August 05, 2021
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For The Record

'I Am Not Thinking Of Retiring'

Preliminary Transcript provided by the PMO of this meeting with the editors

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'I Am Not Thinking Of Retiring'

Question – 1 – Well Sir, I might as well begin by asking what Harish (Media Adviser) said about drift – Is this a media creation or is there any substance to this - because on 3 or 4 issues, I do believe there seems to be some disconnect between the party and the government. Ministers seem to be talking out of turn, on matters like the food security etc. The general sense is there is a disconnect – I believe 90% is not true but is 10% true?

Let me clarify. We are a democracy. The Congress itself is a movement and within the Congress Party, this is not today – I think right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, there have been differences of opinion and they have been allowed to be expressed in Party fora, even within the Government. So, I do not think the expression of differences on the part of Ministers or on the part of party functionaries is necessarily a bad thing. What is necessary is to ensure that the Cabinet and the Government function with a certain degree of cohesion and I can assure you this Cabinet in the last six years that I have been the Prime Minister, the Cabinet has met almost every week on fixed days and most of the time issues have been debated, people are free to say what they want, but when decisions are taken, members of the Cabinet have abided by those decisions. I do not see, frankly speaking, what is this drift. As far as the Party is concerned, I am not aware of anything which can be called as a disconnect between Government and the Party.

As far as the Food Security Bill is concerned, a Group of Ministers is working on it. At the same time, there are inputs which might become available from the National Advisory Council, we would sit together and see what can be incorporated, what can be accepted – what cannot be accepted. I think TtThis is a democracy. I do not believe allowing people to express their views is necessarily a sign of drift. But it is certainly the case that once decisions are taken, members of the Government and Party must stand by whatever decisions have been taken.

Question – 2 Part of the problem that everyone thinks that an headmaster's approach is what is needed in the country. But there is an impression, just following up on what Vinod Mehta was saying, that your main priorities are still very focused on Indo-US relations, Indo-Pak relations, in other words foreign policy in general and, to a large extent, on the broad indicators of the economy. And that on other issues, you are content to let the market of democracy take its own toll. Would that be an unfair assessment ?

First of all, it is not wrong that I pay attention to foreign policy issues. I have made no secret of what I just said. I do believe that the ending of nuclear apartheid, which the world had imposed on India since 1974,, was inhibiting our development priorities. And, therefore, getting rid of this nuclear apartheid, I believe is a part of a process of widening India’s development options particularly with regard to India’s energy security. But that does not mean that I don’t pay attention to other issues.

Long before the government got sensitized to the naxalite menace, I have been saying that the naxalite problem is perhaps the greatest internal security challenge that our country faces.

On economy – I think the fact is that this country’s economy has come out of this global recession relatively unscathed, we are back to a growth path of 8 to 8 ½ % , our savings and investment rates are such that we can hope in the years to come to work for a 9 to 10% growth rate and more emphasis is being laid on infrastructure development, power, roads. And it cannot be said, therefore, that I am indifferent to what happens to the economy.

I do believe sincerely that the most crucial problem before this country is the removal of mass poverty which still afflicts millions and millions of our people. And that poverty cannot be eliminated unless the economy grows at a fast enough rate because it is only then that we can generate resources to put back into social sector projects, into anti-poverty programmes and, therefore, judging by the performance of the economy in the last six years and in the course of last one year – I think one can hardly say that I have not taken any interest in the functioning of the economy.

Question – 3 I would like to stick to the same theme and develop the argument a bit further. My sense is that the perception of drift is very real – this is widely shared across the media and public opinion. I am not sure where the source of that lies but there is in the Party, Government a dissonance. So to that extent, I accept what you are saying. I am just wondering whether the source of this drift reflects a deeper malaise – which is the inability of the government to actually come up with solutions, you are very good at framing what the problem is. You have been saying for the last five years that Naxalites pose the single biggest internal security threat. And you recognize the problem – the government does not seem to be coming up with the right mix of solutions. It specializes in persisting with failed approaches. As we have seen whether it is Salwa Judum or lack of training and the equipping of security forces; you have recognized AFSPA as a law in Jammu & Kashmir and the North East is not serving the purpose that it is meant to. You have promised a new law but have been unable to deliver on that. So somewhere there is this feeling that the country is beset with problems and that you are not pushing your leadership on these problems and coming up with solutions.

Ans PM – We are not dealing with very easy problems. The fact that naxalite problem exists, that in some ways it is more menacing than ever before, cannot be denied. But I don’t see there are quick fixes in dealing with those issues. I have often said we have to have a two-pronged approach in dealing with Naxalism; in so far there are valid economic and social reasons, we must address them. But at the same time, we must also equally insist that law and order has to be enforced. I think you cannot have development in a vacuum, that development can take place if law and order is in disarray. Now, this requires, a I thinka nuanced approach which cannot be generalized – it has to depend upon state to state. For example, if let me say today Bihar is in the news – thenn Jharkhand,with we were toldwith a great majority of districts were under naxalites control – I think is relatively calm. Now what does it say.

In the same way,, look at Chhattisgarh. In Chhattisgarh the police, because of I think a lack of adequate precautions, suffered heavy casualties. There is such a thing as learning by doing. We are not writing on a slate which is completely clean. I think there are road blocks, these road blocks have to be cleared, some times there will be failure, some times successes. And I don’t promise …, I think we are dealing with a a very difficult problem. The Kashmir problem has existed for 63 years, I think stalwarts of the Indian political scene – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, they have all attempted to tackle it, we are trying, we are groping for a solution and hopefully I think there are some thingss which we did in the last five-six years, and the result is that the militancy went down. I think at least the internal dimensions of militancy, with the exception of events since 2009, it was relatively calm. I do not think there was any mass discontent as far as the internal dimension was concerned. Since then, there has been I think a rise in militancy. We are trying to address them. Where we are not succeeding, for example,, is the way we manage riot-control – we have to have different attitude to riot-control. I think police ought to be trained to ensure that no lethal weapons are used and that as far as possible more humane methods must be found for riot-control. Now it will take time, I think – we are also trying to see that more and more powers are shifted to the Jammu & Kashmir Police. Well some times it will work, sometimes it will not work. But I think quite frankly, there is no royal road to success in dealing with either naxalism or intricate problems like the problems in Jammu & Kashmir. I think we are trying to do as much as possible.

I propose to call the Cabinet Committee on Security later this week to discuss thread bare the Kashmir problem.

I cannot promise you that I have an instant solution, I can not not produce rabbitts out of my hat. It will be a problem of experimentation and the country must learn to be patient. And some times not being patient can lead into pathways which may later on prove to be counter productive.

Q.No.4: (Hindi) Logon ne is thare ka kuch impression hai ki appka cabinet mantriyon aapas ki ek doosre ka virodh ker rahe kai – our aap ki party use hi us tharah ki virodhi ho raha hai – ki opposition ko desh ko zaroorat nahi bachhi ha (There is an impression that your Cabinet Ministers are fighting among themselves, and your Party is behaving like an opposition party so much so that there is no need for an Opposition).

This is not true – I think our cabinet has functioned with a degree of cohesion that I believe no other cabinet has functioned. We debate all issues as thoroughly as we can , I ask each one of our senior colleagues to express their views, and then I sum up the consensus. This cabinet has functioned with much greater degree of cohesion than the cabinet under Jawahar Lal Nehru. There were I think theseThere werewas daily differences, exchange of letters between Sardar Patel and Panditji. In Mrs. Gandhi’s cabinet for example – when Morarji was the Deputy PM, one could, -journalists could go from one cabinet Minister to another cabinet minister and hear different kinds of stories. T. tThat I can say is not happening (in my government).

Our cabinet has functioned with a degree of cohesion and I am very grateful to my senior colleagues that they have given me their fullest support, that the government has functioned with a degree of cohesion with which I certainly feel satisfied. If the gentlemen and ladies of the press are not happy – well then I will have to reflect on what more I can do.

QNo – 4 A. This was not happening in UPA-I. One Minister criticizing another, ministers under attack, from Party?

I cannot say that these events will not take place. But they must not lead us to a paralysis of decision making processes. That is all that I can say.

I cannot say that every one of my colleague will not have a right to say or a member of the Congress Party to speak up in Parliament. Who can for example forget when Indiraji was the Prime Minister – there was the Young Turks group – Chandrashekharji and other members of the group – they openly constituted a dissident group. I think the Congress is not an ordinary political party. Congress party is a mass movement – it is not a cadre based party – so I think we have to reflect on the character of the political formation that the Congress is,, and then come to conclusion whether there are other better ways of managing the Government.

Q No - .5: Sir, this is the seventh year of your Prime Ministership – what are the issues that frustrate you in your seventh year.

TTWe there are four or five issues which are of great importance and the way we tackle them, wiiell, I think have a great bearing on the future of our country – the future of our polity. First and foremost – I am told in a few days time will be a judgement in the Babri Masjid Case. Now the way this country handles this – the aftermath – I think will have a profound impact on the evolution of our country.

Then the same way – I think the way we handle the Kashmir problem,

the way we handle the Naxalite problem.

I think these are the three or four important issues, other issues - well I am not saying the other issues are not important, I am sure that the economy can be managed. But the politics of this country – I think the divisiveness, the communallist elements, the dealing with the caste tension, if we don’t manage these tensions well, I think there could be problems for India.

As far as the economy is concerned I do believe there is enough entrepreneurial vigour in our country, if we create a level playing field, if we ensure that our entrepreneurs can give the best account of themselves, there is an environment in which enterprise can flourish, I think India today is in a position to deliver on the economic front. But as I said earlier the economy does not function in a political vaccum. And in the politics of this country, if the communal tensions are allowed to gather momentum, if the caste tensions are allowed to gather momentum, and if, in addition, there there are issues arising out of the naxalite movement. A., Aafter all the naxalite areas happen to be those areas which are the heartland of India’s mineral wealth. Now if we cannot are not allowed tocannot exploit the mineral resources of this country, I think the growth path of this country could be adversely affected.

Therefore in finding solutions to environmental problems, environmental issues are important, they cannot be wished away – and we must adequately ensure whether it is tribal rights, whether it is environmental concern, whether it is forest concern, they are given their appropriate place. But at the same time there has to be a balance that you cannot protect the environment of this country by perpetuating poverty of our country.

So this is a challenge today; this country has to find a new balance.

Q.No 6 (In Hindi) Aap Ka top priorities say ek naxalite problem se serial poochna chahoonga. Jharkhand me halath aaj hai bi hai ki sare police thane me tale lage rahte hai – din me. Aur 5 baje ke badd vehicles ka movement 2-3 roads ke chod ke koi hota nehin hai. Wahan is samay governor’s rule hai. Jahan par non-Congress Government hai wahan naxalite problem ko solution ko uthne achche kaam nahi ho paa rahe hai. (You counted Naxalism as among your top priority. I have a question in this regard. The state of affairs in Jharkhand is that all police stations are locked up; except 2 or 3 roads, there is no vehicular movement after 5; there is Governor’s Rule in Jharkhand. Where there is a non-Congress Government, Naxal problem is not being tackled effectively.)

Even Jharkhand me nahi ho pa raha hai jahan Governor rule hai. Lagta hai ki State aur Centre ke beech me coordination hona hai – uska abhav hai.

(Even in Jharkhand, under Governor’s Rule, it is not being handled. It seems there is lack of coordination between Centre and States.)

I find there is a great degree of convergence (between Centre and State Governments).

QNo .7 Allegations of corruption from Ministers not only in your party but also allied parties have come to sully the UPA-II. How do you intend to tackle these? Some of there are allegations, some are perceptions.

Let me say that corruption constitutes a major challenge for our polity. But I think we cannot also condemn every opponent of ours as being corrupt. My own feeling is,, and I don’t want to sound critical of the press. ,. I think adequate care some time is not taken to maintain a certain amount of balance in judging the conduct of individuals,, whether they are civil servants or they are politicians. And an atmosphere has been created that people will say what they want to say,, and the seriousness with which corruption should be taken, is not taken. This is the unfortunate effect in the way we tackle the problem of corruption in public life. My own concern is that if we come across any instance in my Council of Ministers where I think serious issues of corruption are involved, I will take action. I have an obligation to take action and I will do that.

Q No .8 I like to take you back to a Press Conference which you addressed just before the elections when you had said that single biggest challenge at this stage was the aspirations of the regional parties and at that time probably the Left had left the UPA and you were trying to form new alliances with regional parties. I feel that somehow this Government is getting bogged down by aspirations of regional parties. Would you like to comment on that?

Regional Parties have come to stay. And their existence cannot be wished away. In our present coalition, we have I think Regional Party from West Bengal – Mamtaji’s Party, we have the DMK, we have the National Conference - so I think Regional Parties have to be taken on board. I think our polity has entered a stage where the old-fashioneded system of large majorities being available to single-party formation, probably that is not likely to be, for as long as I can see.

So, therefore, I think we have to find new ways and means of coming to terms with the growing importance of the Regional political formations.

Q No .9 It is true, as you are quoted in the press last year as saying, that you derive great satisfaction from the fact that this Prime Minister’s Office has never been accused of corruption and unlike in the past against almost every PMO here have been allegations. It is a great achievement and it remains a great achievement of this office.

But nevertheless, the perception outside is that the levels of corruption in governance in general have increased. Very high level people from business say that we have the most honest Prime Minister presiding over the most corrupt government. You have just said that whenever cases come to you, you will take action. I think it will be useful if such action is made public even if it hurts some of Ministers because the perception needs to be countered.

If I get to know such cases I will take action. Whenever situations have arisen I have asked Minister's for their explanation.

There is much talk of 2GG- 22G, the allocation of spectrum issue. I did take adequate precaution. It is true that the public perception in some circle is at least that I didn’t succeed. But I am quite clear in my mind that I did take account of what was appearing in the media, where the conduct of a particular Minister was being questioned. Now the matter is still sub-judice. I would not like to comment on that.

Q.No 10 Sir, I would like to ask you about the Supreme Court order on distribution of free foodgrains to the poor. There seems to be strong resistance in the Government to the order of the Supreme Court.

Well, I respectfully submit that the Supreme Court I think should not go into realm of policy formulation. Those should remain the concern of policy-makers and the Government of the day. I respect the sentiments behind the Supreme Court decision that when foodgrains are rotting and people are suffering from deprivation, then some way should be found to ensure that the food needs of the people, particularly of the deprived sections, are met more effectively than is the case thus far. But quite honestly, I don’t know what is the final version of the Supreme Court, but newspapers say free food for the poor.

Now, it is not possible in this country to give free food to all the poor people. In a country where a great majority of the population – certainly estimates of people below the poverty line differ. But even the latest Tendulkar Committee report, if it is taken seriously, 37% of the population of this country is living below the poverty line. How are you going to give free food to such a large segment of our population??.

I do recognize that food should be available to people below the poverty line at concessional prices,, and as a result of this thinking we have not allowed any increase in the issue prices of foodgrains meant for people below the poverty line. Since 2004, there has been no change. There has also been no change in the issue prices for people above the poverty line. So I think that to the extent that it is possible we have taken adequate notice of the concern of the Supreme Court that foodgrains should be available to the poor at an affordable price, that is the concern of the Supreme Court, that we agree.

But to say that we can given foodgrains free, quite frankly if we do that on a large scale,, you would I think destroy the incentive of our farmers to produce more food and if there is no food available for distribution what will you distribute?

Q.No 11 On the economy, I think there is no doubt that you deserve credit. But the concerns are on the home front. More than drift, you seem to be on the defensive on big issues whether it is Kashmir, naxals, even agriculture, on foreign policy too. In this sense there is a feeling of drift. I would see it as an impression of marking time with the issue of succession in your party and Rahul Gandhi spreading his wings and it is only a matter of time and you may not complete your tenure.

I think one cannot really quarrel with people. I think politics is a competitive game and some people or politicians feel that they should not be in the opposition but they should be in place where I am sitting. I don’t think you can hold that against me.

Q.No 11A I was just saying it gives the impression that this Government was marking time for a succession and not about the opposition. Coming to my second question – the issue is that of foreign policy. Again for whatever reasons you are back on the defensive on dealings with Pakistan. In a couple of months we have lost advantage. Did we miscalculate regarding Pakistan, were we too complacent in Jammu & Kashmir, out of step in Afghanistan?

Well, let me say that I have always been of the view that regardless of the complexion of the setup in Islamabad, India has to engage with Pakistan. Engagement does not mean surrender. Engagement, I think is necessary in order to convey our concerns to Pakistan. Conveying our concerns through Media or harsh statements in public or statements in Parliament is not as effective as talking face to face with the regime that may be in power in Pakistan. But at the same time I am sensitive to Indian public opinion and concerns and after the 26/11 tragedy, I think there was a strong feeling in the country that this process of dialogue should come to a halt and that we must hold Pakistan accountable for this tragedy. That sentiment prevailed. Therefore, we had to suspend the composite dialogue.

Some time later, I became aware of the fact that this was not delivering the results which we had wanted. I think Pakistan had acquired a greater amount of leverage in dealing with the United States and members of the EC and the results were not as expected – we had hoped that the leverage can be used to coerce Pakistan to pay greater attention to our concerns. Unfortunately, I think that has not happened.

And, therefore, at Thimpu my effort was to find ways and means of getting the two countries once again back on the path to a dialogue. We did succeed but there are – in India-Pakistan relations there are always mishaps, always uncertainties - some things happen like what happened at the two Foreign Minister meeting. I think is well known. It is my sincere belief that we have to engage Pakistan regardless of the Government that may be in power. But that does not mean that Pakistan will change its thinking vis-à-vis India, that ititis would cease to regard India-centric policy as its number one priority. We have to be realistic enough to take account of all the uncertainties bedeviling our relations, that have been our bedeviling relations for nearly sixty years, but at the same time if we don’t want to go to war, then engagement and dialogue are the only way forward.

QNo 11 B How do you see it carried forward in the next couple of months.

We hope that the Foreign Minister Qureshi accepts the invitation of our Foreign Minister and visits us.

Q.No 12 I think corporate India is looking for a more concrete conreteconcrete reforms road map from the father of reforms. Industry remains a bit concerned about environmentalism and whether it would come in the way of growth.

Let me take up the second part of your question first. As I said earlier, environmental concerns have come to stay. Our industry, our trade must recognize that environment is something which cannot be wished away from public consciousness or public policy actions. At the same time as I said we cannot solve the problems of environment by perpetuating the poverty of our country. India has to industrialize. India must therefore move forward on a path which is environment friendly and at the same time enables us to generate more wealth. Now there are issues, for example environmental concerns, forest concerns, they have to be reconciled with the development concerns – one can lay down abstract pathways but my own feeling is that this is an issue which has to be resolved by sitting across the table and I propose to invite the Ministers of Environment and the Ministers of Roadways, Coal, Petroleum and other concerned infrastructure to sit together and to find new pathways in which we can respect legitimate concerns of environment and forest protection and at the same time we do not go back to the old Licence Permit Raj, which had in the past affected our country’s industrial development in a big way,, until we tried to make amends in 1991.

Q.No 12A: Sir about the road map. There seems to be a drift.

What would you like to see – judging by what? What would you like to see which is missing?

Interjection - Sir, financial reforms for instance.

Financial reforms? I think simply because somebody talks of finance, I think we have seen, for example the financial reform of the type followed by Wall Street, if we had followed the way the city of London managed its financial system, is that the road map that you want India to follow? I think we are following a more cautious road map. It has paid dividends. We must evolve a new pathway suited to our own genius and our own needs before we say that we should follow without any hesitation what financial system that prevails in America, in Wall Street or in City of London.

Q.No 13: I just read a statement by Rahul Gandhi – that there are two India’s – India and Bharat. It seems government sometimes is led by markets, that there are two Indias, and rather than by masses. Do you agree that all economic policies are framed in such a way that ultimately the market benefits?

Well, I think there is no doubt in my mind there are two Indias, that inequalities of income and wealth are a fact of life. That if you look at per capita income in agriculture and per capita income outside agriculture – there is a big gap and that this gap has to be gradually, but in a conscious manner, has to be bridged. So, whatever is necessary to develop our agriculture, to develop our rural economy, whatever is necessary to use the fiscal instruments to increase the income and the absorptive capacity of the rural sector, I think should be part of the development thinking of our country. So there is no doubt in my mind that disparities in income and wealth beyond a point can be very destabilizing and that the government must make a conscious effort to bridge bring bridge this gap, reduce this gap between rural India and the rest of India.

Q.No 14: You mentioned you have called a meeting on the Cabinet Committee on Security this week. Can you give us an idea of what is under consideration? And do you agree with the Chief Minister who has said that status-quo is not an option in Kashmir.

I said, I am proposing to call a meeting. And, well, I don’t want to enter into an argument in public with the Honourable Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir .

Interjection : Which means you disagree with him?

No, what I am saying is that whatever is necessary to be done will be done. I must first discuss these matters with my colleagues in the Cabinet Committee on Security and I will also be happy to discuss these matters with the Honourable Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. So, I have been discussing the issues and I am not saying there is no scope for further dialogue between him and the Central Government.

Q No 15. Sir, Ms Mamta Bnaerjee has been complaining for some time that CPM is utilizing the presence of this joint force in Jungle Mahal in West Bengal to multiply the armed camps. Recently, the Home Minister has confirmed it in a way. And very recently 3-4 reporters have been mercilessly beaten up by the CPM cadres without any provocation. So what do you think?

Well, I have seen photographs of the Telegraph reporter with a bandaged arm. I think the Home Minister has already said what needs to be said on this subject. I don’t want to expand on that.

Q.15-A The Governor has also sent a report emphasizing the need to depoliticize this entire process.

Well, I agree. I think wherever such tendencies are observed they have to be curbed.

Q.No 16 There has been talk of a Cabinet reshuffle. Do you plan to do a reshuffle in the weeks ahead?

PM Well, we have completed now about 16 months. I think I would certainly look at what options are available to me before the next Session of Parliament.

Q.16-A So can we take it that no reshuffle is going to happen before the next Session of Parliament.

PM I am not saying that anything is going to happen. If anything happens, you would get to know about it.

Q No.17 There has been experience, Sir, over the last 18-19 months to access the capabilities of various colleagues of yours – the younger members of your Party. In the reshuffle is there any possibility of having a younger crop of leaders?

I would very much like to reduce the average age of my Cabinet, but I don’t think I would like to comment on this issue beyond that. That in this country more youthful leaders should come forward, that’s an aspiration with which I am wholly in sympathy with.

Interjection: It is said that it is the youngest democracy with the oldest leaders.

That’s certainly true.

: But the entire age of the Cabinet Sir is……

That’s certainly true,That’s certainly true, b Bbut I am not thinking of retiring.

Interjection: Sir, not you but the Cabinet.

Sir, the way you have framed the challenge of finding a balance between environmental protection and the developmental imperative, there is a certain discomfort or dissatisfaction with the way in which certain decisions have been taken of late. Am I reading too much into what you are saying because the Vedanta decision, to my reading, seems to be in consonance with existing rules. Do you feel existing rules do not give us an optimum balance and need to be changed?

I was not commenting on any individual project. But I think I was making a general proposition that environment issues are very important but at the same time I think if anybody believes that environment can be protected by perpetuating the poverty of this country, that’s a view I do not share. And that was not a comment on any individual project.

The idea of democracy in the Cabinet, Cabinet Ministers being allowed a voice and then forging a consensus. It is wonderful. I think that is great. One of the problems that arises is that these individual voices don’t just echo in your Cabinet sometimes, they echo out of the Cabinet and in the media, where Ministers express individual opinions which create certain problems and create this perception that may be you are not cracking the whip as hard as you should.

I don’t know, for example, cracking the whip how does…

Interjection: As far as they go out to the Media.

Well, I thought that would deprive you of stories – what will you write otherwise??.

In the past few months the Home Minister has been repeatedly saying that he has a very limited mandate from the CCS as far as the naxalite situation is concerned.

All of us have a very limited mandate.

Interjection: But I think there is a sense of frustration because he has been doing a good job on the internal security front but he seems to be feeling that he is the minority of one in the CCS. Is there anything being done to assuage his perception on this?

Once policy is made, all of us are duty-bound to follow the dictates of that policy. As far as the limited mandate is concerned, I think the Hon’ble Home Minister is right – the prime responsibility for law and order enforcement is that of the State Government, but I have said it and he has said it – we know that the State Governments by themselves cannot tackle, I think given the magnitude of the naxalite problem and, therefore, the Central Government must do all that it can to increase the capacity of the States to cope with this and ultimately to deliver solid results. So, that’s the limited mandate I believe the Hon’ble Home Minister was talking about. And he is doing an extremely good job. He has my full confidence and my full support and I compliment him for having managed the Home portfolio after very difficult times culminating in 26/11.

Q No 21 I was hoping someone would bring up Afghanistan. See, a lot of people who are friendly towards India in Afghanistan have repeatedly asked the question that what can we expect from India, once the ISAF forces withdraw. India has stated that we have our own strategic interests there. And there seem to be a complete confusion. I know everything cannot be explicitly stated but does India intend to actually try and retain a hold in Afghanistan after the ISAF forces go.

Well, I think retaining a hold – I don’t know what you mean by that. But if it means that whether we will continue to be deeply interested in the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan – if you mean by that whether we would be interested in Afghanistan living up to the goals of being a democracy – howsoever, imperfect it may be, if it is wanting to chart out a destiny which respects its independence of judgement, I think India will give full support to the Government and people of Afghanistan. And I have made that quite clear to the (Afghan) Foreign Minister – he asked me this question specifically when he was here a few days ago. Similarly, the (Afghan) National Security Advisor he was here – he asked me the same question and this is the answer that I gave him. India has vital civilizational, cultural interests in Afghanistan and that we will do all that we can within our resource limitations to support the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan for a life of dignity and self-respect, to see that Afghan democracy flourishes, to ensure that Afghanistan is able to chart out for itself an autonomous path, suiting the genius of its people.

Q No 22 I think that one of the questions is that we see a rise of crony capitalism and that’s because we believe that the one reform the country requires is the setting up and strengthening of Regulators. Now, SEBI is a good example, RBI is a good example – but many others have weakened their regulators. So that is a concern that today Ministers are becoming whimsical and some of them are using their Ministries as ATMs. And in some cases Ministers are doing it by withdrawing permissions given in the past or interfering with permissions given in the past – a very good example of this cronyism is the Oil Ministry which has a rule for every company and sometimes changing rules four times in a matter of 30 days and manages to run its policies through newspaper leaks – many of them in our papers which we don’t mind because leaks are good stories. Are you focused now on taking away some of the discretionary powers, because there is fear in industry now that nothing is closed. I am being honest with you. You can start building, creating something but halfway through you might get a letter.

One of the sectors where one hears all these types of allegations happens to be the Telecom sector and we have a Regulator there. So, I think the absence or the existence of a regulator ……….

Interjection : The Regulator has been sidelined.

Well, I do agree that we need Regulators and Regulators should be seen to be effective. But the one sector that came to my mind – certainly the existence of a Regulator has not prevented all these talks, howsoever genuine or non-genuine they may be. But I do agree that wherever we need regulations, I think those Regulators must be seen to be effective and the crony capitalism is the danger that cannot be wished away. I myself had raised the issue in one of my addresses I delivered as Finance Minister. That is a danger we must guard against.

Q No 24 I would like to draw your attention to the building up of Delhi for the Commonwealth Games. Where now the Prime Minister’s Office has stepped in and if we were trying to show-case the Games as a strength of India or as a developing country – don’t you think it is too late in the day and things have gone a bit too far.

I do admit that there have been lapses, there have been delays and those should have been avoided. But now, I think we are too close to the Games and instead of finding fault, all of us must work together to boost our self-confidence so that India does manage to exhibit itself in a light in which all of us can be proud of.

Q No 25 Sir, there was talk of Regulators and you talked about Telecom where despite regulation we have seen a whole lot of aberrations. What is your view on the real Real Estate sector which affects common people especially in urban India. Do you think there is a case of regulation there because the kind of things which happen, there are you know affect the consumer who often has no recourse. Do you see the need for some regulation these beyond what exists?

Well, I am sorry, I have not thought it through and I don’t like to give an answer off the cuff but I think speculations in real estate has become a problem in many countries and whatever can be done to avoid that sort of eventuality, should get adequate recognition. But I would not like to pronounce myself on regulation or what precise regulation the real estate sector does need. I think we need a lot more investment in housing. We need a lot more investment in real estate but at the same time we have to avoid excessive speculative bouts that have characterized real estate bubbles in countries as distant as China, Japan and the United States.

Q No 26 Sir, How was the film Peepli Live ?

Well, I think all of you should watch it. It has morals both for politicians and also some important lessons for the ladies and gentlemen of the media also.

Interjection : Do you think that industrialization is still the answer to remove poverty?

It is my sincere belief that in the long run India has to industrialize. The country has a limited amount of land. We are a country of settled cultivation for 5000 years and the only way to increase wealth in our country is to ensure that more people are able to raise their heads above the poverty line, if more of them can be taken away from agriculture. There are limited opportunities and we must make full use of them – but there are limited opportunities for increasing agricultural productivity and if we do not industrialize, it is my humble opinion,, that we will not be able to get rid of mass poverty in a manner in which we all aspire that this country should.

Q No 27 I am going back to a very conventional question which nobody has raised. Restoration of secular character of Kashmir should be the first priority. I met some of the Kashmiri leaders, nobody talk about restoring the secular character of the valley by sending the Pandits back to their homes. It is not in the Government policies anywhere. I think they expect the Government to make a condition for dialogue that all the Pandits should go back to their houses. Is there some kind of thinking on these lines?

But what is the use of laying down conditions which are not likely to be fulfilled?.? I sincerely hope that Kashmir – all three constituent parts of Jammu & Kashmir - will return to the path of sanity and which all people of Jammu & Kashmir including the Kashmiri Pandits would be able to lead a life of dignity and self-respect,, and they will be able to go back to their ancestral homes – but that is an aspiration which I think will take quite some time to be realized.

Q No 28 Prime Minister, with the Nuclear Liability Bill being passed. Are you satisfied with the way it went. There were a lot of hiccups and then Shri Prithviraj Chavan stepped in. Two, in terms of what do we expect when President Obama comes is there any now big idea – how that a huge boulder of nuclear business is out of the way. Do you see other development – now do you see our relations progress with the U.S.

As I see it that the Bill has finally been passed, enjoying the support of almost 75% of the House – more than that, is what Prithviraj tells me, so it is near unanimous, that is something which I greatly welcome.

I hope we can emulate that example in many other areas as well.

Now, as far as President Obama’s visit is concerned, we are eagerly looking forward to it. India and the United States are strategic partners. To add meaning and content to our strategic partnership will be the hallmark of my discussions with President Obama. I hope that we will work to chart out new pathways in several areas.

Q No 29 I suppose everybody in this room is in the highest tax paying bracket. I don’t think anybody grudges the fact that they are paying taxes. So long there is the feeling that the money that is being collected is being used for productive purposes – be it education or hospitals etc. But when you see before your eyes perfectly good pavement for instance being ripped apart to be built again you get this feeling that’s not the right way to be utilizing public money. As a democracy, isn’t this a challenge that you countenance of a certain regard for public money – how safeguards can be built that this kind of wasting of money does not take place.

I agree about public accountability. There are many ways to enforce public accountability. One is to strengthen our parliamentary accountability. The other is what you people (journalists) do, and I think the media is doing a pretty good job.

Q No 30 In the aftermath of the Nuclear Liability Bill, being passed in the way it was finally – we have seen apprehensions being expressed by FICCI and Chambers of Commerce that no supplier will come. What is your own assessment of how the Bill in its final form will impact on the country’s ability to engage in nuclear commerce.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And I think much would depend upon the way the rules are formulated but my initial information is that once the Bill has been passed, the business organizations have welcomed it.

Interjection: They are still hoping for some change.

That stage is passed. What they were saying earlier was a part of lobbying, which is legitimate, I think in a democracy. But now, that the Bill has been passed, our nuclear supplier industry in India would be the biggest beneficiaries. I think when people talk of importing nuclear reactors – we don’t import reactors, lock stock and barrel; we import individual parts, we import technology, but the bulk of the supplies will be made by Bharat Heavy Electricals, Larson and Toubro and other five or six companies. And it is this nuclear suppliers industry in India which will acquire a new momentum, a new boost if we are to meet our ambition to put in place 40,000 megawatts of nuclear power by the year 2030.

Q No 31 Our correspondent in the US has been trying to get the reaction from the nuclear suppliers to the Bill, and everyone has refused to give a comment on record because they told the correspondent that they have been instructed not to criticize the Indian Government. At home the L&T Chairman has given an interview in which he has expressed dissatisfaction on the outcome. He is a supplier and as an Indian supplier he feels apprehensive. So, I do think there is some gap between the needs of the supplier and the legislation that we have. How does the Government seek to bridge this gap.

Ultimately, I hope their profits will tell the true story. If they make a lot of money in the process,, I believe they will forget some of these concerns which they may have expressed initially,, in the hope that the Bill would be milder than what they have to ultimately learn to live with.

Q.32 Sir, among your frustrations, you did not mention delays with some key projects and also the state of our defence acquisitions. Are things so smooth there that these no longer frustrate you or is there work in progress.

No, I worry a great deal about the delays in defence procurement. Some efforts have been made but I do agree with you a lot more needs to be done to streamline our procurement of defence supplies.

Interjection: Sir, about key projects.

That is true also of all projects outside the defence area infrastructure and key projects.

Q.33 Sir, on the appointment of the new CVC, the BJP has come out with strong criticism of the way you handled the meeting and that you were stubborn regarding their objections to the appointment.

If you were to go by what the BJP is saying – they will continue to say what they say what they do. I think what we have done is the right thing, of all the three persons whose names were under consideration, we have chosen the best possible person. And beyond that, I would not like to say anything at this stage.

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