Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that he took charge at a time when the country was seen as a sinking ship when Brics thought the 'I' in the acronym had toppled over.
In an exclusive interview with CNN-News18, the Prime Minister spoke to Rahul Joshi, group editor of Network18 on how reform is key for the country and what it had taken so far to revive the sagging economy. Edited excerpts:
My first question. Two years ago you came with a historic mandate. How do you view the last two years and what do you think has been your biggest achievement?
After getting the responsibility of becoming the Prime Minister it has been about two years and three months. India is a democratic country and the people evaluate governments regularly. Media also evaluates. And these days professional survey agencies also do this. And I think this is good thing and that's why I leave it to the people to evaluate how my government has performed. But I will definitely want that whenever my government is evaluated, the situation of the government before we came to power must be kept in mind, what the state of the country was, what the media was discussing.
If we keep that in view, newspapers were filled with news of corruption, despair. People had lost hope, they thought everything has sunk. If a patient, however good the doctor, is despondent, medicines will not cure him. And if the patient is hopeful, then even an average doctor can cure him. The reason for that is the patient's inner belief.
My first priority after forming the government was that the atmosphere of despair should be removed and create hope and belief in the country. That doesn't happen with speeches, steps need to be taken, it has been shown to be done. And today after more than two years, I can say with certainty that there is hope not just in the people of this country, the trust of the entire world in India has grown.
There was a time when we were being seen as a sinking ship. In the Brics, the 'I' was seen as if it had toppled over. Today it is said that if there is a bright spot, it is India. I think this in itself will be a good way to evaluate.
You had come to power on the issue of development, so a question on the economy. After a lot of effort you succeeded in passing the GST Bill. How big a success do you see this and what is the common man going to gain from it?
This is perhaps the biggest tax reform since the independence of India. This reform will bring a big change in India. Very few people in the country pay taxes. Some people pay taxes because they are patriotic, they want to do something for the country. Some pay taxes because they don't want to break the law. Some pay to avoid any trouble. But most don't pay because the process is no complicated, they think they might get stuck in the process and won't be able to come out. GST will simplify tax payments so much that anyone who wants to contribute to the country will come forward.
Secondly, today if you go and eat at a hotel, the bill will come with this cess, that cess... And people send on Whatsapp, so much bill and so much cess... all this will end.
And then we see at octroi and state-to-state (border) check posts, miles of vehicles standing. When vehicles are standing, it hurts the country's economy. Now all of it will become seamless, movement of goods from one state to another.
Taxation systems will also be simplified and this will not only benefit the common man, the revenues will help develop the nation. Today there are sometimes incidents of mistrust between states. This will end that situation, it will be transparent and strengthen the federal structure.
After coming to power, your biggest challenge was the economy. You not only had to bring back on track but also increase the pace of growth. How do you assess the situation and your own achievement?
You are right, there was a negative atmosphere and that had an echo effect. The country's traders and industrialists had started looking out. There was a paralysis in government. On one hand it was this situation on one hand. On the other we had to face two successive droughts. Third, there was a slowdown in the global economy. So there were a series of challenges. It wasn't only after we came to government, even after that there were challenges. But our intention were strong, policies were clear. There was decisiveness... because there was no vested interest. The result of this was that positivity spread very quickly.
Today, we have the most amount of foreign direct investment after Independence.
The entire world says that at seven percent growth, we are the fastest growing economy. Whether it is the World Bank, IMF, credit agencies, even UN agencies, they all say India growing rapidly.
So those policies which are helping growth has been emphasised. All obstructions are being removed with policies.
All this has resulted in speeding up the economy.
This time the rains have been good and this helps agriculture, which is driving force for the economy. This has raised hopes that the coming days will be much better.
Usually it is one or two things that are talked about, but today growth has being talked about in all sectors.
Electricity production has gone up and so has demand. Infrastructure work is also growing rapidly and that happens when there is demand in the economy. From all this it looks like we have moved ahead to better days.
You are absolutely right that the monsoon is very encouraging and stock markets are also up. Would you like to tell us what the next wave of reforms will be?
First of all, in our country, whatever is talked about is seen to be reform. If it isn't talked about, it isn't seen as reform. It shows our ignorance. Actually, reform to transform. I say in my government — reform, perform and transform. And since I am sitting for an interview, I would say reform, perform, transform and inform.
Take ease of doing business. Our ranking is improving very quickly. This is not possible without reform. Our systems, processes, forms were so complicated. Now they were reformed, so our rankings are going up. A UN agency has said that from 10 in the next two years, we could be at number three. These small things need to be improved. Even today there is licence raj in some areas. That needs to go. This is an important reform that is happening at every level, administrative, governance, legal.
Like we removed 1,700 laws that were from the 19th and 20th centuries. I have asked states also to do so. These are very big reforms that people, because of lack on information, don't consider reforms.
Take education, where we have taken an important step that no one gave attention to. We have said that 10 government and 10 private universities will be freed of all University Grants Commission rules.
We will give them money and they must move towards becoming world class universities. If rules were holding them up, we will remove the rules, now do it and show us. This is a major reform but doesn't get people's attention. Direct benefit transfer is a big reform. Earlier who knew where MNREGA money was going. Now it is sent by DBT. So is gas subsidy and student scholarships. All these for me are reforms in governance, transparency. We are getting in more technology. These have to be done at a larger scale. At the centre of this is the common man. How to make life easier for the common man, how they will get what is their right, we want to stress on these.
There has been economic growth and improvement but private investment is still a little slow. Some sectors are still in trouble, like real estate. Venture capital funding of startups has slowed. What message would you like to give to private industry and foreign investors?
I see that because of your integrity and decorum, you didn't ask me this question bluntly. Most people do... Modiji in the last two years what mistake did you make? Today I think, before presenting the first Budget, I should have placed a White Paper in Parliament on the economic situation in the country.
This thought had come to me. I had two paths. Politics told me that I should put out all the details. But the nation's interest told me that this information would increase the hopelessness, the markets would be badly hit, it would be big blow to the economy and the world's view of India would get worse... it would have been very difficult to get the economy out of that... I chose to stay silent at the risk of political damage in the national interest. At that time the situation in public sector banks was coming out and how budget numbers were moved around... I didn't put these details out in public. It hurt us, we were criticised, it was made to look like it was my fault. But I took the political damage in the country's interest and the result of that I am being able to fix things, despite shortcomings.
The impact of all these issues from the past have impacted private investment, like non-performing assets of banks, that I am trying to fix now. I held a session with bankers and told them there will be no call from the government to you. These things would have tightened the screws.
Despite that, the pace at which roads are being made, railways is expanding, six fold increase in electronic goods manufacturing, these things show we haven't taken short cuts. And my motto is, as it says on railway platforms, 'short cut will cut you short'. We don't want to take any short cuts and the results are showing. Anyway the situation has improved, we don't have to worry about these things but let me tell you about the days in the beginning, in May 2014, I chose the tough path. And when unbiased people analyse the situation, I am confident they will be surprised.
Modiji, you seem to have cracked down on black money. In fact, it is reported that because of your crackdown on black money, small businessmen are hiding either in Dubai or London. You haven't spared political dynasties either. Will this process continue?
First, from a political standpoint, i have neither thought about this and nor will I do so in the future. I have been a state CM for 14 years. And history is testimony to the fact that I have never opened any file due to political considerations. I have never been accused of this either. It has been over two years here too. The government has given no instruction to open any file. The law will take its own course. I have no right to indulge in any cover up. You saying that we haven't spared any dynasty isn't correct.
We have made requisite legal changes so that the black money circulating inside the country can also be curbed. There's a scheme which is running till the 30th of September. For all those who are still willing to come in the mainstream. I have said this in public, that 30th of September is your last date. You may have made mistakes with whatever the intention may be, whether it has been done willingly or unwillingly, here is your chance. Come in the mainstream. I have this plan for people to sleep peacefully at night. people must accept this. And none should blame me if I take tough decisions after the 30th. This money belongs to the country's poor. None has the right to loot this. This is my commitment. I am working with full force and will continue the effort.