With the final Independence Day speech of his term as prime minister around the corner, Narendra Modi gave interviews to two news organisation that were published on the weekend. In the interviews to ANI and The Times of India, Modi spoke about key subjects such as job creation, the economy, Assam’s National Register of Citizens and the 2019 general elections.
The prime minister condemned incidents of lynching and mob violence, which critics have accused his government of encouraging. He also said that his government was taking steps to engage with digital media platforms to prevent fake news.
Here are the main takeaways from the interviews.
Modi and his government have been routinely criticised for failing to create more jobs. That criticism seemed to obliquely come from within the government too. For instance, Union minister Nitin Gadkari, in reference to the Maratha protests in Maharashtra to demand quotas in government jobs for the community, said on August 4, “Let us assume the reservation is given. But there are no jobs. Because in banks, the jobs have shrunk because of IT. The government recruitment is frozen. Where are the jobs?”
Modi’s stock answer to the unemployment question – since a television interview in January in which he suggested that selling pakodas counts as being employed – is that the problem is not a lack of jobs but a lack of data about jobs. In other words, one should trust his government that there are jobs, it is just that there is no data to prove this.
In the interview to The Times of India, he repeated this assertion:
“Rather than the so-called failure of this government to create jobs, I believe the shortcoming lies in the absence or lack of streamlining of jobs. Naturally, in the absence of information, our opponents will exploit this situation and blame us for not creating jobs...
“If you look at claims made by state governments – Bengal says it created 68 lakh jobs and the previous Karnataka government claimed it created 53 lakh jobs. Are we saying that all the country’s jobs are being created in some states and that other states and the country as a whole, are not creating jobs? This propaganda on jobs by the Opposition is nothing but a political gimmick.”
On lynchings and mob violence
The Modi government has been accused of encouraging mob violence, especially attacks on Muslims and Dalits by cow protection vigilantes. While some ministers have on occasion decried such violence, incidents like that of a Union minister garlanding lynching convicts have added to this perception. Modi’s response has been to say that such incidents should not be politicised.
This is what he told ANI too:
“It would be a great travesty to reduce these incidents to mere statistics and then indulge in politics over them. That shows a kind of perverse mindset that looks at violence and criminality as something to be milked, instead of unitedly opposing. Even a single incident is one too many and deeply unfortunate. Everyone should rise above politics to ensure peace and unity in our society. My party and I have spoken in clear words, on multiple occasions against such actions and such a mindset. It is all on record. Also, we are people who go beyond just words. Look at the actions of our Home Ministry to see how we have acted against violence.”
On the spread of fake news
As before, Modi – who once dismissed journalists as “news traders” – did not offer a full-throated condemnation of fake news but said that the most effective solution for it is “self-realisation” and “self-restraint”.
He told The Times of India:
“As individuals, we all must know the dos and don’ts of social interactions. The moment a person decides ‘these are the lines I won’t cross, come what may’, then I am sure all aspects will be taken care of.
“Digital media stands for equality and furthers the spirit of freedom of expression. It is a bastion of free speech and creative expression. There was a time when one had to be ‘eminent’ to be heard. Digital media has changed that. The power of one Facebook post, tweet or Instagram story is immense.”
On Assam’s National Register of Citizens
Assam’s National Register of Citizens – an exercise in drawing up a list of Indian citizens in the state, separating them from undocumented migrants – was the subject of much debate during the monsoon session of Parliament that concluded last week. There was an outcry after four million names were left out of the final draft, which was published on July 30.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party maintained this was an important exercise to remove Bangladeshi infiltrators, Opposition politicians such as Mamata Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati were critical of the exercise.
In the interviews, the prime minister accused the Opposition of playing “vote bank politics” and maintained that the Congress lacked the “political will and courage” to implement the National Register of Citizens.
He told The Times of India:
“I am sure all Indians will agree that sovereignty and citizenship are essential aspects of any nation. Those unnecessarily raising controversies need to realise the genuineness of this exercise and that is monitored by the Supreme Court. It is ironic that our opponents who do not have faith in the CJI [chief justice of India] now don’t even have a faith in a Supreme Court-monitored exercise. It is only an issue of national interest. There is no place for politics when it comes to national interest.”
In the interview to ANI, Modi said:
“Only those who have lost faith in themselves, fear loss of popular support and lack faith in our institutions can use words like ‘civil war’, ‘blood bath’ and ‘desh ke tukde tukde’. Evidently, they are disconnected from the pulse of the nation. As far as Mamataji’s stand is concerned, she should remember what she said on the floor of the Parliament in 2005. Was that Mamataji correct or is this Mamataji correct? The Congress is also playing politics over the NRC [National Register of Citizens].”
The prime minister was referring to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s contention that Assam’s National Register of Citizens would lead to “civil war and bloodbath”, and to her statement in 2005 when she reportedly sought a discussion on the subject of undocumented immigrants in West Bengal.
On the 2019 elections
With the general elections a year away, Modi and the BJP have been dismissive of Opposition efforts to form a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance. In the interviews, too, the prime minister exuded confidence of his party retaining power.
Modi told ANI:
“Let us understand the true character of the mahagathbandhan. The mahagathbandhan is for personal survival, not for ideological support. The mahagathbandhan is for personal ambitions, not for people’s aspirations. The mahagathbandhan is purely about power politics, not about people’s mandate. The mahagathbandhan is about dynasties, not about development. The mahagathbandhan is not about any union of minds or ideas, but about rank opportunism. The only question is whether they will break up before the election or after!”
Rejecting the Opposition alliance as a “non-ideological alliance of desperate and disparate groups”, he told The Times of India:
“I am very confident that my party will continue to get the love and affection of the people as we have received in the past four years. We will definitely get more seats than we got the last time and I am confident that we will break all records of the seats won by NDA [the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance] in the past and achieve greater glory. The people are with us and we have nothing to fear.”
(Not) on demonetisation
In both interviews, Modi spent some time talking about the Goods and Services Tax – one of two major financial policies of his government that are likely to define his term in office. But he was conspicuously silent on the other policy: demonetisation, the government’s decision in November 2016 to withdraw 86% of the currency in circulation and replace it with new notes, ostensibly in an attempt to root out black money. This was meant to be a major policy effort for the Modi government. But in the face of a barrage of criticism, demonetisation has not been a major part of the BJP’s political rhetoric of late.
In The Times of India interview, this question seemed to give the prime minister an opportunity to speak about the policy: “What are government’s three initiatives/achievements that have brought you the greatest satisfaction? What are the three things you wished you could have done better?”
However, Modi chose not to give a definitive answer, only saying:
“All my government’s steps since we came to power have been taken with passion and commitment. Singling out favourites that provide, as you say, ‘greatest satisfaction’ would be unfair and not in keeping with this government’s policy. We are working towards a vision for New India and taking initiatives for the same. To sit and ponder on the success of past initiatives would take away precious time that can be dedicated to new ones.”