Full Transcript: From Ayodhya To Urjit Patel, Everything Narendra Modi Said In Rare Interview
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a rare one-on-one interview to news agency ANI, in which he spoke on various issues ranging from former Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel's resignation, the challenges facing the Goods and Service Tax regime, farm loan waivers, Ayodhya issue and what he thinks about the upcoming general elections this year.
Here's the edited transcript of the interview.
The year 2018 was not good for the BJP. It tasted defeat in five state elections. Are you confident of winning in 2019? How many seats do you expect?
In my opinion, 2018 was a successful year. Elections are just one facet of a number of facets in this country. If in this country poor are given insurance of up to Rs 5 Lakh, through Ayushman Bharat Yojna. Within 100 days of its implementation, six to seven lakh have benefitted. People were suffering in such large numbers but today they have received the treatment. It is my biggest achievement.
The world today talks about climate change and India was considered as one of the countries that caused pollution. In 2018, the United Nations awarded the champion of earth, a protector of environment, to a leader. It is a source of pride.18,000 villages did not have electricity, in this year every village was electrified. In sports, Indian children did a tremendous job. A lot of medals were won. Children from Tier-II, Tier-III cities, villages and from financially weak background are winning laurels for the country. Our Para athletes are doing a great job. Putting 104 satellites into orbit is a record of sorts. There has been a bumper crop in 2018. Any sector can be taken as an example, India is breaking previous records. 2018 has been a shining year for India.
I am talking about electoral losses. BJP lost in five states. You are the Prime Minister from the party in power. Don’t you consider this a loss?
In Telangana and Mizoram, nobody gave BJP any chance or even thought that we would form a government. In Chhattisgarh, a clear mandate was given and the BJP lost. But, in two states, there was a hung assembly. Secondly, 15 years of anti-incumbency was being fought by our people. We are discussing what was lacking. However, in the Haryana local polls, we won it all, Tripura was 90-95 percent victory, while Jammu and Kashmir saw 74 percent polling take place and in many of those the BJP won. Winning or losing is not the only yardstick.
However, your vote share was not converted into seats. Is the Modi wave over?
At the outset, I wish to thank those who say this. When they say this (Modi wave/Modi magic), that means people are admitting the Modi wave. Check media reports of 2013-14’s newspaper and TV debates. A set of persons are there who kept saying that “there is no Modi wave, Modi can’t do anything”. Those same set of persons, may be some have increased or decreased in number, have a responsibility to keep setting a narrative. I am happy that they accept a phrase called “Modi wave” or “Modi magic”. For me, there is wave only about people’s expectations and aspirations; wave only about trust and about who will fulfil our aspirations and expectations. And today trust has increased. Aspirations of youth have increased. It itself exhibits a new energy.
The Opposition believes that if the Modi magic has waned, the BJP will not get more than 180 seats, a sort of “Club 180”. They are depending on a non-Modi factor. Can this happen? Do you think the BJP can go below 180 in 2019?
If they do not do this sort of math and spread such things how will people join their Gathbandhan. They will have to talk big to attract people and that’s why such narratives are set. Is there any scientific study to this? In 2013-14, the same set of persons used to talk about the “Under-200 seats club”. You know very well who I am talking about. That narrative continues. As far as BJP is concerned, we should not mistrust the intelligence of the common man. I keep telling all political pundits that we must trust the common man’s intelligence. After all, what did the common people experience from this government that they will go away from us in 2019? Go back to the newspapers from five years ago, see that headline, and see the headlines now. The common man knows it all. I have faith in the common man and the youth of this country.
If we go by your narrative, you have been talking about a Congress-free India since 2013. But, the recent elections proved that the common man considers the Congress as an option to you. This is why in the Hindi heartland, which is considered your foundation, Congress governments have been formed. Your goal of an India free from Congress is not coming to fruition.
Even Congress people say that Congress is a thought, a culture. That culture has been in mainstream for such a long period. Because of this, it has become an integral part of Indian political culture. What is that culture? It is casteism, dynastic politics, undemocratic, nepotism. Congress represents this culture. When I say Congress-mukt, I want to rid the country from this culture and this sort of thinking. And I have even gone on to say that Congress too needs to be mukt of this Congress culture. Whether it remains or not, I accept that in a democracy, a strong Opposition is essential but unfortunately the Congress has failed even in that.
Till 2017 it was said, the Modi-Amit Shah combination cannot be beaten. Now, it seems like this leadership needs to take responsibility. You are losing elections. If your narrative is so successful, why are you losing elections? Shouldn’t the leadership take responsibility for these losses?
Those who say that BJP is running because of Modi and Amit Shah, they do not understand the BJP. Our party is the largest party of the world. BJP functions because of our strength from the polling booth onwards “Mera booth, sabse mazboot”. Our worker is on this for 365 days. The thought that one or two people run BJP, they don’t understand the organisation. At every level, there is leadership by the workers, it has a cumulative effect, BJP moves forward with sabka sath, sabka vikas and winning over people. By constantly repeating that the BJP is losing doesn’t mean that we are actually losing. We won Assam, Haryana, Tripura.
So the morale is not down?
There is no question of our morale going down. BJP has been on a winning spree. No reason for us to have our morale down. We are confident and are moving ahead. In 2019, if there is one party which the country trusts and is connected with the people, it is the BJP.
Some of the reasons for these losses are demonetisation, poor implementation of the GST. Looking back, was there a need for demonetisation? Were any objectives met?
There used to be regular reports about black money. There is no disputing the fact that a parallel economy was running. Notes were found under beds, sacks full of cash were found. This parallel economy had made the country hollow. Demonetisation has done a big job and in the coming days, it will set the country on the solid economic path. Those sacks full of cash have now entered the banking structure. An atmosphere of honesty has been created. The tax net has increased. Won’t you call this a success? Currency circulation in comparison to GDP has reduced. This is a good indicator. If it continued like it did unabated, it would have been difficult to run things in the country.
Was there any need for this “Jhatka”?
This wasn’t a Jhatka. We had warned people a year in advance that we have a scheme wherein if you have such wealth (black money), you can deposit it, pay the penalties and you will be helped out. However, they thought that Modi, too, would behave like other governments so very few people came forward voluntarily. Through the media and the Parliament, I beseeched people to take advantage of this scheme or else we (the government) would have to take steps to change the situation. This hasn’t happened overnight. This process took one year. Only after that we had to take this step. This was necessary for the economic health of this country. If any process is changed, take for example the Indian Railways; if a bogey changes tracks, there is a change in speed. We can’t deny this. Even when Dr. Manmohan Singh was the finance minister, do you have any idea how much the GDP fell? It fell to approximately less than 2 percent. With change, this happens but later things get stabilised. Now, even our growth rate has stabilised, a cleansing process was needed, and we did it. Now, an ideology has been created for the country to head towards.
Will the economic offenders be brought back? They are still away. Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, and Vijay Mallya are still enjoying outside the country. Objectives of ending a parallel economy and bringing back economic offenders have not been met.
Why did they need to flee after all? Had there been governments like earlier, same “friendships” would have continued—lootna hai, looto; khana hai, khate chalo. They would have had no need to flee. They had to flee because they would have had to adhere to the laws here and return every penny. Those who have fled, there are international laws to bring them back. Those are being implemented. For such fugitives, we have made stringent laws. Seizure of property is happening even in foreign countries. Therefore, we are using all tools available with the government. I am confident that those who have fled the country earlier, they have not returned. But those who fled during this government, they will be brought back, today or tomorrow. Diplomatic channels, legal courses and seizure of properties through legal means are being implemented. Those who stole India’s money, they will have to compensate for each and every penny.
For the first time, in the first G20 that I attended as a PM, the issue of black money and banking havens was raised by me. It was recognised as a serious cause of concern, and also considered a source of terror funding. Countries were in agreement to share information of such bank accounts. We have entered into agreements with various countries. After 2019, we will get real-time information from different countries. So black money will be brought back.
Looking at your speeches from 2013 onwards, the 2G scam, 3G scam , Common Wealth Games scam, Damaadji ’jibes. You keep giving speeches but they still walk around Lodhi Garden. No one is in jail?
There are a few on bail as well. Those who are on bail, can do it, but it is a fact that those considered first family, who ran the country for four generations, are out on bail and that too for financial irregularities. It is a big thing. A set of people, who are at their service, are trying to suppress such information and push other narratives. The country’s former finance minister is making rounds of courts. It is not a small thing. I am not in favour of such a thing that anybody should face problems just because you are our political rival. We are not in favour of that (political vendetta.) Whatever judgement the court gives, we will accept but there should not be any delay.
People voted for you because they thought you won’t bring any delay in this. It has been five years but why has there no action been taken?
The country has belief that so much has happened in five years and that is why they have so much faith in Modi.
Rahul Gandhi has called the GST the Gabbar Singh Tax, Grand Stupid Thought. Do you think there were problems in tax implementation and that’s why it needed to be rolled back in someway?
The way someone thinks is the way someone talks. Have GST processes not been done taking a consensus with all political parties in the country? Since Pranab Mukherjee was the Finance Minister, the GST process has been going on. In the Parliament, unanimously it was passed. Before GST, what was the tax rate in the country? 30-40 percent tax. And hidden tax. Repeated tax. GST has simplified all of this. 500 items have zero tax, which at a point in time incurred high taxes. In the last few days, tax rates on 1200-1250 items of daily use have been brought down to 18, 12, 5 percent and in some cases to zero. We keep doing this because we take a feedback. Decisions are taken in the GST Council that has all the state governments, union territories, and the central government. All have equal positions. Puducherry and the government of India are both equal. Congress governments also. It was passed unanimously in the Parliament. Are they abusing their own party leaders and governments? Just creating a political hue and cry is not good. GST is a new system and such a big transformation driven by technology. Some small traders have faced inconvenience and we acknowledge that. But the government’s responsibility is to be sensitive to their concerns. So, whatever comes to our notice, is referred to the GST Council. We decided collectively how to simplify. We wanted to take a decision that traders who are in the Rs 20 lakh turnover range and incur a tax liability, that should be increased to Rs 75 lakh to give them some relief. We couldn’t do this in the GST Council meet since states have some reservations. Now it has gone to a committee. Once the committee reaches a decision, it will benefit a number of people. Similarly, for under-construction houses and finished houses, GST, like we did for restaurants, will have everything at 5 percent. We wanted to do that. But there were reservations by a few states. So, the GST Council could not do it. It has now gone to the committee. We will try to ensure that the committee’s report is expedited. So, continuously, we have been trying to make the GST easy to ensure benefits for consumers. In such a short time, in such a big nation, whatever we’ve achieved is not small. Despite such diversities in such a big country, there is a scope for improvement. We will continue to make changes.
A loyal voter base for you has remained the trader, working class, middle class. You spoke about Puducherry. A worker by the name Jain was asking about middle class and how they don’t get tax relief. What will you do for the middle class?
For the middle class, we will have to change our thinking. Middle class never lives on someone’s mercy. They live with dignity and make immense contribution towards running the country. If the lower class should get something, that’s magnanimity, that thinking is also held by the middle class. It is our responsibility to think about the middle class, not only that they vote for us, but in the interest of the country. We have brought inflation to 2-3 percent while it once touched 18 percent. The biggest benefit goes to the middle class. If the price rise is controlled, the best benefit goes to the middle class because they can’t steal, they can’t compromise on daily expenses, so they get relief if there is no price rise. If we increase medical seats, who benefits? Middle class aspirations have been addressed. Udaan Yojna was brought, where one can book flights for Rs 2,500. Similar examples are in Indian Railways. Ayushman Bharat may seem that only the poor get insurance up to Rs 5 Lakh but indirectly, hospitals and other employment generation will also happen and the direct beneficiaries would be the middle class. For Mudra Yojna’s Rs 15-crore loans, the biggest beneficiary is the middle class. A start-up ecosystem has been promoted which is being driven by the middle class. There are a number of such examples.
Some say that Modi has done nothing for farmers. Rahul Gandhi’s promise of loan waiver was called a “lollipop” by you. If a farmer defaults on a loan, and then on the flipside there are economic offenders having a great time, the farmers will think that Rahul Gandhi is with them. What is your take on this?
To say a lie and mislead, that is what I called a “lollipop”, like saying that we have waived all farm loans. The truth is that nothing like that has happened. Please see their circulars. They should not mislead. The government of India made laws to ensure that those who looted banks pay back Rs 3 lakh crore. They should not compare the two things, and mislead people and lie. And particularly political parties which are responsible should never do it. If a loan waiver helps, it should be definitely done. But has it been done by the earlier governments? Since Devi Lal’s time, loan waiver was done. 2009 elections victory, too. What is lacking in our system, that farmer becomes debt-ridden and the governments have to repeat vicious cycle of elections and loan waivers. So, the solution is to empower the farmers. From seed to market, give all the facilities to farmers. We have re-started 100 schemes in cold storage for the farmers. Why does the farmer have debt? We should make a situation where in he will not need a loan. If the Swaminathan Commission report had been implemented in 2007, there would have been no need for loan waivers. Instead of doing that, they found avenues to win elections. There is a very small segment of farmers who take loans from banks. A majority of them take loans from money lenders. When the governments make such announcements, those farmers do not become beneficiaries of the waivers. The farmers who are dying are out of the purview of such schemes. So, these are political stunts. Still, if the state governments are doing it, we are not stopping them. We have not stopped any state government. We are committed to address farmers’ problems, and empower farmers.
Is the bringing of an ordinance for the Ram Mandir issue a problem like you had in Triple Talaq? Why has Ram Mandir just been relegated to an emotive issue for BJP?
The Triple Talaq ordinance was brought after the Supreme Court verdict. We have said in our BJP manifesto that a solution would be found to this issue under the Constitution. Nobody can deny it that those sitting in the governments in the last 70 years have tried their best to stall a solution to this issue. Even today, the matter is before the Supreme Court. In a way, it has reached its final stage. I beseech the Congress, for national peace and amity, that they should stop its lawyers from stalling this in the court, not create obstacles, and all lawyers including those from the Congress, should head to the court together and ensure that there is an early judicial verdict. In a court, Congress lawyers, who are creating obstacles, should stop. Let the judicial process take its own course. Don’t weigh it in political terms. Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts.
The likes of Naseeruddin Shah now say that Muslims are not safe in India. Even Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he will teach PM Modi how minorities should be treated. Why does the BJP not show empathy to minorities?
No such incident reflects well on a civilised society. No voices should ever support such incidents. This is totally wrong and condemnable. Did it start after 2014? This is a result of ills within the society. For improving this situation, we should all work collectively. I am not in favour of pursuing a debate that this happened in this government and that happened in which government. Every incident is condemnable. What Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave used to say, the sentiments are reflected in the Constitution. It is the responsibility of every citizen to respect those sentiments. If you honour those sentiments, our sentiments are also respected. To create this environment, everybody must contribute. A Muslim scholar based in the Gulf, wrote about India’s harmony in diversity whereas in their region people of the same faith attacked each other. India should take pride in this compliment. 18,000 villages didn’t have electricity. We didn’t do this by asking which villages are of which community. India should take pride that we have been living in harmony for ages. There should be no such incident in the society. But we should understand what is the main fabric of the society.
What do you have to say about the political violence in the country?
As BJP worker, I strongly condemn it. We have suffered a lot. In West Bengal, BJP is not even allowed to exercise its democratic rights. During elections, the way our workers are killed, it does not reflect well on democracy. In Kerala, our workers are killed day in and day out. In Karnataka, so many of our workers have been killed that we can’t even fathom. Our workers have been killed in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir. It is not just about our workers being killed, but also about this political violence that is not good for our democracy, and all political parties will have to think about it. I want to assure BJP workers and their families that the government does not tolerate any form of violence, be it by any party. We are committed to ensure justice to everyone. We appeal to the state governments, too. Today, some people may be enjoying protection but someday the truth will come out. Political parties should train their cadres in how to behave in a democracy.
The Triple Talaq ordinance was considered a progressive move by you but at the same time, in the Sabarimala issue, your party got stuck in the garb of customs and traditions. Why this contradiction?
These are two separate things. You are not seeing this properly. Most of the Islamic countries have banned Triple Talaq. So it is not a matter of religion or faith. Even in Pakistan, Triple Talaq is banned. So it is an issue of gender equality, matter of social justice. It is not an issue of faith. So keep the two separate. India is of an opinion that everyone should get their due rights. There are some temples, which have their own traditions, where men can’t go. And men don’t go. In the case of Sabrimala, a woman judge in the Supreme Court has made certain observations. It needs to be read minutely. There is no need to attribute those to any political party. As a woman too, she has made some suggestions. There should be a debate on that as well.
The Mahagathbandan is now gaining traction. Chandrababu Naidu claims that Modi ji is supporting the KCR gathbandhan. Can we get some clarity?
I am not aware that some gathbandhan is being made by KCR. In five years, is there something concrete that the Mahagathbandhan has said in one voice? They still speak in different voices. Who are these people? To save themselves, they are looking for support. “Hold each other’s hand, we will be saved”; this game is going on. Their single point agenda is Modi. Do this to Modi, that to Modi... Take any 10 pages of a newspaper, 10 leaders of alliance in different voices abuse Modi. There is no articulation on what they would do for the nation and why they will do it.
The political allies themselves say that there is no ideological unity. Anybody but Modi. Will 2019 be anybody versus Modi?
The Indian public will decide the course of elections. The public will decide the agenda, who is for and against the aspirations of the people. The public knows that earlier it was decentralised corruption and that those who sat in the states looted the states, and those who were in the centre, looted at the centre. The people will decide whether or not they should ally with these forces of corruption who are coming together. Therefore, it is going to be Janta versus Gathbandhan. Modi is just a manifestation of public love and blessings.
Will 2019 be a Presidential-style kind of elections—Modi on one side, Rahul on the other?
This elections is going to be fought on who fulfils and takes forward the aspirations of the people and who stops these. Public is the decider.
Can the NDA join more allies to its group?
They are continuously joining. After 2014, small parties have joined us, especially in the North East.
What about Mayawati?
I don’t think any sensible person will spell out such things on TV, who will join, who cannot. But the public knows it all. Take for example, Telangana. The alliance failed badly. But nobody talks about it. It was the first experiment of the gathbandhan. In Jammu and Kashmir, the gathbandhan decided to boycott civic polls, people rejected them and there was 74 percent voting. In Assam, the entire gathbandhan was together in panchayat polls, but there, too, they faced defeat at the hands of BJP. Similar result was seen in Tripura. At the top, these leaders may get together for their safety but that does not mean that the public is joining them.
An ally like Uddhav Thackeray is echoing words raised by Rahul Gandhi. Words like “Chowkidaar Chor hai”. Don’t you think allies are flexing muscles after assembly elections results?
In 2014, we got a full majority, but we adhered to the coalition dharma. Took everyone together. Even today, when we run the government, there is consensus in decision-making. It is true that states have their own level of politics. Our allies wish to grow and we, too, want them to grow. We do not want that we should grow at the cost of allies. Congress’ game is different. It is a speciality of the Congress-led alliance that all the allies are those who have come out of Congress after raising their voice against the Congress or emerged because of Congress-opposition. So, when they approach the Congress, the Congress usurps them. We are different. Those who associate with us, they prosper. So our effort remains that our allies blossom. Sometimes, some expectations are not met, they feel that they could benefit by putting pressure, some feel that such issues could be resolved through discussions. So parties have their own character. But our effort is to take everyone along, and listen to everyone. I am committed to give importance to regional aspirations. The country cannot be run by ignoring regional aspirations. That is why the BJP is more successful.
Why hasn’t the BJP’s footprint increased in South India? Will you enter into any alliances in Tamil Nadu with the likes of Kamal Haasan or Rajnikanth?
This is untrue. Narratives formed 30 years ago are still being repeated. We are present in the South. We are in Goa and Maharashtra. We are continuously striving to expand our base. BJP has a member of parliament from J&K, Tamil Nadu, and the North East. We are ready to take everyone along, who want to come with us. It is linked to strengthening of our regional aspirations.
The Congress and political observers say that the BJP government has weakened institutions in the country. Infighting between the Central Bureau of Investigation’s top two bosses resulted in a direct intervention of the PM. The term of former Reserve Bank of India governor ended with a resignation, with the allegation being that the BJP wished to clean out the RBI coffers.
The Congress has no right to speak on this issue. Against the PM and prime minister’s office, the National Advisory Council was formed. What kind of empowerment of the PMO was this? Cabinet takes such a big decision and a big leader tears that Cabinet decision at a press conference. What kind of respect is that for an institution? Coming to judiciary, they openly said that we will decide judiciary on the basis of ideology and senior judges were shown the door and junior judges were promoted. And you are talking about institutions? In the same RBI, several governors were forced to leave before the expiry of their term. You called the planning commission people a bunch of jokers. Do you remember who the Vice Chairman was? Does it suit these people?
When the CBI internal personal matter came to light, they were both asked to go on leave legally. Because institution is paramount for us, the RBI governor himself requested (to resign) because of personal reasons. I am revealing for the first time, he was telling me about this for the past six to seven months before his resignation. He gave it even in writing. He wrote to me personally.
Was there any political pressure put on Urjit Patel?
No such question arises. I acknowledge that Patel did a good job as the RBI Governor.
The ED is called the Embarrassment Directorate, vendetta raids are being conducted.
How are these people saying this? Recently, the Sohrabuddin judgement came. Just read that judgement. See how institutions were misused. Accusations on us are that Modi is not taking action against these people. And you are saying this is vendetta. ED is doing its job professionally. From a foreign country, a Razdaar has been brought into the custody of India. Should every Indian not be proud of it? If a Congress worker turns up to be Christian Michel’s lawyer, then it is a cause for worry. The countrymen should be proud that Razdaar has come, now there will be proper inquiry under legal scrutiny and the truth will come out. Instead of that, you are sending lawyers from your party to support him—Michel. This is a matter of concern.
Rahul Gandhi has made a personal allegation against you about cronyism. He alleges that Anil Ambani is your friend and that you helped put pressure on the French government, Dassault to benefit your friend. You haven’t spoken out about this, after all, why are you quiet on this issue?
This is not an allegation against me personally, but an allegation against my government. If there is any allegation against me personally, let them dig who gave what, when and where and to whom. In the Parliament, I have spoken elaborately on this and whichever public forum I got, I spoke about this. The matter has been cleared even by the Supreme Court. The court scrutinised it threadbare. The French President has spoken. The least they should do, the questions you are asking me, media should have the courage to ask where is the evidence for these allegations? Don’t throw muck and run away. They are not able to give any real evidence, but instead just keep talking If they have this habit of raising this constantly, should I also get embroiled in it? There should be debate in the country, why controversies have been created over defence deals since Independence and our forces weakened. Who is doing it? What is the reason? Also, what is the need for middlemen in the defence deals? Can defence deal not be done without middlemen? Had Make in India been initiated 70 years ago, the malai khane wala raasta from outside would have been closed.
My crime is that I am trying to Make In India. My crime is that whatever our defence forces need, that should be made in India, so that dealings outside the country end. I am trying to get technology transfer. Those people who want to weaken the army are levelling allegations. Should I worry that they are making personal attacks on me, or whether my country’s needs should be met? I decided that whatever abuses are hurled at me, whatever allegations are levelled against me, I will continue on the path of honesty and give primacy to the country’s security. I won’t leave my Army jawans to their fate. Whatever be their requirement, I will expedite the procurement processes. I will do it even if false allegations are levelled at me.
Former army officers have reiterated that politicisation of surgical strikes should not happen and that the BJP is using the surgical strikes to gain electoral benefit.
I am myself of the opinion that there should be no politicisation of surgical strikes. There is no controversy about it. But after the surgical strikes happened, no minister spoke about it. An army officer apprised the nation of the operation. That information was given to Pakistan as well. And till Pakistan was told, the information was not given out even in India. But it is unfortunate for the country that the same day as the surgical strike, leaders of some parties raised doubts over it. It was necessary for Pakistan to speak like this to keep their morale intact. But, what Pakistan was saying, was being said here, too. To lend weight to their views, they were citing Pakistani lines. Politicisation started from that point. You spoke rubbish about the Army. I feel that those who raised doubts over the Army action, were wrong and such politicisation should not have happened. It is the duty of the citizens and the government to hail the Army. Even the valour displayed by our armed forces in the 1962 war must be hailed as well as the courage in the surgical strikes. If we don’t hail the valour of those who stake their lives for the country, then who will? So praising the Army should not be considered politicisation.
The hours when the surgical strikes were going on, what was going through your mind. If these strikes would not have been successful, the responsibility would have been yours for a botched operation, an allegation would have been made that you are a war-monger.
When Uri happened, when our jawans were killed, burnt, that incident made me restless and there was rage within me. I had gone to Kerala and made a mention of this because I could not stop myself. But I am part of a democratic system and my personal rage, personal anger, personal bechaini should never be imposed on the system. But I kept talking to the army why it happened. I realised that the anger in the army was much more than mine. For the morale of the forces, they somehow wanted justice to be done with those who had been martyred. I asked them to draw up a plan, what was required. Think what can be done. Gave them a free hand. They planned. The date had to be changed twice because I wanted full security for the operation. Finally, the operation was decided. I knew it was a big risk. I never care about any political risk. The biggest consideration for me was the safety of our soldiers. No harm must come to them. They were willing to sacrifice their lives on our word. For that, whatever was required was arranged for them. It was also decided that they should be trained. Special training was imparted, secrecy was maintained. The topography and obstacles were kept in consideration, worst case scenarios were considered. It was a learning experience for me as well. Then we decided the date. And who will be where, of the main team. It was decided that before dawn, our men must be back. I gave clear orders that whether you get success or failure, don’t think about that but come back before sunrise. Don’t fall for that lure/bait and prolong it. Success or failure, come back before sunrise. Even if fail, come back. I won’t let my soldiers die. They were specially picked. I was in live contact throughout, however, in the morning information flow stopped for an hour, and I got anxious. Even an hour after sunrise, that time was extremely difficult for me. I couldn’t send a communication to them either. My first priority was that my soldiers were alive. Then, the information came that they had not returned to our side of the border yet but two-three units had reached the safe zone. But I said I won’t be fine till the last man returns. This process took two hours after dawn. Then, a CCS meeting took place. Before that, Pakistan had to be informed. The Pakistanis didn’t take our call at first. Indian press was told by 12 PM. For me, those moments were the most tense. The way the operation was conducted, such precision, I got to know a new dimension of our forces. I salute them.
What were the objectives of this surgical strike? Terrorism has not abated, there is still cross-border terrorism. Was it used just as a deterrent? Is there now a policy of hot pursuit?
I don’t consider it appropriate to talk about such things in the media. Whatever strategy is to be adopted, how to do, is ongoing at appropriate levels, and has been happening. We fought many wars like the 1965 war, the one after the partition, too; if after one war, we think that Pakistan will behave, then that is a mistake. Pakistan will take some time to behave. That country will take a lot of time to change itself.
You invited Nawaz Sharif for your oath. You also went to Lahore, sent a congratulatory message to Imran Khan even before he took his oath. Some may say why is PM Modi in a hurry to congratulate? Is the Nobel Peace Prize his goal? Can India-Pakistan dialogue begin?
India, whether under the UPA or the NDA government, never opposed dialogue. It is our consistent policy that we are in favour of dialogue. It is the consistent policy of the country, not Modi government or Manmohan Singh government. It is our consistent policy that we are ready to talk on all issues, not this issue or that issue. Because India’s ground is strong, we only say one thing that amid the noise of bombs and guns, the dialogue cannot be heard. Cross-border terrorism must end. And we are persistently maintaining pressure on this. We have created an environment around the world supporting this sentiment and terror-supporting Pakistan stands isolated. This is the fact. Incidents have taken place, but in a limited manner. Those believing in humanity, those believing in law, those who believe in the country’s unity, have an upper hand.
Do you see any sincerity in Imran Khan’s statements? Will you head to the SAARC summit if invited by Imran?
There is an old saying.”When we will reach the bridge...”
You have met Chinese President Xi Jinping 13-14 times but in response, you got Doklam. Like Nehru, were you also deceived?
India should be judged on the basis of its response in Doklam. And nothing has happened with India that can be considered as deceit. But, our principled position has been that we want friendly relations with neighbours. All Indian governments have maintained this.
Criticisms have been made about your foreign trips and that they are a lot and are merely limited to photo ops, with no concrete steps emerging.
All PMs have had more or less a similar travel schedule, if you were to count. There are number of multiple forums, summit-level meetings. If the level is lower than the PM, the voice is not heard. Thus, it is necessary to go for these visits. Manmohan Singh ji also had to do that. It has become mandatory. I try that India’s voice should reach the world. I try to meet maximum people in my trips. Earlier,when the PM used to go, nobody used to notice the place they would arrive at, or even the place from where they departed from. My visits are noticed because I interact with people and take decisions.
It has been nearly five years but the Ganga has still not been cleaned up.
I have to take five states along on this mission. Why wasn’t the money spent on the river by Rajiv Gandhi-led government not fruitful? We analysed. The deficits were filled and we planned on finishing this task. For example, a drain which was 120 years-old had just been closed and had been polluting the river. A challenging task would be to cleanse tributaries as well as that drain which goes into the Ganga. An international report claimed that there has been improvement in the Ganga, I am not content with this, and we are still working hard on it. We will be successful.
Will you be fighting from Varanasi or is Puri also an option now?
Media persons also should get some work.
For a first-time MP, did you ever fathom that Rahul Gandhi would be winking at you in the Parliament? Can you tell us about your ups and downs in the Parliament?
Parliament should be a forum for deep discussions. If discussions are robust, sweet nectar will come out of it. Unfortunately, such discussions are not happening, which is hurting the country. For example, if there is an eight hour debate in the Parliament, it is a perfect opportunity to surround the government and ask them questions. Even the bureaucracy will take a note of this. Our Parliament needs to be more enlightened in democracy. A handful of people have stifled this and caused harm to our democracy.
Do you have any regrets during this term? What was your one source of satisfaction in this term?
I leave it to the people to decide whether they are satisfied with my work or not. But one thing, I am not surprised, I could neither make the Lutyens’ world a part of me or me a part of them. I did not want them to be a part of me as my background is different. I am a representative of the non-elite world. I could not win them over, and I am still trying to win over such forces. I have enjoyed every minute. There is honesty in my work, and I work for the people.
Watch the full interview here.