Excerpts from Narenda Modi’s Interview in Indian Express.
•Suman K. Jha: How did you go from being an RSS leader to becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat?
I was an RSS leader in Gujarat and in those days, there was a Jan Sangh leader called Natha Jhagda. He insisted that young people should join the party. So I joined the BJP in 1989-90. When the Ayodhya-Somnath rath yatra started, I helped organise it. That marked the beginning of my political career. In 1995, I became a BJP General Secretary. That’s when I closely observed how governments function. In 2001, I suddenly received a call from Atalji who told me to return to Gujarat.
•Maneesh Chhibber: We’ve been told that the Gujarat anti-terror law, which is stuck with the Home Ministry, may be referred back to the state. Your reaction?
The GCOC (Gujarat Control of Organised Crime) Bill is based on a draft that was circulated by the Government of India to the entire nation when POTA was in existence. So it’s not as though this law came in place of POTA. The draft law was passed by the Gujarat Assembly. A similar law existed in Maharashtra, but it was challenged in court. The Maharashtra High Court’s judgement amended two sections of the law. In 2004, the Government of India asked for these changes to be made in our proposed law. We made the changes, passed it in the Assembly and sent it back to the Centre. By then there was a new Government at the Centre, which had a very different agenda.
In the last three years, whenever I have met the Prime Minister and asked him about the Bill, he asked, “Oh, is it still pending?” So we don’t know if the PM is aware of why the bill is still stuck. But if the law already exists in Maharashtra, why delay it in Gujarat? I have told the government that they should write to us on whatever they think about this law so we can decide what needs to be done. They are not doing even that.
•Dheeraj Nayyar: You are one of those rare politicians who has put economic development on the campaign agenda. Why don’t other leaders do the same?
When I went to Gujarat in 2001, people told me, “Modiji, please ensure there is electricity in our homes when we sit down for our evening meal.” I know what it is to be without electricity. So I conceived a brilliant idea—Jyoti Gram Yojna. We installed 18 lakh new poles, 20,000 new transformers and some 78,000 km of new cables. It cost me Rs 1,600 crore but now Gujarat has uninterrupted power supply.
•Sudhakar Jagdish: What did you tell Ratan Tata that he decided to take the Nano factory to Gujarat?
I didn’t say a word. When controversies were on in Singur, mine was the only state that did not interfere, unlike other CMs who were writing letters inviting Tata to their states. When Tata’s top people met me, I told them that the whole world is saying the 21st century belongs to Asia. I told Tata that Nano should roll out of West Bengal. But when Ratan Tata announced his decision to leave Singur, I sent him a text message saying, ‘Swagatam (welcome)’. They have come to Gujarat because of our track record.
•Ambreen Khan: How far do you hold yourself responsible for killing the spirit of secularism in the country after the 2002 riots?
This is not a question but an accusation. And the accusation is absolutely baseless. We have a vibrant media, an active judiciary and global human rights groups working in the country. If there was even the slightest evidence that I had committed a crime, I would have been hanged long since. The government in Delhi is such that it will prevent me from returning to Ahmedabad, right now, if it finds a pretext. So if you have any evidence that Modi has done something wrong, please bring it forward. Secularism in India was not invented by the Constitution. It’s our age-old tradition.
•Ambreen Khan: Why should a Muslim vote for you?
It is this country’s curse that everything is weighed in votes. The only yardstick should be the welfare of the poor. I’ll give you the example: I have been successful in ensuring 100 per cent enrollment in schools—of both girls and boys. And when I say 100 per cent, I mean 100 per cent; I don’t see people as Hindu or Muslim as you do.
•Soma Das: Is Narendra Modi a disciplined democrat or a lenient dictator?
The fact that you are able to ask me this question and that I am answering it in your office should be proof enough of my being a democrat.
•Soma Das: If you had to vote for one of the current UPA chief ministers, who would you choose?
The system of voting in this country is through secret ballot, and I’m committed to upholding the spirit of the Constitution. On a more serious note, however, there are issues every party should consider. First, why not make voting compulsory? Second, every government should be mandated to complete the full five-year term in office—that’s what people have elected it for. Third, there should be the option for a ‘No vote’—a vote of rejection—and if a candidate gets less than a minimum percentage of votes, elections should be held again with new candidates.
•Pranab Dhal Samanta: Does it distress you that the US still hasn’t granted you a visa?
I’m deeply grateful to the US for denying me a visa. I used to go to the US a lot earlier, and there were so many Gujarati friends there that I spent eight hours a day just travelling from one place to another. Now, through video-conferencing, I address the biggest NRI conventions in the US.
•Pranab Dhal Samanta: The BJP has opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal. But how soon do you want to get nuclear energy to your state?
Nuclear power was being used in my state even when there was no deal and plans for nuclear expansion had been approved long ago. But nuclear energy will make up only six per cent of the country’s energy by 2040. If we were to upgrade the existing electricity plants, we can generate up to 15 per cent more power now.
•Suman K. Jha: Ashis Nandy had charged the Gujarat government with harassment over an article he wrote.
One citizen filed a writ against Nandy for insulting the Gujarati people. How does my government prevent a citizen from filing a writ in court? If my police had gone after Nandy, you could blame me. Nandy went to the media and claimed that the Gujarat government was hounding him. I remained silent because it’s not in my nature to get into such quarrels.
•D.K. Singh: Sonia Gandhi has apologised to the Sikh community for the 1984 riots. Have you ever considered apologising to the Muslim community for your failure as chief minister during the 2002 riots?
I have said this repeatedly: I seek punishment, not forgiveness. If I have done something wrong, punish me.
•D.K. Singh: The NHRC has indicted your government for the 2002 violence. What is your opinion of the NHRC as an institution?
Institutions need to be honoured and strengthened, and clashes between them and the government should be prevented. But there’s been no adverse remark against me so far. All the NHRC’s directives have been complied with. This is just political sloganeering. I have always said, let the inquiry commission come out with its report and let the Supreme Court decide.
•Unni Rajen Shanker: After the 2002 riots, there has been considerable insecurity among Muslims in Gujarat. How will you allay this sense of insecurity?
I’m sending every child to school, I’m providing healthcare to every citizen, I’m giving everyone a share of the fruits of development. The Sachar Committee report, you’ll be surprised to learn, says that Muslims in Gujarat are better educated than Hindus. I always address my people as my five-and-a-half crore Gujarati brothers—the entire population of the state.
•Irena Akbar: Your government is known for its efficiency. Why is the same efficiency not in evidence when it comes to securing justice for the riot victims?
The judicial system is responsible for securing justice. And it is doing its job, the government cannot do anything about it. The Supreme Court is involved, the High Court is involved. As for the compensation package, the government has announced one and implemented it.
•Ashok Kumar: Do you think it’s possible to have casteless politics in India?
I’m a living example of casteless politics. I am an OBC and I come from a most backward caste. If I can be successful, so can others. The fact that I have no caste base helps me because no one says I take decisions based on caste.
•Ruchika Talwar: Is it difficult dealing with so much criticism?
I welcome criticism, but charges made without substantiation are injurious to democracy. Whatever I’ve said here must be investigated and even if one per cent is found to be untrue, it should be publicised.
•Shailaja Bajpai: What is the reason behind increasing home-grown terrorism?
Be it Naxalism, Maoism or this latest home-grown terrorism, everything has international links. The harm to the nation occurs when a law is accused of being against a specific community. There are Hindus in Naxalism and POTA was meant for Naxal terrorists too.
•Shekhar Gupta: VHP’s Praveen Togadia was once a political ally. Then you distanced yourself from him. Some of his followers have been jailed in Gujarat. Is he your adversary now?
He is one of the five-and-a-half crore Gujaratis that I want to take along with me. If some of his followers are in jail, they must have done something to get such a punishment. If a relative of mine commits a crime he should be put in jail.
•Seema Chishti: Do you admit that your government failed to contain the situation in 2002?
A commission is looking into the charges of who failed and on which fronts. The media trial is over, the sloganeering is over. I always said that the commission of inquiry will bring out the truth.
•Seema Chishti: The NHRC’s indictment, the Supreme Court’s censure, these mean nothing?
There’s nothing in writing to substantiate what you are saying.
•Irena Akbar: Many people have questioned the Nanavati Commission’s report because it was set up by the Gujarat government, which is itself accused of wrongdoing in 2002.
The Constitution gives every state government the right to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry and to decide who’ll head that commission. My government did not appoint the members of the commission. I wrote to the Supreme Court and the High Court asking for a sitting judge to head a commission of inquiry into the 2002 riots. My request was turned down citing the workload of sitting judges. I then wrote asking for a retired judge to head the commission. I have the letter from the Chief Justice of India suggesting Nanavati’s name—the same Nanavati whose report on the anti-Sikh violence in 1984 has been applauded by the Congress.
•D.K. Singh: Did Sonia Gandhi’s description of you as ‘a merchant-of-death’ have an impact on the Gujarat elections?
I don’t think there’s a leader of such stature in the country whose one statement can alter an election’s fortunes.
•Ambreen Khan: Five years ago, you wouldn’t speak to the media. Now you interact with the media. Is this part of an image makeover?
Why didn’t I court the media? That’s because I’m focused exclusively on the development of my state. I’m speaking to the media more often these days to generate awareness about the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investment Summit coming up in January 2009. It has nothing to do with an image makeover.
•Suman K. Jha: Like Mayawati, you are building a core base and then expanding it. L.K. Advani said that you are his likeliest successor. Please comment.
There’s only one party in India that has the system of a successor. The BJP is a democratic party and there’s no question of a successor in the party.