In an email interview with Hindustan, a Mint affiliate and the country’s second largest newspaper by readership, Gujarat chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Narendra Modi, whom many expect to be the country’s next prime minister, fielded questions on a range of issues—from his economic priorities to his approach to foreign policy and internal security, from the fallout of the 2002 riots in his state to the discomfort some of his own senior colleagues have expressed about his candidature. Edited excerpts from a Mint translation of the interview:

There are huge expectations of your party all over the country. Are you scared of this?

There has been a feeling of disappointment and contempt towards the (current) government for many years. People have become interested in electoral politics after a long time; the faith that voters had (in elections) is returning.

I am aware of the fact that the country is expecting a lot from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Our citizens also have a right to dream and be optimistic. They should be allowed to have expectations; there is nothing wrong with it.

We are well aware of all these things and we are well prepared and mentally ready to work hard.

Will you set timelines, say, two months, three months or 100 days, to achieve your goals?

All work will be done in the timeframe that is needed. I will only get 60 months to fulfil the dreams of 125 crore people of this country. I will work hard every second and every day.

On the economic front, the country is going through a lot of problems. What will be your immediate economic priority if you form the government?

There is a need for rapid growth to revive the economy and for growth, there is need for investment. Investment will come in only when the environment is conducive, when we can re-establish the faith of investors in the system. In this scenario, policies are important, but I believe credibility and track record are also equally important.

Keeping in mind the track record of previous NDA (National Democratic Alliance) governments and current BJP state governments, I believe that it will not be difficult to regain the faith (of investors).

But this is not enough. We will take precise steps to promote infrastructure and manufacturing in a big way. Our priority will also be to create employment for the youth by focusing on manufacturing. We will also concentrate on skill development, which was neglected by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government. One of the main reasons for the country’s problems is policy paralysis. We have to quickly come out of that.

What will be your priorities on the internal security front?

It is not the time to deal with terrorism and Maoism in a soft manner. We will have to bring about a fundamental change in our mindset while dealing with disruptive activities such as terrorism and Maoism.

Apart from making institutions more effective, we will have to rise above politics to do this work effectively. We will have to create a strong anti-terrorism framework. I believe that the most important thing is for the central government and state governments to work together and think on the same lines so that the challenge can be firmly dealt with.

How do you plan to improve relations with neighbouring countries, especially China and Pakistan?

Our foreign policy must be based on mutual respect, support and brotherhood. But our own self-interest must be paramount. We don’t want to be aggressive against anyone nor be faced with aggression. But just think, would it be possible to have a good relationship with any neighbouring country that encourages terrorism in India?

It’s been a nasty campaign. What will you do to bring about a harmonious atmosphere after the results?

I am now used to this. It used to hurt me. The many baseless allegations that have been aimed at me over the last decade did hurt me. It could be said that this is an occupational hazard, but the kind of allegations I faced were torturous. There isn’t a contemptuous word in the dictionary that hasn’t been used to describe me. But as they say, sometimes the pain itself becomes a medicine. I have decided to not let these discouraging comments affect me. I now want to focus only on the positive aspects.

There is a notion that the prime minister of a coalition government is often a helpless prime minister. How will you change this notion if you come to power? To what extent will you be able to realize your agenda in a coalition?

See… like I’ve said before, we believe in inclusion. We will follow the tradition of talks and consultations with all alliance partners. Even earlier, this country has accepted the principles of coalition of the NDA government.

Atalji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Prime Minister between 1998 and 2004) provided the best example of what coalition is and how it can be managed. We will go forward with the same spirit. It is our clear belief that if policies are clear and if intentions are clean, then the results will be good. It is also important that there be no distrust among alliance partners.

You speak of the Gujarat model of development. Is this applicable to India?

Gujarat is a part of India. Whatever is possible in Gujarat is possible in India. But what is needed is willpower and decisive leadership. If the right atmosphere for progress exists, then investors from around the world will be ready to invest. But keep in mind, investments will only go where decisions are taken fast and the system is transparent.

Our country is a vast country where there is also much diversity. I have a clear belief that the “one shoe fits all" approach cannot be applied everywhere. Our objective should be one, the prosperity of the people, but policies and interventions as required, are also necessary.

Do you believe that the clean chit you got from the Supreme Court-monitored committee for the 2002 Gujarat riots was enough? Do you think you need to do more to win the hearts of the minorities?

After the 2002 riots, some established interests have hurled accusations at me, and tried to slander me. Some have not even hesitated to reopen old wounds of the riot victims to show me in poor light. Some have not hesitated to show India in poor light in foreign countries.

For the people who believe in our judicial system, and respect it, the clean chit that I have received should be adequate. But for people whose only objective in life is to slander Modi, for them a clean chit from every court, every system, will not be enough.

To win the hearts of the minorities, if there is a need to do something, then it is comprehensive development. I have said before that minorities do not need to hear about hollow secularist promises; they also need education, health facilities, and employment opportunities. The development of 125 crore Indians will be our objective. It is not the Bharatiya Janata Party’s culture to consolidate votes based on the math of religion and caste.

For us, the country comes first, and all our countrymen come foremost. On this particular issue, I have answered everyone’s questions repeatedly, but it seems as if no interview of mine is complete until this question is asked. It looks as if your newspaper is also under pressure (to ask me this question).

You have promised that you will, if elected, reduce taxes. So, how will you generate funds for development? For instance, it requires 72,000 crore to run a bullet train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, one of the many things you have spoken of.

My 12 years of experience in running the Gujarat government makes me believe that governments, normally, do not have dearth of funds. Government funds are either wasted through corruption, scams, or they are used for vote bank politics.

I believe if the policies are right and their implementation is strong, there will never be a lack of funds.

It is very unfortunate for our country that some governments saw poverty not as a curse, but a boon. This could be because of vote bank politics or the lack of far-sightedness among those in power. This is the reason why we are unable to think of creating something which is world-class. On the other hand, a country like South Korea, which was in a situation similar to India at the time of its independence has moved ahead rapidly, due to its progressive thinking.

During Atalji’s government, schemes such as the Golden Quadrilateral (a network of highways connecting the four ends of the country) were initiated. That was an attempt to provide world-class infrastructure to the people of India. Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, instead of moving ahead in that direction, we have been taken backwards. I think if we have a broad vision and a will to implement this with proper planning, then even our country can develop at a rapid pace.

We can also provide world-class infrastructure to our citizens across all the spheres of life.

The focus of your political campaign has shifted to an individual from the political party itself. Will a party known for its strong cadre of workers now be known by the name of an individual?

This election is not being contested by a party or an individual but it is being fought by the people of this country. The citizens of this country have decided they want to form a BJP government at the centre and I have been given an opportunity to lead the party. I am putting in all my strength and efforts to fulfil hopes of the people of this country.

Some of your own party’s senior leaders have expressed their discomfort with you. Will this be a problem if your party comes to power?

I want to make an appeal to political analysts and philosophers: please analyse if any party has the kind of internal democracy that BJP has. Should parties not be democratic? To discuss something is not to protest. And even protesting is not a bad thing. Should not we be supporting such practices in a political party where there is collective leadership and not family rule? Is it incorrect to have differences or discussions in a decision-making process? I think the healthy culture of internal democracy will continue even after we come to power. The philosophy of collective decision-making is in the DNA of BJP. What you are calling a discomfort, is, in reality, a process of collective decision-making.

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