Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the contentious land acquisition bill and stressed his government’s commitment to implementing the “one rank one pension” (OROP) scheme for retired military personnel.
Modi accused the Congress of politicising OROP and said previous governments did not have the right to speak about the issue because they did nothing when they were in power.
The government is "in constant discussions with the armed forces personnel to arrive at a please-all definition of OROP of which there are varied versions”, he said in an interview to The Tribune newspaper.
"No one should have any doubts about OROP's implementation…But there are varied versions about what the definition of OROP should be. Would it be proper for me to take a decision without keeping the armed forces personnel in the loop? So we are trying to arrive at a please-all decision," he said.
In an apparent dig at Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who recently threatened protests if OROP is not implemented soon, Modi said, "OROP for me is not a political programme. For 57 years the jawans have been demanding OROP, but the past governments did nothing. Those who were part of then governments must realise they don't have the right to speak on this issue. They should be told this in their face."
On the land acquisition bill, opposed by the opposition in parliament, Modi attacked the Congress for describing the bill as anti-farmer. He said, "What about the law which has been in existence since 1893 and which the Congress used to acquire land for 60 years? How can those who used an archaic, bad law for 60 years, talk about another law being anti-farmer?
“Those who used the old law and forced three lakh farmers to commit suicides don't have even one per cent moral right to talk about farmers.”
Asked if the government is confident about the bill's passage after it was referred to a joint parliamentary committee in the recently concluded budget session, he said: "This is not for me a question of life and death, nor was it the agenda of my party or my government.
“State chief ministers insisted for a change saying the old bill would not help them. I, as the head of the federal government, thought of addressing their anxieties…Not one decision taken in respect of the law is anti-farmer."
Modi spoke on a range of issues, from politics to foreign policy, and about the need for a dedicated Central cadre of officers for the Union government to ensure continuity and homogeneity in service.
He targeted the Congress for constantly mocking his "achhe din" slogan. Saying that the opposition had targeted him for promising "achhe din" from day one, Modi subtly attacked the Gandhi family.
"They have the right to ridicule us, but it would have been good to ask the Congress which has been talking about 'garibi hatao' since 1970 as to what happened to that promise. They had 440 people in parliament. Four people from one family ran this country for all these years. So what happened?"
Asked for his definition of good days, Modi said: "The promise of good days is always in relation to the previously existing bad days…bad days of corruption, of scams, of policy paralysis, of coal and spectrum have ended. These were the issues bothering the country."
Modi also reacted to Rahul Gandhi's "suit boot ki sarkar" jibe, describing the remark as a reflection of opposition's bankruptcy of ideas.
"They could not find one concrete issue to criticise the government in this one year. This is our most important success. All they can accuse us of is – the PMO has gained strength. The second charge is that Modi is arrogant; the third is about the clothes he wears," he said, recalling a familiar Congress accusation from his days as the Gujarat chief minister.
The BJP government has moved forward in ensuring good days by ending the existing bad days of corruption, he said: "There is now no question of corruption."
Citing the example of coal block auctions, Modi made an oblique reference to his predecessor Manmohan Singh who continues to be questioned for his silence during the coal and spectrum scams.
"To end corruption you have to exhibit zero tolerance to it. It is not enough for me alone to be honest. I must display zero tolerance to corruption every moment through my tone, tenor, policy, practice…I can't run the country satisfied that I am myself non-corrupt."
Manmohan Singh said earlier this week he never used his office to enrich himself or his family.
Modi said there would be strict implementation of anti-black money laws and criticised the Congress for repeatedly questioning his government's intention.
"No one who has ever been in power at the Centre has the right to question our government on black money because black money was generated during their terms and they are responsible for not checking its generation. Secondly, they didn't constitute the SIT (Special Investigation Team) even three years after the Supreme Court asked them to. They gave an escape route to black money holders. Had they acted on Supreme Court orders, the treasury would have been richer by trillions,” he said.
Names of black money holders could not be disclosed except to the SC due to international legal obligations, he said. "The government will not spare anyone holding black money."
Asked what the thrust of his foreign policy was considering he had travelled several nations in his first year in power, Modi first sought to set the record straight on his much talked about foreign trips.
"All PMs in this country have travelled as much as I have. Facts must be placed before the people about how much past PMs travelled, how many cities they toured and how many meetings they held,” he said.
On his foreign policy thrust, Modi said he saw India as a "global player and not a balancing power".
"I am clear in my mind. We are no more a balancing power. India is a global player. We will engage on an equal footing with China and America," he said.
On foreign policy in respect of neighbours, Modi said he would keep humanism at the core of his relations with neighbouring countries as displayed in respect of the Nepal disaster, the Yemen evacuation, the successful negotiation to save five Indian fishermen on death row in Sri Lanka and the supply of drinking water to the Maldives.
Read: One rank, one pension: Army veterans running out of patience