Piyush Goyal! Thank you very much and welcome to ‘Nation Wants to Know’.
Q: Is the nation going to know everything? Will you be frank, open, diplomatic?
A: Well! I thought the complaint against me was that I am too frank and I speak my mind. That’s been the complaint that I have always received. So this is the first time that somebody is asking me whether I will be frank.
Q: You know a lot of people have a lot of questions for you, Piyush Goyal, and people who observed your political career, marvel at the fact that in a short period of time you have emerged, it must be said, as among the most dynamic members of the government. You have held a lot of positions, you have also been in the public eye. Has there been too much of it?
A: Well! I think I can only thank the early years of grooming as a child that I got literally being mentored by leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji or Lal Krishna Advani Ji and the fact that strong value systems always prevailed in the family. My late father spent almost sixty years in public life. My mother was a strong support for him as a social worker initially and then pushed into the hurly burly of politics in the 70’s. Always a social worker, right through her political career, known as ‘Mummy’ by all our constituents, by her colleagues. Waking me up at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the night to drive her to the slums in and around our home, some women getting beaten up, some police not doing their job fairly, some jewellers being troubled in Wadala.
And I think those early years of grooming prepared me to be able to understand the woes of the common man, be sensitive towards their day to day existential problems, understand what it is like to live in poverty, live in circumstances which nobody likes to. She used to always tell me that there is a fashion to criticize the slums in Mumbai. Nobody lives there out of choice. Nobody would like to live that existence where one rain, and literally, the roads get blown away and their houses are flooded.
It’s the compulsion of decades of neglect that has brought the nation to this level and I only believe that my thirty years in business, then in investment banking have prepared me to be able to serve the people and Prime Minister Modi has give me this opportunity and I am trying to bring the best out of that in my work.
Q: But they say nobody, but nobody, not even Piyush Goyal can be prepared to be Railway Minister of India, because this is a job that is truly unique in different ways. Mr Goyal, you took charge as Railway Minister on the 4th of September and you took charge of the Ministry of Railways when it had already become the Achilles’ heel of the Narendra Modi government recording the highest number of deaths due to derailments. Public sentiment was against the government on this issue. Do you feel Mr Goyal that you were handed over the Ministry at an unfair time?
A: No, first of all Arnab, friends like you have prepared me to take challenges and I know the amount of grilling I have gone through on various shows with you.
Q: But you can’t deny what I am saying here today?
A: I don’t think so. I think the deterioration of the Railways is a legacy and I am given to understand that this started in the early 90s when successive Rail Ministers were very parochial in their approach, lived for the present, not for the future, didn’t prepare the railways with new technology.
Q: You are saying Mamta Banerjee was parochial?
A: A lot of information that is being brought before me in the last 35-40 days seem to suggest that the decline of the railways started with Ms Banerjee. It became worse, though artificially it looked as if the railways were doing well under leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav. But the reality I am told is that if you overload these wagons, you may get a lot of freight revenue with less cost, but you are actually ruining the rail system for future.
Q: How was Mamata Banerjee parochial?
A: Well, at a time when the railways needed investment on safety, at a time when railways needed projects to get completed rather than only new projects being announced, and money being distributed across hundreds of projects rather than focusing outcomes, I think she politicized the railways in a very, very unfortunate fashion. And over the years, this decay has led to a huge backlog, which my senior colleague and good friend, Suresh Prabhu ji, to my mind, made outstanding efforts to bring about change.
Q: Oh! You are being biased towards Suresh Prabhu.
A: Not at all. No, the statistics speak for themselves. May I just correct a figure you just mentioned? The fatalities or the accidents in the Indian railways actually came down in the three years of the BJP government as compared to the previous years.
Q: No, but I am looking at a decade. In a decade, it was the highest number of derailments?
A: How can you look at a decade? We have been here three years. Look at the previous seven years.
Q: Unlike you, I look at a government in continuum; you look at a government in past years.
A: We always look at government in continuity. We have never changed.
Q: But Mr Goyal, you took over as the Ministry of Railways and you continue to be Minister of Coal, and during your 40-day tenure, there has been more than one rail tragedy. Let’s look at this overall situation you are in. There are tough questions on the economy, there are tough questions on the overall functioning of the government. Is it fair to say that the Modi government is now facing rough weather? The honeymoon period is over and you are in the thick of it now.
A: Not at all. First of all Arnab, I must say that I feel very sad about what happened in the stampede at Elphinstone Road. It’s very unfortunate incident. We now have the report which suggests that a number of factors came together due to which that very unfortunate incident happened. The reality also has to be appreciated that somebody is slipping with a load on his head and when somebody slipped, if he made that comment that eyewitnesses, I am told some 20-30 eyewitnesses were questioned. And based on that, they came out with the findings. So, it very clearly looks like there was nothing on the spot which has triggered it off today.
Q: But why do you believe so?
A: But certainly, over the years, this bridge should have been replaced by a new one. It should have happened fifty years ago, it should have happened thirty years ago, it should have happened ten years ago, it should have happened two years ago. But what I did immediately is, after the report came out, is now have an independent third party, who is not related with the railways, examine this report, also study why the bridge project, which was approved in the Budget of 2016 took nearly 16-17 months to finalize and to suggest steps for the future.
Q: Mr. Goyal, how can you accept this report? Let me tell you the way that I look at it. And I will give you opportunity to respond as freely as you can. The way I look at it is, 23 people died on the stampede on the 29th of September. It was a narrow footbridge at the Elphinstone Road train station. I have seen the visuals of the stampede and so have you. People are climbing up the rails to stay protected; people are carrying victims outside the station. No ambulances, no staff. Citizens are providing the stampede victims CPR. No officials, no staff. Not a single official in sight. Mr. Goyal, please explain to us this incident where 23 people lose their lives because they took a local train. You cannot wash the hands off the officials’ responsibility.
A: Well, first of all nobody is washing off hands from anybody, which is why, probably it’s the fastest response that we got an independent body to now investigate, beyond going. I have to go through a process, I can’t take arbitrary and sudden decisions, which will demoralize the entire rail infrastructure. We have 13 lakh employees working day and night. The fact that this is a narrow bridge is not something of today, it is something which has been over the years. And I normally, as you may be aware by now, always do a root cause analysis. What did I find out?
After all, after the tragedy I reached there at 1 o’clock, immediately went to the hospital, thereafter, went to the Western Railway Command Office and I spend the next two days over there. You are aware I spent 10 hours on the first day and maybe 12-11 hours on the second day, entirely trying to assess what is the root cause of such problems. You will be surprised to know, foot over bridges, platforms – foot over bridges, they would say one is a essential, the rest are amenities – platform was never considered a safety item. Entry and exit points were never considered a safety item, it’s a 150 years old legacy. When I discussed with everybody and I realized that this kind of a thing can’t be allowed to continue. We did certain basic changes and what are those changes.
Q: What did Suresh Prabhu do for the last three years? Was he sleeping?
A: Not at all, Suresh Prabhu, actually, literally doubled the investment in the Railways, largely focused towards safety. Whereas earlier years, safety would get a back seat and budgetary constraints.
Q: Why is that of a foot over bridge?
A: The fact is that the Railway bureaucracy has a certain timeline and a speed with which it has been working over the years. Mr Prabhu was able to speed it up when it came to his notice, he was able to provide budgetary support.
Bridge required a huge amount of remodelling of the yards. Now, one can clearly see that the yard could have been remodelled much faster in hindsight, which is why we went into the root of the problem during those two days and were able to find many, many areas where we can tighten the system, where we can improve the system.
Q: But again there is a contradiction in what you say. You said I cannot demoralize the bureaucracy, but what about demoralizing the people?
A: Absolutely, which is why the strictest action will be taken once an independent body gives me a report.
Q: So, this was not an independent body.
A: This was an independent body of the Commissioner of Rail Safety, which is why I have gone beyond that.
Q: You know what a report says….
A: I have immediately put a former CVC Mr Pratyush Sinha and a very distinguished infrastructure expert from the private sector, Mr Vinayak Chatterjee, to collectively look at this entire story, look at this entire report, look at what needs to be done in this case and look at what needs to be done in the future.
Q: Mr Goyal, it was a tragedy waiting to happen. You go at any Railway station in Mumbai even today, today you go Mr Goyal – overcrowding at stations, people hanging out of trains because of the sheer numbers, lack of facilities to manage those numbers. I have spoken to people who say that an accident can happen tomorrow as well. There is a ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude at play. Would you deny? I mean there is a ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude at play?
A: Sadly, then you haven’t followed what had happened after that. It’s a very, very sad incident and I fully agree with you that there is an overcrowding. I examined the possibility of even closing the doors. But I was told it won’t work. The trains just won’t move. The amount of passengers are so many. Now, what did I do in this situation? I have been only in the jobs 40 days today, maybe a little less. First thing, we have categorized now all foot over bridges, platforms, in and out gates as safety infrastructure, which means they get priority whenever spending has to take place. They won’t require too many approvals at the higher level.
Second, I have given the General Managers unlimited power, absolutely no limits on spending wherever they require on safety related issues.
Third, I have re-categorized the way stations are allocated funds. Right now, what was the category? It was that in A1 is stations, which have the highest revenue. A is stations, which have lesser revenue. I said now, the focus will not be on revenue. It will be on passenger footfall. So, all the Mumbai suburban stations, which otherwise were normally falling in C category, stations like Elphinstone will now get A1 category based on passenger footfall, and accordingly, investments can be planned on that.
Let me complete, because you are in a hurry, Arnab. But I have done a lot of work on it. I think it’s important for you. I think it’s important for you. It’s important for you to understand that our thinking is more deep-rooted and focused on doing a real prioritization and root-cause analysis as opposed to an earlier practice of maybe a hundred years where issues were dealt with only for that instance.
Let me tell you some more. I got an audit. I got a multi-disciplinary audit team look at all the 120 odd stations across the Mumbai suburban in the last 15 days and reports are now been examined to look at what more steps…. Let me complete. May I complete? May I complete? You can ask me a supplementary after I complete. I cannot yielded. I have not yet yielded.
Q: Well, this is not the Lok Sabha?
A: Well, this is the House of the people, watching your show and it’s important for the people to know that what did I do? When I looked at the processes. I said we need to have far more escalators. We already approved more than 300 escalators in Mumbai and I am looking at an all-India rollout of over 3,000 escalators now.
There were certain constraints. Mumbai network is a constrained network, stations widths are very small. There are safety requirements, which require a five metre gap between the staircase and the centre of the track. Therefore, this exit point could not have been made any wider as per the Commissioner of Safety’s conditions in law. I have now asked them to re-examine that. Maybe give a little headroom so that we have wider exit gateways.
Q: Can I get some headroom for a question Mr Goyal right now please. The fact of the matter is great, fantastic. But what you are not understanding Mr Goyal is that you are fighting a mindset and people are angry. And let me tell you what makes people angry. You are saying I am giving all these powers to these bureaucrats. What do they go and do? They say these 23 people died because of their own fault.
A: Excuse me Arnab. It’s a Commissioner of Rail Safety report which also I am getting it examined by an independent body from experts and infrastructure.
Q: Mr Goyal, the fact is a major calamity happened in my view, because of the abuse and apathy of the government. You can say abuse and apathy of 150 years. I will say abuse and apathy also happened in the last three years. The bureaucrats have blamed rumours and rain for the disaster. The Western Railways Chief PRO has said that the Committee found that the cause of the incident were rumours and rain. The confusion was between ‘phool’ and ‘pull’ resulted in the chaos. No one was responsible for it. Will you also say today Mr Minister that no one was responsible for the calamity? I think it’s a man-made calamity.
A: But I never said that.
Q: But why are they saying it was because of rumours?
A: I think you are reading out from what the Public Relations Officer only read out.
Q: But he represents your Railway Ministry?
A: No, he only read out the report. His job as a PR official is to read out the report. Not at all, it was reading out of the report because the Press wanted to know what the report has found. It’s the findings of a report, which is now under examination by a person as eminent as Pratyush Sinha, former CVC and a very, very respected person.
Q: So, you accept that this is not the final word?
A: Well, I don’t know. Let’s wait for the findings. How can I make a comment when a particular finding of a Committee is on the table and we are getting it examined to see and it’s a very, very sad thing. But we should be sensitive about it, learn the lessons and look at what can be done better and faster.
Q: All I am saying Mr Piyush Goyal is that let people not say this was a natural disaster or because of rumours. This has happened because something we had the money for and we could have done years back didn’t get done. Mr Piyush Goyal, does it strike you as strange…..
A: I think it’s very important to understand that it’s not as if Elphinstone bridge didn’t have traffic earlier. This was something which could have been done even thirty years ago, could have been done twenty years ago, could have been done ten years ago. But it was Mr Suresh Prabhu who saw the sensitivity of it, the importance of it. He got it allocated, funds got allocated. It’s unfortunate that the time taken for processes and remodelling the yard was very long, which is why this Committee has been asked, A – to fix responsibility, if any, why this took so long? And, B – to find out how it will not happen in the future.
Q: Do we wait for a massive accident to happen to wake up?
A: Well, Arnab I have been in the job on that day for 23 days or 24 days. Already, in those 24 days, you should have seen the number of changes that have been brought about, including the mindset of shortage of funds. Today, the Railways knows there is absolutely no shortage of funds. We have more than enough funds for any safety related issue. In fact, the decision I took on the 7th of September, first decision, after the initial takeover. It was not 7th, it was I think on Monday, the 4th of September, in this very room, on the 4th of September I decided that henceforth, all track availability will be focused on safety. Safety will get the highest priority.
And on the 7th of September, in my meeting with the officials, the first major decision I took was that whatever rails are available and we have a backlog of years and years in replacement of tracks. I said all track available will be used only for safety related activities and I am importing 700,000 tonnes of rail to make sure that all backlog can be completed.
Q: A good thing and a bad thing, Good thing is after the accident, you sat there as you said you (inaudible) command centre for two days you were opening up the bottlenecks. That thing, Mr Goyal! This is again the way people look at it and they are not entirely wrong. Had 23 people not died, Piyush Goyal would not be sitting there opening up the bottlenecks. It reached an emergency to respond. Do you agree with me?
A: It’s unfortunate.
Q: Do you agree with me?
A: Not at all. I don’t agree with you at all, because it’s unfortunate that probably you or your channel have not been following up all that has been happening, literally before that. I had a huge round of meetings between 4th and the unfortunate mishap, on various subjects, including taking feedback from the ground. And then one day prior to that accident, I had listed out all the priority areas on what we are planning to do, which will change the complete mindset of the railways. It’s a very-very unfortunate coincidence that this accident happened on that day. I can only say I grieve for the departed.
Q: No people say. People say, that you would have been more focused on the bullet train rather than that.
A: Well, I have not even had one meeting on the bullet train for your kind information.
Q: Why are you so touchy on the issue of the bullet train?
A: No, not at all touchy. There are people who are working on that and I think…..
Q: But you said on 5th October, “people with a negative mindset, nakaaratmak soch.” Explain his comment Mr Goyal, you said, “people with a nakaaratmak soch with regard to the introduction of the bullet train are a minority now.” Why are you so touchy about the issue of bullet train?
A: Not at all touchy. It is people like you who on your channel are trying to deflect attention from latest technology.
Q: How am I doing that?
A: How you are doing that is that it’s not that the funds for the bullet train or the funds for safety are causing… there’s any antarvirodh or there is any problem that you cannot use funds for safety. We have more than enough funds for safety. The bullet train has received a separate line of credit. We are trying to introduce new technology in India, so that this old 150-year infrastructure can gradually get replaced by the latest and the most modern, because the people of India have a right to the most modern, the most safe and the best technologies serving them.
Q: And we are the impediment for that?
A: Let me explain. Shinkansen technology was introduced in 1964, the year of my birth. India is still using technologies which are 100-year old. That is the cause why we have not been able to protect the lives of so many people, because after all, this Elphinstone Road tragedy also is because of years and decades that the railways neglected the Mumbai Suburban sector that has caused this accident.
Similarly, safety has no constraint. We have enough funds. Suresh Prabhuji provided 1,50,000 crores only for safety in the railways. All that work is going on and has started impacting the fact that we have seen results, we have seen less accidents, we have seen less unfortunate deaths. But, it’s a process. It’s going to take some time. And the people of India understand that years and years of neglect and wasted opportunities will take some time.
We have only had 3 years in the job. We have expanded our investments in safety like never before. But I also believe it’s important for the nation to engage with the most modern technologies, bring them to India, start engaging with new technologies in signaling, in tracks, bring about efficiency in operation, bring about speed in operations, make operations safer for customers, make the passenger features more comfortable.
Q: Mr Goyal, I can see and I like it that you have not lost the aggression that you had when you were in the opposition. But Mr Goyal, had there been a congress government launching a bullet train with whatever line of funding, see, you go into the granularity of it. I also do. But I will ask a common man question. You would have raised this issue that if the government is concerned about the bullet train, the priority is on the bullet train rather than on the aam aadmi. So, the priority is on those people who can pay thousands of rupees in tickets. You need to answer the question, as compared to people who buy a Rs 20 ticket?
A: Arnab, when the Rajdhani was introduced in 1969, there was a member or chairman of the railway board who had exactly the same mindset as you are reflecting now, ki why should we get a fast train, why should we get a better train, chal to raha hai hamara. It is that ‘chalta hai’ attitude that has got us over here. And what you are propagating is again a ‘chalta hai’ attitude. In that case, you will next ask me, why am I investing in escalators? Escalators is also something which is an improvement over stairs. The next thing you may ask me is why sh…….
Q: You are assuming?
A: Because that’s the kind of mindset you are reflecting Arnab.
Q: So, you are saying I have a negative mindset?
A: Well, you have a sensational mindset.
Q: No, I have a practical mindset.
A: Well, the practical mindset says we should do both. We should do safety as a high priority and we should get the latest in technology as a high priority and both can run in parallel. That’s how we will be able to ultimately serve the people of India in the best possible manner.
Q: Are you on the back foot?
A: Not at all.
Q: Little bit, perhaps?
A: I don’t think I have ever played on the back foot in the last three and a half years, have you ever felt that way, or for that matter ever in my life?
Q: I never make a judgment on anything. I don’t judge.
A: Wow! That’s a revelation. I think the nation needs to know whether you are frankly speaking or you are talking with the forked tongue here.
Q: No, I don’t speak with the forked tongue.
A: But, if you are not judgmental and if you are not sensational, then you are one person who will appreciate that modern technology, innovation, research and development is what has made great countries great. And I think you want to see a strong India, you want to see an India which engages with the best in the world, you want to see an India which gives leadership to the world, then technology and innovation is required in India.
Q: All I am saying is that I want you to ensure to the people of India that at least something close to the level of service and safety that one would find in a bullet train would be available to somebody on a local train in Kolkata and Mumbai. And that is also your responsibility.
A: Undoubtedly, so you have any doubts that I would take that as a responsibility? Is that the kind of sensitivity you found when from KEM I went to western railway and didn’t have a morsel till 11 in the night, working and sweating all those people there to understand what are the root causes of this kind of a problem?
Q: Mr Goyal, you are taking it personally.
A: No, I am just asking you. I am just asking you that is that the solution or is the solution not doing the bullet train.
Q: No, Mr Piyush Goyal, in this room where we are doing this interview, there is a board behind us, which has the list of all the Ministers of Railways. And I can tell you from there, from Jagjivan Ram to Kamlapati Tripathi, to George Fernandez, Lalu Prasad, Mamata Banerjee, right? All the stalwarts of Indian politics have held this position. I mean the only question I am asking you the question that everybody in the country will ask, all these stalwarts have held this stalwart Ministry, then what has happened in 70-plus years? So why I am saying the track record does not give me hope.
A: That’s exactly the question I am asking you. But, wasn’t that the same mindset in the Power Ministry Arnab? Did you not for decades only hear that the country is perpetually having power shortages? Did you not perpetually hear that this country will always, the farmers of this country or the poor of this country, have they not always complained ki bijli kab aati hai woh to maloom nahin, jaana to nakhi hai.
Q: But they say the Railway Ministry is a crowd of thorns?
A: No, no, no. The reality is power was equally a crowd of thorns. But the reality is it only took 2 years to convert the nation to a power surplus nation. It only took about 1000 days, which is less than about 3 years or so, less than 3 years, to ensure that every village in this country gets connected. Now, we are embarking in the next 15-17 months through Soubhagya to reach power to nearly 40 million people – 4 crore people, children, aged people who have been deprived of power for almost 7 decades after independence. Are they not entitled to a better quality of life through electricity? This is the change in mindset that this government (Inaudible), and I think the same change in mindset is going to now make railways a very-very strong organization.
Q: I wish you the best, but are you saying that all your predecessors in the Ministry of Power from Rangarajan Kumaramangalam to now, and all your predecessors in the Ministry of Railways from Lalu to Mamata, to now, have all been parochial under-performers, and Piyush Goyal is going to have to undo all the work that they have done? Let’s be very direct about this, I don’t think we should be diplomatic about this.
A: Well, Arnab it’s like this. Let me just ask you a similar analogy. Would you ever suggest that the Republic TV channel is only about Arnab Goswami, and everybody else is useless?
Q: Is this an interview about me, or you?
A: No, I am asking you. So, everybody else in Republic is useless. We should not watch Republic except when you are on the show.
Q: There is a fundamental difference.
A: There is no fundamental difference. Everybody contributes. Everybody may have had their contribution, albeit at different levels. You believe you are the best. You believe that while you are on the show, you get the maximum viewership, that’s why I see you most of the time on your channel. And, I believe that I have the ability and I have a leader Prime Minister Modi who is guiding me. I will tell you the innovative thinking.
Q: No, no, I must answer the question. I will answer the question.
A: You must hear this difference because you are the (Inaudible) master of your channel. I have a guide and a philosopher who is giving me a future.
Q: Mr Goyal, listen to my answer to this. You asked me a question. I would request you to please appreciate… first of all I am a function of my team. We have a 350 people who work hard.
A: Which is how we work also, as a team.
Q: But Mr Goyal, Republic was launched on the 6th May, 2017, and the country got independence on the 15th August, 1947. Slight difference, which matters to you.
A: Slight difference Mr Goswami. I was sworn in as a Minister on the 4th September, which is about 4 months after you became Republic. And there was a life before me also.
Q: Do you ever worry now, more at a personal level (Inaudible). You know, every Railway Minister privately in this room has told me at least 3 or 4, I won’t take names, about how they have sleepless nights, the accident will happen and they will be asked to quit?
A: I think that’s the mindset that Prime Minister Modi has changed. Sleepless nights, may be correct, and I will give you my own experience. Unfortunately, my mother fell ill during the swearing in, and my first 8 days were spent sleeping at The All India Institute of Medical Sciences while she was in the ICU.
Q: I hope she is better now.
A: She is much better, I met her yesterday. Now, first 8 nights I was sleeping there. 3 of those nights I was woken up for railway related issues, and you know that I sleep with my mobile right next to my bed on. I mean, one of the nights a colleague from parliament called me up to say that there’s a patient in the train and it’s little outside Nizamuddin, if it could be quickly moved in we could get the patient treated. And I was told 3 days back by the honorable MP that she is fine now. The patient is absolutely fine.
Now, I looked at it as … it didn’t bother me that I was woken up in the night, because my mother had trained me 40 years ago or 35 years ago to get up in the middle of the night and go and see if somebody has a problem, solve that problem. That training today is holding me in good stead. Every one of these becomes a wake-up call. Every one of these issues that are flagged up to me help me to try and see what can be done, so that such a thing doesn’t happen again. Now, obviously, as you will appreciate there is going to be a time that will be taken to change, to implement many of these ideas. But the effort is not lacking, the commitment is not lacking and the drive and enthusiasm is only getting better by the day. So, I can assure you that none of these instances intimidate me, they only encourage me to do more.
Q: Mr Goyal, now we are three and a half years into the Modi government’s term, honeymoon period over. There have been hits, there have been lots of misses. If you were to look and read, and be open and not have a, you know, sometimes politicians, I am not saying you, put a wall around themselves. Then some put a veneer, some refuse to listen, some create a culture of sycophancy, they only listen to what is good. Again, I am not saying it’s you because you will jump, right? But, should you not be worried about the perception of the government? Why is it that in the last one month, everybody has now started saying bad news? And I don’t have to read out the statistics, you know. Generally, Whatsapp groups, people, mindset, not only journalists with a negative mindset like me, but generally people have started saying the Modi government is missing the bus, losing the plot and not getting the pulse of the people of India. Why is this happening?
A: By the way, why do you have to feel you have a negative mindset?
Q: No, you said it. No, I meant it sarcastically.
A: I said sensational. Sensational aur Negative mein farak hai. Aapko TRP ke ilawa to life.. there is no life beyond TRP for you Arnab. For us, there is a positive mindset about change, about improvement. And, by the way, Arnab, we are very proud of the fact that you have stood for the soldiers of this country, you have stood for nationalism. We are very proud of that fact. But, it’s only the sensationalism that I was taking a taunt on you before.
Q: Let me tell you one thing. It’s very interesting that when we used to break the big scams and same members of our team, 2010-11-12-13-14, it was not sensational then. Now, when we ask some questions now, now it’s sensational. But that’s alright. I forgive you the presumption that people in government (Inaudible).
A: Not at all. Tell me Arnab, in that period you would have a CAG report, which talked of a 1,80,000 crore rupee scam. You would have another CAG report, which talked about a 1,76,000 crore rupee scam that the congress and their colleagues were indulging in. You would have another report which would talk about Adarsh scam, defense land being given away. You would have another report which would talk about Commonwealth, Rs 40,000 for a tissue roll. Now, you are not sensationalizing, that was reality coming out. That was reality coming out. What we have done is change that to an honest government, a government that’s focused for the poorest of the poor. And the certificate of that is being given by the people of India, the certificate of that Arnab is that we had 6 state governments in 2014, we have 18 state governments in 2017, and by April 2018, we will probably have 21 governments. The certificate of that is given…because it’s the people of India who are watching, it’s the people of India…
Q: Hangover of 2014 elections!
A: Well, if there’s a hangover, we have just had panchayat elections in Maharashtra, right? Out of 3000-odd seats, 50% nearly came to the BJP.
Q: You also lost in Nanded?
A: Well, by the way, Maharashtra was a fiefdom of the congress for decades. BJP till 2014 was considered 4th in the pecking order. 4th! Nanded is one individual’s stronghold, and in that individual’s stronghold if they win there’s nothing… you know, any seat where we are on a complete strong footing is obviously going to come to us, irrespective of any circumstances. But the reality is we went into the strongholds of the congress, into the strongholds of the NCP and every other party there, and we picked up seats and became the single largest by a mile.
Q: Now, Mr Goyal, you are a very interesting political speaker. And I would say a great amount of study can be done on the way you phrase what you say, and the way you analyze. I would say that you are so intelligent that you sometimes deflect an issue when a issue is on your Achilles’ Heel, and you start discussing what you think is your strong point. You just, you know, this is live display of that. Let me tell you, you just displayed it. I will tell you why. Because you sat here, and I asked you about the weakness of the government and you immediately talked about corruption, knowing fully well that big-ticket corruption has not come out, anyway, I have no proof that there is big-ticket corruption.
A: No, so are you suggesting that you are desperately looking for something that you failed to do.
Q: No, I will tell you what I am suggesting. I am suggesting two things. First of all, I have two counters to what you say. Mr Goyal, answer the real questions of the people of India. You are also now an emerging voice in the BJP and you have many politically responsibility, troubleshooters, and everybody knows your unscripted role in the 2014 political campaign. Now, that’s all right. You will say it’s my leaders, but you did play a role. Two things to you, give me straight answers.
A: Otherwise I don’t give straight answers? Normally? That’s a big allegation!
Q: I would say that you occasionally do, which is a (Inaudible) for a politician. Mr Goyal, labour organization figures, unemployment is terrible. People without jobs will rise to 18 million by 2018, terrible! You claimed that not less than a million jobs will be created in less than 12 months. I don’t know what you are pinning your hopes on, and you should accept today that jobs are a problem, right? Global Human Capital Index – India is placed at a low 103 rank, primarily because I quote ‘the skills available are not being put to very good use.’ So, how can you say that companies bringing down their employment is a very good sign, that’s the argument that you present. Employment elasticity, which is a common measure of our employment growth, response to GDP growth, I am telling you is hovering between .3% in 1991 and 2007, and now has come to a alarming .15%.
Now, you are a chartered accountant, and you are a distinguished chartered accountant. You know the numbers. And the great thing about being a chartered accountant is that you can present the right numbers. But the other great thing is that even when the numbers are not good, you can garnish the numbers and present them in a right way. Mr Goyal, except that on these issues, specially on jobs, there is a concern. I am not talking about growth forecast, because they can vary quarter on quarter. That’s one.
A: First of all, let me take this opportunity, after a long time I have come on your show to tell you that I wish you had read the entire discussion in the World Economic Forum in its entirety, unlike some people who pick up one sentence from here, and pick up another sentence, join the two and make a sensation out of it. What happened that day was a colleague panelist spoke about the top 200 companies having reduced their employment numbers, and that these companies should sit down and see what is the reason for that. Just something to the effect was made. And I said that’s a good sign that the companies are now engaging on this discussion. And then I spoke about why this change has happened.
I will say the same thing to you here. I was very clearly referring to the fact that…the fact that this has become a public debate today is a positive sign, because the world is changing. How has the world changed? We had Bill Gates come in and talk to us in the NITI Aayog Transformation Series Lecture. We had the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam come and talk to us. We had Michael Porter, the Guru of competitiveness, the guy who is most researched on competitiveness and the comparative advantages of nations in his famous book.
Everybody spoke about the changing nature of jobs and work profile in the world today, with the advent of 4-D manufacturing, with the advent of artificial intelligence. All of these things are changing the way the world works. Let me give you a simple example. And I think I gave that example that day also. May I take one minute?
Q: Give me a 10-second intervention. Mr Piyush Goyal, the nation wants to know that when you go to fight the elections in 2019, will you go and say that Michael Porter has told us that we have done well, maybe we didn’t get you the jobs. Or will you say that Bill Gates has said that losing jobs is a good sign. Who is going to believe you?
A: That’s why I have said sometimes you have a very myopic view of things.
Q: I am happy, negative, myopic and….
A: No, negative was yours. Sensationalism and myopic you can attribute it to me for you. And myopic when, selective myopism. What they said was not that it’s very good that you are losing jobs, and neither did I say that. What they said is the changing nature of jobs worldwide, and India is going through the similar churn.
Let me ask you a question. All these boys here, your camera persons, your guest coordinator, your people who have arranged the backroom boys for this, people in your studio, they are not getting reflected on any of these numbers. The world is changing. You are getting freelance journalists working all over the country. You are not hiring them on Republic payroll, and reporting them in the numbers that the job statisticians collect.
The nature in this whole world is moving fast towards entrepreneurship, towards new innovation. Let me give you a simple example what this change is. Earlier in the day, you had large power plants. We have a ultra mega power plant, which generates 4000 MW of electricity, now 4000 MW of electricity is generated. It needs about 500-700, maybe a 1000 people directly, and maybe a couple of thousand people indirectly to produce electricity in that 4000 MW large power plant. Innovation has set in. The world is concerned about climate change. Renewable energy has become the flavor and the need of the hour.
When that similar and equivalent amount of renewable energy is generated, it’s generated in a very dissipated manner all across the world and, in the country. In India also, we have expanded solar energy 5 times in the last 3 years. Now all of this, that similar equivalent power will now be generated and provide direct and indirect work to more than 10 times the number of people that that 4000 MW plant was doing.
The day and age of large facilities providing formal employment, which get captured in these statistics is fast changing across the world. And it’s becoming more and more entrepreneurship, more and more people working for becoming job creators rather than job seekers. The Mudra Yojana alone, 9 crore beneficiaries or people who have taken 9 crore loans, over nearly 3.5 lakh crore rupees, each one of them is becoming a job creator.
Q: So, why don’t you then stop reporting any labour bureau figures, they are fake figures as far as you are concerned?
A: No, not at all. I think it’s time there was a debate on this. I think the focus that your channel should do is to examine those figures and you should come out with ideas, just like we are all the time open to ideas from across the world on what is happening new. And we want India to be a part of this changing dynamic. We don’t want to keep our people backward and perpetually living behind the times. We want India now to lead the world, as we are doing in renewable energy, as we are doing in energy efficiency.
Q: Now, you see, the way I look at it. GST, Yashwant Sinha and then this report which came about the BJP Chief’s son, I also want to ask you about that issue. Mr Goyal, you had come out and given a press conference defending Mr Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah, day after you slapped a defamation case against the news website. And you said you are defending him, your words were ‘because you have an obligation towards the party and the government.’ People were criticizing then, why did you, you as Union Railways Minister, come and defend the BJP President’s son? Was it necessary for you, they said, to come out as a Minister on this issue?
A: Arnab, what do you think, if you can find out one thing which is wrong in Jay’s business, even one thing, we would not have had the courage of conviction to go for defamation against a story which is through absolutely illusory connects trying to deflect or sensationalize an issue. When you start a new business, I would love to know Republic TV’s first year revenues, right? You obviously are a new business. When you start a new business, from zero your revenues will be, I don’t know, how many thousand times. Any new business is bound to have a new turnover, which when compared to a low-base or a no-base is going to reflect a figure, and what is that figure in commodities? High value product, very low margin product, 80 crores is absolutely not much of a turnover, and the poor fellow makes a loss of Rs 1.5 crore, which the reporter falsifies in a report.
She says she doesn’t speak about that loss, though it is informed to her that the company has gone into losses and wound up its this particular business in October 2016 itself. And also, the net worth of the company became I think 80 lakh minus, thanks to these losses, which she reflects as a profit or as a reserve surplus. And, now may I complete?
Q: Second question seems to make a third reference to Republic. No, no when it is Republic, I must reply, anyway I just made it. Republic TV’s investors, investment pattern, income, loss, everything will be in the public domain.
A: So is Jay’s. After all, all that information is from the Registrar of Companies’ records. My question what I want to ask you Arnab is, is it good that boys like Jay, and I say my own son also, are working for an honest day’s living, are not becoming people who live out of families, political families’ children. Should they not be living an honest life? Should they not be engaging in honest work in business?
Q: Why did you come out?
A: I came out because I really feel that when we are working honestly, when we are working to serve the people and our children are working their independent honest life, when this kind of I think below-the-belt reporting is taking place. And my photograph was also put into that report. I thought it’s time that the country and the world should know that this kind of journalism is absolutely unacceptable, and it was important that the exact facts come out before …..
Q: Is it a case, Mr Goyal, and we will have to close soon, but is it a case on a broader point that you are snapping. Let me tell you why, because you were under pressure. Listen Mr Goyal, in Surat there was a rally of traders against you, they used to support you earlier. After GST, there has been an issue of how GST has been implemented. You know, on the ground you had to do quick fix, you had to change things. Yashwant Sinha comes out, growth figures are not good. The media starts writing reports, you know, in the American press, elsewhere, negative stories start coming and then this happens. Are you, therefore, in broad terms Mr Goyal, and please be honest with me, is there a degree of vulnerability which you are now experiencing, which maybe you didn’t for three and a half years, and maybe you are thinking the reverse cycle… See, anti-incumbency will come in, anti-incumbency, these factors, are you beginning to feel a little vulnerable?
A: On the contrary, I think GST has demonstrated that this is one government which can take everybody along and can make transformation reform, transformational change. No other government was able to do it. It is this government which took 29 states onboard. Every decision unanimously prepared by the 29 states, which included 6 congress states, there’s still 6 left. It includes two communist states.
Q: No, no, there’s broader question. Have you snapped? Are you snapping? Are you stressed?
A: Not at all, we are a government even today, we are focused all the time on next steps, reform, reform which serves the poorest of the poor. So, I think GST had its challenges in the initial period, but we said it upfront. If you recall, Prime Minister Modi, Finance Minister Jaitley, all had said there will be that period, initial transition period, we will face that. It is good for the country and we should do good things for the country. We shouldn’t be intimidated by short-term difficulties. That’s the difference between this government and the governments of the past.
We are willing to take solid strong decisions. We are willing to stand by that, and we are a sensitive government. We like feedback. After all, why would I take out 25 apps when I was Power and Renewable Energy and Coal Minister? The idea was let the people know, let the people monitor our work, and let us get the feedback which helps us improve our work. Similarly, if there is, you know I have said it ………..
Q: Are you vulnerable? You are not even answering my question?
A: Not at all vulnerable. I will tell you why. Results, one after the other, have only strengthened our conviction that the people trust this government; the fact that people have high expectations is to our credit.
Q: Too high perhaps, and if you don’t meet them. Will your Acche Din comment come back to haunt you, acche din aane wale hain?
A: Not at all, I think that is what prompts us to do even more work. The fact that people have high expectations is a certificate that they trust this government, they trust Prime Minister Modi’s ability to deliver, and they trust his intentions are to serve the poorest of the poor, which is why the people of India have high expectations. We value those expectations. We will work towards those expectations. We are sensitive to difficulties and solve those difficulties. But, our path remains unwavering when it comes to putting an end to corruption, our path is unwavering when we are working to eliminate black money, our path is unwavering when we want long-term reform to serve these people for decades and not do a band-aid solution which some governments in the past have done.
Q: Mr Goyal, 2019, last question. Anti-BJPism is now the focus. It’s all vs you. That may not be a good thing for you. It may increase your vulnerability.
A: It may actually strengthen us.
Q: How many seats will you get in 2019, tell me?
A: Well, you recall the 2014 conversation we had, and we were spot on. And I can promise you, 2019, this government will do at least more than 325 seats for the BJP on its own, and in alliance with our partners, colleagues who are in government with us. I wouldn’t be surprised if we cross 360 or 370 seats.
Q: Well, Mr Piyush Goyal, it was good to talk to you today. I have enjoyed the conversation. You have given me many compliments. Thank you for each one of them. I look forward to more conversations, and maybe more debates in the run-up to 2019.
A: Do I see a tinge of unhappiness about my compliments?
Q: I am extremely happy, but Mr Goyal….
A: I see you very serious just now, I thought you were one of those who was willing to take it on the chin.
Q: You see Mr Goyal, the thing is such that I love it when politicians serve such compliments upon me. I take each compliment not with a pinch, but with a barrel of salt. Thank you very much Piyush Goyal, good talking to you, and all the best.
October 14, 2017 Panchayat Aaj Tak Gujarat: Fir Ek Baar Bjp Sarkar