I am at Reis Magos,a 14th-century fort,one of the oldest forts in western India overlooking Panjim city in Goa. My guest today is one of Indias youngest and brightest chief ministers of one of Indias smallest,but not the least important,states. Manohar Parrikar,welcome to Walk the Talk. Youve always been an important figure in Indian politics but youve never been at the centre stage as youve been in the past couple of weeks. So how have things changed in the last couple of weeks?
I dont think I am at the centre stage except that probably an interview given by me triggered some reactions. I only acted as a catalyst. I dont think the reactions were set by me. The catalysis point came in Goa (during the National Executive). I felt decision-making is an important aspect and thats the biggest factor thats missing in the country today. We dont have proper decision-making ability. Everyone has an opinion and everyone tries to air his opinion through the media. Our politicians get way too influenced by this and instead of taking a firm decision,they stall that decision.
Does it apply only to the UPA and Congress or the BJP as well?
In general,it applies to all political parties. Because we watch 10 to 30 (TV) channels and each channel will have a different view and a different orientation to a programme.
If I read between the lines,you are saying that too many politicians are not strong enough to discount this noise?
They have not developed a system to filter the noise and take the right decision.
How do you deal with it?
I dont watch TV too much. I see it only at night to see if there is some breaking news. If there is something important,I get a feedback from the department concerned.
So you dont have to respond immediately?
You can respond immediately depending on the situation. I have responded within five minutes in situations that required such a response.
So politicians on both sides are not responding to immediate pressures at this moment?
At this moment,they tend to avoid decision-making because they are in two minds. They hear too many things and are confusedIf I do this,this will be the outcome and if I do that,that will be the outcome. How will people see me if I do that? The ability to listen to everyone,then shut out everything and take a decisionthat is lacking. That is the question I raised in the Executive. Two lines,I raised. When we are talking about Manmohan Singh not being decisive…
What were the two lines?
I said we are accusing the government of not taking decisions,calling it an indecisive government,saying it doesnt move…
So Manmohan Singh doesnt decide?
Virtually no one does in the government.
Well,Sonia Gandhi does. Apparently.
I strongly doubt that. Whenever there is a critical situation…I dont think decision-making has been the hallmark of Mrs Gandhi or of Rahul (Gandhi). Most of the time,they disappear when there is a crisis.
So you said,we will go to the electorate and say,this government is indecisive…
Not only to the electorate but to the press,saying that this government doesnt decide. But if the next question they ask you is,what about your decision-making? Thats the question I left for everyone to answer.
Yes. Because if you say we are going to decide later,then how are you any different?
Even the agitation that was started with Anna Hazare was basically a middle-class agitation. The middle-class sees its position being threatened because of the lack of decision-makingwhether it is on 2G spectrum or the mining issue. Like for example,in 2G,there was corruption. You take action,the court takes action,but cancellation of 2G licences was the biggest tactical error ever done by any government. The court was right within its own framework,but how can you generalise?
So you think the government should have stood its ground and said,look,we will catch the corrupt but we cant cancel the licences?
Yes. Catch the corrupt,recover the money but licences cannot be reversed. Because it has an impact on the national,international position of the country.
It has devastated Indias telecom sector.
Not only the telecom sector. It has devastated Indias image as a business partner across the world.
So the government should have stood up to the court and said we will catch the corrupt?
The government has the power to do it. They can go to Parliament and make a law…
Who can make a law in the country these days? Your party will not let it happen…
But if you use divisive tactics or you use political strategy to block the Opposition…For instance,these two ministers resigned (Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar),it was inevitable they resigned. They could have resigned two days earlier. The government wanted the Food Security Bill through…If you are taking the Opposition into confidence,it has to be done whole-heartedly. But if the Opposition does not retract,people see that also. Its not that people dont realise that.
I dont see how people are happy with the way BJP has stalled Parliament. And I think one more Parliament session stalled and the tide will begin to turn. It is just my view as an analyst.
This is no comment on whatever decisions have been taken by the central leadership,but except for making a very strong token protest,which is required,stalling of legislature is not the right answer to issues. You can virtually convert every debate into an attack on the government and you get more success because people watch. Let them make the decision,you dont make the decision for them. This is my opinion. I never stalled the Goa Assembly as a Leader of Opposition.
People dont like this stalling.
Yes. Ill tell you a very funny thing. The moment I started using the Assembly to attack the government,the government withdrew into a shell and reduced the number of days (in the session). So if you corner the government on every issue,they slowly try to reduce the session…
But if the Opposition stalls Parliament,it looks like you are frustrated.
Sometimes that is the signal.
Your personal opinion matters a great deal more than people realise these days because youve led a generational shift in the BJPjust by speaking out what a lot of people wanted to say.
I took a decision that it is the right point. If we delay it any more,it will be too late. I didnt do it earlier because I thought there was a time for the party to decide but if they went from this Executive without deciding,it would be another three months before they decide…
And the decision was to put Mr Modi in front.
No,that was not my decision. That is the partys decision. But I expressed the opinion that this is what the common people and the party cadre feel. I must have spoken to at least 1,000 people on this issue at various forumsInternet forums,friends,across the globe,across the country…
So you were getting a sense from them that they wanted Narendra Modi?
Obviously. Because the country is headed by a personhowever good he may be personallybut on the political front,a prime minister needs to decide at the right moment. I wont say quickly,but within a reasonable time. And there are no decisions coming and people see that. I dont know if the decision even comes from Sonia Gandhi. I get a feeling that the Congress is run by a coterie. For instance,on this Supreme Court matter where the CBI report on Coalgate was fiddled with,where some people were trying to suppress it because they were involved in taking money…You dont give licences of that huge value without getting anything. There has to be a proper procedure,not pick-and-choose. The Supreme Court is right in that sense,but I think the government was not able to do anything on 2G or coal.
So you think the government is heading into the direction of cancelling all coal allocations also?
They will have to because there is a money trail. Even in 2G,if there was no major corruption and involvement of too many people,they would have stood their ground and said we were not cancelling the licences. Why I am saying not cancelling licences is the right decision is because there are players who did not know what was happening. Investors dont necessarily know the background to your decision-making. Why should he suffer?
So coming back to the point of decision. You said people will say,What is your decision? So take a decision in Goa before you go.
I said take a decision or if you cant a decision,make a timetable for making a decision.
And the decision,in your view because of the feedback you were getting,had to be Narendra Modi?
When Rajnathji declared it in the Executive,the full Executive clapped for five minutes. They had to be stopped from clapping.
But the story is that at least two senior leaderswe heard Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshisaid wait,Mr Advani is not there.
I am not aware of it. Everyone has a right to agree or dissent. I dont understand this logic in India that there cannot be dissent in a political set-up.
I am just checking the factsthat two senior leaders said that maybe we should take more time.
They did not say so openly in the Executive. I dont know what they said to Rajnathji.
Tell us your view on Narendra Modi. And why Modi now?
There are many issues in an electionthe communal-secular angle,price rise,corruption. But I feel people today put maladministration or lack of governance as the first issue. And they feel price rise,corruption and non-decision-making are all because of non-governance. So the solution is to bring in a person who is capable of giving governance
So you think non-governance is a bigger headache for people than equity?
Absolutely. I am not saying equity does not form a part,but equity also is a small part of non-governance. In the last 10 years in Gujarat,there has been no question mark on this. Maybe Godhra is a blot. Human lives are very important and I am a strong advocate that violence cannot be a solution. I dont defend it.
Nobody can defend it.
But not defending it does not mean that you put the blame on a particular person. The administration collapsed. That was the truth of it. Everyone got polarised,including the administration. You dont have to blame only the leader. And Modi at that time had just taken over the administration. He may not have had that kind of a grip on the administration as he has now. The events were happening simultaneously. The media should be blamed for it toothey showed the charred bodies,I still remember.
But it was at least an administrative and political failure of the state government at that point?
I will put it is as a clear-cut case of lack of administration and a bad example of governance. This is my personal opinion because maybe he was hardly four months old (as Chief Minister). But after that,he has not displayed a single incident of non-governance.
But could it also be because he was angry?
No. Ill not say that because that is too much of a statement. So far,no one has been able to even indicate it,in spite of the Supreme Courts intervention.
Being angry in the sense of taking his eye off the ball. Like,thik hai,what can I do? People are angry.
Sometimes that happens but I dont think that was the cause then. The main cause,according to me,was because he was very fresh. Todays Narendra Modi would not have even allowed it to happen. Because any politician worth his salt knows that violence reflects badly on him.
This is the closest any BJP leader has ever come to saying something went wrong in 2002 in Gujarat.
It went wrong. (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji said so.
…after Vajpayee,I should have qualified.
Everyone has said it is wrong. But I am not putting the blame on anyone.
You are saying that it was Narendra Modis inexperience. He was very new.
How can you say that killing of 2,000 people is a good example of governance? But add to that one major point. After that one blot on the administration,there has not been a single incident that Modi has allowed until now.
Are you saying that Modi has learnt his governance lessons?
Obviously. Every experience counts. I am saying (the riots happened) four months into Modis governance. What happened was definitely bad. Being new,he probably did not know how to take a grip on the administration. Unluckily,with all the emotionally surcharged atmosphere that was created…(the situation) went out of control there,including the police. Police down the line got polarised. The chief minister doesnt direct the police constable.
But it is for the chief minister to knock heads together.
He did it,but it took him time.
And by then,the damage was done.
But after that one experience,he has not allowed that to happen for the last 13 years. And I go by the basic logic that a person who learns from some experience…
…from a mistake or a failure….
I will call it a mistake…
Its a failure.
I will put it as an administrative failure.
And the chief minister is the head of the administration.
Logically,the buck stops with me if anything goes wrong in Goa,including a ferry capsize. As a matter of principle,the chief minister is the final authority. That I dont deny. But I think you have to take the positive part of itthat person understood what went wrong at that time and he corrected it to a level where it never went wrong again.
Since you were about the same generation and you are a Modi acolyte,have you and Modi exchanged notes on 2002? As friends,as chief ministers?
No,we did not have that much connection. But in 2002,during all that turmoil,it was our election time.
The reason I am asking you this is because if your party has to expand its footprintit lost out a lot after Mr Vajpayee declined and you could not find an inclusive politician to replace himwould you recommend to your party and to Narendra Modi what some of us call the Parrikar Model or the Manohar model,where you went and embraced your Catholics. Hindus and Catholics came together in Goa and that too under the BJPs flag.
A government cannot be complete unless every citizen is included in your government. That doesnt mean you have to give benefits or everything to every citizen. The government is for people who cannot walk by themselves,who cannot sustain by themselvesthe government has to be more sensitive towards them. For those who can do things by themselves,the government can only provide administrative support. A government doesnt bother about your caste,your religion,your sex,your age. Need is the most important factor. Therefore,a government doesnt have religion and in that way,it is secular. I am a very strong Hindu but my Hindu feeling doesnt reflect when I am taking a decision as a chief minister. When a list comes to me for a Catholic to be supported,I go for it with the same enthusiasm. These two imagesof an individual and of a government decision-makeris very difficult for a lot of people to separate. And I believe Modi has managed to work on this.
Part II of this session will appear next Tuesday
Transcribed by Biswa Yonzon