Gandhinagar: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi says inflation, security, governance and infrastructure loom as major issues in the next general election, due to take place by May. In a recent interview with Mint, Modi avoided a direct answer when asked whether he hoped to be prime minister, saying he was committed to Gujarat and its people. He spoke about a range of issues, from rural development and border security to political issues. Edited excerpts:
Looking forward: Modi says his government is looking at value additions in the gems and jewellery sector. Harikrishna Katragadda / MINT
What do you think are the top three issues on which people will vote in the coming elections?
Inflation has become a major issue across the country that touches the common man. And the Central government has completely failed on this issue.
Similarly, another concern of people is one of security. Earlier, terrorism was limited to Jammu and Kashmir. Now it can come to any street and locality. And see, this is a huge war. Events will happen. But how are you addressing them? That determines a lot. Are vote banks important or is the security of the common man more important?
They are not able to give reasons for not hanging Afzal Guru (convicted in the December 2001 attack on Parliament). These are the reasons why the mind that thinks in the interests of the country is very agitated.
The third issue is that there is no consistent policy towards farmers and villages in this country. At the end, what does the Central government hope to achieve? All these issues are related to development. Good governance itself is an issue. Infrastructure is also an issue. But what are the things that will inspire the common man? These are the three things that have a direct relationship with the well-being of the common man in the country.
Will you be campaigning outside the state for other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates in the coming elections?
It is the responsibility of the smallest party worker to do what is needed to ensure the party’s success. It is the responsibility of the BJP to free the country from the dangers it faces. And the work that every party worker is doing, I also have to do it.
I don’t know what is the best way to ask you this question, so I’ll ask it straight. Do you hope to be prime minister?
How many people have you asked this question to?
Just you. Really.
(Laughs) These five-and-a- half crore Gujaratis have given me the mandate to serve them. And I am completely involved in this work through my thoughts, words and deeds.
I want to raise the standards—every standard of living—to world-class levels in this state. I want the girl child to be healthy. I want our children to get the best education and opportunity.
If I can manage this much, even this is a great service to the nation. If Gujarat moves forward, the country is bound to move forward. So, I am committed to Gujarat.
Your state has a large, porous border with Pakistan. Just a few days ago, there was a report in a local newspaper in Rajkot that said three unidentified men, who did not speak the local language, were travelling through the town of Palanpur (close to the border) and asked the locals for “the shortest route to Pakistan”. You have been vocal about the need to bolster defences. Do you think enough is being done?
See…for any two countries that share borders, it is the responsibility of the Central government to defend its borders. Border is directly controlled by the Central government, the state government does not have a role to play. This is what the government of India has been doing and is doing.
There are some issues about which there is concern and I have drawn attention to them before. For instance, take the fencing of Gujarat’s land borders. There is not enough budget being allocated for this work. The progress is slow. It should be quick, and quality work should be done by the Central government.
I keep reminding them again and again about it. We have a 1,600km-long seafront. Where land ends and sea begins, it is the role of the Coast Guard, the navy. That is why I have suggested the formation of a coastal security office. I have also asked them to equip the forces with the most modern equipment and that air surveillance should be added to it.
In 2004, I had presented the Indian government with a detailed coastal security plan. The Indian government liked that plan so much that they wrote a letter to other coastline states, asking them to follow the Gujarat model. It was a Rs500-600 crore project. Out of that...they have given about Rs12-15 crore so far.
I don’t want to drag this into a state and Central government debate. I don’t want to get into any unnecessary debates.
You drew a lot of flak for coming to Mumbai after the attacks and making what people thought was a politically motivated speech. You called the Prime Minister’s address to the nation “uninspiring”.
That is all I said. I simply said that the Prime Minister’s address to the nation was uninspiring. That is my statement. You see editorials of all the newspapers after that. They have been far more critical. All of them.
So then, have I made any accusations at the Prime Minister? Have I made a political statement? Then how are you people concluding that it is political?
Another thing. If there was any political gain to be made from coming to Mumbai, then 25 other state chief ministers would have gone long before me…if there were any votes to be gained out of it.
As far as Mumbai is concerned, it is as good as Gujarat. And I feel that it is the responsibility of the chief minister of Gujarat to go there in times of such sorrow.
What would a consistent policy towards farmer and villages entail in your vision?
Gujarat has found solutions. Gujarat has already learnt. Gujarat has no difficulty at all. We have done it. Only four years ago, agricultural income was (Rs)9,000 crore. Today it is (Rs)48,000 crore.
In the entire country, agricultural growth does not go above 2%. Gujarat has driven it up to 12%. And traditionally, we are not an agricultural state.
There is a village, Rajasamadhia, that has been transformed into an amazingly self-sufficient village—with concrete roads, zero crime rates, rainwater harvesting, catchment areas and smooth administration. The man who made this change, the village council chief Harendra Jadeja, says if he is handed over 10 such villages, he will change them too. Would you be open to such proposals and what other policies have you adopted to make villages self-sufficient?
Right now, we are implementing a Central government initiative in Gujarat called Nirmal Gram (clean village). There was a time when only one of Gujarat’s villages would get that title…villages such as Rajasamadhia would get that award. Sometimes four or five such villages would get it. Now, about 1,200-1,500 villages get that award.
Gujarat has created a model for every village. See, the ideas are common for every village. Only the method of implementation is different. And this is going on in Gujarat on a large scale. The issue of village transformation is discussed in village-level committees as well. And the state government helps these activists in whatever way it can. A lot of villages have been transformed in this way. Even the tribal belts are seeing transformation. In fact, (former president A.P.J.) Abdul Kalam himself came to live there for an entire day.
So, different models are being adopted in different areas depending on the needs of that village. We have adopted a different approach for Kutch too. So that is the ongoing rural approach.
What are you doing to help the diamond industry in Saurashtra?
See, the diamond industry is basically an export-driven industry. So, whatever policy is adopted is laid down by the Central government. But as far my government’s policies are concerned, we have removed the sales tax that the industry paid before.
But the reality is that there is no direct economic relationship of this government with the industry. But it gives a lot of employment to many people in the state; it is environment-friendly industry…in a way it is like a cottage industry.
Our approach is that because of the Jyotigram Yojana (rural electrification plan) there is electricity available in all villages for 24 hours a day. And because of this electricity, it is no longer necessary for the diamond-polishing machine to be in Surat (the centre of diamond trade) any more. It can be in the smallest village of Gujarat. People in these villages can now do their farming, look after aging parents and be a part of the diamond trade as well.
So now, they no longer need to spend more money to go and live in Surat to work in a polishing unit. This now adds to the family’s income.
So, we have changed the approach to this industry and we have succeeded well. Now, small, small villages also have become successful. This is an economic model that will be useful in the future.
Another approach that the Gujarat government has adopted is the approach of value addition and that is gems and jewellery. Gujarat can do a lot in the area of gems and jewellery and that is an area we are looking at closely to develop further.