Follows the transcript of PM Modi’s Interview!
ARNAB: Prime Minister Modi, thank you very much for this interview. Thank you very much.
PM MODI: My greetings to all the people.
ARNAB: This is your first one to one interview to a private news channel since you became Prime Minister. And if I am not mistaken, this is the first ever interview with a sitting Prime Minister of India to a private television news channel in the country. So I would first like to thank you and am very grateful for the opportunity.
PM MODI: The world of the media has grown so big that everybody has to attach themselves to it.
ARNAB: I am very grateful and our viewers will be very grateful also Mr. Modi because they want to hear your views on a range of subjects. Mr Prime Minister I would like to start by taking you back to 20th May 2014. The results came on May 16th. Four days later, you gave a historic speech in the Central Hall of Parliament and you were speaking to the members of Parliament. You had said four days after the results that an era of responsibility has begun. And that you said that in 2019 before the elections, I will come back to this Parliament, I will come back to the MPs and I will give my report card. Forty percent into your tenure, how much have you achieved of your own targets?
PM MODI: When I went for the first time as an MP to the Central Hall, and it was the first time I was seeing the Central Hall. I had not been there before. So I had then said that becoming the Prime Minister was not about the designation of the office but it was about the responsibilities and work of being a PM. I had also said that my government would be committed to the poor. I was completely new in the job. Delhi was new for me. The Delhi environment was new to me. The work of the government of India was also new for me. But despite that, in such a short time, the pace at which the country has moved forward and it’s not on one subject. You can pick up any aspect of the government’s functioning, and if you make a comparison with the past governments, then you will realize that no issue has been ignored. There has been an effort to bring in something new in every area. There is an effort to bring in a change in every area. One big challenge was that I was not experienced about this place; I had not even been an MP. The office was new, the questions were also new. But when I look at the second biggest challenge, we should remember those days when the country was engulfed in disappointment. The everyday news was about whether there would be any electricity production after seven days, whether coal would be supplied or not. This was the situation then. The entire system was engulfed in disappointment. The big challenge was to inject new trust into the system and create confidence among the citizens. It is very difficult to evaluate this from the outside but I have gone through it. But today I can say with a lot of satisfaction that now there is no trace of any disappointment. The intention to do something is visible. And it’s not in words but in actual achievement. I had said that within a given timeframe, we will open bank accounts for the poor. For something that had not been done for 60 years, setting a timeframe for it was in itself a risk. But because of that, a trust was created in the system that it was something doable. So that’s the process I started for awakening the confidence. And today you can see that in every sector, the changed circumstances can be seen. While evaluating the performance of this government, never forget that you will have to make that evaluation in comparison with the 10 years of the previous government. Only then will you know where we were and where we are now. We should not be talking about what we are aiming for. For now, you will have to assess the present in comparison with the immediate past and in that you will find a bright future.
ARNAB: Mr. Modi, I want to start now on the issue of foreign policy. In the area of foreign policy, you have taken a great personal interest. The amount of personal interest you have shown in the foreign policy, probably none of the previous Prime Ministers showed the same kind of interest. Your approach is pro active. What I find interesting about your foreign policy is that you have balanced different powers and different interests. On the one side, your relationship with U.S, you made sure that India enters the Missile Control Technology Regime with them. A week before that, you also signed the historic Chabahar Port Agreement with Iran. So, you have balanced very diverse forces. My question to you over this is that is it easy to do that as an Indian Prime Minister? Secondly, on the issue of the NSG, you staked a lot of personal interest, personal push, you lobbied actively. How close are we to getting the NSG seat?
PM MODI: Firstly, about foreign policy, you need to know what has strengthened our foreign policy. For 30 years, in our country, the government was unstable. For 30 years, party with a clear mandate wasn’t given the opportunity to form the government. The world measures the government of a nation on the basis of its condition in its own country, on how strong their word is in their own country. I am thankful to the people of this country, that after 30 years, they chose a government with an absolute majority and this has had an impact on world politics. Countries and world leaders have changed their perspective towards India. This is the biggest benefit. Secondly, the world didn’t know me. The world wants to know who the head of the state is. If someone would want. to know Modi through the eyes of the media, then he would be disillusioned on which Modi is the real Modi. If this happens, the country will be at a loss. Modi’s personality shouldn’t be a hindrance for the world to have faith in India. But for that, unless I meet all those leaders and engage with them, one to one, unless I speak to them frankly, they wouldn’t know about India’s head of state, so it was very important for me as I am not from a political family. I never had the opportunity to meet the world leaders earlier.
ARNAB: You were an unknown entity in foreign policy.
PM MODI: More than foreign policy, it was foreign relations. Yes, I was new to it. So for me, being pro-active was mandatory. Thirdly, we work as a team. The Foreign ministry, Prime Minister’s officer, commerce ministry, finance ministry, defence ministry, everyone works as a team, not as separate pieces. The impact that is now visible is not just because of Modi, it is because of the team. All teams work in a particular direction. That is why the impact is seen. Earlier, these teams were splintered. We have seen instances where the party would give a statement, the prime minister would say something else, party leaders would say something else. This disunity has had a negative impact. Thirdly, we also need to understand that earlier the world was bi-polar. Foreign policy used to be centred around two super powers. India was a little late in realizing that this bi-polar situation was for namesake. Now the entire world, in changed circumstances, especially in the 21st century, it is more interdependent and inter-connected, earlier, the foreign policy was possible between governments, but today it is not possible just between governments. Government relations are important but increasing people to people contact is equally important. There’s been a shift in paradigm. Because I do not have any previous baggage because I’ve had a clean slate, I write everything from beginning and that has a benefit. Today we are building relations with countries across the world. The amount of respect with which I engage Saudi Arabia, I engage Iran with the same amount of respect. The amount of respect with which I speak to America, I speak to Russia with the same amount of respect. So we need to understand this. We also need to understand that we shouldn’t consider smaller countries insignificant. I abide by this principle. The small countries of the world are as important as the big nations. We had assumed that the relations with smaller nations would develop under the shadow of the bigger nations. I brought about a change in this. You must have seen that I made a forum for the pacific island nations. We have had two meetings. I went there once and they came here once. These are small countries with a population of about 10 lakh or 20 lakh. But these small island nations are most affected by global warming. When India took up the international solar mission and 122 nations joined it, the island nations benefitted the most out of it. They are 50 in number now. A group of 50 nations feels secured with this vision of India. If we try to understand this change, then we would realize that in the world, a few days back, I was sitting with the officers of our foreign services, so as we got talking, in a very poetic way I told them that there was a time when we used to sit by the sea and count the waves, but the time has now changed, we are done counting waves, now it’s time for us to steer ourselves, ride the waves and decide on our direction, destination, and speed.
ARNAB: That is apparent. You have a very aggressive foreign policy. But my second question was, you put so much effort for NSG membership. My question was, how close are we to NSG membership and were you disappointed that we did not make it at the very end because of China’s opposition?
PM MODI: Look the first thing is that India has been continuously making these efforts, no matter which government was in office. Be it the membership of the UN Security Council or the SCO membership or MTCR membership or NSG membership. Every government has made an effort. It’s not that only this government is trying, it’s in continuity. But it’s during our tenure that we achieved SCO membership, we also got the MTCR membership. I have full faith that now we have begun a coordinated effort for the NSG membership too. The process has begun on a positive note. Everything has rules and will work accordingly and move forward
ARNAB: Is it the problem of mindset with China? There have been 13 engagements at various levels between the Narendra Modi government and the Chinese government. The latest engagement was when you went to Tashkent. You spent some time with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Yet it was seen that in the case of Masood Azhar, China blocked India’s UN bid to ban him. Now they have stalled India’s NSG bid. Why is China repeatedly blocking us Mr. Prime Minister despite your personal proactive measures and your government’s outreach?
PM MODI: The first thing is that we have an ongoing dialogue with China and it should continue to happen. In foreign policy, it’s not necessary to have similar views to have a conversation. Even when the views are contradictory, talks are the only way forward and problems should be resolved through dialogue. We don’t have one problem with China, we have a whole lot of problems pending with China. Slowly and steadily, an effort is on to address these issues through talks and make them less cumbersome. I can say that China has been cooperating with India to search for solutions. On some issues, it’s a question of principles for them. On some issues, it’s a question of principles for us. On some issues, they differ with us and there are issues on which we differ with them. There are some basic differences. But the most important thing is that we can speak to China eye-to-eye and put forth India’s interests in the most unambiguous manner. We are a government that takes care of India’s interests. We don’t compromise on this. Three days ago I met the Chinese President. I told him clearly about India’s interests. They are a different country, we are a different country
ARNAB: Do you think you will be able to change their mindset on the issue of NSG membership?
PM MODI: See the foreign policy is not about changing mindsets. Foreign policy is about finding the common meeting points. Where do our interests converge and how much? We have to sit and talk with every country. It’s our ongoing effort
ARNAB: This statement that you just made is also apt in the context of America where you gave a speech in the U.S Congress. By the way, Mr. Prime Minister it was a fantastic speech
PM MODI: Thank you
ARNAB: There was a lot of humour. You were laughing and cracking jokes while you delivered the speech which was very unique. They also appreciated it. Was the speech impromptu?
PM MODI: I have a humorous side but these days humour can be a risky thing
ARNAB: Why do you say that?
PM MODI: In this era of 24/7 news channels, anybody can lift a small word and make a big issue out of it. But I will tell you the truth, the reason for the absence of humour in public life is this fear. I am myself scared . Earlier when I used to make speeches, I would make it so humorous but there would never be any issues
ARNAB: Have you become more conscious now?
PM MODI: I am not conscious. I am in fear, there is no humour left in public life because of this fear. Everyone is scared. I am in fear. My speeches used be humorous. I see it in Parliament, that humour is finished there too. It is a matter of concern. I will quote one proverb.
ARNAB: Yes, go ahead.
PM MODI: Even if you mention a proverb, they will connect it with something else and begin a conversation. The one who is saying the proverb does not know what he is speaking.
ARNAB: But you should not lose your sense of humour, Mr. Prime Minister
PM MODI: But it is true that my trip to the United States of America, my speech in their Congress and the respect shown towards India created a lot of hype. Had it not been hyped so much, there would not have been so much criticism on the NSG issue. Government is being criticised not for any mishandling of the NSG issue but because we were so successful over there (in the USA)
ARNAB: Did China become conscious of your growing friendship with the US?
PM MODI: I am talking about what’s happening here
ARNAB: But when you delivered that speech in the context of America, you used a very interesting phrase. You said ‘We have to overcome the hesitations of history’. My Hindi is not that good. Like hesitations of history. But my question to you is Mr Prime Minister, how close can we get to America because many Indians believe that America is still supporting Pakistan, giving them military assistance. How close can we get? At what point do we stop before we are seen as an American ally? What is your own worldview on that?
PM MODI: I would especially like to appeal to my country’s media that we should stop looking at everything in India from the prism of Pakistan. India is an independent country. It is a country of 125 crore people. Whenever it approaches any country, it will only be concerned about its own interests. It has been our biggest shortcoming and mistake that we have been tagging ourselves with another country and trying to do things. We are an independent country, we have our own policies and future. We have to think about the future of our 125 crore people. There should be no compromise on our interests. We have relations with America in the context of these fundamental points
ARNAB: How close can we get to them?
PM MODI: There has been warmth in our relationship. You must have seen the editorials in American newspapers after my visit to that country. One point mentioned in those editorials was that the success of Obama’s foreign policy has been the warm relationship with India. This has been said
ARNAB: What you are saying Modiji is that we can be close to America but we need not be an ally or seen to be an ally?
PM MODI: The first thing is that we no longer live in a bipolar world. The world is interconnected and interdependent. You will have to connect with everybody at the same time. Even if there are two opposing countries, they will have to be friends. Now the times have changed
ARNAB: Mr Modi, on 8th May 2014, I had the opportunity to interview you, the interview took place in Ahmedabad, I think one last phase of elections was left. We were discussing the issue of Pakistan. You have had an uncompromising approach towards Pakistan. Two days back, Lashkar E Toiba killed 8 CRPF jawans in an attack. In the 8th May interview, you put forth a very interesting phrase, you said ‘Can talks be heard amidst the noise of bombs, guns and pistols?’ This is how you had phrased it. Do you believe we have been too generous towards Pakistan? Do you believe we have been too generous towards Pakistan?
PM MODI: There are two things. One – India has always wanted friendly ties with its neighbours, there can be no debate around it. We want to live in harmony and peace. And I have said it repeatedly, that India has to fight poverty, Pakistan too has to fight poverty, why don’t we come together to fight poverty? I said this before elections and during election campaigns. Also, I had invited leaders of SAARC nations to my swearing in ceremony and they had attended it as well. So there has been no change in our intent, our thoughts and our current behaviour. Number two – those who have to work from the table, will work from the table and those who have to work at the border will work at the border with full strength. Each one will fulfil the responsibility entrusted to them. And our jawans are fulfilling their responsibilities. It’s true that pressure on terrorists has increased, their schemes are proving unsuccessful. The intent with which they move forward are foiled and they have to face major challenges. It is because of this disappointment that such incidents are taking place and our jawans are risking their lives and protecting the country. We are very proud of our Jawans
ARNAB: When your foreign policy is studied, observers analyse what’s happening and what’s not happening. If you give me the opportunity, I want to do a bit of analysis. There was a terrific pace of engagement with Pakistan between October, November and December. On 30th November, you met Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines (of UN Climate Summit in Paris). Both of you were seated on a sofa, talking to each other. A lot of people were speculating the contents of your conversation. This was on the sidelines of Climate Summit. After that, all of a sudden within seven days there were NSA level talks and Ajit Doval spoke to Nasir Janjua in Bangkok. And again after that you went to Russia via Afghanistan, you made an unexpected visit to Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. It was a personal trip but it still had some level of importance. Eight days later, Pakistani terrorists attacked Pathankot. Can you tell our viewers whether Pakistan was proactively responding in the months of October, November and December? Did the Pathankot terror attack change the situation? Is it true that Pakistan was making a lot of movement in those three months?
PM MODI: Look there are different types of forces operating in Pakistan. But the government only engages with a democratically elected system. Our effort for that engagement is continuing. But our supreme objective is peace. Our supreme objective is to protect India’s interests. We keep making an effort toward that objective and sometimes our efforts are successful. As far as meetings and talks are concerned, we signalled right from the day I took the oath and sent invitations for the oath taking ceremony, that we seek friendly relations but without compromising on our interests. And that is why I have said that my country’s soldiers have full freedom to answer back in whatever manner they have to and they will keep doing that
ARNAB: Mr Prime Minister what is the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ that you would draw when it comes to Pakistan. There is some confusion surrounding this subject. I would like you to give an elaborate reply. In 2014, it was believed that if talks are being held, then they should be held between two countries and not with Hurriyat. It should be between the government of India and the government of Pakistan. The other ‘Lakshman Rekha’ is that you must act on 26/11. There’s been no forward movement so far. The third thing is about forward movement on the Pathankot attack case. So what is the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ now and if Pakistan remains within those bounds, so talks can happen at the political level or at any other level?
PM MODI: The first thing is that with Pakistan, to whom do we talk to decide about the ‘Lakshman Rekha’. Will it be with the elected government or with other actors? That is why India will have to be on alert all the time. India will have to be alert every moment. There can never be any laxity in this. But there is an outcome due to my continuous efforts like my visit to Lahore and my invitation to the Pakistani Prime Minister to come to India. Now I don’t have to explain to the world about India’s position. The world is unanimously appreciating India’s position. And the world is seeing that Pakistan is finding it difficult to respond. If we had become an obstacle, then we would have had to explain to the world that we are not that obstacle. Now we don’t have to explain to the world. The world knows our intentions. Like on the issue of terrorism, the world never bought India’s theory on terrorism. They would sometimes dismiss it by saying that it’s your law and order problem. Today the world has to accept what India has been saying about terrorism. India’s dialogue on terrorism, the losses India has suffered due to terrorism, the losses suffered by humanity, the world is now acknowledging that. So I believe we have to take this process forward
ARNAB: Mr Prime Minister I now want to move to questions on the economy. In the past two years, you have started many schemes. If we look at the theme of Jan Dhan Yojna for financial inclusion, Pradhan Mantri Faisal Bima Yojna for crop insurance, Swach Bharat, Skill India, Make In India. If we see the theme running through these schemes, is your social agenda at the core of your personal economic philosophy, social transformation? Is the social agenda at the core of your economic philosophy as the Prime Minister?
PM MODI: The first point is our philosophy is to reach the last man in the line. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay’s philosophy forms the core of our political, economic and social ideology. And even Mahatma Gandhi used to say that what is there for the last man? So my development parameter is very simple. It is about how the poorest of the poor can benefit from development. The poor is the central focus of my economic agenda. The poor should be strengthened in such a way that they get the willingness to defeat poverty. By helping the poor make ends meet while they remain in poverty is also one of the ways. I am not saying right or wrong but it’s one of the ways. But today the country’s situation is such that we should make the poor strong so that they become partners in defeating poverty. All these schemes are meant to empower the poor and change the quality of life. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna is not only about opening bank accounts for the poor. Because of this, the poor are feeling that they are becoming a part of the country’s economic system. The bank that he was seeing from afar, now he is able to enter that bank. This brings about a psychological transformation. Looked at in another way, did you ever imagine that 40 thousand crores could be injected into the banking system by contributions from the poor. The poor who never had bank accounts have deposited 100 rupees, 50 rupees or 200 rupees. It means that poor man saved 100 rupees and the change began in his life. We have taken up construction of toilets. I had gone to Chhattisgarh and had the opportunity to get the blessings of one mother. An adivasi mother heard about the scheme for building toilets. She sold her four goats and built a toilet. That 90 old mother uses a walking stick and goes around the cluster of 30 or 40 houses in the tribal village and has been spreading the message to build toilets. This change is becoming the reason for the change in the quality of life. I have begun the cleanliness campaign. It’s estimated an individual spends an average of 7000 rupees for the treatment of a disease. The main reason for disease is filth. The poor suffer the most from the filth. If a poor man falls sick, he cannot drive his rickshaw for two days and his children go hungry. So how can we help the poor bring about change in their lives? Now there is a neo-middle class and a middle class in the country. The young have their aspirations. So another aspect of my policies you must have seen are the Start Up India, Stand Up India, Seaport activity, port activity, railways expansion, railway station up gradation. These changes directly appeal to the middle class. The middle class has its aspirations. Have we to create jobs? How will job creation happen? Till I invest in the development of infrastructure, there be no job creation. You must have seen that the maximum electricity generation since Independence has occurred this year. The maximum amount of coal mined has been in this year. The maximum length of roads being constructed daily is happening in this year. The fastest loading and unloading of steamers at sea ports is happening now. All these changes are creating opportunities for employment like in Startup India, Stand Up India. For instance in Stand Up India, I have said that every bank should give an economic opportunity to one woman, one Dalit or one tribal person to become entrepreneurs. This will create many job opportunities. So this is the basis of my economic philosophy.
ARNAB: Mr Prime Minister if I could interrupt you on this. On the one hand is the people’s expectations and on the other is your vision. Many programs that you have mentioned, you can’t put a calendar date to it but they don’t have an immediate impact. They may be able to show results in 3, 4, 5 maybe beyond 5 years. Now there are challenges in that. Mr Prime Minister, you are aware more than anyone else that people want immediate results. Now you spoke of job creation. The first thing, as an achievement you have managed to grow the economy at 7.5 per cent when the global economic climate is very bleak. You have spoken about it as well. You have met fiscal deficit targets, FDI inflows have increased but people are saying that job opportunities are not increasing. You have spoken about infrastructure but the current rate of unemployment. Mr Prime Minister, the latest Labour Bureau figures, is it a source of concern for you as the Prime Minister?
PM MODI: The first thing is that are 800 million people below the age of 35 in our country. We have to accept that the demand for jobs is very high. But where will they get employment? The investment will come in. It will be used in the infrastructure sector, manufacturing, and services sector. Now like the initiative we have taken, we have started the Mudra Yojna. More than three crore people in the country comprise washermen, barbers, milkman, newspaper vendors, cart vendors. We have given them nearly 1.25 lakh crore rupees without any guarantee. Now why have these people taken the money? To expand their work. When he expands his work, if he is currently employing one person, now he has to employ two people. If there were two employed earlier, now there are three. Now just think, when 3 crores of these small businesses have got access to finance, they must have expanded their work. Now all this is not in the Labour Department’s registration. Three crore people have expanded their work. We took another small decision. The big malls in the country run 365 days a year but the smaller shops have to close on holidays. We announced in the Budget that even a small shopkeeper can operate his shop till late night and that too on all the seven days of the week. If the malls don’t have restrictions then why should the small shopkeepers have restrictions. So now if a shopkeeper operates his shop till late and on all seven days, if he earlier employed one person, now he will have to employ two people. So won’t the employment increase?
ARNAB: So is your focus on entrepreneurship?
PM MODI: Our focus is on all aspects. Now we are saying that by 2022 we want to ensure that everyone has a house. The housing sector has the maximum potential for creating employment. Houses will be built in such huge numbers, how many people will get employment? You must have seen that last year we brought in a textile policy. Under this textile policy, there will be income tax benefits for those who create employment. The more employment one creates, the more tax benefits they will get. For the first time, employment generation and tax has been linked. These are the things that boost employment and our central focus is creating employment for the ordinary citizen
ARNAB: Mr Prime Minister, questions are also being raised on food inflation which has still not decreased. The expectation was that the food inflation would decline. The people had put their hopes on the Prime Minister that you will bring down prices. This not only has a political impact but also has a social impact. Over the past two weeks, there were reports that in some places the price of Arhar dal had touched 150 rupees and 200 rupees for other pulses. The price of tomatoes was also rising. Is this only seasonal because the food inflation is increasing at 7.5 per cent year on year. Global oil prices have fallen. Do you think this creates perception issues for your government?
PM MODI: You can’t view inflation as a perception issue. Price rise should be seen as a reality. What is available for a consumer should be seen for what it is. There should never be an attempt to view price rise as a perception issue as a means of escaping the reality of price rise. We will have to accept reality. You see the fast pace at which prices were rising under the previous government, today that speed has decelerated a lot. You can see the statistics, you will find it there. Second, the country has gone through two consecutive years of severe drought. Drought has a direct impact on the price of vegetables, food and pulses because all these things are produced from the soil. Now when there is such a big drought, it’s not in anybody’s hands. The second option in such a situation is imports. The Indian government has imported pulses in huge quantities. Third, it is the joint responsibility of the state and Central governments. It is not exclusively the state’s responsibility. It is not exclusively the Centre’s responsibility. It is the joint responsibility of both the state and Central governments. This should not be an issue of blame game that the state government did not do certain things and that the Centre did not do certain things. But it will have to be agreed that it is the joint responsibility of both. That is why the Centre has given rights to the states to make stringent laws. How much stocks to keep or not to keep are decisions which the states can take. All these rights have been given to the states. Some states have performed well, some states are trying. But the Centre and state governments are trying to work together on this. I believe that we have been successful to the extent that the speed with which prices were rising (under UPA), what would have happened if the prices were to rise at that speed. We have been successful in stopping that speedy rise of prices. But as far as pulses are concerned, production in India has been very low. Many farmers who were earlier sowing pulses have started cultivating sugar. That is also an area of concern. We gave special incentives for pulses. We have tried to set up a different MSP for pulses. We have taken steps to procure pulses from farmers with bonus. Our focus is on increasing the production of pulses. We are also focusing on building stocks of pulses by importing from abroad. An all-out effort is being made and I believe that nobody doubts the sincerity of this government.