DEMONETISATION: Demonetisation stole the money of the poor, ruined their businesses and made them paupers. This is because craftsmen and villagers deal in cash and do not have bank accounts and were the worst hit by demonetisation. Critics say BJP cronies had advance notice and could convert their ‘black’ money to white making it nothing but a publicity stunt to fool the public that the fight against black money was ongoing
By Riyad Mathew And Sachidananda Murthy
In an exclusive interview to The Week Rahul Gandhi pointed out how Narendra Modi has ruined the economy with demonetisation and GST. Instead of getting black money back he has allow the biggest chor to get away with robbing banks. The Congress on the other hand is more concerned with providing jobs and a minimum income of `6,000 to the 20% poorest section of the population…
As the principal challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi is on an intense and passionate campaign across the country. The Congress president’s energy matches his hectic schedule.
After spending a day in Gujarat — attending prayers at Sabarmati Ashram, holding a meeting of the Congress Working Committee at Sardar Patel National Memorial, and addressing a mega rally, where he shared the dais with his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — Rahul flew south to Chennai on March 13.
After receiving an exuberant welcome from Congress workers in the city, he began his day with a long and lively interaction with thousands of students who gathered at the prestigious Stella Maris College. He then went to Nagercoil, on the southern tip of the country, to address an election rally.
The time spent flying from Chennai to Thiruvananthapuram on a ten-seat aircraft served as lunchbreak. Rahul had roti with chicken curry, biryani, salad and yoghurt. Also on board were former Union minister P Chidambaram, Congress’s Tamil Nadu unit president KS Alagiri and Mukul Wasnik, the Congress general secretary in charge of Kerala.
Post lunch, Rahul gave THE WEEK his first exclusive interview after kickstarting his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections. He spoke to Chief Associate Editor and Director Riyad Mathew and Resident Editor Sachidananda Murthy on a wide range of issues. His talk, much like the white kurta-pyjama he was wearing, was both sharp and relaxed.
He spoke at length about his ideological battle with Modi, issues related to national security and defence purchases, the crises confronting farmers and the youth, Priyanka’s entry into politics and his startlingly different vision for India.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. The elections have been announced and you have travelled across the country. What is the mood of the people?
A. There is a crisis in the country. [There is] unemployment, and agriculture is in tremendous crisis. That is a distinct feeling I get when I travel around India. Both these issues are interrelated. The jobs question is directly related to agriculture, and agriculture is connected to the economic system. And the jobs issue is also related to how you bring people into the banking system. So that is one flavour that is there.
The second big flavour is that Mr Modi generates hate. So his mechanism of politics is hateful. And that has its costs. You can’t have a country that is divided, which is full of hate, and get the levels of economic growth that India requires to generate a huge number of jobs.
And the final thing is, there is a systematic assault on institutions. You can see that in the Supreme Court, in the RBI, the CBI and in Parliament, where none of the members are allowed to speak. It is a full-scale attack on the institutional framework of the country. All this impacts the mood and confidence of the nation.
Q. Regarding the assault on institutions and the BJP government taking control of them, what are the corrective actions the Congress will take if it comes to power?
A. The heart of the problem is that India is a young country, and our youngsters can’t see a future. They can’t see how they can pull themselves out of this jobs crisis, and the Indian government has to give them an answer to this.
The first step in resolving a crisis is accepting that there is a problem. I am very clear about the fact that when the last UPA government was in power, we were unable to do enough to resolve the jobs crisis. What Mr Modi has done, however, is to aggravate the situation by introducing demonetisation and Gabbar Singh Tax (Goods and Services Tax), and allowing Anil Ambani-style crony capitalism to run rampant.
The country is looking for leadership, but what it gets are inane, meaningless slogans from the PM. Make in India, Startup India—these are the expressions of a man bankrupt of ideas.
Q. The prime minister says 10 crore jobs have been created.
A. I don’t know what the government is talking about, and neither does the rest of the country. Wherever you go, people say business is down. Ask the youth in rural India and in smaller towns and cities what they do, and the answer you hear most often is, nothing.
China creates 50,000 jobs every day. India creates just 450, as per government figures. Today, I asked 3,000 young girls at Stella Maris College, whether they were confident of getting a job when they graduate. They said, ‘No, we are not.’
I don’t know who the PM has been listening to. Perhaps his NSA (national security adviser) Ajit Doval has a plan.
Q. Agrarian distress has been increasing and all political parties have come up with schemes. Congress and its partners have focused on loan waivers. But the Centre and the Telangana government have relied on direct cash transfer to small farmers. What is your longterm plan to ensure that farmers and farm workers earn decent incomes?
A. I believe that agriculture is a strategic asset and the core strength of India — a belief that the BJP doesn’t share. They made this evident when they announced their direct cash transfer of
3.5 a day per farmer, which will do next to nothing in alleviating the financial concerns of farmers.
How is it that they (the government) can forego3.5 lakh crore [owed by] the 15 richest people, but can’t do the same for farmers? Loan waivers will not solve the problems faced by the Indian farmer. They are a temporary measure.
By the way, why do we call these farm loan waivers, and not NPAs (non-performing assets) like we do when it comes to big business?
These loan waivers to farmers are confidence builders. But to solve their problems, we need to connect the Indian farmer to technology and the global market. For them to succeed, we need to give them cold chain facilities, food processing units, storage facilities and credit on reasonable terms. What we need is a second Green Revolution that will transform Indian agriculture and make it sustainable and profitable for our farmers. Only the Congress can pull this off.
Q. The minimum income guarantee scheme you proposed is being touted as a game-changer. Why do you think it has the power to transform India?
A. I don’t think minimum income guarantee alone has the power to transform India. But, under the current circumstances and at the level of pain India is feeling, it is a requirement.
It is an idea on an unimaginable scale that we have been working on for a long time now. The idea is that no Indian should live below a certain income level. The Indian government will directly transfer money to those living below that level, so that every citizen in this country has a minimum income.
Giving people a sense of security is one component of transformation, but we need to go beyond that. Going beyond it would mean tackling the jobs crisis on a war footing. We have some interesting ideas in our manifesto on entrepreneurship, and on how we will treat small and medium industries and the type of freedom we will give them. To transform India, we also have to free financial institutions from the clutches of crony capitalists. I ask a simple question: There are 12 lakh crore NPAs, but how many people got that money? Why is it that none of these NPAs belong to small entrepreneurs? Why is it that they all belong to the same 15-20 people?
I understand that a lot of people who have NPAs are extremely competent businessmen, and they should certainly be treated differently than pure crony-capitalists like Nirav Modi, Anil Ambani, Vijay Mallya and Mehul Choksi. The fundamental problem is the complete capture of India’s financial institutions by crony capitalists, with Mr Modi acting as the mascot of this capture.
Q. After the electoral setbacks in 2018, the BJP has been aggressive in addressing concerns of farmers, unorganised labour, military and paramilitary personnel and the salaried classes. Haven’t they reclaimed the momentum?
A. Everything that the BJP has been doing in the last one year, is being done with an eye on the elections. They only wake up to the plight of citizens when they are worried about losing their hold on power. The youth, farmers and small business owners, who have fared disastrously under the BJP over the past five years, have realised this. Their concerns and problems have been ignored and belittled, and they want change. The hypernationalist environment the BJP is trying to create, where anyone who disagrees with the BJP is branded antinational, is only to distract from the issues of unemployment, agrarian crisis, violence and the massive failures of the government on practically every front.
Q. You have aggressively campaigned on the Rafale issue, repeatedly saying that the prime minister is corrupt. But the BJP says you have not produced any evidence.
A. Mr Modi also said that he is going to fight corruption, and if I remember correctly, his statement was, “Mujhe pradhanmantri mat banao, mujhe chowkidaar banao.”
HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) has been building aircraft for 70 years. Anil Ambani has never built an aircraft in his life. Under (the UPA) deal, one aircraft cost
526 crore; in Mr Modi’s deal, the same aircraft costs1,600 crore.
Anil Ambani opens his company 10 days before he gets the contract. He knows he is going to get the contract and he says so in the French defence minister’s office. Anil Ambani is photographed flying [in] a Rafale aircraft. The defence ministry documents say Mr Modi carried out a parallel negotiation and helped secure Anil Ambani `30,000 crore worth of offsets.
The CBI chief is sacked at 1:30 am because he is going to order an investigation. The Supreme Court reinstates him and then he is sacked again. This is pretty open-and-shut. The negotiating team has laid out the places where the prime minister has bypassed the system. They have actually said that if the prime minister doesn’t believe in their negotiating ability, he should do the negotiation himself. So, why is there not an investigation into this? And why is the media, including you guys, not raising this?
Q. Our magazine did cover….
A. Let me tell you something else, the Rafale deal is the tip of an iceberg. Actually what Mr Modi has done is that he has systematically handed over massive amount of defence funds to his friends. And, you will see, this stuff will come out, sooner than later, hopefully.
This is not just one deal that we are talking about. There are multiple deals where we suspect that this has happened. But, again, no investigation, no questions. The prime minister sits for one and a half hours in Parliament, gives his speech and doesn’t mention Rafale. I asked him four questions on Rafale. He didn’t reply to a single one.
Q. You met HAL workers. What were their reactions?
A. They told me that Mr Anil Ambani and Mr Modi have stolen from HAL. The workers were threatened. They were not allowed to come to my meeting. Those who attended were reprimanded and punished. But they spoke honestly. They spoke the truth.
Q. If you come to power, would you reserve national security for public sector alone?
A. One need not reserve national security for the public sector.
Q. We meant defence production.
A. No. There has to be a mix. We are not against private players getting into defence. We are against somebody who has absolutely no experience in defence being given one of the world’s biggest defence contracts.
Look, people at (Rafale manufacturer) Dassault said that it was risky for them to give this man this contract, because he has no experience. So, apart from the fact that Anil Ambani has been given a `30,000-crore gift, it is also a national security problem, because he has no idea how to build that plane.
On the other hand, HAL is a strategic asset, built over many decades into a formidable company with strong R&D and a great talent pool. To deliberately cripple it to the extent that it can’t even pay salaries on time, and to take away key production contracts like the Rafale, merely to benefit a private contractor, is unfair. We will fight it.
Q. The BJP says voting it out will lead to chaos, economic deceleration and weaknesses in national security.
A. The idea that Mr Modi is imposing order on India is ridiculous. I don’t understand how demonetisation was imposing order. It was absolute buffoonery. Any economist will tell you that the person who came up with demonetisation does not have a clue as to what that person is talking about. Imposing a five-tier GST on India — what type of order are you talking about? We don’t want that order.
India is a management of contradictions. Within it, there is order and chaos; there is unity and diversity. Our special strength is our ability to manage this. If you go to the Europeans and say ‘unity and diversity’, they would look at you and ask, ‘What are you talking about?’ They cannot absorb this complexity. Our unique design is that we can.
One man, whether Mr Modi or myself, are not going to be able to provide all the answers. These answers lie in the expressions, voice and feelings of the people of India. Our job, as leaders, is to embrace that, and to understand and deal with those feelings. If India is uncomfortable, to tell her there is no reason to be uncomfortable. If [she is] overconfident, to tell her ‘wait a minute, you are being overconfident’.
Mr Modi takes India’s most negative aspects — fear, hatred and anger — and magnifies them, while Mahatma Gandhi took and magnified our most powerful aspects — love, compassion and non-violence. On one side, you have the idea of [Nathuram] Godse; if you don’t like something, you put three bullets in its chest. On the other, you have the idea of Gandhiji; even if someone puts three bullets in your chest, you won’t hate them.
This is the greatness of our country and this is what this election is about.
This is not a personal battle. I have no animosity towards the prime minister, but I see him as an expression of India’s weaknesses — anger and hatred. There are so many thousands of people in our country who do the opposite, and express the most positive and powerful things of our nation, like the 3,000 women college students I met today.
Q. What about the argument that only the Modi government can give a strong response to terrorism?
A. Look, I understand that Pakistan will take every opportunity to carry out terrorism in India. But, is it not the responsibility of our government to stop them? Where was the prime minister when those 40 CRPF men died? He was making a video! Look at the insensitivity of the man. He spent three and a half hours after the event making a video!
Who is it that masterminded the attack? Masood Azhar. Who released him, escorted him to Kandahar and handed him over to Pakistan? The BJP, because they couldn’t face terrorists in Kandahar.
Please look at the number of people who died in Jammu and Kashmir between 2004-14 and 2014-19, and how the numbers have increased. The statistics speak for themselves.
Q. If it comes to power, what will the Congress do to tackle terrorism?
A. We showed, between 2004 and 2014, how to fight terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. When we left the government in 2014, deaths in Kashmir had fallen dramatically. Peace had returned. We did it how? We did it by being strong with Pakistan, by isolating Pakistan internationally, by putting massive amount of pressure on them, by punishing them when they misbehaved. We also did it by securing our own people in Jammu and Kashmir — by embracing them, by giving them a vision, by showing them that India cares, by showing them that actually India is a better way forward, by showing them that you can actually get jobs in India, by showing that you can get political decentralisation in India through the panchayati raj system.
Q. What contributed to the Congress revival in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh? You surprised observers by going for seniority over youth. Is this the way forward?
A. Our victory in these states was a result of good team work, strong candidates who were hungry to win, and our ability to effectively communicate our vision for change.
We performed well in rural areas. It indicated that farmers, who were crippled by debts, falling productivity and low prices, had had enough of the BJP. In urban areas, unemployment was a huge issue that turned people away from the BJP, as were the destruction of small businesses because of policies like demonetisation and a badly executed GST. Women, too, were insecure with the growing attacks against them. All this combined to help us win these states convincingly.
We balanced youth with the older generation. It’s an evolutionary process. It is not that we are relying only on the older generation, but we are doing things harmoniously. You will see, over time, more younger people becoming visible. In fact, there are already quite a few young, new faces in key positions—like Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who is a young, dynamic gentleman.
Q. What about Priyanka? Why did you give a tough role to your sister?
A. It is all about timing! In the short term, Uttar Pradesh, seen from the perspective of the Lok Sabha elections, is certainly a tough role. But, if you are looking at the Vidhan Sabha elections, then it is not as tough a role. You will see that conditions in UP are now developing. The Congress is going to do extremely well in the next assembly elections. UP is a huge opportunity and she is capable. She will succeed there over time.
Q. Her strengths?
A. She has compassion. And she is honest. And she wants to do something for others, genuinely. She is not too bothered about herself.
Q. Will the Congress win majority in the coming elections?
A. Majority for the UPA coalition is a certainty. I think the Congress will do much better than expected. But majority for the UPA, for sure.
Q. Will you be prime minister if all goes well?
A. That is not for me to say. That is for the people of India to say. That is for India to decide. My job right now is to make sure that this ideological fight that is taking place is won by those I call the Uniters—the people who want to see this country together. And I see myself as someone, one of the many people, defending the institutions of this country. And frankly, at the end, defending the Constitution of India.
Q. There is no pan-India coalition.
A. Broadly, the entire coalition is standing against Mr Modi and the BJP. And we have an understanding with our partners in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. Those alliances are firmed up.
There are also opposition forces we may not enter into an alliance with, but with whom we are aligned ideologically and who will work with us to ensure that the BJP does not return to power in Delhi.
Our party is a democratic one, and we take all points of view into consideration before taking a decision. Prior to taking a call on the chief ministers of [Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh], we asked all elected representatives and our workers across these states for their inputs. We ultimately made a decision based on the consensus. It is this inclusive, consensus-based decision-making process that we will carry forward.
Q. You are friendly with the left in Bengal but strongly oppose them in Kerala.
A. Yes, we do work with the left in Bengal, while we oppose them in Kerala. These are unconnected. The local units in each state have an important role to play in determining these alliances.
Q. Do you expect the CPI(M) to join a Congress-led government?
A. Of course. The entire opposition is standing united against Mr Modi. The BJP’s partners, even they are not happy. I won’t name them, but we get feelers from their partners regularly.
Courtesy: The Week