In the second part of a wide-ranging interview with Shishir Gupta and R Sukumar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on topics from India’s relationship with China to bread-and-butter issues such as electricity, roads and water and the policy initiatives launched by his government in the past five years. Edited excerpts:
About the Masood Azhar listing as a global terrorist by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee, does it mean we are now in a good place with China?
We have always said “India First”. When foreign policy of a government is clear in what it wants, the results happen as a by-product. Throughout the last five years, we have reached out and made new friends, we have strengthened relationships with old friends and more importantly, we have brought about a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we are perceived. We are now seen and respected as a nation that will leave no stone unturned to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.
This is the reason major nations of the world stood with our decision of surgical strikes and air strikes. This is also the reason why the long-pending listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist has happened. But the Azhar issue isn’t about China. Why do we keep making it so? It is a global terrorism issue.
Is there a new and more friendly India-China dynamic brewing?
India and China are both leading power centres, with an important say in today’s geopolitics. It is important for our nations to work together for the greater global good. Our history shows that there was a time when both our nations controlled a lion’s share of the world’s GDP. I think both our countries understand that there is a lot more common ground between us. Both our countries realise and accept that we have disagreements but we are also conscious of the fact that we will not let these disagreements become disputes. There is a great deal of respect that our countries have for each other and it is out of this mutual respect that even if there is a disagreement, we resolve it through high-level negotiations.
Let’s talk about the basics, which are the most important. Bijli, sadak, paani (electricity, roads, water). On bijli and sadak, your government has done well. On water, there are huge water shortages in many parts of the country. There’s drought in parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. What is the long-term solution to this?
Good to see that you are acknowledging bijli and sadak among our big achievements. On a related note, you may have observed an interesting phenomenon in this election. Earlier, the pet issues of any Opposition were bijli, sadak, paani and mehangai (inflation). Incumbent governments have been routed on these issues. Today, the situation is the exact opposite. The incumbent government has much to talk about on our track record in these areas whereas the Opposition is silent. They have nothing to talk on these issues of national importance.
Coming to the question of paani, we have also put in a lot of work on this front but it is just that the work has not hit the headlines of newspapers as it should have.
Our priorities are to ensure adequate water for farms and clean drinking water in the cities and villages. For example, take the micro-irrigation programme. When I say “Per Drop More Crop”, what I mean is that we must look to manage water better using micro-irrigation techniques so that our farmers can produce more crops.
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Your manifesto talks of a ministry of water. This is an interesting idea. What will this ministry do?
Water scarcity is not merely a national challenge but also a major global challenge. As a leading member of the global community, is it not high time we put our best foot forward and contribute to mitigating this challenge?
In line with our vision of working towards solutions instead of silos, we have proposed the setting up of a separate ministry for jal shakti, a one- stop place to handle all issues relating to water resources. This includes water conservation, water access, new techniques, irrigation patterns, crop patterns, desalination in coastal areas and more such endeavours.
We understand how critical water is for the future of the country. So, we want to bring an integrated and focused approach for its preservation and management. Its management is currently spread across various departments and ministries. This new Ministry of Water brings a holistic and all-encompassing focus.
Take for example, the idea of river linking that has been spoken of for decades. Atal Ji made a promising start but we all know what happened after his government was replaced by the UPA. This new ministry would take care of something as ambitious as that and ensure a solution to the problems of drinking water and irrigation.
The way cleanliness has become a mass movement, there is a need for water management to also become a mass movement. We owe this to our country and more importantly, for the future generations.
Staying on the subject of water, the cleanliness of many of our rivers, including the Ganga, is a cause of concern. While there have, no doubt, been efforts to clean the Ganga, recent studies by the Varanasi-based Sankat Mochan Foundation show that more needs to be done, especially to curb bacterial pollution, although there was some improvement in reducing sewage discharge. What more needs to be done?
The river is a life-giving force. Its cleanliness and preservation is both a matter of faith as well as for survival. In the last 2-3 years, Ganga’s improving health and biodiversity has made news. In fact it was your newspaper which has brought such findings in the public. The aquatic life is on a revival path. Many experts have checked the cleanliness and vouched for its improved state. These are positive signs indicating that the efforts that we have put are bearing fruit.
People who visited Kumbh this time were not only pleasantly surprised by Ganga’s waters but also fascinated with the flora and fauna growing in and around the river.
We stopped tonnes of sewage from a large number of drains, including the Sismau drain from polluting Ganga. And it is not a small feat. For a century, the dirty water was flowing into the river but there was no action.
You would be happy to know that over 4,000 villages on the banks of Ganga have been made Open Defecation Free (ODF) already.
Only recently, at Global Water Summit in London, Namami Gange was felicitated with the Public Water Agency of the Year Award, recognising our work. I am not claiming that Ganga has been cleaned.
A lot is left to be done! But one thing is assured that we have right intentions and we are on the right track.
Let’s talk about economic policies. When your government came to power, there was an expectation that you would, over time, reduce the role of government in business, make the market more open, do away with ‘inspector raj’ by reforming tax policies, and move away from subsidies. Your farmer payout suggests a move away from subsidies, maybe even a move to a Universal Basic Income. Can we expect this to happen, if only in stages, if you return to power?
We believe that a country as vast and as complex as India needs solutions which are contextual.
We firmly believe that our approach to social welfare must be a combination of creating a ladder of opportunity for our farmers to grow and to provide a safety net to help mitigate risks so that they may bounce back from economic hardship. This is reflected in our 360-degree approach where farmer income support is supplemented by other interventions such as insurance, soil health etc while we are laser focused on doubling farmer income.
Hence it would be a mistake to look at any one intervention in isolation. PM-KISAN is a programme to support farmers for their input costs of cropping. PM-KISAN ensures cash availability at important points in agriculture cycle.
Farmers are free to deploy their own cash as per their requirements. We believe that our programmes will lead to higher productivity and new jobs in the economy, not just in agriculture but in all other sectors.
The world over, countries are becoming more protectionist and closed. How does a developing country, which stands to benefit from globalisation, prevent itself from falling into a tit-for-tatprotectionist stand off?
India believes in the tenet of Sarvjan Hitay, Sarvjan Sukhay. We will protect our interests in the global trade arena but we are not trying to needlessly start conflicts. That’s never been Indian philosophy. Each country acts as per its own requirements. We believe that an efficient industry can overcome some of these barriers. Our Make In India programme, encouraging manufacturing in India are all steps in the direction of becoming stronger and competitive. We want to focus on India’s innumerable strengths.
Which would you consider your government’s most significant policy campaigns and why? Swachh Bharat? Ayushman Bharat? The PMAY? The farm insurance scheme? Ujjwala?
Each of these schemes you have mentioned, have been unique in their speed and scale.
With Swachh Bharat, a woman’s dignity was made the focal point of social governance. Over nine crore toilets, built in five years, ensured that women were not forced to defecate in open and the sanitation coverage of India went up from just 38% in 2014 to 99% in 2019.
With Ujjwala, again, more than seven crore women, and especially their children, were freed from the choking life that they were subjected to for so long due to cooking with firewood.
Take Ayushman Bharat. The world’s largest healthcare insurance programme is transforming the entire healthcare system in the country. It has made quality healthcare accessible and affordable for the poorest.
Same with Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, which is fulfilling the dream of owning a house for all Indians, irrespective of which class, caste and region they belong to. PM Fasal Bima Yojana has brought immense relief to a farmer’s family who no longer fear impoverishment due to crop damage.
Each of these initiatives has fundamentally changed people’s lives, in a way that they have been freed from the fear and uncertainty that poverty, sickness, and homelessness bring in people’s lives. These fears had tied down generations of Indians and trapped them in a cycle of poverty. But that feeling of fear, anxiety and helplessness is being driven away now. This helplessness is giving way to hope and the anxiety is giving way to aspirations.