Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu feels that with the BJP getting a clear majority, the Modi government has no excuses for not fulfilling its promises, but that it must be given “adequate time” before it is criticised. This Idea Exchange was moderated by Senior Assistant Editor Ravish Tiwari
M Venkaiah Naidu: The people have given a major verdict. Many people say it’s an anti-Congress verdict. I don’t agree with that. There’s certainly an anti-Congress mood among people. But if you analyse the results, it is a positive mandate for the BJP and Narendra Modi. If you analyse the results in Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar, Jammu and Kashmir, everywhere the mood was the same and it was converted into positive results. You may ask what happened in Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Telangana? Yes, it needs analysis. Wherever there was an organisational base, the wave could be converted into votes; wherever there was a good alliance partner with a strong base in that particular state, we got good results. In Orissa and Bengal, our infrastructure was not adequate to convert support into votes. Our organisation was not strong in Tamil Nadu and Telangana.
The overall positive mandate has led to a greater responsibility. No excuses now because we have clear majority and a buffer by the way of supporting parties. The problems are many. Expectations are very high because people thought if Modi comes to power, everything will be okay. We don’t have an Aladdin’s djinn to solve problems immediately.
The changes in policy, direction, attitude have already happened. The confidence level has gone up. Now with the Railway Budget and General Budget, the proper climate has been created. The first and foremost thing is to bring the economy back on track; make people understand what we have inherited. This is a practical and pragmatic budget, which has sent a positive signal. There is no burden on the aam aadmi. Every sector has been taken care of. The general mood of the people is that there will be temporary hardships, but we have to accept it for long-term happiness.
We are not unduly disturbed by criticism. The Congress is making fun of achche din. I tell them good days have come, that is why your leader is sleeping tension-free. The mantra is development, speed and growth. If you want to take care of the social sector and vulnerable sections, you have to generate wealth. If you start distributing wealth without creating it, you will become bankrupt.
Coming to the Railways, the government in February decided to raise the fares and in May issued the order. The minister came to know that they were losing polls, and told officials to present it before the next government. They should have done it in February, but they did not want to become unpopular any further. Now, the Budget has come out. Some people are saying that we are more aggressive on reforms. Reforms can only be progressive. Stabilise and move forward.
D K Singh: People say that you are misusing the fact that you are a majority to push things without a debate.
Who were these people who disrupted the debate, who didn’t allow the debate? The very first day they raised slogans and used abusive language for the Prime Minister. First the Congress, then the TMC and Telangana Rashtra Samithi disrupted the House. If you disrupt the House and go to the well and tear papers, it means you are not interested in a debate. Day before yesterday, on price rise, the government told them that we will debate everything. They did not. The second day, they saw public reaction, and on the third day, Mallikarjun Kharge said, ‘We are ready for debate’. You should have done that on the first day. The TMC is aggrieved as they feel that there isn’t adequate allocation for Bengal. But the fact is otherwise — the highest expenditure in the Railway budget is for Bengal, followed by Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Figures are available, but they do not want to debate. On Friday, we told friends from all parties that we are ready for discussions. Still, they came to the well of the House. You can’t disrupt the House and then say this is a bad day for democracy.
D K Singh: Why do we see confrontation between the Opposition and Treasury benches in the Lok Sabha? On Friday, for instance, you brought this TRAI Act amendment.
The attitude of a political party should not depend on whether they are in the Opposition or government. It should depend on the issues. What is there to object in TRAI, I’m not able to understand. Is there any national security involved? My point is — discuss, debate, decide, but do not disrupt.
Maneesh Chhibber: The Prime Minister has said that his government did not have a proper honeymoon period. How long do you think the honeymoon period should be?
There is no honeymoon, we are working 24×7. When a government is formed, people try to give it some reasonable time. Even the Opposition gives it some time. On the very first day, you demonstrate in front of my office about power. Electricity is not produced overnight. Regarding the Railways, you wanted to have a fare hike, and then you send your MLA to my minister’s house and that man removes the minister’s nameplate and stomps on it. What sort of culture is this?
Subhomoy Bhattacharjee: Is the JNNURM programme going to be renamed? Then there’s also the smart cities plan. Does the Urban Development Ministry have the capacity for such a programme? It doesn’t run city-specific programmes.
Regarding the question of renaming, 650 Government of India and state government schemes are named after one family. I am not getting into that. The JNNURM was approved in 2005 by the Planning Commission. It started in 2007 and was mandated for five years. In 2012, the government extended it for another year. In 2013, they extended it again by one year. In March 2014, it was finally over. Now, what can I do? A new government would have its own ideas, priorities. I am discussing ways and means of improving it. What is the experience of JNNURM? What’s the feedback from states? I don’t want to take any unilateral decision. I am not going to abandon any scheme. I convened a meeting of all the ministers of states. We have to persuade state governments and prepare the urban local bodies. Thirty state governments and Union territories met for two days. Various issues were discussed.
I don’t have much experience in this ministry. I am a rural person, I am more a party person than a government person. A building is being illegally constructed, you close your eyes. At the end of it something happens, then suddenly one IAS or IPS officer or a good politician comes and says, demolish this unauthorised construction. Why should we do this? Make the local building inspector, area supervisor or zonal planner accountable for this. If any unauthorised thing is found, he should be held accountable. I can’t do it, so I suggested this at the ministers’ meeting.
Secondly, regarding transparency — how much money is spent on each scheme. One municipal chairperson has put signboards in every ward in Tanuku, West Godavari, saying this is the revenue from this ward and this is the expenditure, these are the programmes being executed here. That’s a report of her accountability. To give another example, there is no free power in Gujarat, and the power charge is higher than in other states. People are happily paying because there is assured and quality power 24×7. If you guarantee service, people pay.
I was sceptical because there are more than 10 states where the Congress and regional parties are in power. I said that your political colour will not be a consideration for me to make allotments; performance is my parameter to allot funds. All the 30 states and UTs came forward to adopt a national declaration for urban rejuvenation. We started on a happy note.
Vijaita Singh: Was JNNURM a successful scheme?
Assessment differs with every scheme. There are certain positive things pertaining to JNNURM. By the end of this House session, I will be ready with my mission.
Sunil Jain: One of the big problems that cities have is that they tend to be starved of funds. Maharashtra, for example, would rather give it to other areas because politicians get more votes from those parts. One of the suggestions that has been made in the past is that like you get Finance Commission grants for states, there should be similar grants for cities.
We have to take the states on board. There is a provision for state finance commissions in our local bodies. But that is not effectively happening. Secondly, there is a big challenge before the system. We politicians, with short-term objectives in mind, have misled people. Sab kaam sarkar karegi, hum bekaar baithe to chalega: This mentality has come into the system. My grandfather used to call a village assembly during the onset of the monsoon and tell everyone to build a tank. Irrigation tanks are the lifelines of villages. And everybody used to work together. Nowadays, nobody is willing to remove even a small stone lying in front of his house. They would rather wait for the municipal corporator or MLA to take action. Secondly, municipalities give memorandum to the state government. The state government gives memorandum to the Central government. The Central government looks towards World Bank for funding. How long can you continue this? You have to make people pay for the services they get.
Rakesh Sinha: Why did the party feel the need to induct two leaders from the RSS?
If somebody wants to work in the political field and if they have a good background, it will only strengthen the organisation. Our relationship with the RSS is no secret, we are a product of the RSS and proud to be associated with it; nobody should have an objection.
D K Singh: On the issue of the Leader of Opposition, the PM has reportedly told you to go by the rules?
The PM has not told me anything. Secondly, this the domain of the Speaker. I don’t enter that domain. Kamal Nath, my friend and senior parliamentarian, must be talking out of his own experience. But I can assure you the Speaker is always neutral. After discussing all these, include threatening to go to court, now suddenly they have realised that there is no basis to their argument. They are now seeking support from other parties, as per media reports. Today we are in power, yesterday they were in power. They did not accord recognition to the TDP that was the largest party with 31 (in 1984). Now that you face a similar situation, you accuse us and criticise the Speaker. This is very unfortunate. Take the case of Telangana — the Congress brought the Bill, we supported it. There were a lot of issues on which we supported the government. I expect a similar thing. I appeal to the Opposition to understand the spirit of mandate.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj: Does the mandate allow you to appoint as party president a person who is facing serious criminal charges and who has been in jail and named in the illegal snooping on a woman?
This has nothing to do with the mandate, that is the choice of the party. This is all political vendetta. Nothing has been proved. Convicted people are part of the alliance on the other side. He (Amit Shah) has organisational abilities, and he has proven his capability. The party in its collective wisdom thought he was best suited for the role.
Ravish Tiwari: A mere whiff of a charge ensured that Nitin Gadkari did not get a second term. Here, a formal trial is going on. That is the difference.
It is a political case. And you know how the UPA used, misused and abused the CBI, ED, Income Tax and other departments. The matter is in the courts, the courts will decide. We are not giving him any constitutional position like the Congress did in the case of Sheila Dikshit. She was made governor to escape the law.
Vijaita Singh: Has Sheila Dikshit been asked to resign?
I don’t know. All political appointees must go with the political establishment.
Vijaita Singh: But many of them have refused to resign.
They have resigned to their fate. When the NDA lost, all the governors appointed by the NDA were unceremoniously removed by these people. Yes, suggestion has been made to resign. If they resign, fine. If they don’t resign, what to do? These people were selected on the basis of political loyalty.
Vijaita Singh: What will you do if they don’t resign?
That is not my domain.
Ruhi Bhasin: The UPA government had mooted a proposal to bring the Delhi Development Authority and Delhi Police under the Delhi government’s control.
There’s no government in Delhi. On the face of it, it looks attractive, but there are problems. If law and order is given to the Delhi government, you also have the national government here, you have embassies here. I am yet to discuss this issue with my colleagues.
Shruti Srivastava: Earlier, the BJP had criticised the UPA as having a welfare model. But your Budget has the same tone and tenor. Does it mean that you realise that now that you are on the other side, you will have to be pro-poor?
On one side, the criticism is that you are not bothered about food, you are only bothered about corporates. Now you are saying that we are pro-poor. Everyone has to be pro-poor. But to uplift the poor, you need to create wealth. Without creating wealth, you cannot distribute wealth. A balanced approach has been taken by the Finance Minister. Why the present economic situation has derailed — 43.3 per cent of the national revenue is being spent on interest repayment; this was Chidambaram’s statement in February during the interim budget. Then 23 per cent is spent on pensions. Where is the money? The minister has no cushion to do reforms. But he has done an excellent job. I am proud to have such a colleague.
The government is a continuous institution. If something needs to be continued, it should be continued. Simply because they started something, you debar it, that is not our approach. But the Congress is suffering from this dilemma. On one hand, they are saying, ‘you continue UPA policy’, and on the other, they are thrashing the Budget, which means they are thrashing themselves. It is opposition for the sake of opposition.
D K Singh: Two BJP MPs have moved a Bill in the Lok Sabha demanding a ban on cow slaughter. Is the government inclined to think about it?
These are members’ Bills, not government Bills. Party MPs have freedom to express themselves and suggest to the House. It is for the collective wisdom of the House to accept it or not.
Ravish Tiwari: In your opening remarks, you said that MPs are demanding houses. How will you build smart cities? Is there a criterion?
The House is in session, I will get feedback only when the ministry meets. There are different concepts like education cities, tourist cities, health cites and entertainment cites. We will study all of them and see what is feasible. The government should look at appeasement of none and justice for all.
Coomi Kapoor: A large number of MPs from the last Parliament seem to be in no hurry to vacate their houses.
Sometimes human element is also there. They have to vacate, I can’t go on placating them. They have to be persuaded.
Coomi Kapoor: If they agree to pay commercial rates, can they continue?
Am I a commercial establishment? I saw notings on files saying three times market rent may be charged. What is this? These have been given to non-MPs, former MPs, former ministers and chief ministers, people who do not deserve that particular category. People think that the minister has got powers and he can do and undo things. He can get it vacated or allocate to anybody. That is where I feel embarrassed. People say, ‘I have been living in this house for 15 years, I have spent this much on the house’. I handle when things come to my notice.
Vandita Mishra: You have been the party president. You have been a very senior leader of the BJP. Is there any concern among very senior leaders like you that Mr Modi seems to be tightening control on the government in every sense. There is centralisation of the PMO. Does that make you worried that there’s lesser space for different leaders or leaders outside the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine?
This is a totally wrong notion. This is the propaganda of our opponents. Narendra Modi was chosen as the leader after much deliberation and consultation. We came to a conclusion and it was proved correct by the people. It is not fair to say that the PM is controlling everything. The PM is the head of the country, head of the government, and so, naturally people look at him for guidance. There are many of us who are seniors and have enough experience in public life and we will be expressing our views from time to time. In the BJP, the president presides and the team decides.
Transcribed by Naveed Iqbal, Aditi Vatsa, Geeta Gupta & Kaunain Sheriff M