Narendra Modi. (Bloomberg)
Narendra Modi. (Bloomberg)

This election is on the basis of performance, not perception: Narendra Modi

In an interview with Hindustan Times on Wednesday, Modi also defended his government’s record on demonetization, Kashmir, terrorism and employment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected the notion that the general elections have been reduced to a presidential-style poll that is all about him. The election is “special", he said, because it will, for the first time, see the participation of voters who were born in the 21st century—youths who want a “new-age development agenda".

In an interview with Hindustan Times on Wednesday, Modi also defended his government’s record on demonetization, Kashmir, terrorism and employment.

Edited excerpts:

Are you confident of coming back to office?

Absolutely. From the first day. 26 May 2014.

What are the big issues in this election?

Three issues are there. One, development. Two, inclusive development. Three, development in all directions.

In 2022, India will mark 75 years of independence. It is up to us to create an India that will make our freedom fighters proud.

The 2019 elections are special because it is the first time that those born in the 21st century are voting. These youngsters are not burdened by the past, they are in pursuit of a better future. These youngsters do not want to be bogged down by dynastic shenanigans, they want a nation where merit is recognized. They do not want old-school caste politics, they want a new-age development agenda.

Hence, in these elections, people will vote for those who they feel can build a better nation and lay the foundations of a strong and inclusive India. People will see our exemplary track record of 60 months, contrasting it with the inertia of those who got the opportunity to rule for almost 60 years.

Do you think this is just an election being fought on a pro- or anti-Modi platform?

People are weighing their options based on track record, vision and development work offered by various parties.

For me, our work and our vision ahead are the prime issues. The opposition, which has a galaxy of PM aspirants but a total bankruptcy of vision, plan and agenda, is taking to abusing Modi using caste and communal politics.

Rest assured, people are going to reject this mahamilawat (grand adulteration) alliance.

What is your view on alliances? You have called the opposition’s alliance a mahamilawat, but you also have one of your own.

One of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s big contributions in India is two-camp politics. One camp led by the BJP, and the other by the Congress. Alliances are important to address regional aspirations. But you also need a government with a clear majority at the centre.

Our model is a majority government at the centre, and a focus on regional aspirations—that should be evident from our record over the past five years. The Congress has a different understanding of alliances.

Make Charan Singh PM; pull the rug from under him. Make Chandrashekar-ji PM, then pull him down. Make I.K. Gujral PM, then get him down.

Why is the narrative of this election so polarizing—on both sides?

You have to understand that we are not choosing a class monitor here. We are deciding the direction this country takes. We are deciding the future of 130 crore Indians, especially the 65% of the population, which is under the age of 35. A lot is at stake.

This is an election that will prove to be the turning point in India’s rise in the world. I am glad that this election has brought out the differences between the two sides clearly. Now, the people of India will be able to make a clear choice between the two ways of looking at the country. Those who say Family First or those who say India First. Those who send love letters when terror strikes or those who answer terrorists in their own language. Those who stand with “tukde-tukde" gang or those who stand with the armed forces.

Those who stand to protect those who are guilty of sedition or those who live and die to protect and preserve India’s integrity. Those who did dalali (brokered) defence deals and weakened Indian defence or those who proved India’s mettle even in space. Those who made headlines with scam after scam in every sector or those who have ended the culture of scams. Those who tried their best to besmirch India’s 5,000-year-old civilization or those who stand for learning from India’s glorious past to build a bright future.

The choice is simple and clear. Therefore, if you call such an election, where the two sides have been clearly identified on the positions they take on vital issues, as polarized, then I would say it is a good thing.

The quality of discourse in this election seems to be falling. Mamata Banerjee said your hands are drenched in blood. You made your comment on Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress has responded in equal measure. What’s happening?

I can give you a list of what various important people of the Congress, including those of the family (the Nehru-Gandhi family) and people close to the family have called me. I have been called Duryodhan by Priyanka Gandhi, Aurangzeb by Sanjay Nirupam, a Hindu terrorist by Deen Dayal Bairwa, a namard (impotent person) by Narayan Rane. Even in the past, I have been called names. In 2016, Rahul Gandhi said I am a dalal (broker) in the blood of soldiers. In 2007, Sonia Gandhi called me a merchant of death. There’s more. Many of these were targeted at a current PM.

So, if we are speaking of respect for the post, then it’s the same respect for everyone in that post—then it is true for Deve Gowda-ji in Karnataka. It is true for (former PM Manmohan Singh) whose government’s order was torn in public (by Rahul Gandhi). If you are speaking of respect for the post, then what about former Andhra CM Anjaiah-ji, a Dalit, who was humiliated in Hyderabad airport (by former PM Rajiv Gandhi). Anyone complaining has to see the whole thing in perspective. As far as Mamata-ji is concerned, you should decide, as a journalist, whether you are fine with her tone and tenor of speaking. Her language. Ask reporters in Bengal if such statements do anything for the state.

In many parts of the country the contest seems to have been reduced to a presidential one, with the biggest factors being the Modi effect. Doesn’t this erode the relevance and importance of MPs in a parliamentary system?

This whole election is on the basis of performance, not perception. By performance, I mean the various schemes of the government of India; and the local MPs are involved in the implementation of these schemes locally at the grass-roots level. To just say that in these elections, there is just a name that is working, that isn’t correct. Naam bhi chal raha hai, kaam bhi chal raha hai (the name is working, sure, but so is the work).

There is a school of thought that says your party will not get more than 180 seats this time.

Professors and teachers used to take the syllabus and make a diary of it. Every year the student would be new but (not) the teacher and the diary. The world will change but they will teach from that. This is a similar section of people. They said the same thing in 2014. They are saying the same thing now.

What’s the difference between the Modi of 2014 and the Modi of 2019?

My digestion powers have increased. I can digest insults more easily.

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