New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday made a strong defence of his government’s controversial move to demonetise high-value currencies and its record in job creation. Demonetisation, he said in a wide-ranging interview with Hindustan, was launched in “national interest, not for political gain". On the jobs front, Modi said India could not have notched up its fast pace of GDP growth without employment generation and that 60 million jobs have been created in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) alone in the last four years. Edited excerpts:
You will complete five years as the prime minister soon. How do you look back to these years?
It had been a very satisfactory and extremely good five years. My experience in these five years boosted my belief that there is no reason why India should remain in the category of developing countries.
We have all the capabilities to be a developed country. This conviction will continue to be of great help to take the country ahead in the next five years.
When I came here, the situation was much worse than what I have thought it would be. It was a terrible situation. I was new to this place and I also had to understand issues, but as we started taking decisions, several worrying things came up.
My long experience as chief minister helped me to remain confident, and I knew that we would find ways, and we did find ways.
Which are the three big achievements that give you satisfaction?
It would be difficult to restrict myself to this. Earlier, the government would beat its own drum throughout the year over one or two achievements. My case is such that if you take any ministry, any state or any development work, you can see a new initiative in it. There would've hardly been a day in these five years when an important decision was not taken or important work was not done.
So, there are so many achievements and initiatives, that to confine it to just three would be an injustice to other departments and my colleagues.
You made some promises when you assumed charge. Now that your first term is coming to an end, do you think you have not been able to complete the work you set out to?
If everything gets completed then I think that the world will come to a halt. One should look for new energy, ambitions and resolutions to move in life. The biggest satisfaction I get from my work is that it fuels my ambitions further to do many more new things.
You launched social schemes, such as 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao', 'Jan Dhan Yojana', 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' and the Mudra Scheme. You have spoken about social development in a committed manner. Are you happy with the results?
The train of India’s development runs on two tracks. One is the social infrastructure. Another, the physical infrastructure.
Keeping in mind the poorest of the poor, we must reach that social infrastructure level where everyone has house, education, health and toilet. Physical infrastructure should be world-class.
Look at the time of the independence struggle. The country was under occupation for many years. Every part of the country made sacrifices, but what did Gandhiji do? He changed the independence struggle into people’s movement: you take the broomsticks for independence, spin cotton for independence, you give adult education for independence, you teach for the purpose of independence. He added people’s participation to the freedom movement and changed the latter’s face.
I believe that development, like freedom struggle, should also be a people’s movement. We had previously considered limited programmes as adequate development, and this, I believe, used to be our strategic shortsightedness. If we had turned it into people’s movement, the results would have been hundred-fold.
You launched the demonetisation drive. Do you think it achieved what you aimed for?
I am quite happy about the outcome. It (black money) was a blight that no one dared to touch it.
I'm sure you know that when there was lesser number of currency notes with highest denomination of ₹100 in India, Indira Gandhi had come up with a proposal (to demonetise). According to a book, Yashwantrao Chavan told her, “Do you want to do politics or not? Do you want to fight elections or not? Don’t fall in this trap."
So, demonetisation might not have suit political arithmetic but for the national interest it had to be done. We did it for national interest, not for political gains.
Our steps against black money in the last four-and-a-half years have resulted in recovery of ₹130,000 crore, which has been taxed and awarded penalties. Properties worth ₹50,000 crores have been seized. During this period, ₹6,900 crore of benami properties and assets in foreign shores worth ₹1,600 crore have been also seized.
Nearly 338,000 shell companies have been identified and deregistered. Their directors have been disqualified. It’s also due to demonetisation that tax compliance has almost doubled.
But demonetistion is being used against you in this election.
They (the opposition parties) did it earlier too. This did a lot of campaign in UP but they lost very badly. They got defeated over all the issues they tried to take to the people. It would have been a different thing if they had shown honesty and did some research.
You tell me, there were three lakh shell companies. Four hundred companies were running in such a small room (stretches his hand to show the size), hawala trade was going on...
Demonetisation had an impact on the hawala trade and terrorism. NIA investigations in Jammu and Kashmir showed that future funding for terror activities were cut off.
One of the criticisms often voiced is that demonetisation impacted employment. What is it that the government is doing on employment generation?
First of all, we have to understand the way employment data is collected in our country. For many years, we have been doing a sample survey and, on its basis, a minimum assumption is made. Let’s look at some facts—this may or may not suit some people.
For example let’s take roads—earlier roads were constructed, but in the last five years, the constructuion of roads has doubled.
Similarly, the work in railways has doubled, electrification of rail routes has gone up three times. Has all this been possible without employment?
Today, our country has received the maximum foreign investment. GDP has remained stable, inflation too has come down. Our government has given loans to 170 million people without any bank gurantees. Of these people, 42.5 million are those who have taken loans for the first time. Considering that they have taken loans, they must have started some work with the money also. In the last five years, six lakh new professionals have joined the economy. These professionals must have employed some people. Is this not employment generation?
New vehicles have come to this country, so jobs for mechanics and drivers too must have been generated. According to a CII report, 60 million people have got jobs in medium and small enterprises. In the last 2-3 years, 5.5 million new people have enrolled for the government pension scheme.
All this data suggests that compared to previous years, employment has risen in the country. Even during the (Atal) Vajpayee government’s time, the Congress ecosystem spread slogans that there was no employment.
During the Vajpayee government, 60 million people got employment, while successive governments could generate employment for only 12.5 million people.
There are three aspects to the employment question—formal employment, informal employment and symbolic (employment). Let’s looks at formal employment. According to EPFO and ESIC data, we have created one million jobs every month and 12 million jobs every year. In the last four years, 5.5 million new subscribers have joined NPS (National Pension System). Approximately 10 million people are benefitting from employment generation programmes.
NASSCOM report also shows that employment in the IT sector has grown. Formal sector accounts for 15% of the total employment.
Now, let’s look at the informal sector, which accounts for 85% of the employment in the country. In the last four years, 170 million people have been given loans. A CII survey shows that in the last four years, 60 million new jobs were created in the MSME sector. In the last four years, tourists and tourism in our country has grown by 50%. Don’t you think that this would have generated new jobs in this sector?
Lakhs of Jan Seva Kendra are functioning across the country, don’t you think employment must have been generated here?
For the past many years, India has been the fastest growing economy. If we were to compare governments after 1991, it transpires that the average growth has been the highest during our government. Is all this possible without employment generation?
International reports suggest poverty has reduced drastically. Is this possible without employment generation? Foreign investment too has touched a record high. Is this possible without employment?
India has become one of (the) biggest startup hubs globally. Development of many app-based services has contributed to our startup economy. Is this possible without employment? West Bengal, Karnataka, Odisha governments claim to have created new jobs. Is is possible that states are generating employment but the centre is not?
Allegations are being made that the data is fudged.
People who make these allegations have done great harm to the country. We have followed the same system, same arrangements and same methodology which have been followed by previous governments. Just because the results now are better, questions are being asked about the processes followed, and the integrity of institutions are questioned.
If you lose an election, EVMs are blamed. If judgments are not to your liking, impeachment proceedings are initiated against the Chief justice of India. If the media does not report according to your liking, you call it sold out.
IMF and World Bank have accepted India’s growth story. The world believes that India is the fastest growing economy. If Modi has to be opposed, oppose him, but in the zeal to oppose Modi don’t attack and devalue institutions and India globally.
These days it is seen that abusive language has crept into electoral politics. Are political leaders at the top making efforts to deal with it?
I don’t believe that this thing has happened overnight. Earlier, news used to come 24 hours after the event and there was little space for reporting such developments.
Once, while campaigning in Gujarat, I said that a cat had crossed my path. Next day, newspapers reported that Modi called Sonia Gandhi a cat. What do you say to such a thing?
Just look at the language of the people who give lessons on use of graceful language. Look at the kind of reports media files when the parliament is in session. They call the house a battlefield. What will you say to comments of Sonia Gandhi who called Atal Bihari Vajpayee a traitor and Modi a Maut ka Sudagaar (merchant of death). It’s not that we haven’t faced the brunt of abusive language, but these days it's become fashionable to twist comments and give lessons on use of courteous language.
The BJP organized a big rally in West Bengal and the state is seen as the BJP’s new laboratory. How successful will you be in Bengal?
It’s not correct to say that the BJP sees Bengal as its new laboratory. Since 2013, I have maintained that in the absence of balanced regional development, India has suffered the most. From Punjab to Kerala, India has remained economically vibrant.
Despite the eastern part of the country being the most resource-rich region, it has lagged. This part of the country has produced the largest number of intellectuals, IAS and IPS officers. It’s been my belief that for the balanced development of the country, we have to make the eastern region strong by creating infrastructure and making investments. My task for the next five years is to make the eastern part of India economically strong.
Of the developed India’s image that I have in mind, the eastern region is a part of it and not a part of some politics. Someone might say that I went to Arunachal Pradesh twice, and may see politics in it. But my government has a different take on the development of the northeastern part of the country. Every 15 days, one or the other minister from my government visits the northeastern region of the country and spends time there.
Earlier, chief ministers from the northeastern states used to camp in Delhi and still not get time to meet ministers. I have changed all of this.
Similarly, I believe that West Bengal can become the epicentre of the development story in the eastern region. I want Kolkata to enjoy the same status as Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad in the economic sphere.
The Congress has made numerous promises in its manifesto, and you too have taken a dig at them in your election speeches. What do you make of the congress manifesto?
Look at the Congress track record. In 2004, they promised electricity for every household in three years. In 2009, they said electrification can happen in urban areas and for rural areas it will take more time but even till 2014 this had not happened.
After coming to power in 2014, we have provided electricity to 18,000 villages, almost 25 million households have benefited from it. In the near future, electricity will reach every house in India.
Look at their track record in Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh where they announced farm loan waivers, but have not done anything about it. Similar promises were made by the Congress in 2009 also. They said they would waive loans of ₹6 trillion but did only for ₹52,000 crore.
There is a CAG report on it which says there were five million bogus beneficiaries of the loan waiver scheme. Who will trust a party which has a track record like this? Besides, after winning elections in the states, they announced doles for unemployed youth. Till now they haven't given anything.
Since Nehru’s time, the Congress has claimed that poverty eradication is their goal. However, the Congress has paid lip service to it—Nehru used the slogan, then Indira Gandhi used it, Rajiv Gandhi spoke about it, Sonia Gandhi too said poverty eradication is their goal and now, her son too speaks about poverty eradication. For five generations the Congress has used this slogan.
The Congress has become like the main protagonist in the Ghajini movie. They don’t remember the promises they have made in earlier manifestos.
The Congress had in the past promised direct income and a high minimum support price to farmers but they forgot it. Then they promised electricity for every household; that too is forgotten. In 2009, they promised broadband connectivity in every village, and now in 2019, again they are repeating the same promise.
Has the Congress in the last 72 years given even 71 paise to the poor ? The people of India know this very well.
A section of the intellectuals in the society have given a call to not vote for you. How do you see this development?
I don’t know who these people are, but there was definitely a section of people, which got the best of everything under the previous governments. They got awards, respect, their children got scholarships and even studied in foreign countries.
It is possible that it is these people who give such calls. They probably can’t contest elections directly so they resort to such tactics. But so far no body has heard them and they should now introspect.
The government has taken effective action against Maoists in the northeast, but why couldn't it be as effective in Jammu and Kashmir?
I do not agree that the condition in Kashmir is not good. This is a 40-year-old problem and there have been interruptions, but you will see that only two, two-and-a-half districts in Jammu, Ladakh and Srinagar valley are left where the condition is not good.
Local-level elections were not held for many years in the Srinagar valley. Earlier governments were obstructions. Right now we have conducted elections. Seventy-five percent polling took place and there was not a single violent incident. Hundreds of people were killed in panchayat elections in West Bengal, but there was no single incident in Kashmir. Are conditions bad in Bengal or in Kashmir?
In Kashmir, NIA (National Investigation Agency) took action. The people of Kashmir were cheering in groups. Earlier, there was no action against people, who indulged in corruption to gain higher positions. Now, our government has taken action against them.
Recently there was a football match. There were 25,000 people watching the match, and the local team had defeated a famous team of Kolkata. Such news doesn't get publicity.
In a way rapid development is taking place. The task to provide electricity to every household was completed last month. Several major decisions have been taken under the governor's regime.
Don’t you think that the decision to form the government with Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu and Kashmir was not a right decision?
When the election results came, no one had absolute majority. We were thinking that the National Conference and the PDP (The Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party) will join hands. We did not have the numbers. The state was under governor’s rule for several months. At that time Mufti Mohammed Saeed was there. People of the state spoke to him. We openly said that "we are two poles".
In a way it was our mahamilawat. Because we had to form a government under democratic compulsions, we started working under the minimum common programme.
Mufti saheb was experienced...so there were no problems. After the demise of Mufti saheb, Mehbooba Mufti had compulsions of the party and other problems. She was not ready to take the responsibility for several days. After a long time she took the responsibility. The government was formed. We wanted to conduct local elections, but she was not ready. She used to say that there would be bloodshed. When she did not conduct elections, then we left (the coalition).
We focused on development. We already said whatever mahamilawat is visible today was our mahamilawat and whatever political damage it could do, it did.
You adopted the principle of zero tolerance against terrorism. Do you think that the narrative has changed after Pulwama?
The whole world is fighting against terrorism. Our effort is to make terrorism a global agenda and tell the world that Pakistan is in the business of exporting terror to India.
Pulwama has convinced the world that what India says is right. Because of that the entire world supported us when the air strikes were conducted.
There was a time when only Russia was with us on the international stage, while the rest of the world was with Pakistan. After five years, only China is with Pakistan and the rest of the world is with India.
As far as India is concerned, India knows very well that the BJP government and Modi have a zero tolerance policy against terrorism. Even after Uri, I publicly said that my soldiers' blood will not go in vain. After Pulwama, I said that they made a big mistake.
The action that followed was the desire of the common people. As far as fight against terrorism is concerned, Pulwama or before Pulwama, even when I was the chief minister or now, both the BJP and I have same view.
Pakistan has not changed. Do you think that there is no possibility of dialogue with Pakistan and talks will take place only on international forums?
See, when I was not even the prime minister, (when) I had not taken the oath, I had called the prime minister of Pakistan to attend the oath ceremony, only for the sake of our country, (despite) knowing of the reaction of the BJP and its supporters. I had given a message that "yes, we will go to a decisive stage". After that I went to Lahore.
Even after that, such things happened.
So, why does the world believe me? The world has seen that Modi has taken initiatives to shake hands. I wanted to explain to the world that it was me who went ahead on the path of friendship, and I am also fully prepared to tackle any hostility. The world trusts Modi. Pakistan did try very hard, but I put it in the dock.
Arab countries have made their point of view clear, but China remains hostile. Do you think more needs to be done with the neighbours?
See, each country has its own independent strategy. On certain issues we are with Iran and on some issues we are with Arab countries. On some issues we are with Israel and on some issues with Palestine. India's foreign policy is in the interest of India.
As far as bilateral relations between India and China are concerned, we have mutual understanding as well as differences. There are differences, there is acceptability also. But we will not allow differences to become disputes. Despite a border dispute, we have a political relationship, we respect each other. We invest in each other’s places.
Whenever there is a problem at the higher level, the solution also happens. Therefore, multilateral issues should not spoil the bilateral relationships.
The Rafale deal has landed in controversy.
There is nothing controversial about it. If the media of this country is unbiased, then it is its responsibility to question the Congress on the issue of national security.
The leader of the 125-year-old Congress speaks without any proof or basis. The Supreme Court has said and so has the CAG, the French parliament, the French president, the company, and the Indian government and the Indian parliament.
But he (Rahul Gandhi) is levelling allegations and smirking.
Those who abuse the army chief, term the army “rapist", does it behove them? India has made maximum contribution to peacekeeping mission forces. They go across the globe, but neither the United Nations nor any other country has raised questions on the discipline, conduct or behaviour of our forces. Not even a single word. (But) you are defaming the army of my country.
There is a feeling of abhorrence towards the army; secondly, there is the burden to absolve his father of his sins. That is why when George Fernandes was there (as the defence minister), they had raised corruption in a defence deal. The matter related to coffins. During the UPA government itself the matter ended in court. You cannot clear your father’s sins by leveling false allegations.
If the country’s citizens repose faith in you once again, then what will be the first thing that you are going to do?
I have toured about 70-80% states since elections were announced. I have never seen such a pro-incumbency wave during Gujarat elections nor such a wave in 2013-14. The wave I am seeing today is bigger. Earlier they said it was an undercurrent but the wave is very much visible, it is not a mere vibration.
The way people are joining the BJP, from all over, be it Odisha or West Bengal, the wave is very much visible. This is symbolic enough, which is why your question is improper. Our government will indeed be formed. It is going to be a full majority government. The BJP will get more numbers than earlier.
Not just the BJP, even allies of the BJP will get more numbers than before. And they will come from each and every corner of India.
A glorious government will be formed, and what will be the first decision, or the second decision, for that we shall meet again soon.
This is a question not to the prime minister but to the person that is Narendra Modi. A dedicated person, a self-serving one, a politician, and now someone holding India’s highest office. You underwent a certain mental transformation during each role. How do you see this journey?
In any family if a child doesn’t undergo all-round development, the mind doesn’t develop according to the age, then the child becomes a liability to the family. If he is a part of an organisation, he becomes a liability for that particular organisation.
It is the characteristic of a human being to evolve continuously.
It should be in one’s nature to accept new things, to lift yourself regularly.
If I had worked here with the mindset of a chief minister then it wouldn’t have worked.
After becoming the prime minister, if I hadn’t accepted the thought that India can grow large globally, then I wouldn’t have been able to make India so popular in the world.
If I had not moved from here, and remained in slumber throughout, then I wouldn’t have thought I could send a man into space in Gaganyaan.
That’s why it is the characteristic of a human being to keep evolving continuously.
I always felt I was a student. I don’t let my inner student die.
I am giving you this interview, but more than that I'm trying to read the country through your questions.
I am multitasking. I am sitting in front of you like a student, and learning a lot from it. I am continuously evolving and wish the same for everyone. And then there are certain people who grow in age but don’t evolve.