To recast Narendra Modi as the Development Man ahead of the last general election, Madhu Purnima Kishwar, academic and founder of Manushi, a journal about women and society, helped craft a forceful narrative about Modi’s demonisation as a communal leader. Today, she has misgivings about Modi but is effusive about his achievements as the prime minister. In a free-wheeling interview, she talks about the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s policies, the 2019 election, and the allegations against her of fomenting religious hatred.
You spent days interviewing Narendra Modi to come up with a contrarian view in the run-up to the 2014 election. Has Modi the prime minister lived up to your expectations in the run-up to the 2019 polls?
I am not vain enough to think Modi should feel obliged to live up to my expectations. But to earn the right to criticise, one must acknowledge the plus points: reaching cooking gas cylinders to three crore Below Poverty Line households, Jan Dhan account for every adult citizen and delivering subsidies straight to the poor, fast-tracking electrification. This is not an exhaustive list; I could write a book on many of the positive outcomes of Modi’s tenure as the prime minister.
Now, the downside?
Modi’s excessive reliance on bureaucracy and over-centralisation of power in the Prime Minister’s Office has resulted in endless delays in decision-making and implementition. His neglect of institutional reforms has resulted in the much-hyped and crucial Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to flounder; without a major overhaul and capacity building of municipal corporations, even God cannot bring about improvement in sanitation, hygiene, garbage management and clean water supply.
Modi emerged victorious on the back of a blazing campaign of wiping out corruption. Has he even remotely succeeded?
It’s been a big letdown on punishing scamsters who have looted public wealth. It is hard to get over the fact that during the [Congress-led United Progressive Alliance] regime A Raja and Kanhimozi spent long periods in jail and found it hard to even get bail because the case against them was so strong. Lo and behold, under the Modi government they have been acquitted with judge OP Saini saying the Central Bureau of Investigation “failed miserably in proving the charges”. This clearly shows the internal sabotage that is happening in many corruption scams.
The National Herald scam is being vigorously pursued by Subramaniam Swamy, yet this open and shut case is being allowed to drag on for ever. Robert Vadra’s land scams have also gone into cold storage. Ram Jethmalani went berserk reminding Modi that the German government was more than willing to provide the list of Indians who have parked looted wealth on foreign shores. All Modi had to do was to write an official letter. It is hard to understand why he has turned a blind eye to his oft-repeated promise of bringing back India’s looted wealth and punishing the guilty.
Going after Karti Chidambaram while refusing to touch the prime accused, his father P Chidambaram, that too in a case involving loose change rather than the big scams he is charged with, is beyond comprehension. The list of such puzzles is long.
Prashant Bhushan has filed a criminal case against you for alleging in a tweet that “jihadi” Rohingyas were behind the rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in Kathua?
So, Prashant Bhushan takes offense to my tweet and goes off to Tilak Marg police station to file a complaint under Section 153, which clearly says “wanton provocation with intent to cause riot”. But I have not said anything against him, so I cannot be accused of formeting hatred against him. Nor did I give a call to arms against Rohingyas or ask to burn their houses, get them killed, drive them out.
Two, Prashant is defending Rohingyas who are not only non-citizens, they are infiltrators, illegally brought in to change the demography of Jammu because the region has never voted for the Muftis or the Abdullahs. This case is as flimsy as the Shujaat Bukhari defamation case against me and I will fight Prashant to the end. We’ll have fun and Prashant will have egg on his face because it cannot stand in court.
Where has journalist Shujaat Bukhari’s defamation case against you reached? Kapil Sibal has represented you in that case.
Kapil Sibal is an old friend from university and he had responded favourably as both HRD minister and science and technology minister when I was working on Kashmir. Educational institutions were in deep trouble during the National Conference-Congress rule; Omar Abdullah was harassing them all the time, cancelling their licences etc.
Kapil intervened in the Bukhari defamation case because Mahesh Jethmalani was abroad when my case came up. Where was the secular media when the chief judicial magistrate issued a non-bailable warrant against me for non-appearance despite medical records showing I had just come out of a brain surgery? Kapil rightly believed the warrant was bizarre and he stepped in to bail me out.
Has the Kashmir issue completely slipped out of Modi’s hands?
I can tell you if Modi fires Mehbooba, Kashmiris will celebrate. She is playing a sinister game and she is unpopular, just like the BJP’s Jammu MLAs who are sneered at by the people because they are a bunch of clowns. In fact, people in Jammu are keen for Governor’s Rule. It is a disgrace that the BJP leadership is mishandling Kashmir; they will pay a very heavy price.
What about Modi’s foreign policy?
The flip side of Modi’s success in foreign policy matters is that he is spending a disproportionate amount of time abroad while neglecting the home front. His body language shows he is more at ease with foreign heads of state than with his Cabinet colleagues or chief ministers in India. If he had used “hugplomacy” with chief ministers and demonstrated the same degree of warmth that he expresses for foreign heads of state, the [BJP-led National Democratic Alliance] allies would not be so disgruntled.
And on the economic front? You waxed eloquent about the Gujarat model of development prior to 2014?
Demonetisation was tom-tommed as Modi’s surgical strike against black money, but has totally misfired because it was poorly conceived, hastily implemented and shoddily executed.
Modi’s obsession with abolishing cash transactions and pushing everyone to put all their money into banks amounts to putting the cart before the horse. Public Sector Banks and even private banks in India are the hotbed of corruption. They have facilitated loot of public money through “legal means”. Before forcing people to put all their money at the disposal of banks, Modi should have cleaned up the banking sector. In that case, Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi would not have escaped after siphoning off billions of public money through Public Sector Banks. The economy will take a long time to recover from this needless hit.
So is there a difference between Modi the chief minister and Modi the prime minister?
Modi as chief minister was well-grounded and connected to ordinary people of the state in a unique manner, with an exceptional degree of responsiveness. He had his ear to the ground and his hand on the pulse of the people. Modi as prime minister has decided to live in a cocoon and become a distant, unapproachable figure surrounded by a few select bureaucrats and a minuscule group of political colleagues. It is hard to understand why he kicked away some of his most caring well-wishers. This disconnect is proving harmful.
What does the run-up to the 2019 election foretell?
Modi can afford to be complacent in 2019 because he knows that when people go to vote and see the faces that stand in opposition to him he will appear as their only viable choice, no matter how disgruntled they may be with his performance. The farcical attempt of the Congress to impeach the Chief Justice of India on flimsy grounds is causing irreparable damage. I wish some well-wisher would advise Rahul Gandhi that while it may be alright to use means fair or foul to bring down Modi, the least that the Congress owes itself is to keep its own izzat and credibility intact. Modi may not have succeeded in ushering a Congress mukt Bharat [Congress-free India] but Rahul Gandhi seems determined to do so.