Post his election victory, PM Narendra Modi has only given select few interviews to media, including a TV interview with India TV’s Rajat Sharma and a print interview given to HT’s Sanjoy Narayan and Shishir Gupta. PM Modi has given an exclusive interview to Time Magazine’s Editor Nancy Gibbs, Asia Editor Zoher Abdoolcarim and South Asia bureau chief Nikhil Kumar.
In an earlier story, we had said that PM met with his cabinet colleagues and suggested doing interviews to highlight the work his government has been doing after coming into power. http://www.exchange4media.com/59919_fm-jaitley-and-pm-modi-meet-select-editors-over-the-weekend.html
In this particular interview, PM Modi talks about economic reforms, India’s religious diversity, US-India relations, why the Nirbhaya documentary was banned among other things.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
TIME: Prime Minister, you have talked about the economic and development reforms that you have been introducing in India, but there are other benchmarks of progress. President Obama said earlier this year that for India to succeed, it is critical that the nation does not splinter along religious lines. What would you make from President Obama’s remarks?
Modi: India is a civilization with a history that is thousands of years old. If you analyze the history of India carefully, you will probably not come across a single incident where India has attacked another country. Similarly you will not find any references in our history where we have waged war based on ethnicity or religion. The diversity of India, of our civilization, is actually a thing of beauty, which is something we are extremely proud of. Our philosophy of life, something that we have lived for thousands of years, is also reflected in our constitution. Our constitution has not come out of any abstract insularity. It essentially reflects our own civilizational ethos of equal respect for all religions. As Indian scriptures say, “Truth is one but sages call it by different names”. Similarly, Swami Vivekananda, when he travelled to Chicago for the World Congress of Religions, had said that respecting religions is not simply a question of universal tolerance; it is a question of believing that all religions are true. So it is a positive approach and aspect that India and Indian civilization take towards religion. If you look at one of the micro minorities of the world, the Parsi community, it has probably flourished the maximum in India. One of our Chiefs of Army Staff has been from the Parsi community. One of our biggest industrialists is from the Parsi community. A Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was from this micro minority community. So for us, the acceptance of all religions is in our blood, it is there in our civilization. It is ingrained in our system to work together, taking all the religions along with us.
My philosophy, the philosophy of my party and the philosophy also of my government is, what I call ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas’, which essentially means, “Together with all, progress for all”. So, the underlying philosophy and the impulse of that particular motto is to take everybody together and move towards inclusive growth.
TIME: Prime Minister, if I could go back to your election last year. A key thing and the most important was the economy that was spoken about. But here on, a lot of investors have begun to ask questions about the pace of reform, is it fast enough? That the economy basically benefitted from falling oil prices… What you make of those questions about the pace at which you have reformed and what reforms you are planning as you are going to your second year?
Modi: If you were to pick up the news papers for the period March-May 2014 last year and read them, you will actually get the context and key aspects of the context in which we were approaching the elections at that time. One of which was that nothing seemed to be happening in the Government. There seemed to be a complete policy paralysis at that time. Two, corruption had spread throughout the system. Three, there was no leadership; it was a weak government at the centre. That was the context and the background in which I was elected. My election, my government’s coming into power last year in 2014, should be viewed in the context of the developments over the last ten years in the country before May 2014. So you need to see ten years of the last government versus ten months of my government.
You will actually see that, internationally, the whole world is, once again, excited and enthusiastic about India and the opportunities that India represents. Another way to look at it is that, at the start of the 21st century, the term BRIC was coined to represent the four major emerging economies. The assessment was that the BRIC countries will drive international economic growth. Six-seven years before 2014, a view started emerging that ‘I’ in the BRIC had perhaps become less relevant or perhaps even a drag on the BRIC grouping.
In the last 10 months, the ‘I’ has reclaimed its position in the BRICS. Internationally, whether it is the IMF, the World Bank, Moody’s or other credit agencies, they are all saying in one voice, that India has a great economic future. It is progressing at a fast pace and has again become a factor of growth and stability in the international economic system. India is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
The last ten months clearly prove that so far as the expectations of the people are concerned, both in the country and internationally, we are moving very rapidly to fulfil those expectations.
I have in my mind a very clear outline of the framework of what we are going to do in the next five years. What we have done in the last one year is precisely as per that plan. And in the next four years, we have step-by-step measures that would unfold as we go along. So far as the reform process in the last eleven months is concerned, it is not simply a question of policy reforms that my government has taken. We have also undertaken focused administrative reforms. To establish (i) ease of doing business; (ii) making government more accountable; (iii) reforms at the level of technology and governance; (iv) reforms at all layers of the government, whether it’s local government or state government or central government. We have essentially taken the reform process to an entirely different level where both the Federal and the state level respond through a policy-based and administrative reform system.
The biggest reform since India’s independence in the field of taxation that is coming up is the GST and it is our expectation that we would start implementing it from the 2016 fiscal year.
Another example is increasing the Foreign Direct Investment cap in the field of insurance to 49%. This was stuck for the last 7 – 8 years and was not making any progress. We ensured that it was passed by the parliament within the first year of our government.
TIME: One of the aspects, one of the pillars of a democracy is freedom of speech. Earlier this year, the authorities in India banned a documentary about the terrible rape case that took place in December of 2012. Why did the authorities do that and what are to you the limits of free speech? Do you think free speech should have some limits?
Modi: There are two different things which are dealt in this question and I will try to address them both. But, first in a somewhat lighter vein, if I could just recount a well-known episode about Galileo. He had propounded the principles of revolution of the earth around the sun but in the societal paradigm at that particular time, those principles were against what was enshrined in the Bible and a decision was taken to imprison Galileo at that time.
Now India is a civilization where the principle and philosophy of sacrifice is ingrained as part of our upbringing. If you take that as a background and look at our history, there used to be another great thinker of the time called Charvaka who propounded a theory of extreme hedonism which was contradictory to the Indian ethos. He essentially said that “You do not have to worry about tomorrow, just live, eat, make merry today”. But even he with those extreme thoughts, which were totally contradictory to the Indian ethos, was equated to a sage and accommodated and given space to express his views in the Indian society.
So in so far as freedom of speech is concerned, there is absolutely not an iota of doubt in terms of our commitment and our belief in that.
If you look at the issue related to the telecast of the documentary that you referred, it is not a question of freedom of speech, it is more a legal question. It has two or three aspects. One aspect is that the identity of the rape victim should not be revealed which would have happened if this interview was allowed to be telecast. Two, the case is still sub judice and the telecast which features the interview of the person who is alleged to have committed the crime could have impacted the judicial process. Three, it is also our responsibility to ensure protection of the victim. If we had allowed such a thing to happen, in effect, we would have violated the dignity of the victim. So I do not think it is a question of freedom of speech, it is more a question of law and respecting the victim and the judicial processes in this particular case. In so far as freedom of speech is concerned, as I mentioned earlier, there is absolutely no issue. It is something that we greatly respect as an important aspect of our democratic values.