From Ram temple to ‘First Family’ jibe, PM Modi preps for election year on day 1
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has characterised the 2019 general election as a “public versus coalition” contest, ridiculing the anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance proposed by opposition parties, and indicated that his government will “make all efforts” to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya but only after the related judicial process is completed.
In the wide-ranging interview with ANI, which appeared to set the tone for the 2019 general elections on the first day of the year, Modi vowed to speed up the military procurement process despite facing allegations of wrongdoing in the Rs 59,000 crore contract to buy 36 French-made Rafale warplanes. He said India will keep up pressure on Pakistan to check terrorism, but it will be mistake to believe that the latter will mend its ways anytime soon.
He revealed that Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urjit Patel had been speaking about giving up his job for six-to-seven months before eventually quitting the post on December 11. “I believe this election is going to be a contest between those who fulfil and take forward the aspirations of the people and those who stop these aspirations. There is experience of 70 years. The public is the decider,” the Prime Minister said, when asked if the Lok Sabha polls were heading towards a US Presidential style of election between Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
“It is going to be janta [public] versus gathbandhan [coalition]. Modi is just a manifestation of public love and blessings,” he said, voicing his faith in the intelligence of ordinary people, drawing the contours of the electoral contest ahead.
Within hours of an interview Modi gave ANI being aired by television channels, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological mentor, said people who voted for the party in 2014, after it promised in its manifesto that it would build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, want that promise fulfilled.
“People of the country put their faith in the BJP and voted them to power with a majority...now people expect the government to fulfil that promise during their current tenure,” RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosable said.
In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats in the 543-member assembly, clinching a majority on its own. The BJP’s recent electoral reverses in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have given rise to forecasts that it may not repeat its performance.
Modi noted that a similar “set of persons” had backed a narrative in 2014 as well that the party would not cross 180 seats, and expressed confidence that the voters would repose faith in the BJP again. “If they do not spread such things, how will people join their ‘gathbandhan’? They will have to talk big to attract people,” he said.
He said the opposition parties trying to come together spoke in different voices. “Who are these people? They are looking for each other’s support to save themselves... They hold each other’s hand so that they are saved. That is the game,” Modi said.
He replied to a question about those associated with corruption scandals in the allocation of 2G spectrum, the 2010 Commonwealth Games and other cases being free and walking “around Lodhi Garden,” saying: “Those who are on bail can do it. but it is a fact that those considered first family, who ran the country for four generations, are out on bail, that too for financial irregularities. It is a big thing.”
“The country’s former finance minister is making rounds of courts. It is not a small thing.”
Rahul Gandhi and his mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi have secured bail in a case of alleged financial irregularities at National Herald newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Congress. Former finance minister P Chidambaram has protection from arrest until January 11 in a case related to alleged violation of a foreign investment rule in the Aircel-Maxis deal.
The Prime Minister made it clear that efforts for a Ram temple in Ayodhya will be considered only after legal process is completed, accusing Congress lawyers of trying to stall the process in the Supreme Court. Some BJP politicians, members of the RSS and its ally Shiv Sena have called for an ordinance for the construction of the temple on the disputed site.
“We have said in our BJP manifesto that a solution would be found to this issue under the ambit of the Constitution,” the Prime Minister said about the Ram temple matter. “Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever will be our responsibility as the government, we are ready to make all efforts,” Modi added.
The matter is to be heard by the Supreme Court on January 4.
“Nobody can deny that those sitting in the governments in the last 70 years have tried their best to stall a solution to this [Ayodhya] issue,” Modi said. Targeting the Congress, he said it should let the judicial process take its own course. “Don’t weigh it in political terms,” Modi said, addressing the Congress. “I beseech the Congress, for the sake of national peace and amity, they should stop its lawyers from stalling this [Ayodhya issue] in the court.
On allegations of financial wrongdoing in the Rafale deal, Modi said: “Those people who want to weaken the army are levelling allegations. Should I worry that they are making personal attacks on me, or whether my country’s needs should be met? I decided that whatever abuses are hurled at me, whatever allegations are levelled against me, I will continue on the path of honesty and give primacy to the country’s security. I won’t leave my Army jawans merely to their fate. Whatever be their requirement, I will expedite the procurement processes. I will do it even if allegations are levelled me.”
Two days after the Indian Army foiled a fresh attempt by Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) to push infiltrators through the LoC (Line of Control) in Kashmir, Modi said India will keep up the pressure on the neighbour to check cross-border terrorism.
“Whatever strategy is to be adopted, how to do, is ongoing at appropriate levels, has been happening. 1965 war, war during partition ...Ek ladai se Pakistan sudhar jayega, yeh sochne mein bahut badi galti hogi. Pakistan ko sudharne mein abhi aur samay lagega. (It will be a huge mistake to believe that Pakistan will mend its ways after a war. It will take a lot of time for Pakistan to mend its ways.)”
On the September 2016 surgical strikes by the Indian Army against terrorist camps across the Line of Control in Kashmir, the Prime Minister said the date of the strikes was changed twice to ensure full security for the operation.
“I knew it was a big risk,” Modi said. “I never care about any political risk.The biggest consideration for me was the safety of our soldiers. No harm must come to them. Thy were willing to sacrifice their lives on our word. For that, whatever was required was arranged for them.”
Asked whether he would visit Pakistan if invited to attend the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation summit by his counterpart Imran Khan, Modi said: “We will cross the bridge when we get there.”
Modi said the government is in favour of bringing construction related material in the 5% slab of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), adding that changes in the tax structure will continue as there is scope for improvement. He refused to join issue with Rahul Gandhi, who has been describing GST as “Gabbar Singh Tax” and “Grand Stupid Thought”, saying, “jiski jaisi soch, waise uske shabd (the way someone thinks, the same are his words).”
The Congress hit back at Modi. “The monologue interview of Modiji turned out to be much ado about nothing. It was ‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘Mine’ and ‘Myself’. Modiji, your ‘I’s and lies have destroyed the country’s societal fabric and economy, trampling upon constitutional institutions as also rights of individuals, snatching livelihoods and shutting down businesses,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
“We expected in 2019, you will at least expect regrets for the blunders of policies that you have committed but you have only peddled lies and that is indeed unfortunate. The nation suffers as Modiji dithers.”