Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fears India will go down in international esteem if Narendra Modi ever becomes Prime Minister. He told Political Editor Vinod Sharma the Congress was best equipped to handle challenges before the country:
As a reputed economist would you say you are best equipped to lead India in these times of economic downturn?
I joined the Government in the early 1970s when the world economy faced its first major postwar crisis. Things became worse after the oil shock of 1973. Indiraji was the prime minister. She called me and asked me to suggest ways in which we could deal with the crisis. India was one of the few countries that was saved from the hyper-inflation of the 1970s.
Again in 1990-91 I was asked to deal with an economic crisis. The world had given up on India. We were forced to mortgage gold. When I took charge [as finance minister] in June 1991 we said within one year we will be able to turn the economy around. We did that.
Today the global economy is in crisis. But we have been able to prevent the full impact of this crisis from being felt in India. As a large and open economy we are not fully immune from what happens in the world outside, but we have been able to limit the damage.
I expect that our economy will recover rapidly if we have a government that is experienced, understands how our economy functions and how the global economy functions, and is capable of taking bold decisions. That is why I feel if the Congress Party is returned to power, it will be good for the country. During the five years we were in office in the early 1990s we were able to step up the rate of growth from 5 per cent to over 7 per cent. During the six years of BJP rule this rate of growth came down to 5.8 per cent. Once again we have turned the economy around. During the past five years our economy grew at close to 9 per cent. That is our track record.
Why should people in big cities vote for the Congress? Not a day passes without job losses, cuts in wages or closure of enterprises.
The media prefers bad news to good news because people are curious about bad news. The fact is that our country has been doing much better than most countries around the world. The fact is that our economy has been doing much better in the past five years than in the six years before that. We have taken a number of measures to stimulate the economy and had indicated in the interim budget that we would take additional stimulus measures when the full budget is presented.
Today, for the first time since independence a government has come out with a vision of urban renewal through the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. It is showing results and we hope the programme can be accelerated. Even earlier, cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad have all benefited from the policies of Rajiv Gandhi of investing in information technology and the services sector. People don't forget these things.
I have faith in the wisdom of ordinary people who know which political party's policies are good for them. Today India is viewed as a land of new opportunities by the youth. They have faith in their future. I am sure everyone knows that we will overcome today's problems and look to a better tomorrow. It is that spirit that makes them put their faith in us.
Narendra Modi is the BJP's candidate for the PM's slot after L.K. Advani. Will India be acceptable internationally under Modi's leadership?
If there is one thing the entire world respects us for, it is our composite culture. At a time when so many countries are troubled by ethnic strife and communal intolerance, India remains a beacon of pluralism and secularism based on our motto of "unity in diversity". This image of India took a beating when the BJP leadership tried to impose a monolithic view on the entire country. I am afraid that if people with extremist and bigoted views come to power India's image as a great liberal, plural and secular democracy will be hurt. India's global standing as an open society, as a multi-cultural society, will be hurt.
The Maoists Party in Nepal has accused India of supporting the army chief in his face-off with Prachanda. Your comments.
We have a very close, long-standing relationship with Nepal. The Prime Minister of Nepal had visited India last year and we had fruitful discussions. At that time, he had appreciated the positive support extended by us throughout to the peaceful political democratic transformation in Nepal. We support Nepal's transition to a fully democratic polity and the logical conclusion of the peace process. We have consistently emphasized to all parties in Nepal the importance of political consensus in dealing with sensitive national issues and institutions. It is on the basis of such a broad political consensus that Nepal can smoothly complete the task of constitution making and of democratic transition.
There have been recent reports about mistreatment of the Sikh community in Pakistan. What do you have to say about it?
We have a long tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism in this subcontinent. The peaceful coexistence of so many religions and religious minorities is proof of this. I hope that the ideologies of hate and exclusion espoused by fundamentalists like the Taliban are not allowed free rein to attack minorities, including the Sikh community in Pakistan. We have taken up this matter with the government of Pakistan. They have said they are fully aware of the situation and that the welfare of the minorities would be looked after.