We don't work to win elections, we work to win trust of people
Modi talks to IANS about his priorities and touches upon sensitive issues, including Jammu & Kashmir.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed 75 days on August 14 in his second avatar as the nation's helmsman. He talks to Sandeep Bamzai about his priorities and touches upon sensitive issues varying from Jammu & Kashmir, medical reforms, criticality of education to corruption within the bureaucracy.
Every government passes through milestone numbers and talks about steps taken. Why should we think your government is any different?
We have set an unprecedented pace within just the first few days of our government. What we have been able to achieve is the result of 'Spasht Neeti, Sahi Disha (Right Intentions, Clear Policy)'. In just the first 75 days of our government, a lot has happened. From children's safety to Chandrayaan-II, from action against corruption to freeing Muslim women from the scourge of Triple Talaq, from Kashmir to Kisan, we have shown what a resolute government with a strong mandate of the people can achieve.
Did the unprecedented mandate help you firm up your commitment to the people of India with an unstinting resolve that reform has to percolate down?
In a way, it is also the result of the government coming back with a stronger mandate. Hundreds of reforms in the last five years have ensured the country is now ready to take off, powered by the aspirations of the people. The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha has been a record-creating one it was the most productive session since 1952. This is not a minor achievement but, in my view, a historic turn for the better and one which will make our Parliament much more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.
There has been some noise on the medical reforms front. Do you think the changes are well thought through?
When we formed the government in 2014, there were many concerns about the existing system of medical education. Earlier, courts have used strong words for the institution overseeing medical education in India, calling it a 'den of corruption'. A parliamentary committee did rigorous study and took a very dull view of the state of affairs in medical education. It pointed out mismanagement, lack of transparency and arbitrariness.
We set up an expert group to look into what is plaguing it. The expert group studied the system carefully and brought out the problems and improvement areas.
Education is critical for a young nation. However, in the conversations surrounding your government, education seems missing. What is the government doing on this?
Education is not just critical but the most important component in the overall spectrum of skilled human resource for a technology-oriented, inclusive, people-centric and people-driven growth model. It not only has the potential to positively transform lives but also has a bearing on the future of the nation.
We are working on all aspects of education. At the school level, special focus is being paid to improving quality of education, improving learning outcomes, giving a boost to innovation and scientific temper, improving infrastructure, using technology to improve understanding among the students. We are trying to leverage technology like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning to improve school education. In higher education, we are constantly striving to increase seats and increase presence of premier institutions across the country.
India with its huge demographic dividend, has the potential to become a leading knowledge economy in the world.
A couple of important decisions related to corruption sent shock waves in the bureaucracy - what message were you intending to send?
Since India's independence, one of the biggest things holding us back was corruption. Corruption spared no one, neither the rich nor the poor. The question in everyone's mind was that who will start the fight against corruption and from where. The fight against corruption always had the support of people, media, institutions, because everyone agreed that corruption was a major obstacle in India's development journey. And this was not only an issue related to money. Corruption eroded trust in the society, be it a government office or the market.
We decided, right from day one, to attack the menace of corruption. The results show that we are succeeding. Not only is corruption coming down, but trust in society is increasing. The number of people filing income tax returns almost doubled in the last five years. Going a few steps further, we aim to make faceless assessment of income tax return a reality. This would be a game-changer in ushering a new era of transparency in the tax system.
Your decision on Article 370 has been welcomed by many and also been opposed by a few. There seems to be an uneasy calm at the moment. Why do you think the people of J&K will stand with you?
Please see the list of people who have opposed the decisions about Kashmir - the usual vested interest groups, political dynasties, those who sympathise with terror and some friends in the Opposition.
The people of India, irrespective of what their political preference is, have supported the steps taken in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This is about the nation, not politics. The people of India are seeing that tough but essential decisions that were earlier assumed to be impossible are becoming a reality. The status quo of seven long decades clearly could not fulfill people's aspirations. Citizens were kept away from the fruits of development. The greatest casualty was the lack of any proper economic avenues to increase earnings. Our approach is different -instead of the vicious cycle of poverty, the people need more economic opportunities.
What is your message for the people of J&K?
For years, intimidation ruled the roost. Let us now give development a chance. My sisters and brothers of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh always wanted a better future for them but Article 370 did not enable it. Now, from BPOs to startups, from food processing to tourism, many industries can avail investment and create opportunities for the local youth. Education and skill development will also bloom. I want to clearly assure my sisters and brothers of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh that these regions will develop as per the wishes of local people, their dreams and ambitions. The growth of these regions will first and foremost be powered by those belonging to these regions.
But aren't there concerns about democracy? Will the voice of the people of Kashmir be heard?
Kashmir has never witnessed such a strong commitment in favour of democracy. Imagine, for so many years those in power did not find it prudent to work towards strengthening panchayats. And remember, they gave great sermons on democracy but the words never led to action. It was in the last few years that panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir got more powers to work towards people's progress and various subjects transferred to panchayats under the 73rd Amendment were transferred to panchayats of Jammu and Kashmir.
You have appeared in Man Vs Wild. What prompted you to appear in this very unconventional show for a politician?
Sometimes it is good to do something unconventional to highlight a conventional cause. India has a great tradition of living in harmony with nature. We just need to remember these ideals. I think we are also succeeding, as the recent released figures show an impressive increase in the tiger population. The programme was a good medium to show India's flora and fauna, along with its beauty and its richness to the world. The last five years have seen an increase of almost 50 per cent in terms of the foreign tourist arrivals in our country. I am confident that with various initiatives planned to boost infrastructure, connectivity and safety we will see even more tourists coming in from across the world to experience the beauty of Incredible India.
It was believed in 2014 that you would not be able to establish friendly relations with Gulf countries, but we have seen that India's relations with the Gulf countries have been improving since 2014. How do you explain this?
My government's successful track record on foreign policy across the world is there for everyone to see. So, what others thought of me, and what the reality turned out to be, is for them to introspect. I want to focus on the second aspect instead - the importance of the Gulf region to India. This is a region that has deep-rooted historical and cultural ties with India. I have always found that leaders of the Gulf countries value the enriching presence of the Indian diaspora and care for their well-being like a guardian.
This region is also our major partner in ensuring our energy security. We have gone beyond a buyer-seller relationship with them. UAE has participated in our strategic petroleum reserve programme, and both UAE and Saudi Arabia are to invest in the world's largest oil refinery project in India. For the first time, Indian companies have secured rights in offshore oil fields in the Gulf region.
During the 2019 elections, a lot of people predicted that you may not get the majority. How confident were you of the victory?
There is a set of people, who because of their prejudice, ideology or some sort commitment, invent logic to defeat people they do not like. There is a time when the reality becomes evident on the ground, but these people choose to rubbish the reality. It is these people who invent theories like BJP will not get majority, BJP will form government but will need a new leader, BJP will need newer allies, etc. As for us, we don't work to win elections, we work to win trust of people. We focus on the welfare of the people, election results are a byproduct. For the last 20 years, I have been actively involved in several campaigns and there has not been one election where my defeat has not been predicted. There are doom-sayers and I wish them well.
Talking specifically about 2019, I can tell you that I was very confident about our electoral prospects. This confidence stemmed out of the track record of our government. -IANS
Sandeep Bamzai is Editor-in-Chief of IANS