Rajnath Singh interview: ‘(Valley) turmoil will end… How long can a handful of leaders betray people’https://indianexpress.com/elections/lok-sabha-elections-rajnath-singh-pulwama-attack-kashmir-narendra-modi-bjp-5657446/

Rajnath Singh interview: ‘(Valley) turmoil will end… How long can a handful of leaders betray people’

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh talks about the BJP’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections, the government’s achievements and its approach in Kashmir.

Rajnath Singh: ‘(Valley) turmoil will end... How long can a handful of leaders betray people’
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh during an interview with the Indian Express at his residence in New Delhi on Saturday. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh talks about the BJP’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections, the government’s achievements and its approach in Kashmir. Excerpts:

The Congress has released its manifesto. It has more than matched your promises of Rs 6,000 per annum for small and marginal farmers. Its promise of minimum income guarantee is not only higher in entitlement (Rs 72,000 per annum) but also for a much wider section of poor people. As the chairman of BJP’s manifesto committee, it must be playing on your mind.

Congress has traditionally misled the poor across the country since the first elections in 1951-52. Pandit Nehru promised Garibi Hatao, Indira Gandhi also promised Garibi Hatao. Rajiv Gandhi took a similar vow. Now Rahul Gandhi is making this promise. But the issue that was alive in 1951 has continued till today despite them ruling for 55-60 years. So, I think this promise is an attempt to cheat the poor. As for the specifics, they promise to bridge the income gap up to Rs 12,000. Then how does every poor household get Rs 72,000 per annum? What about the poor earning Rs 10,000 per month? Their proposals are very ambiguous.

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But wouldn’t it create pressure on you as BJP’s manifesto committee head to come out with populist promises.

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That’s why BJP doesn’t call it Ghoshna Patra but describes it as Sankalp Patra which I am in charge to prepare. We will honour every word of our commitments in Sankalp Patra, because BJP believes that our words and deeds must match. But parties like Congress and others make promises but do not honour them. Their words and deeds don’t match. It creates a crisis of credibility. BJP has taken it as a challenge to ensure this crisis of credibility doesn’t deepen further in politics and public life.

But, the Congress charge is that Modi government is ‘jumla’ government while ‘Congress will deliver’.

But, we have delivered and will deliver again. How can people trust them when they haven’t been able to fulfill one agenda since 1951.

Of late, BJP has appeared faltering in its electoral march. It suffered defeats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The cadres seem to be demoralised.

There is no question of demoralisation. Not only are we at power at Centre, but are also running the highest number of state governments. Yes, it is true that we didn’t get expected results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. But, you should notice that we had 0.5 per cent more votes than Congress in Madhya Pradesh. Yes, in Chhattisgarh, we were defeated. But we were in power for 15 years in those places. Some anti-incumbency is natural where one is in power for a long term. It’s possible that this factor played its role. But, the people of the country still trust Prime Minister Narendra Modi and their trust has only grown through the last five years. People believe that India’s stature has risen globally after Modi became Prime Minister. They are also aware that India has grown into the sixth largest economy in the world in the last over four-and-a-half years and we will soon become the fifth largest economy in the coming year. In contrast, inflation used to be almost double the growth rate during the Congress rule. It is now less than half the growth rate now. Taking quick decisions and acting on it has generated public trust. Electorate in aware of what happened after the 2008 Mumbai (attacks). Nothing was done. Haath per haath rakhe baithe rahe (they sat with their hands tied). But, we are not going to sit with our hands tied if someone tries to take liberty with our national pride. We will give a befitting reply. India has shown its mettle.

Also Read | Upset Shaina has message for BJP: Field more women in polls

But the strategic community has been left wondering if our step was a reckless decision taken in anger.

It was a well thought out decision. It would have been reckless if we targeted their Army installations or innocent citizens. We were conscious that innocent citizens are not hit and their army in not targeted. We took these precautions and targeted terrorist hideouts based on credible intelligence inputs.

None of the global mediapersons who have reported from that side have confirmed our claims.

It’s a matter of common sense that people of other countries hesitate to acknowledge the rising power of a country. Who would like to acknowledge the rising power of India? So, they will keep creating doubts. But, unfortunately, people in opposition here want to see dead bodies. The brave hit and move on, don’t look behind to count the casualties.

But, their point is you are indulging in politics over this issue.

Opposition is playing politics over it. They want to get a count of dead bodies (from Balakot). They want to see dead bodies. How can we fetch dead bodies for them? If they were so keen, they should have gone and seen for themselves. Now, even Pakistan would have disposed that off. This is the first time India gave a befitting reply with a targeted hit based on credible intelligence. But they want to see dead bodies.

But, the Opposition’s point is that you are hyping air strike to distract attention from the intelligence failure behind Pulwama attack.

Hype? What does Congress want? They want us to sit silently like they did after the 26/11 Mumbai attack? What suggestion does Congress have? They want our forces to go and count dead bodies after the airstrike?

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Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “Congress has traditionally misled the poor across the country since the first elections in 1951-52.”  (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

But what about fixing accountability behind the intelligence failure in Pulwama?

These kinds of terror attacks are difficult to predict. We can’t say it was because of an intelligence failure. Was it an intelligence failure of Modiji? The entire issue is being investigated. It’s not appropriate to blame intelligence failure beforehand. Let the investigation get over before arriving at any conclusion.

The way the BJP has shifted its gear in election campaigns — invoking Pakistan and “Hindu terror” — seems it is relying upon polarisation for its success this time

You people have a very short memory. In 2014-15 itself, I had given a free hand to BSF in dealing with Pakistan. My instruction was very clear: Do not start a bullet fire against Pakistan, but do not hold your bullets in retaliation if they fire one.

Also Read | If Indira Gandhi was credited for dividing Pakistan, why not credit Modi for Balakot airstrikes: Rajnath Singh

How do you look back at the internal security situation in the last five years? What risks and challenges do you foresee now, things that you feel satisfied with and things you think we should remain vigilant against?

I do not look back. The person handling internal security doesn’t have the luxury to feel satisfied. It is not possible to be completely satisfied with internal security. But, the internal security situation in Northeast hasn’t been as peaceful as now since 1997. Naxalism has witnessed massive retreat, it has shrunk from 126 districts to a 5-6 districts now. This is a major achievement. There hasn’t been a major terror attack either. We neutralised those who perpetrated Pathankot and Gurdaspur.

Kashmir is one internal security challenge. It had a phase of calmness that continued till the initial years of your government. But it has plunged into a turmoil in last couple of years. Don’t you think there have been some missteps?

There has been no lapse. Whatever could be done has been done. This turmoil will end. We are on track to end this for all time. How long can a handful of leaders keep betraying the people there and play with their future? We will not allow this. We are going to develop Kashmir. Kashmiris have a distinct identity in the country. They have talent.

You were among top leaders of the ruling establishment advocated embracing Kashmiris. But now it appears no one is bothered about their alienation, even leaders of mainstream parties.

See, actions are being taken against those trying to foment a sense of alienation among the people there at the behest of Pakistan. Actions are also being taken against those promoting terror.

But it appears there is no light at the end of this tunnel

There will be a dawn at the end of the night. It’s nature’s eternal law.

But, the nature of the dawn isn’t clear to public at large.

It will be beautiful. Dawn is not far away from the track which we have undertaken. Khoobsoorat hogi.

Isn’t it frightening that youth aged 18 onwards are now wielding guns?

We have shown utmost sympathy with the youth earlier. We demonstrated sympathy with stonepelters earlier. I had consented to waiving off cases against 9,000-10,000 first-time stonepelters. But terrorism is a global phenomenon. The entire international community needs to be alive to this challenge. Large number of countries are getting on board now. They will have to do it.

But, do you think this iron hand approach works?
Absolutely

In Kashmir, you have created such a situation that mainstream parties have taken such a position that makes your (BJP) position very difficult.

Situation is very clear. Our position is very clear.

What is your position on Article 35A? Both mainstream parties there are declaring that they will have to rethink their association with India if Articles 370 and 35A are not there.

Are they dreaming that we are abolishing it? We haven’t said anything on it as yet. Why are they hallucinating?

Because you are indicating so.

What is the indication?

That you will abolish 370 and 35A.

Separatists there will have to mend their ways and cooperate in the development of Kashmir. Whatever we will do will be in the best interests of Kashmir.

But, you are not spelling out your position on Article 35A.

Why hasn’t Jammu and Kashmir been able to join the ranks of developed states despite Article 370 and 35A. Who is responsible for that? The central government has made maximum possible funding available for Jammu and Kashmir. Who is responsible for this (backwardness)? I want to ask leaders from there.

So, you think removing those provisions will help speed up development?

I am not saying this. But, let there be a debate. This is a good beginning. We will do whatever is necessary.

Do you think these two provisions are placing an obstacle in the development of Kashmir?

They had Articles 35A, 370, maximum funding from central government, why hasn’t Jammu and Kashmir joined the queue of developed states. They don’t have shortage of natural resources or talented human resources… Still why is it not happening? Even the state has been run from the people there. I want an answer of this (from mainstream parties there).

But, both mainstream parties are contesting elections on this issue.

Let them do whatever they want. But, they should answer this question.

The Northeast is another hotspot. In the initial years of your government, issues appeared on track. But, in the last one year, your proposal of citizenship Bill has upset the entire region and brought it to boiling point

It hasn’t reached any boiling point. Election results will bear testimony to this. Though the Bill couldn’t get passed, we had very categorically said whether it’s Assam or any other state in the region, we will not compromise with their identity. Protecting their culture and heritage will be our responsibility. We will ensure that. We had assured that.

Are they assured?

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Absolutely. This is the first government since Vajpayee’s which is paying special attention to the people of Northeast. Atalji created a ministry for the Northeast, Modiji insists that every minister visit Northeast at least 3-4 times every year. We are making heavy investments in Northeast.

There has been a political realignment in UP. But the BJP either appears overconfident or in denial mood to the realities there. How will the SP-BSP alliance impact you?

Their alliance is an outcome of desperation. People are with BJP there. Ten weak people can’t fight a strong person just by assembling together.

But, two is better than one.

Two people who have been defanged cannot take on a strong person.

But you will admit that the contest this time is tougher.

There is no contest

That your seat tally will take a hit cannot be denied in UP now

People’s trust in PM has gone up as compared to 2014. That is an additional factor.

But you will also have to bear the burden of state government.

It has only been about two years in the state, where do you see anti-incumbency?

The UP government has given sleepless nights to farmers as they busy saving crops from cattle.

The CM has made arrangements for this in each district by making available fund for cow shelters

That was after the crops were destroyed

But it has been done now.

What’s your assessment of slip in seats in UP?

There will be no slip. Additionally, we will gain seats in West Bengal, Odisha and south India.

You are saying that you will offset your losses in UP from south India?

We are not going to lose much in UP.

Unlike last time when you were selling dreams, this time BJP will also have anti-incumbency against its state governments in several states.

We will have pro-incumbency. There is no anti-incumbency. Chhattisgarh and MP were different cases. We had been in power for 15 years there.

But, BJP’s panic after MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan loss was very evident in January and February. The government announced EWS quota, PM-KISAN income support scheme for farmers and measures like no income tax up to Rs 5 lakh taxable income

We have always been committed to Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. The poor left out of reservations will benefit from EWS quota.

BJP’s actions seem to be mimicking a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to another. From swearing by Ambedkar and Dalits to wooing upper castes to avoid a backlash

That’s not true. Didn’t Ambedkar believe in Sabka Vikas? You should realise that Ambedkar did not indulge in the politics of caste and creed. Let’s not misinterpret Ambedkar. Ambedkar was keen on development of everyone.

The Modi government’s fascination to project a bright picture has cast doubts on statistics by experts, whether it is GDP back series or NSSO job data, giving an impression that BJP prefers fudging the numbers instead of acknowledging the data.

What we are saying is the truth. There are some who want to misrepresent reality. God knows from which place they source their data, we do not need their data. Our statistics in based upon credible agencies.

But job data suggests a poor situation.

How can you believe that when facts are otherwise? Massive infrastructure development is taking place with about Rs 21 lakh crore worth of projects in the last five years. You will have to admit this. Whether rail, road or air connectivity, there has been massive construction in the road sector and a rise in number of airports. People who were skilled under the mission have got jobs, over four crore new loans under MUDRA has generated new jobs. Haven’t these created jobs? No one can punch holes in these facts.

Farmers’ distress is another issue that has hobbled your government. It was reflected in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan results

Let the election results come and you will get the truth. The quantum of work we have done for farmers, no earlier government has done. We have made the MSP for 22 agricultural items 50 per cent more than the input cost. It is our resolve to double farmers’ income by 2022. We have tackled fertiliser shortage. PM-KISAN is the latest initiative.

Opposition parties accuse BJP of being the government of agencies where you target political opponents

We are targeting no one. Agencies are doing their job. There is no instruction on who to target and who not to.

Maybe because they have decided to take on the BJP unitedly in elections

They all put together are not in a position to defeat us. First of all, they are unlikely to close ranks. None of them have the temperament to work together.

An impression has been generated about the BJP government’s interference in the working of institutions like Supreme Court, RBI and others

Our government has remained commited to the autonomy of institutions.

But, we saw a press conference of Supreme Court judges during your tenure, apparently to caution against the interference from the government.

We got the press conference done? It was an internal matter of judiciary and they would know it better. It was not against the government.

Power corridors in Delhi speculate that the party can think of other names as a potential choice in case BJP falls short of numbers in the coming elections

Absolutely not. This is a completely hypothetical question. We are going to get a clear majority.

Remarks of former party president Nitin Gadkari were being interpreted as him throwing his hat in the ring

People have wrongly interpreted Nitin Gadkari. It’s clear cut — the PM will be the person who has been projected. These interpretations are pedalled by our political adversaries. There is no substance in them.

But, Congress is shouting ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ to caution the public

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Chowkidar pure hai, dobara PM banna sure hai, desh ki janta ne bhi keh diya once more hai, desh ki samasyaon ka Wahi cure hai.