and SWAT teams.
Championing the cause for working women, the newly amended Maternity Benefit Act statutorily has increased maternity leave to 26 weeks. By introducing LPGs, proper sanitation and banking facilities for poor women, the government is constantly working for dignity and empowerment of women.
On Indo-Pak relations and Kashmir
In the interview, Modi expressed sincere hope that the new government led by Imran Khan would usher in a new phase in India’s strained relations with Pakistan. He also wished that the PTI-led government would work towards restoring safety, security and prosperity in the terror-struck country.
With respect to Kashmir and the foiled attempt at coalition with the PDP, he said, “For BJP, people’s interest is above political interests and that is why without casting any aspersions, we opted out of power. BJP is always with the people of J&K and is ready to fulfil their dreams. This importantly includes deepening the roots of Democracy in the State right down to the Panchayat and Village level.” He didn’t comment on the possibility of reviving the alliance next year if push comes to shove.
Taking on the third front
The Mahagathbandhan being formed by the opposition and regional parties before the 2019 polls, was about dynasties and not development, said the PM. “The opposition parties are so convinced about our Government’s popularity that they have no faith in their ability to fight us individually,” the PM quipped quite confidently.
People have clearly recognized the difference between these parties and the BJP and hence the opposition has no option but to make it an ‘All versus One’ fight to even think about winning. According to him, the true character of the Mahagathbandhan lies in personal survival, not ideological support, personal ambitions, not people’s aspirations, purely about power politics, not about people’s mandate.
He made poignant remarks about the irony involved in the proposed coalition: “Today, those who resisted the Emergency are standing with those who imposed it. Those who went about trying to fight corruption are with the party that has institutionalized corruption at all levels. Parties with a visceral hatred towards the Left ideology and parties espousing Left ideology are sharing stage. Parties whose very existence depended on fighting each other are now friends.” Many would think that such a diverse potpourri of ideologies coming together for a common cause is impressive and long overdue.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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