Arun Jaitley is confident of Narendra Modi‘s return as Prime Minister and tells
Rajeev Deshpande and
Surojit Gupta that Rahul Gandhi‘s idea of minimum income guarantee is flawed
Is BJP’s election strategy based on national security?
No election is a one issue election. The only party which can provide governance is the BJP and its allies, a party with an absolute majority of its own and allies representing various parts of India and the leadership of Narendra Modi. The leadership matters – tried, tested leadership. This is an election where the country is reposing faith once again in Modi. His towering personality is dominating this election.
India for five years in a row, never before, became the fastest growing major global economy under an otherwise gloomy global situation. We were able to expand our revenue base. Look at the kind of reforms we brought about, some of these were unprecedented – GST, IBC, Aadhaar, monetary policy and so on. Without increasing a single tax rate over five years, this is the first government since 1947 which did not increase tax rates, which reduced them periodically. Villages now have roads, they have pucca houses, more are going to come in the next three years, they have 100 per cent electricity, 100 per cent sanitation.
National security is also one of the main issues. We were targeted by terror and we had a policy which we evolved over decades that we will respect the sanctity of the LoC and the international border. I think Modi took it a little forward and there are two distinct evidence on this. The first evolution of national security is that you can’t breach the LoC and the IB every day, kill my people and I respect the so-called sanctity. In the surgical strikes, we went across the LoC and destroyed terror camps. In the air strikes, we went into mainland Pakistan, destroyed the camps in Balakot, came back. Almost every major country in the world supported us, not one sign of protest.
Look at the anti-satellite missile. I saw an amazing statement from P Chidambaram. You never disclose this. A deterrent always has to be disclosed, the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese are not fools that they didn’t disclose it. If you have a nuclear capacity, then you have to disclose it, only then will it be a deterrent.
Another big issue is that it is possible to run India with a honest central government. We have cleaned up the system, we have cleaned up institutions, our mechanisms now make it clean.
You have called Rahul’s minimum income guarantee plan a bluff. Why?
I called it a bluff because the family has a history of just giving ‘
garibi hatao‘ as a slogan, Panditji gave it, Indiraji gave it, Rajiv Gandhi gave it and now this young man is giving it. They have no idea how it is to be done. Panditji and Indiraji failed completely because they thought the Hindu rate of growth coming from a regulated economy 3.5 per cent is enough to transfer resources. It transferred nothing, in fact you could not get anyone out of poverty. For the first time in India we have started getting the poverty figures down, 2011 was 21.9 per cent, today it would have depleted after eight years a little and with the kind of measures we have taken it would have depleted more.
Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has said he has been consulted and he thinks it is possible?
According to me, when people take political sides, I factor that in when I analyse that statement. I wish to add nothing more. I have yet to read an analysis coming from serious economists or an observer who thinks that this is doable. Of course, for political slogan purposes, this is alright but when somebody decides and anticipates politics as a next career, I look at statements as a potential politician and not merely as an economist.
How do you look at the fact that a former RBI governor is being consulted by a political party?
When former governors join the political fight, the whole cause propagated for autonomy for institutions itself gets hurt. If this trend continues, it will become difficult for future governments to trust governors appointed by the earlier party. Otherwise, because of succession, nobody changes governors. We also allowed Dr Rajan a full term. He is a very brilliant man but after getting into the political thicket, if you make statements, then I will take it as a more political than economic.
Our data is prepared by the CSO and many organisations and vetted at various stages and most of the time, I read it in the newspapers. It doesn’t come to me the previous evening. The IMF, which is the key institution on data accepts it. As far as the RBI is concerned, we had a disagreement on the analysis of the economy. Every circumstance has proved us right and the RBI wrong.
Are you worried about the slowdown signals in the economy?
I don’t think one needs to over-react. Auto sales, yes that’s a subject of concern which is being independently analysed as to why this is happening. There could be multiple reasons for it. When the March figures of GST comes in the next 24 hours or 48 hours, they are a direct reflection of how much purchases would have taken place in February.
What is the government doing to repair the damage caused by the IL&FS crisis?
I am monitoring it personally, the government is monitoring at all levels, including the highest level. A very competent set of people have been handling it. There is bound to be a hole, there is an asset liability mismatch and they will probably try and reduce that mismatch to the best possible extent.
Are you confident that Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya will be brought back to face trial in the country?
I think we have sent a chill to these fugitives. Just run away across the boundaries of this country and you won’t be found out – that happened under earlier governments, it won’t happen now. Wherever you are, India is a powerful state, our legal system is powerful, our investigative agencies are extremely competent, our diplomatic capacity is also very strong.
What is your impression of Priyanka Gandhi?
Why comment on her? She hasn’t said anything so significant. Her views are still masked so why should I comment on it at all. I am yet to hear her wisdom on policy matters. We know the non-wisdom of her brother. We are still to hear her wisdom on policy matters. Wisdom can’t be
hum garibon ke saath hain, ye amiro ke saath hain. You have to grow up into a higher level of debate.