Shekhar Gupta: I am in one of the greener parts of south Mumbai,The Silver Oak Estate,and my guest this week is the most evergreen politician today in India,one of the great old warriors of our politics,Mr Sharad Pawar. And if I may say so,one of the really older formidable statesmen of the UPA government.
Sharad Pawar: I have to accept that I am becoming older.
Shekhar Gupta: I was telling (Chinese premier) Wen Jiabao in that morning conversation he had with some of us that he is quite happy to be called grandpa at his age. At his age,most Indian politicians think they are young. You have been around from a very young age.
Sharad Pawar: Yes,that is true. I will complete 44 years without a single years break in parliamentary politics.
Shekhar Gupta: And you multi-task. You are a real all-rounder. You can do state politics,central politics,cricket,farming,parenting,everything. But Pawar saab,this is a difficult time for the UPA. Did you imagine this one-and-a-half years ago when life looked so hunky dory?
Sharad Pawar: In fact,the first term of the UPA was very good and we were extremely happy and people also accepted us and that showed in the elections. Then,our beginning in UPA-II was also good but recently,certain things have happened and the situation is a little disturbing. There are certain poor decisions…there are certain approaches that some of the ministries have taken,and the general impression is a little disturbing. One of the most important things that UPA-I had created was confidence in the area of investment and investors. As of today,because of certain actions…they might be (due to) some misunderstanding,I think there is a scope to correct the approach.
Shekhar Gupta: So what could be these actions that have gone wrong?
Sharad Pawar: I cannot say wrong. Suppose the court has given a decisionI cannot say anything about the judiciary,there must be some reason behind that (decision) which we dont know. Then certain actions have been taken by financial institutions or about financial institutions that have also sent a different signal.
Shekhar Gupta: If you start investigating them,they get nervous.
Sharad Pawar: Basically,what is the job of financial institutions? The job of financial institutions is to provide money for proper projects and take sufficient security. But after getting sufficient security and if the projects are good,if certain issues have been raised about that action of the banker,my worry is that bankers will not take initiatives to support these type of developmental projects.
Shekhar Gupta: And you will go back to doubly lazy banking.
Sharad Pawar: Thats right. Today,most of the banks are flooded with funds,there are a lot of deposits, they are in touch with some good parties,good projects,and in such situation…
Shekhar Gupta: …they have to face the CBI.
Sharad Pawar: If this is the kind of atmosphere,I think it will create further problems (to the) health of the banking sector.
Shekhar Gupta: Deepak Parekh was speaking last week on how a lot of the Indian corporates are now finding it difficult to do business in India. They are taking their investments overseas because of lack of cohesion.
Sharad Pawar: Certain sections,some NGOs and others have created this unfortunate atmosphere. I was in Pune and certain sections of the media asked me some questions on some power projects here. Today,a state like Maharashtra,which is one of the major industrial states,is facing a shortage of 5,000 MW. So there are power cuts for six hours,seven hours in different parts of the state,affecting industries,agriculture,everything. The state government has taken an initiative,the central government has taken an initiative to set up a new plant. Work had started,then NGOs and the media created a lot of noise and ultimately the approach of the government also changed. In the government also,certain sections start questioning things.
Shekhar Gupta: You are looking at the Environment Ministry?
Sharad Pawar: Suppose there has to be acquisition of land,the revenue department begins (the process),then noises are raised and an inquiry starts.
Shekhar Gupta: Pawar saab,you have used a very good expression. Because I said negativity,you said noise. I think noise is the problem.
Sharad Pawar: Thats right and that is creating a little bit of nervousness too. My real worry is that in such a situation,the countrys process of development should not halt.
Shekhar Gupta: But do you have a concern that it may get halted?
Sharad Pawar: Not exactly,but what you said initially or what Deepak (Parekh) said about the feeling among the corporate sector. I had an interaction with some of them and I also observed that. And that is disturbing.
Shekhar Gupta: And you find it disturbing?
Sharad Pawar: Definitely disturbing.
Shekhar Gupta: How do you fix that?
Sharad Pawar: Ultimately,we have to sit together. I am happy about one thing. I discussed this with the honourable Prime Minister and he is very concerned about it. He honestly feels that we have to change the atmosphere. The Finance Minister wants to give a sort of confidence to the banking sector,to the corporate sector and to restore normalcy and confidence in their minds.
Shekhar Gupta: You dont worry about rumours or the belief among some circles that the Prime Minister may be getting irritated or losing interest?
Sharad Pawar: I dont think so. Everybody knows he is the most honest person. The whole country and the whole world know about his honesty,integrity,sincerity and loyalty. And everybody knows that he is a person who understands the economy much better than any of the others and in such a situation,of course he is going to listen. And that is a reason,I think,that he might be worried. But Im also confident that he would like to improve (the situation) and he will improve it.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you think he will intervene? He will apply the healing touch?
Sharad Pawar: Hundred per cent he will intervene and the situation will improve.
Shekhar Gupta: What you are saying also amounts to applying the healing touch.
Sharad Pawar: Yes,that is the need of the hour today. And Dr Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister are in the process of taking an initiative in that direction.
Shekhar Gupta: In the last couple of weeks,what is it that you found most disturbing? Because the tapes came out,the allegations came out,2G is going on,Ratan Tata spoke,Deepak Parekh spoke.
Sharad Pawar: I think if somebody has expressed concern,we who are in the government have to give it a serious thought and take corrective action.
Shekhar Gupta: Frankly,if these tapes had not leaked,this tapping would have gone for five more years.
Sharad Pawar: For instance,I think the Tata group is a brand for this country,it has contributed a lot for this nation and when we hear some personal things (about it),I think,this is not fair.
Shekhar Gupta: So you think the government will be able to find out how the tapes leaked?
Sharad Pawar: I think the government is already in that process,an investigation is already on.
Shekhar Gupta: But do you think the government is getting somewhere?
Sharad Pawar: I dont know because I keep myself away from all types of process of investigation.
Shekhar Gupta: One of your own ministers also got caught. Not himself but conversations about him,about Praful (Patel). Which is unfair to him…
Sharad Pawar: Absolutely unfair to him. In fact,the whole country accepts that after Praful took over the responsibility of the aviation sector,there has been tremendous change in the aviation sector. Infrastructure has improved,new airlines,and fares toobarring some recent incidentshave been reasonable.
Shekhar Gupta: Have you brought up the tape issue with the Prime Minister as well?
Sharad Pawar: No,I have not discussed that subject. Basically as a person who was a chief minister of a state like Maharashtra and who comes from Mumbai,my major concern is the investment climate.
Shekhar Gupta: Because you also talked about certain decisions taken by certain ministries. Will you talk about some which may have created negativity?
Sharad Pawar: As I said,here in my home state,because certain NGOs have started murmuring, inquiries have been started by some of the state departments,some of the state ministries,sometimes from Delhi also.
Shekhar Gupta: So why is the government intimidated by NGOs?
Sharad Pawar: Mainly by the media,and I think nowadays the media is very effective. Our worry is that the TRP rating concept is creating problems for many people.
Shekhar Gupta: On the specific issue of Lavasa,whats your view?
Sharad Pawar: Its one of the best projects coming up in this country. One thing that was agitating us was that since Independence,not a single hill station has been developed in India.
Shekhar Gupta: The British built them before Independence and since Independence,we have been ruining them.
Sharad Pawar: But we have not built anything and we are competent people,we can build them. There are a lot of sites in this country,why not develop them? When we saw how Lake district in England was developed,I said why not here? We started working from that angle and then this project came and Hindustan Construction Company (HCC),a 100-year-old company which has contributed to all major projects,took the responsibility of building it.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you think they (HCC) have done a good job?
Sharad Pawar: They have done an excellent job. When its a project worth two or three thousand crores and a few thousand hectares,there is a possibility of small mistakes here and there. One has to see how we can take corrective actions.
Shekhar Gupta: But a notice like this,without a site visit,to stop all work? Ajit Gulabchand (HCC chairman) thinks the moment his IPO got cleared,his notice came.
Sharad Pawar: One has to accept that it has accidentally happened at the same time. Because I dont think the Environment Ministry was aware of the company going in for an IPO now.
Shekhar Gupta: Lavasa has been one of the main targets of NGOs in your state.
Sharad Pawar: Yes,today in Lavasa,all the local people have come together and now they are agitating. They say they want this project. More than 2,000 apartments are ready. Some of them are occupied. Some three-four hotels are ready.
Shekhar Gupta: Can you imagine this getting demolished?
Sharad Pawar: I dont think it will. See,if some concern has been expressed by certain NGOs,it is the responsibility of the ministries concerned to investigate. If it is correct,then see that corrective action is taken. It was a similar situation in Navi Mumbai.
Shekhar Gupta: For the airport.
Sharad Pawar: Yes,for the airport,the Environment Ministry has taken a positive approach.
Shekhar Gupta: Your daughter and son-in-law had equity in Lavasa earlier. Was it correct for them to take equity in the project given the fact that you were mentoring the project?
Sharad Pawar: No,in fact my son-in-law has a business in the share market. So he acquires shares and sell shares,practically everyday. So it happens sometimes,beyond that nothing.
Shekhar Gupta: The insinuation is that because of your familys interest…your family has commercial interest,you are so supportive of Lavasa.
Sharad Pawar: No,Im always a supporter of all development projects.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you feel it looks like people close to you,companies close to you are under attack? There is Lavasa,there is DB Realty. So if you talk to political pundits,they say this looks like an effort to put NCP in its place.
Sharad Pawar: I dont know. After working in this state for more than 27 years,out of which at least 16-17 years in the government,who doesnt know me in the industrial circle? I was industry minister,I was home minister,I was chief minister for four terms. So every representative of the industrial and corporate sector must have met me on a number of occasions. I interacted with them,tried to understand their problems,encouraged them for further investments.
I do meet these various people,I do sit with them. What is DB Realty and others and what is my contact? I have known the father of the gentleman who is a major partner in DB Realty,Vinod Goenka. My interest was to develop the milk line. On my suggestion,he set up a milk project called Dynamix in Baramati,my constituency. We collect milk from more than about 100 thousand families,process and sell it. Dynamix produces Nestle Milk,Britannia cheese,also fruit juice for Tropicana.
Shekhar Gupta: And the same Mr Goenka set up DB Realty?
Sharad Pawar: That was his fathers company. Two months ago,I honoured him in Baramati for his contribution in the area. These type of people help bring change. So what is wrong if you encourage development process and in that process you come in contact with some people?
Shekhar Gupta: You are saying you are not doing it for money?
Sharad Pawar: Certain sections in the media are murmuring that I got substantial shares in Dynamix. But I didnt get even a single share.
Shekhar Gupta: What are your areas of concern when you look at Maharashtra?
Sharad Pawar: First,the investment climate. Secondly,the basic infrastructure has to be developed whether it is power,road.
Shekhar Gupta: You didnt mention law and order,security.
Sharad Pawar: I dont think the law-and-order situation is bad here.
Shekhar Gupta: Because terrorism…Mumbai is a target.
Sharad Pawar: This (acts of terror) happened in Delhi also,in many places all over the world. Now,terrorism is a problem.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you think the right kind of police reform is happening?
Sharad Pawar: The home minister in Maharashtra (RR Patil) is a capable person.
Shekhar Gupta: And he has now said there is nothing in the records to show that Hemant Karkare called Digvijay Singh that evening.
Sharad Pawar: Yes,he told me he checked and found nothing.
Shekhar Gupta: What is your view on Mr Digvijay Singhs statement?
Sharad Pawar: I really dont know what exactly he said and why he said it. The whole world knows who killed Karkare. In fact,prior to this tragic incident,I had a long chat with Karkare and he briefed me about the overall situation. My own observation was that he was a very competent and honest officer. I dont think he was interested in creating sensationalism.
Shekhar Gupta: Thank you very much for bringing some calm to this situation that requires experienced people like you to come out and speak without hesitation and shyness,which is what you have done.
Sharad Pawar: I think the situation will definitely improve.
Transcribed by Sudhakar Jagdish