Q: At the end of your tenure as a minister, are you satisfied with what the government has done in meeting the challenge of global economic slowdown?
A: I cannot claim that we have accomplished everything that we would have wanted to but I can say in all honesty that the UPA government’s track record on economic side has been exceptional. An average GDP growth of 8.6 per cent during the five years of UPA rule enabled India to become an economy of trillion dollars, the tenth largest economy of the world and established the country’s pre-eminence as an economy in Asia and the world. Alongside Japan and China, India has emerged as the third pillar of the Asian economy so that its voice is heard on the high table of global politics. He world has come to recognize the pre-eminent role played by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in formulating the global response to the economic crisis. The world has acknowledged the pre-eminent role of Dr Manmohan Singh in steering the Indian economy and in formulating the international community’s role in response to global economic downturn. The nation has watched the determined will and the promptitude with which the Congress-led UPA government announced three stimulus packages to minimize the adverse impact on the most vulnerable and labour intensive sectors of the Indian economy. We were able to restore confidence in the manufacturing segment by announcing stimulus packages for the automobile and textile sectors as well as for the exporting community. The distinctive aspect of our response is that we could rationalize the interest rates and the duty structures promptly and thus ensured the economic viability of various industries. We could, thereby, minimize job losses. I must also add that committing huge resources for our flagship programmes such as NREGA, which is the brainchild of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Bharat Nirman and other empowerment programmes for the rural poor. We have strengthened the purchasing power of millions of our people by removing indebtedness of 3.8 crore farmers and increasing the paddy and wheat prices by Rs 300 and Rs 450 per quintal respectively. We redeemed our first commitment to the welfare of farming community. The largest ever-financial outlays have been provided for health and education thereby strengthening our social infrastructure. For all these reasons, I feel justly proud of the work done by our government.
Q: Do you think the Congress will be able to form the next government and what in your view will determine the choice of the electorate?
A: I have no doubt whatsoever that people of India will express their whole-hearted support for the policies of Congress, its track record in office in the past five years and for the ethical leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh. I believe that the Congress manifesto incorporates the core agenda of national renewal through policies, which are inclusive, and through an ideology that will strengthen the pluralist foundations of our society and the secular nature of our polity. The people are wise enough not to be distracted by the red herrings thrown by the BJP and the Left on a daily basis. The Lok Sabha elections will be fought on national issues and on the basis of where competing parties stand on these issues. The BJP has repeatedly established itself as a party with a difference only by negating the core values of our nation. Its ideological focus and view of Indian society is not only regressive but an affront to the collective wisdom of our people who have refused to be divided by misread scriptures and shrill rhetoric.
Q: The BJP claims that the Congress allies have deserted the party and that the UPA was disintegrating? What are your comments?
A: On the contrary, the NDA is withering away. The Biju Janata Dal has moved away from the BJP in Orissa, as has the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. It is now left with just four out of the earlier 24 allies and with two of these the BJP, which has pretensions of being a national party, is in a junior partnership. Congress, on the other hand, has pre-poll alliances with NCP, DMK, TMC, JMM etc. and RJD, LJP and SP have repeatedly asserted that they will be with the Congress-led secular formation after the elections. Congress is contesting almost 400 seats throughout the country and will most certainly emerge as the single largest party with largest vote share in the country. Third Front will have at best only a marginal relevance at the national level.
Q: The BJP is converting this election into a choice between Dr Manmohan Singh and LK Advani as the next Prime Minister and has given a slogan “Mazboot Neta, Nirnayak Sarkar’. What do you have to say about it?
A: The nation has witnessed the ‘mazbooti’ of Avani when he stood as a spectator to the demolition of Bari Masjid. This ‘mazbooti’ was further in evidence when as the deputy prime minister, he could not prevent terrorist attacks on Red Fort, Akshardham temple and Parliament House nor could he evolve a purposive counter terrorist strategy in his capacity as the home minister. BJP and its leadership has indeed set a benchmark in immodesty and self commendation by declaring their leader through self certification as a determined leader while all evidence before the nation is to the contrary. Indeed, there is a perception that the ‘mazboot neta’s’ writ doesn’t run even within his party. In comparison, the nation has seen Dr Manmohan Singh stake his government at the altar of national interest and has been witness to his quite determination to push ahead through with success the historic Indo-US civil nuclear agreement. The difference is that in keeping with his innate humility, graciousness and finer traditions of democratic politics, Dr Manmohan Singh has never flaunted nor did he need to his steely resolve and determination to secure the over-arching interests of the Indian nation state. The people of India will indeed choose wisely.
Q: In what way do you see this election different from earlier ones?
A: The level of political discourse has reached a new low considering the highly personalized and conflict driven statements by some leaders. We need to remind ourselves that the quality of our democracy and our politics will be vitiated if political opponents are treated as personal enemies. This election is different also because the vote will be a test of the extent to which the secular conscience of our nation is able to assert itself. As always, the elections will test the choice of the voters or the touchstone of the core issues of security, secularism and social justice.