Friday, December 7, 2012

Exclusive: The Narendra Modi Interview - The Sunday Indian Magazine

A man for all seasons 

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in conversation with Aditya Raj Kaul


Narendra Modi avoids the media like plague. What has to be said is told in the public domain, interviews of any kind are a strict no no. Yet the Gujarat strongman agreed to talk to Aditya Raj Kaul in an exclusive and rare interview, propounding his world view like never before. TSI had first approached him for an exclusive chat in August. Four months later, the reticent Chief Minister agreed when convinced this was not another hatchet job.


Narendra Modi is the man of the moment in Indian politics. Forever in the headlines with his earthy humour and home spun quips, the forthcoming Gujarat Assembly elections have taken Modimania to a new hysterical level.

A sneeze here, a veiled attack there, a breezy reference to the Gandhi family, all are cannon fodder for a media driven by the Gujarat chief minister, making him easily the most watched politician in the country today.

Narendra ‘bhai’ as he is known to Gujaratis, is no West-educated yuppie in the mold of several Congress wannabes. With a somewhat modest education, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in his teens and has continued with the parent organisation since.

As chief minister of Gujarat for more than a decade, this enfant terrible of Indian politics has spent a decade or nearly three terms in office. It may seem like a long period but by no stretch of imagination can it be described as a cake walk.

Modi's legion of powerful critics are a force to reckon with. He has been accused of being a 'mass murderer' by those who see in him a combination of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. He has been charged with sitting through, or worse, being involved in the Godhra riots of 2002, the prelude to an orgy of communal rioting in Gujarat which continues to reverberate even today. Since then, an entire human rights industry has spawned around Modi, backed by unrelenting judicial activism.

The riot focus on this former RSS pracharak has dissolved, just a bit, after the Supreme Court-appointed SIT recently gave Modi a clean chit in the post-Godhra Gulberg massacre case and sought its closure as it found no evidence against him. Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was among the 69 killed in Gulberg in the 2002 massacre.

The Congress too has shifted its criticism to his politics of development, struggling to find attractive ways to strike at his formidable base. At 62, with over a million followers on Twitter, Modi is slowly overcoming his pariah status. The United Kingdom recently sent its High Commissioner to meet him in Ahmedabad and no less than the Americans – avid watchers of the Indian scene as they are – privately believe that he could be India's next prime minister in 2014.

Ahmedabad itself is a riot of colours. There is virtually no road, lane or market which does not have his smiling, bearded visage, looking out from giant hoardings, as if trying to connect with the people. The story is much the same in rest of the state. Despite some naysayers – and there are a few – the Gujarat state Assembly elections are virtually Modi vs the rest.

The day of the interview turned out to be auspicious for the Hindu strongman. The BJP manifesto on Gujarat was released and politically he was breathing easier with unexpected party support from the likes of veteran Lal Krishna Advani and Sushma Swaraj. The constant power struggle in the BJP has ensured that Modi keep his cards close to his chest. He is, as yet, to bet big on Delhi because Gujarat is in the way.

"Secularism is in India's DNA"

What does 'secularism' mean to Narendra Modi?

Secularism is a term interpreted in many different ways. For me, it has always meant something very simple – putting India first; designing policy, taking decisions and ensuring action in the best interests of the nation. When we look after India’s interests, the interest of every Indian is automatically ensured. My government  functions on the principle of ‘justice to all and appeasement to none’. Gujarat’s successful inclusive and sustainable growth model is driven by the idea of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas' (all together, development for all). We have always achieved universal objectives – ‘water for all', 'education for all', 'health for all', 'power for all' and so on. Every member of our six crore Gujarati family has benefited from a decade plus of all round, sustainable and inclusive development. That to me is true secularism. It is also important to remember that secularism is in the DNA of Indians. We have, for centuries believed in vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the whole world is our family). Why then the need of dividing countrymen along sectarian lines? The so-called ‘secular politics’ is nothing but vote bank politics. Such vote bank politics is the bane of our nation and only when it ends will we be able to understand and live up to the true meaning of secularism.

Do you believe the post-Godhra riots issue is a thing of the past in the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections and development has taken centre stage?

Gujarat has enjoyed unprecedented peace in the last ten years with no communal riots, curfew etc. Development has clearly taken centre stage and will be the sole agenda in these elections. My message to everyone continues to be very simple – if you want to defeat me then do more for the people and deliver more development. I have always championed ‘developmental politics’ and am glad to see the Congress being forced to do the same. The idea of evaluating governments on development has already become the core focus across the country and it is time the Congress awakens and catches up.

You have alleged that the central government has been handing out step-motherly treatment to Gujarat.

It is a matter of great concern today that the federal structure of India has come under increasing strain, contrary to the spirit enshrined in the Constitution, merely to suit the whims and fancies of the rulers in Delhi. What we are witnessing today is a gradual and systematic dismantling of the federal structure. There has been brazen Central interference in powers assigned  to the states in the name of ‘development’, ‘public welfare’ and ‘people's rights’ in recent years, even on issues that are marked out on the state list. These are imposed on the states without taking into account their capacity and financial burden. The Right to Education and National Food Security Acts are examples of such imposition of financial burden on the state by the Centre. The Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill (GUJCOC) passed in the state Legislative Assembly has been waiting for four years for a Central government nod. This despite Gujarat being a very sensitive border state. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the Union Home Ministry is another such attempt at interference. Real federalism should be partnership, not prescription. Instead, steps such as the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) order are Delhi's backdoor attack on the constitutional powers of the states. In this case, the central government has not even bothered to discuss the issue with state governments before passing such an order, a direct violation of the federal spirit of the Constitution. The Sarkaria Commission appointed by Indira Gandhi and the Punchchi committee recommended that whenever the Union government proposes a legislation on the Concurrent List, there should be prior consultation with the state government. Instead, more and more centralisation is taking place. The drafting of the Communal Violence Bill without adequate consultations with state governments is another case in point. Instead of helping the states, central institutions are used to corner opposition-ruled states and chief ministers. Unleashing the income tax department on investors of 2011 Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit and CBI on chief ministers of opposition-ruled states prove this point beyond doubt. There are numerous other instances which show the centre's anti-Gujarat bias. For example, Gujarat contributes Rs 50,000 crore to the central treasury in Delhi every year and gets only Rs 6,000 crore in return. Yet the Central government takes out full page ads in Gujarat’s newspapers publicising this Rs 6,000 crore as being the reason for all of Gujarat’s successes. Similar is the case of cotton production. Although Gujarat leads the country in production and export of cotton, yet the state's farmers face massive losses because of central government policies which bans cotton export. I have these concerns not only as chief minister but also as a common citizen. It is time the Centre realises that giving the states what rightfully belongs to them will not weaken the government in Delhi. States must coordinate with the Union government and not remain subservient to it. There should be cooperation federalism not coercion federalism. Central funds are not an obligation but the right of every state to further development. But the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission reinforce the trend of centralisation. Despite the collective demand of all the states for a 50 per cent share of tax proceeds, there has been a mere increase of 1.5 percentage points from 30.5 per cent to 32. Isn’t this a gross injustice to India’s development dreams? It is imperative to understand that Indian citizens have identities beyond the common factor of being Indians. Respecting the diversity of this land, at the same time ensuring unity, the founding fathers of our Constitution envisioned a federal structure of government in which the states are equal stakeholders. Sitting in New Delhi, one cannot do justice to the potential and needs of the various states across India. Decentralisation makes the system both accountable and responsive.

Do you think Rahul Gandhi is a serious contender for the chair of the Prime Minister in 2014?

Dynastic politics is being practiced in the guise of giving way to the younger generation. India needs a fresh breeze of ideas and fresh breed of leadership. The people of this country have in fact already answered your question in repeated state elections. The common man is very intelligent and knows what is best for him – janta saab kuch jaanti hai’(the public knows everything). I have no doubt that the citizens will choose a strong, experienced and visionary leader to be their PM.

How would you rate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in these two terms even as his government and several ministers have been under the scanner facing corruption charges.

The UPA government has been saddled with political instability, indecisive governance, policy paralysis and rampant corruption. As its leader, the prime minister is answerable to the nation. Unfortunately, however, he does not seem to be able to do much about anything. Rather than making progress, the country seems to be going backwards. The economic growth rate has fallen to a nine-year low of 5.3 per cent, inflation continues to remain very high and reforms have come to a virtual standstill. Further compounding troubles, the UPA government has become a government of scams – 2G, CWG, Coal-gate – the list goes on and on. Such abuse and pelf has vitiated the very integrity and foundations of our government systems, institutionalising corruption, cronyism and political patronage. People are losing faith in the government and more importantly, the India Story itself. The PM has not been able to provide the leadership and vision required and his government has miserably failed to deliver.

How difficult has it been to be constantly demonised in public?

The love and support that I have received from the people of Gujarat and India at large has been overwhelming. They are my driving force and I remain focused on working for them without being distracted for even a second. Such things are being engineered by a small group of vested interests. Democracy cannot exist without criticism. I therefore appreciate and even welcome criticism, as long as it not from people with vested interests. In fact, when such people throw stones at me, I make stairs out of those stones to take Gujarat even higher up the ladder of success.

On social networking sites your supporters are running a campaign – `Modi for PM'. How close is Narendra Modi to reaching 7 Race Course Road?

I have always lived by the principle of  aspiring to ‘do’ something rather than ‘become’ something. My life is therefore dedicated to working for the welfare and well-being of my  country. While it is gratifying to see our work being appreciated, I firmly believe that a strong India needs not just one strong prime minister, or even 28 strong chief ministers – it  equally needs hundreds of strong mayors, thousands of strong sarpanchs and so on. In fact, we in Gujarat have always seen our work and success as ultimately being India’s success.

Do you expect mid-term polls?

The UPA government has been a huge disappointment – it has lacked neeti, neta and niyat – and is fundamentally threatening the India Story. The manner in which this country is being run from Delhi is there for everyone to see. Ironically, for a government having come to power on the name of the ‘aam admi’, it is the ‘aam admi’ who has ended up being the biggest sufferer. The common man has lost complete confidence in such a government amidst various scams, scandals, lethargy and indecision. Plummeting growth, sky-rocketing prices, anti-people decisions and political bullying are pushing India to the brink. While the nation suffers, the government is busy clinging on to power through manipulation and coercion. Having clearly lost its moral authority to govern, it is only a matter of time before it implodes.

You are considered the most tech savvy chief minister in India. Has it helped in your mass popularity and appeal?

Technology is the cornerstone of modern day society – thus any person willing to learn and grow should embrace it. I have always pushed for leveraging on cutting edge technology for progress and development. I have embraced technology to directly connect with citizens and well-wishers of Gujarat, engaging with them for the rapid development of the state. Through technology, I can reach out to people on a daily basis, talking to far away villagers and farmers from my office itself. Moreover, I am sure that social media is the tool of the future in facilitating an open, transparent and consultative relationship between the government and its citizens. eGovernance to me is easy, effective and efficient governance. It delivers tremendous benefits: transparency, openness, curbing of corruption, increased efficiency, macro-linkages and so on. My government has therefore taken unprecedented steps in ushering eGovernance in all aspects of government functioning. Consider the following: we have the largest Wide Area Network in the Asia Pacific; we are the first to provide broadband connectivity in all schools and villages; we make maximum use of video-conferencing including trial of prisoners; a number of our other eInitiatives have received numerous national and international awards. Prominent examples include: Swagat, eDhara, eProcurement, eGram, Jan Seva Kendra, Talim Rojgar, Vatis etc. Our ICT-based Grievance Redressal System (Swagat) has been honoured with the United Nation's Public Service Award for ‘improving transparency, accountability and responsiveness’. People's voice is the key driver in a democracy and listening to that voice is the key test of good governance. Swagat operates on this very principle and every month my team and I consider grievance cases through multi-video conferencing with all 26 districts and 225 taluka offices. This is the first time that the common citizen can access the highest level of office with officers present in real-time through video-conferencing. The advanced technology system allows attention and monitoring of grievances across the state to ensure resolution.

How does your government see the recent move by the central government on FDI in retail?

FDI in multi-brand retail as it is has been implemented recently, will harm small shopkeepers, adversely affect domestic manufacturing and create joblessness. It will also result in cheap goods produced outside being dumped into India. We must therefore first strengthen our manufacturing base before opening up to FDI in retail – ensuring maximum material sourcing domestically. While the President of a liberalised economy such as the US himself urges people to buy from small business instead of large malls as a bulwark against unemployment, our government seems hell bent on destruction. With such an anti-people move, the PM and Central government seem to have redefined democracy as `of the foreigners, by the foreigners and for the foreigners.' Any government should be for the common people and their benefit and we will be standing against any decision which hampers the interest of the common man.

How big a loss is the passing away of Bal Thackeray for you? How would you remember him?

Losing a great patriot like Balasaheb Thackeray is indeed a loss to the nation. Such leaders leave behind an imprint that is not easily forgotten. Full of life, Balasaheb Thackeray was an epitome of courage and valour. He kept himself away from the corridors of politics and built an entire political party. Moreover, he never compromised on patriotism.

What would be your concern and challenge if you come to power yet again in January 2013?

Gujarat’s developmental story is talked about across the world today. We have done a lot, but are still not satisfied. We are not ready to rest on our past laurels and are focused on building an even brighter future! We have already set high benchmarks for ourselves across various developmental domains and people’s expectations having correspondingly risen as well. Our real challenge will thus be to not only meet but exceed our own expectations and benchmarks, to achieve my vision of placing Gujarat among the league of developed regions of the world, build a glorious Gujarat which offers greater opportunities than the most promising  places in the world.


Anonymous said...

Views of a true leader.

Anonymous said...

Great Preface, Sharp questions, mesmerizing answers.


mantu ....... said...

good one ...

SuKupedia ™ :) :) said...

He makes stairs out of stones thrown at him by people with vested interest...hahahahah.. only Namo is capable of saying that...a very well done interview Aditya.. though in my opinion an interviewer should not be biased I have a feeling that your write up showed ur resentment towards Congress...but that's just a thought that came across.. good work again :)

SMS said...

If the people of Gujarat prevent Narendra Bhai Mody from becoming the Chief Minister again, it is sure they will be committing a Harakiri. This will be a costly affair for them. The people of Gujarat should facilitate Mody to continue the process of development. Despite Perfectly knowing that the 84 year old KBP, who is absolutely unfit to lead the people of the state to further developement ,and reducing vote margin for the Modi Party , the gujaratis may have to repent for the next 5 years.

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Salute to such a great personality.Thank you so much for interviewing dis man. His one road of progress for all is what every political pandits should follow. He very well knows how to controls veins of his 6cr matter how much you hate him dis man will stand tall strong and slap you back with his progress report.

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