Union minister Piyush Goyal speaks to Shishir Gupta about a range of issues including the BJP’s election manifesto, agriculture, economic growth and his party’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections.
What’s your big takeout from the manifesto?
I think it’s a manifesto which has reiterated the priorities of a continuum government. The fact that we are committed to national security, the fact that we are committed to ensuring all-round development of every section of society and every region of India has been given a big thrust through specific programmes that will help an emerging India. We have committed ourselves to fiscal prudence and to continue this path of strengthening Indian economic growth story. The Rs 100 lakh crore investment on infrastructure to my mind is a game-changer. What we are looking at is an empowered India, not an India that depends on doles and weak governments.
This farm focus that you have, one of the key things is expanding the PM-Kisan programme to all farmers. Do you think there will be enough money to do all this?
One thing about Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi, which I observed both in 2014 and now, he ensures that we don’t make any commitment which is fiscally imprudent. So, every commitment made in the manifesto goes through a rigorous budgeting process to ensure that adequate funding will be available and no programme is just a promise which we cannot fulfil or which will cause the economy go to into despair in some other way.
The Congress has said your manifesto has nothing about jobs.
I think an elementary reading of this ‘Sankalp Patra’ will show you that everything that we have written in this is going to create opportunities for people to work, jobs, increase livelihoods. After all, this ?100 lakh crore is money that is going to go into ecosystems, it is going to be invested, it is going to be spent. And none of it is possible without people working for it.
There are two or three of the slightly controversial elements in the manifesto – one is of course the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which created so much furore in the north-east, which you were unable to get through Parliament. And then the continued emphasis on Article 370 and 35A, which is bound to create some ripples in some parts of the country. What are your views on this?
As far as the Citizenship Amendment Bill, we are committed to it. And we will pass it through both Houses of Parliament. Protecting the interests of N-E and the states or any state which has its own ethnic identity, which has its own local issues, I think we can create a balance between the two. But we are committed to the Citizenship Bill and we believe it’s important to save the country from infiltrators who have no right to be in this country.
I am surprised to see it in the manifesto, given how controversial it has been.
Well, this government has not decided its priorities based on the controversies of what others think we should do. We have looked at what is good for the nation and what is good for the people of India. Similarly, in Kashmir, this isolationist policy that we have on Kashmir for so many years, because of which we have created a ghetto-like mentality, we have almost pushed them into one corner and they are hardly integrating with the rest of the country. We believe we have to remove Article 370, sort out these issues, get Kashmir to merge into the national mainstream, be a part of this growth story, be a part of this development, enjoy the fruits of the nation going forward, becoming a world superpower, and rid itself of terrorism.
One of the other aspects in your manifesto was the 33% reservation for women. But despite that, when you look at the candidates in this election, across all parties, there aren’t enough.
We are committed to the 33% women’s reservation and believe that national consensus will have to be built around that. We have seen women getting empowered through the panchayat system, wherever we have been able to get more and more women to participate. I would like to appeal to women in this country also to look at a greater degree of engagement so that women can emerge as leaders and candidates who can win elections and naturally become candidates in elections. I think our party encourages women at all levels across the country, it’s probably the first time we have so many women in the cabinet. No other government in the past had the foreign minister and the defence minister that were women and part of the CCS. This government’s intentions are reflected by its deeds.
You have been a party treasurer for long and in the context of the raids that were conducted in MP yesterday, how much does black money play a role in politics?
For the BJP, we have never encouraged bad money to come into politics. We have always looked at collections from across the country from our support system, from our cadres and over the years ours is one party which has always believed in the highest standards of transparency, quality accounting, quality audit of all our expenses, of all our collections. We believe that it’s important that good people come forward and participate in democratic process of politics so that good money drives Indian politics. Which is why we brought in the concept of electoral bonds. In fact, the Congress had brought in electoral trusts, which were very similar to the electoral bonds. I don’t know why they are making a fuss and crying over it.
What’s your overall sense of this election, compared to 2014?
I think this is an election where people are going to vote for a government that can provide security, a strong leadership, a government that stands committed to a clean and honest good governance agenda, a government that can protect the lives and security of every citizen, that can fight terrorism, a government that is truly wedded to the all-round development of every citizen and every part of the country, including the N-E, eastern parts, some parts of north India that have been deprived of development for decades.