As the NDA government completes one year in office, Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development M Venkaiah Naidu tells Pradeep Kaushal that social security schemes are the government’s biggest achievements. Excerpts from the interview:
How do you sum up the performance of the NDA government?
The atmosphere of despair, hopelessness and frustration has been replaced by one of hope and confidence. Global respect for the government has gone up and investments are coming. The economic revival has begun. Corruption at the political level is not even heard of. The biggest achievements are social security schemes: Jan Dhan Yojana, financial inclusion, Janashree Bima Yojana, Jan Suraksha Yojana and Atal Pension Yojana. The thrust on reaching the unreached, funding the unfunded, banking the unbanked — this will revolutionise social sector in the country… See the sensitivity of this government: for over 40 years, farmers in distress used to be taken care of if 40 per cent of their crop was damaged; the prime minister reduced it to 30 per cent. Our government is making states partners in development in the spirit of Team India through devolution of 40 per cent funds to them, which marks a 10 per cent hike.
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There has been a lot of criticism about the frequency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign visits.
Compared to the earlier lacklustre foreign policy, there is a well-calibrated, dynamic and purposeful approach now. Wherever the PM is going, he is being admired. That is a major achievement for him as a person, someone who is new to national politics… Becoming the prime minister for the first time, covering 17 countries and getting a huge response everywhere is creditable.
People had very high expectations from this government. Do you think the government is able to match these expectations?
To use one sentence, the first year of the Narendra Modi government marks a clear statement of its intent, intensity, initiatives and pursuance of the promises made by it after the people’s mandate for a single-party majority after 30 years. Now people have to compare politics of development with politics of poverty. We believe in the uplift of all, irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion and region. We are determined to preserve the cultural identity of this country and our opponents are determined to preserve islands of poverty. We are conscious that the expectations of people are very high, but you cannot blame us. We have to first attend to core issues, bring structural changes, revive economy and then address the concerns of all sections.
How do you assess the performance of the Modi government in parliament?
A total of 47 bills were passed in parliament in one year, despite hurdles created by our main opposition party. The Bangladesh boundary agreement bill and the national judicial appointments bill were passed unanimously.
The stringent black money bill was passed by both houses. The obstructionist approach of the opposition is not going to help the country.
GST, for example, is a Congress initiative. It was discussed by a GoM, and consultations were held with chief ministers. Finally, it went to the Lok Sabha which approved it, but the Rajya Sabha sent it to a select committee because we don’t have a majority there. You criticise and attack us, but don’t obstruct progress — that is my advice to the opposition.
Somnath Chatterjee says Rajya Sabha is not a showpiece. Agreed, but at the same time, people’s mandate and their aspirations have to be understood and respected by both houses.
Rahul Gandhi is very critical of PM Modi, particularly his foreign visits. How do you view this, and his interventions in the Lok Sabha?
It is okay for some to be away on foreign soil for a self-discovery. The same people are now finding it wrong for Modi to pursue national interest with countries that matter. We don’t run after individuals… we are not spying on somebody. And even if we know, why should we make it public? He went on a personal vacation although parliament was in session. That is his priority. We did not make it an issue. Our prime minister’s whereabouts are always known, but his (Rahul’s) whereabouts were not known. His allegation that we are friends with corporates is a cheap tactic. What is a ‘suit boot sarkar’? Does he mean to say the poor should not wear suit-boot? There are many rich people who don’t wear suits. I want to tell him: Adani aur Ambani, aapka meherbani. They prospered during your rule. They did not come in the last 10 months. He should know that Modi is the messiah of the poor.
He (Rahul) has to do his homework. All his interventions (in parliament) were wrong, including those on Amethi food park and farmers’ suicides. He should come to parliament regularly. Coming once in a while is not going to help him. He has given zero out of ten to our prime minister. I only wish to say that zeroes find only zeroes. Zeroes cannot recognise heroes.
The BJP had called for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Was it just a catchy poll slogan or do you still subscribe to it?
We are serious. Congress-mukt means Congress-type governance, corruption, maladministration, policy paralysis and dynasty politics. The Congress is now a symbol of corruption, despondency and dynasty. If the Congress realises its mistakes, reforms itself and then goes to people, they have every right to do so.
You had earlier ruled out the possibility of a rethink on the land acquisition bill, but then the bill was referred to a JPC. Where do you stand now?
Without affecting the basic purpose of the land acquisition act, we are open to all ideas. We had agreed to nine amendments earlier. If there is some meaningful, constructive suggestion, which does not compromise the basic character of the act, we are ready to accept it. After all, we have referred it to a committee with an open mind. In principle, I am in favour of the BJD suggestion for making land losers partners in projects, but one has to see how it can be worked out. Some people are running a very vicious, malicious, cheap campaign against land acquisition. During the 10 years of UPA-rule — forget the 50 years earlier — they acquired more than 2 lakh acres of farm land for industrial, business and SEZ purposes.
The Haryana government has ordered an inquiry into Robert Vadra’s land deals. This coincides with Rahul’s increased attack on your government. Is the timing just a coincidence?
That (Vadra’s land deals) is a local issue. The central government has nothing to do with that (the probe by the Haryana government).
Do you foresee the possibility of a post-poll tie-up with Nitish Kumar in Bihar, in case the BJP does not get a majority in the assembly polls?
Why should we (have such an arrangement)? The BJP, along with LJP, is confident of getting a majority.
When will the government issue guidelines for selection of smart cities?
The cabinet approved the guidelines about 20 days ago. I gave the final touches yesterday. These will be released any time. We have a plan for upgradation and development of 500 cities, which have a population of over one lakh. We have launched a new scheme, Amrit Atal Urban Mission, for urban rejuvenation… Civic amenities in these cities — drinking water, sanitation and transport — will be upgraded.