Swarajya: There seems to be a talent-deficit in your ministry…Some ministers don’t seem to be doing well
Narendra Modi: This is an incorrect perception. Just because only a few ministers and ministries make it to the front pages or prime-time debates, they are deemed as talented and others are deemed the opposite. The conventional mindset is also to bracket ministries and make presumptions about their value. However, the work culture of this government is different. I would like to illustrate my point with a few examples. Let us talk about rural housing. This is not a sector that is connected to cities or the digital world. In the last four years, more than 10 million houses have been built in rural areas. This is a big number.
Just to give you an indication of the extent of work done by the team working on rural housing, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), in their last four years, from 2010 to 2014, built 2.5 million. This is one-fourth of what the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has built. This is the work done by someone many in the media will call ‘non-talented.’
I would like to give you another example — of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Conventional wisdom suggests that this ministry is not “glamorous” and hence it does not make as much news as it should, but let me give you a glimpse of the exceptional work this department has done.
This year, the budget allocation for the welfare of SC and ST communities stood at Rs 950 billion and there was a whopping 41 per cent rise in the budget for the welfare of OBCs.
It was under this ‘non-talented minister’ that our government had the honour of bringing the strongest amendments in the SC/ST Act. The government of India is developing the five notable places associated with Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar as ‘Panchteerth’. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, raised the types of disabilities from seven to 21. For the first time, victims of acid attacks have been included in the list. The Act includes provisions for right to free education for Divyang children from the ages of six to 18.
Reservation for persons with disabilities for government jobs has been raised from 3 per cent to 4 per cent. This will bring several more opportunities for our Divyang sisters and brothers. In the last four years, the Ministry has hosted over 7,200 camps due to which 11 lakh persons with disabilities benefited. Substantial progress has been made under the Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan in ensuring dignity and equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. Due to these proactive efforts, the pace of making government buildings accessible is unparalleled. Similarly, all 34 international and 48 domestic airports are accessible and so are 644 out of 709 A1, A and B category railway stations. All these works have happened due to the active role of the ministry, both in terms of ideation and coordinating with other departments.
Swarajya: There are some extreme views gaining ground that freedom of expression and sanctity of institutions are shrinking under the BJP. How do you respond to this?
Modi: You yourself have used the right word for such views —extreme! Recently, the nation observed the 43rd anniversary of the Emergency. It was an attack on Freedom of Press, Freedom of Expression, sanctity of institutions and Democracy itself. Many of our senior leaders bore the brunt of the Emergency because they stood up to fight for these rights.
In fact, some of our leaders, including sitting cabinet ministers, ministers in various states, went to jail during the Emergency and withstood lathis. This shows how much we cherish democratic values and freedom. Hence, I find such a discourse about damage to institutions under the BJP absurd and incorrect. That is not our value system at all.
In fact, if you look at India’s history since 1947, it is the Indian National Congress that has subverted our democracy, judiciary and media, time and again.
As early as 1959, which is less than a decade after we became a Republic, the Nehru government dismissed a democratically-elected communist government in Kerala. A detailed study of the number of times Congress governments imposed Article 356 will present a chilling picture of how they held our Democracy to ransom. Indira Gandhi herself imposed Article 356 over 50 times and that too on flimsy grounds.
Swarajya: But that era is over…
Modi: The Congress party’s culture is the culture of the Emergency — arguably the darkest period after 1947. The media, courts, arms of the government were held hostage to power politics and an anti-democratic mindset.
Look at the events in the last seven to eight years as well. The Congress went on an overdrive to discredit every possible institution. From Modi hatred, they have graduated to India hatred. The Congress also has different tricks for the time when they are in power and when they are in Opposition, but even then, disrespect for institutions is visible. In power, their leaders victimised an Army Chief and the CAG just because they did not toe the Congress line. In Opposition, they mocked the Indian Army for the Surgical Strikes, they find fault with our other security forces. Now they also attack reputed rating agencies that are optimistic about India.
Their onslaught on the election process of India is alarming. They did not find EVMs faulty when they won in 2009 or in various states. Instead of introspecting why, in state after state, people are rejecting them, the Congress is finding fault in the poll process. What can one say to such a thought process?
As for the media, I have time and again said that constructive criticism by the media strengthens our democracy and more constructive criticism is welcome. The advent of social media has in fact made our discourse a lot more democratic. Our institutions and our democracy are vibrant as always. India’s democratic ethos can’t be trampled over.
Edited excerpts from an interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Editorial Director R Jagannathan, published in Swarajya magazine, 2 July, 2018