Taming corruption has been top priority for the Modi government and it can claim success with no scandal breaking out in its first year in office. In an exclusive interview to Diwakar, BJP president Amit Shah spoke at length about the government’s determination to stay the course on governance by not letting Hindutva hotheads derail the governance agenda. He said a swifter decision-making process and genuine federalism has restored the stature of the Prime Minister’s Office. Excerpts from the interview:
How would you assess the first year of the Modi government?
It depends on who is doing the assessment. If we are to assess on a neutral basis then it’s very difficult to achieve what’s been done by this government in one year. This has been done when it got an economy in tatters, development projects were embroiled in legal issues, there was despair among the masses, the bureaucracy had lost faith in government and the country’s image had dipped globally. In circumstances such as these, what this government has done is a huge amount of work.
First, this is a visible government. Earlier you had to look out for a government. If there are floods in J&K, within hours the PM and the ministers are there. When earthquake strikes Nepal, the entire government of India machinery swings into action to help citizens there. In Lanka, when Tamil fishermen are given the death sentence, the government of India secures their release. In Afghanistan, if a Christian priest is abducted, the government gets him freed and in Yemen, not only Indians but citizens from the world over are rescued due to timely government intervention.
Complete coverage: One year of Modi sarkar
Second, in 10 years there’ve been 73 scams and Rs 12 lakh crore funds siphoned off. But in the past year not even the opposition has been able to level any charge of corruption. This is the government’s very important achievement.
For 10 years, there was a government that promised to control inflation in 100 days, but didn’t succeed. In one year of this government, the inflation index which used to be 6%-7% has touched a negative 2.66% in April. Retail inflation, which used to be 8.25%, has been limited to 4.87%. The government has wiped out corruption from governance and tamed inflation.
The biggest achievement has been the turnaround in the economy which was in tatters. When the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to office it received an economy where growth rate was 4.4%. In six years his government took that growth to 8.4%. The UPA in 10 years took the growth to 4.4% and returned it to NDA. Modi’s government has taken steps to ensure a growth rate of 4.4% to 5.7% (based on old parameters). It’s a huge achievement.
Fiscal deficit is under control. The current account deficit has come down. There’s been an increase of 40% in FDI and forex reserves have risen 14% to about $32,000 crore. This is the highest reserve in 10 years. Earlier, 14% projects were stalled. In a year we’ve brought it to 6%. This includes new projects.
How do you respond to criticism that jobs haven’t been created and this is one big setback?
When the economy revives, GDP grows there has to be an increase in employment. The Make in India programme, which has attracted attention of companies across the globe, will help create jobs in the months ahead. A huge number of jobs will be created in the manufacturing in the days to come. The Skilled India programme will help drive out unemployment. The move to finance the self-employed through Mudra Bank is a huge decision.
In this year’s budget Rs 20,000 crore has been set aside. This should be one of the biggest plans to create jobs after Independence.
The government hasn’t walked the talk on black money. Are you satisfied with the manner the government has tackled the issue?
Congress has no authority to seek any answers about the government’s actions on black money. During Congress rule, for one-and-a-half years, Supreme Court had ordered that an SIT be set up. But the Congress government didn’t set it up. The BJP government, in the first decision of the first cabinet meeting, decided to set up an SIT. This was a huge step forward in the fight against black money. Information on 700 cases was available with government for three years. The then government didn’t act on it. The Finance minister (Arun Jaitley) within one-and-a-half months, handed over that information to the SIT. And action is being taken. In this budget session, the government has brought in a tough black money law. When the FM presented this bill in Parliament, we ensured all roads leading to black money outside the country were closed.
But illicit money is only a consequence of corruption. Many feel government is disproportionately focused on the symptom, neglecting the root cause.
Not a single scam has happened during our tenure. That shows there’s no corruption. Here’s an example. Under the UPA, 229 mines were handed over to corporate houses just on the basis of loyalty. There were big industrialists of their party also. Spectrum was handed out cheaply. Out of those 229 mines, the government auctioned 20, which ensured Rs 2 lakh crore in government coffers. We auctioned one third spectrum, compared to UPA, and got over Rs 1lakh crore. This shows how transparently this government works. This’ll show whether those who sold natural resources to corporate groups were friends of the business world or those who got such huge funds for the poor are friends of the corporate groups. This demonstrates which government is pro-corporate.
There is criticism against your government on the Land Acquisition Bill. You’ve been accused of grabbing land from farmers to benefit companies…
Since we got independence and up to 2013, this country has been under Congress rule for 90% of the time, and the party has acquired land from farmers at dirt cheap prices. With the amendments we brought in 2014, I can say with authority, not one inch of land will be given to favour big industrial houses. This Land Bill is purely aimed at ensuring that development reaches the villages. Roads, railway and defence production units will be used for this. Land will be acquired only for projects which will create jobs. But farmers, when they get two or four times the prices, won’t become landless labourers. They will buy land and put the rest of the money in any other use. They’ll do farming and prosper. This is a win-win Land Bill and a friend of the farmers.
The jury will be out on this for a long time, but you seem to have lost the perception battle to your opponents.
When issues are decided in Parliament and implemented, there can be some confusion during this phase. But when decisions are implemented citizens get to know the truth. I believe citizens now know the truth.
Many businessmen are complaining about the slow pace of decision making and that nothing’s happening.
You just now said that we are biased for corporate groups. You’ve to make up your mind whether we are pro-corporate, whose friend the government is? This government is a friend of everybody— the poor, the farmer and the corporate. This government believes in development.
Are you suggesting that complaints of companies are motivated?
There are efforts to mislead. Illusion does not have a long life.
You say your government is not pro-corporate? What steps have you taken for the poor?
Even after 68 years of independence, 60 crore people had no bank account. The Modi government has opened bank accounts for over 14 crore people in one year. We’ve linked them with the financial system and this is a first time that an effort’s been made to ensure the financial system reaches the poor. We’ve provided security cover to the poor.
During the Lok Sabha campaign, BJP attacked Congress for neglecting infrastructure. Have reversed the situation?
Do you really have doubts? During the UPA government, the pace of road building, including state and centre, was 5 km per day. Today central projects alone have achieved 10 km a day. This demonstrates our commitment to infrastructure.
The farm sector seems to have been neglected…
Completely wrong, the farm sector unfortunately still depends on Monsoon. This government has changed the way relief is distributed to farmers hit by unseasonal rains, hailstorms or drought. Through this measure, about 42% more farmers will get relief and we’ve also increased the compensation. We’ve assured we’ll buy crops damaged by unseasonal rains at the price paid earlier.
Is this government good only at coining slogans? Swachch Bharat and Namami Gange sound grand, but will implementation be effective?
The problem’s with the critics. To the examples you cite, I’ll add Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and our initiative to eradicate the degrading practice of people having to carry night soil as moves to wipe out social evils with people’s participation. We’re serious and BJP will form groups in each village along the Ganga to ensure that the Rs 20,000 crore earmarked for Namami Gange is well spent.
You are facing opposition in Parliament and they’ve got a fresh lease of life. Do you see this as a challenge?
I think opposition should support the government for development work. But it depends on the opposition whether it wants to block or support the government on issues that affect progress. I know the way CBI was misused during the Congress regime to manufacture majority in Rajya Sabha. We won’t ever do it. Our approach towards the opposition is symbolized by our push for fiscal federalism which will benefit all state governments, irrespective of who’s in power. We’ve implemented recommendations of the Finance Commission, given states a share in the proceeds of coal auctions and the PM is working with the spirit of Team India.
The loss in Delhi elections is being interpreted as a dent in the Modi wave. It is being said BJP’s graph will decline.
Twenty days before Delhi elections, we formed governments in two states. What do you have to say to that? We formed governments in such states where there was never a BJP CM, nor did we have a majority— in a state like J&K where we formed government. In all these states we got people’s support.
Your assessment of Arvind Kejriwal…
Time will ensure that the citizens get to know the truth about false promises.
Bihar elections are being viewed as a big challenge. Are your prepared?
In Bihar we’ll form the government with full majority.
Efforts are being made to bring together RJD and JD(U)?
That shows their nervousness. Why are people who’ve been sitting separately for years coming together now?
Your government’s being criticized for the hawkish statements of some members. It’s said that BJP’s true colours are emerging and Modi’s slogan Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas was a poll stunt
That conclusion is wrong. The government runs on policies, and citizens have faith in what the government’s leader says. I agree such statements shouldn’t be made but even if two or three MPs have made such statements, there’s no
change on ground realities. The government and party have dealt with such elements in a tough manner and we’ve issued notices to them.
Your party backs the idea that there should be a law on conversion and some states have brought legislations to stop cow slaughter…
Please tell me whether there should be forcible conversion? BJP is clear that everybody should join together to bring a law to stop forceful conversion. On one hand you criticize conversion, on the other you don’t want to bring a law to stop conversion. This double standard won’t do and citizens should know which party is against conversion. We’re against forcible conversion and believe every party should unanimously decide to bring a law in Parliament. Ban on cow slaughter is according to the Constitution. For the village economy, bulls and cows are crucial. In a bad crop year, villagers run their homes from the income they derive from selling milk. Because of these factors there should be a cow slaughter ban. Wherever BJP has come to power it has banned cow slaughter.
There is a perception that BJP hasn’t been able to communicate as effectively as it had done during the national polls.
I don’t agree. The party that got 17 crore votes, that party enlists 10 crore members, I believe we’ve sent our message to people and have convinced them. The party which started with 10 members is now the world’s largest party. This is an endorsement of the Modi government’s performance.
You don’t agree that there is complacency and arrogance?
Not at all. You can’t have 10 crore members without making any effort. In seven states, BJP was weak, 5,225 party workers worked tirelessly in these places as full timers for the membership drive. This is a huge achievement. In these seven states, our party’s base has increased 3 to 12 times in five months. This is a matter of huge achievement for BJP.
Your erstwhile associate Arun Shourie has attacked the government saying it’s being run by three people and there’s over centralisation
I don’t want to comment on Shourieji’s statement. There was a time when a government was run for 10 years where every person was a PM of his department and the PM was not recognized as PM. Today, PMO’s stature has been restored and ministers are working independently and taking decisions and there is acceleration in decision making. I can cite examples of several ministries such as Power, Petroleum, Health, HRD where we’ve got good results. To provide subsidy to people in their bank accounts in five months is an achievement and due to this we’ve been able to stop corruption running into several lakhs and crores.
There’s a perception of disconnect between party and government, many of your colleagues not sharing government’s stand on diverse issues…
There’s very good coordination. The party conveys citizens’ problems to government and the party spreads the message of government programmes to people. I believe that there should be very good coordination between the government and the party and that’s happened.
Has RSS tied you up and are they running the party?
Such accusations keep coming. RSS has never interfered in the day-to-day affairs of BJP.
The government invited the Pak PM during the swearing-in. But there was tension on the border. The government responded strongly. Is there a contradiction?
We had a good beginning but relationship with Pakistan is based on what signals we get from there. But we began on a very good note. In the past year India’s foreign policy based on five principles—security, samman, sammruddhi, sankruti aur samvad has been recognised globally. We’ve ensured security, raised the country’s stature and taken steps to increase trade.
There’s criticism that the PM gives too much emphasis on foreign policy and he is doing politics in the midst of NRIs…
We’ve been forced to give more attention because for many years no attention was paid. We think there’s a backlog in improving relations with countries and it’s our priority. But because of this there’s been no impact on development and priority areas at home. Our team in the Central government is working very efficiently.