95-Min Interview, But PM Modi Did Not Address DeMo, RBI & More
On the first day of the new year 2019 – a crucial year when the entire nation will go to polls to choose their new prime minister – Narendra Modi sat down for an interview with ANI’s Smita Prakash.
Interviews in Modi’s pantheon are a rare occurrence. As he nears the completion of his five year term, the Prime Minister has not held a single open press conference – something that has been a tradition of sorts in the life of this republic. His predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, held three in total, during both his terms in office.
Be that as it may, in this 95-minute-long interview, Modi faced questions ranging from demonetisation, the Rafale controversy, farm loan waivers, the epidemic of mob lynching spreading across the country and took pot shots at the Congress.
But even while answering, he chose to overlook a few crucial facts, thereby, essentially turning the interview into a prolonged monologue, the format he’s most comfortable with. In light of this, here are the list of ten questions Modi chose not to answer adequately.
Did demonetisation succeed?
When asked about Modi’s sudden move to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination notes in 2016, the Prime Minister said that the move was not a ‘jhatka’ but that the government “had warned people a year before, that if you have such wealth (black money), you can deposit it, pay penalties and you will be helped out. However, they thought Modi too would behave like others so very few came forward voluntarily.” And crucially, he further added, “There was a parallel economy running before notes ban, which had drained the country from the inside... The currency which used to be kept in sacks has returned to the banking system.”
What Modi did not disclose – and the facts are all in the public domain – that the expectation when demonetisation was announced was that a large percentage of money in circulation which is counted as ‘black money’ would not return when the RBI would finish counting the demonetised notes. But in August of 2018, according to RBI’s own annual report, almost all of demonetised notes had returned back into the system. According to the aforementioned report, Rs 15.31 lakh crore worth of currency notes have been returned, representing 99.3 percent of the total currency notes which had gone out of circulation in a single day. In simple words, what was supposed to have been a targeted vendetta against the holders of black money, became a general vendetta against the general public at large.
So, what is our Prime Minister talking about? Why did the Prime Minister not share with the nation this crucial bit of data? Only two scenarios could have caused this: either Mr Modi is woefully unaware of the reality, or he is not transparent enough to own up to the fact that the expensive exercise of demonetisation was a catastrophic failure.
What does he have to say about the face-off between the Centre and RBI that led up to Urjit Patel’s resignation?
When ANI asked Modi about the resignation of former RBI Governor, Urijit Patel, the PM answered that “he (Urjit Patel) requested (to resign) because of personal reasons. I am revealing for the first time, he was telling me about this for the past six-seven months before his resignation. He gave it even in writing. He wrote to me personally.”
But Modi chose not to speak about the face-off that occurred between the finance ministry and the central bank, ranging from the issue of how much reserves does the RBI need to keep, to a demand for the relaxation of lending norms. In fact, while the face-off was going on, the deputy governor of RBI, Viral Acharya, in an explosive speech, had come down heavily on the Centre, where he spoke about the importance of keeping central institutions – such as the RBI – independent and any move to undermine this would have “catastrophic consequences.”
Mr Modi also chose not to answer why his government decided to invoke Section 7 of the RBI Act, a precedent that had never occurred before. What was the need? Urjit Patel may have resigned for personal reasons – if you choose to give Modi the benefit of doubt – but these contentious issues that led up to his resignation cannot be overlooked and as a Prime Minister, Mr Modi should have addressed them in the spirit of transparency which he swears by.
If loan waiver claim is a ‘lollipop’, why then are BJP ministers themselves talking about waiving loans of indebted farmers?
When quizzed about farm loans, Modi said that farm loan waivers are not the solution, and a majority of farmers would not benefit from such waivers as only a small percentage of them take loans from banks, the majority borrow from money lenders. He went ahead and termed loan waivers as ‘lollipops.’
But the statistics prove otherwise. As recently as in August 2018, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in a study found that almost half of every agricultural household is suffering from indebtedness. The survey found that 52.5 percent of farming households had an outstanding debt, with only 11.5 percent of this figure borrowing from moneylenders. The main reason behind the indebtedness being rising cost of capital expenditure pertaining to agriculture, and a quarter of loans from banks are taken to cover this.
Besides, if farm loan waiver was a lollipop, why then are his own Cabinet ministers singing a different tune? Again as recently as on 31 December – just a day before Modi’s interview – Dharmendra Pradhan, the Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, promised a waiver in Orissa where the BJP is fighting the BJD.
Why has a military operation like the surgical strike become a political tool?
In the interview, Modi said that surgical strikes entailed a huge risk, and that he gave clear orders to the armed forces to come back before sunrise and to not prolong it. But the need for surgical strike was never in question. What was contentious for long was the way the government used it for political purpose, carefully building a narrative of national-versus-anti-national.
In fact, Lt General (retired) DS Hooda, who had led the surgical strikes then, has even gone on record to say that the strikes were overhyped, they were short-term, and were completely politicised through the process of selective leaks of videos and photographs. Was all that really needed?
On mob lynching, would Modi now condemn the actions of his own ministers?
Concerning mob lynching, Modi expressed his anguish at the rising level of violence, but also took care to add that it wasn’t as if such incidents started only from 2014.
What he carefully sidestepped are again some crucial facts. To begin with, what does he have to say about Jayant Sinha, a member of his own cabinet, who had infamously garlanded eight convicts of lynching cases in Hazaribagh in Jharkhand? What does he have to say about Nitin Gadkari, who had quipped famously that Jayant Sinha garlanding convicts was nothing more than a freedom of speech? What does he have to say about Mahesh Sharma, again another minister in his cabinet, who had actually draped the tricolour on the body of the accused in Dadri lynching.
Several journalists have pointed out that PM Modi follows the Twitter handles of those who indulge in hate speech. Can he explain why? And mind you, he is an elected prime minister of this country.
Moreover, statistics again speak a different truth. 90 percent of cow-related violence since 2010 actually occurred after 2014. Similarly, 2018 closed with the horrific Bulandshahr violence, again due to rumours of cow slaughter. Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has gone on record to deny that there were cases of mob lynching in his state, let alone punish the offenders. Would the Prime Minister now issue an unambiguous condemnation?
Would the PM come clean on Rafale and allow a JPC probe into the matter?
During the interview, Modi spoke at length about Rafale and how the Supreme Court’s decision has given his government a clean chit in the matter. But he never said what was the need to scrap the earlier deal for 126 aircraft and go instead for 36 aircraft at a much higher price. Moreover, he never stated the reason for awarding the offsets contracts to Anil Ambani, who not only has no experience in defence, but his company which received the offsets contract is actually bankrupt. Why was HAL removed, when the public sector company has a rich experience in the field?
Coming to the Supreme Court decision, he never spoke about the ‘factual error’ in the court’s judgment which spoke about the submission of the pricing details of the aircraft by CAG to the Public Accounts Committee, when Malikarjun Kharge, who heads that PAC, has gone on record to deny this. What is the truth? In light of transparency, shouldn’t a joint parliamentary committee be constituted, when the same was for 2G?
Also, why did Francois Hollande say that Ambani’s name was recommended by the Indian government?
If Triple Talaq Bill is for gender equality, why is Sabarimala considered a ‘tradition’?
During the course of the interview, Modi said that the Triple Talaq Bill was brought in keeping in mind scores of Muslim women who have been left at the mercy of their husbands. But for Sabarimala, the SC in its landmark decision had allowed women of menstruating age to enter the temple. Referring to that verdict, Modi used the minority judgment of Indu Malhotra and affirmed that Sabarimala case was one of tradition and not of gender equality.
Really Mr Modi? Scores of women who have formed a human chain in Kerala, as his interview was going on, would certainly disagree.
And if one were to go by his argument, that a minority judgment should be taken into consideration, by that logic would he also take Chandrachud’s minority judgment concerning Aadhaar and scrap the project altogether?
If the Modi government is serious about bringing economic offenders back, why did they flee under his premiership in first place?
When asked about the government’s seriousness in bringing economic offenders back, Modi said that because his government has a zero tolerance policy towards corruption, they had to flee, unlike before. But there are nuances which he missed even here.
Taking the case of Vijay Mallya as an example, why didn’t the PM dwell on the alleged meeting between the embattled liquor baron and his Finance Minister Arun Jaitley?
Why was the CBI’s LOC notice changed at the last instance, from ‘detain’, to ‘only inform’, allowing him to flee? To speak about Nirav Modi, would the Prime Minister dwell on the infamous photograph from Davos that surfaced just days after the PNB scam came out in public, of Nirav Modi in the same frame with the PM? Moreover, would the PM at least walk us through the steps his government has taken to bring him back to India?
Under the premiership of Modi, have our institutions weakened?
When the question of weakening institutions under the present government was posed to Modi, he chose to shift the blame to Congress, saying it was rather under their watch that institutions had weakened, not his.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. To begin with, this is the first time that both, the head of the CBI and his deputy, were both removed from their posts, and that too overnight. Can the PM clarify how such a decision was taken? Who were consulted?
To give another example, would Modi come clean on the issue of electoral bonds? The Election Commission had actually written to the Finance Ministry, clearly arguing that electoral bonds has the potential to lead to the creation of more black money. Why did the government go ahead then? What was the reason to introduce electoral bonds in first place?
Similarly, why did the EC have to announce separate dates for the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections, when both the states go to polls virtually at the same time? The decision to de-link these two states did in fact allow the government to introduce sops for it to gain ahead of the elections.
Why have our universities become a battle ground? Why is JNU and BHU simmering? Has the PM spoken even once about these?
What is the PM’s opinion on the rising political violence in the country?
When asked this, Modi spoke at length on the wave of killings in Kerala and West Bengal. Though he spoke only about the murder of RSS workers when the toll has occurred on both the sides.
But subsumed underneath this issue of political violence is also the rising number of state-led encounters of dubious nature. Several news reports have called out Yogi Adityanath and his trigger-happy police in this regard. The Indian Express, in fact, did a comprehensive report on how FIRs were fudged, leading to the encounters in UP.
Would the PM condemn this unequivocally too?