‘I say Modi was India’s last chance.’
‘Because the kind of work this government has done — I’m talking about physical delivery — is fantastic, like no time in our history.’
‘It is delusional to think that India’s economic potential can be realised if the Government of India is led by a 1990s-style coalition government,’ writes Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri in his new book Delusional Politics.
Puri — a member of the Indian Foreign Service who last served as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations — believes that the days of khichdi politics are now over and the proposed ‘mahagathbandhan’ is ‘nothing more than an alliance of opportunists’.
In his book, Puri, minister of state for housing and urban affairs, discusses what leads to ‘delusional decision-making’ by ‘public figures who seemed perfectly rational’.
Apart from India, he examines the cases of two other democracies — the United States and the United Kingdom, with reference to the election and several decisions of President Donald John Trump in the former case while in the latter, to then prime minister David Cameron deciding to go for Brexit referendum.
“Yes, I think he (Modi) needs another 10 years. Because by then we will be a $10 trillion economy, per capita incomes would have gone up four times, and I think we’re getting there,” Puri tells Rediff.com‘s Utkarsh Mishra.
While talking about delusional political decisions, you have discussed Brexit, and some of the decisions taken by Trump. But in the chapter about India, you don’t mention specific decisions by any prime minister that you consider as delusional. Why?
My India chapter is structured somewhat differently.
The fulcrum of that chapter is the fact that a party which was the vehicle of India to get its Independence, a party which ruled for a bulk of the 70 years of India’s existence as an independent country now has decided to tie itself to the coat-tails of one family.
That itself is delusional. And that produces delusional politics.
And from there follow a number of consequences. One of the consequences is that the party is now facing an existential crisis.
And I make the prediction that in 2019 (the general election), it is going to have consequences.
Because democracy in India is deep-rooted. It is ingrained in the value system of the people.
And if you chose to define democracy in parochial terms as meaning only one family, then you are being delusional.
It’s not that members of one family can’t be talented, but from there are you proceeding to an assumption that talent is only confined to that (family)?
How is it that all your national efforts is defined only in terms of one family?
This has resulted in several distortions, the biggest one being their losing the ability to distinguish between what is private and what is public.
And because you’ve been in power so long, you think you’ve a right on all the resources of the State. That’s something I find basically delusional.
The second aspect that comes out in that chapter is that you’re being delusional if you think you can run India without catering — as per the Antyodaya philosophy — to the poorest of the poor.
Unless you answer the basic aspirations of the people, it’s going to be very difficult.
And that’s what the Modi philosophy of building toilets, giving gas connections, getting people to affordable housing (through) the Pradhanmantri Avas Yojna, Ayushman Bharat etc is doing.
There are parties within the National Democratic Alliance — the Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena, the Lok Janshakti Party — which are also led by only one family.
I think that’s nonsensical. The Akali Dal is much older than the Badal family and there are already rumblings within the Akali Dal.
I think the argument you could make is that the Congress is not the only party in India which is dynastic, but that doesn’t absolve the Congress party of lack of inner democracy.
Two wrongs don’t make one right.
The limited point I’m making is, this is authoritarianism born of exclusion.
You want to keep everybody else out, you want to keep within the family, and you’re not able to distinguish between personal property and public property.
And democracy is all about being able to take people along.
Talking about lynching incidents, you blame ‘the culture of impunity prevalent in the Hindi heartland that has been allowed to go unpunished for seven decades’. However, data shows that there has been certainly a spike in cow-related violence after 2014 and 60 per cent of such incidents took place in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states.
Let me explain to you. Because there has been a culture of impunity for 70 years, people could do these things and get away, maybe for some time there was a feeling that they will not be questioned.
But the motivation in all these cases is criminal, it is not politically ideological. They thought they would get protection.
I say in my book that all these acts of criminality and bestiality should be condemned. One case is one case too many.
It’s like communal riots. How can you justify a communal riot ever? And I can tell you that we are accused of being communal, but not a single communal riot has taken place in a BJP ruled state (since 2014).
When it comes to individual acts of criminality, it doesn’t have to do with who is in power.
The issue is, when the incident took place, was there action to bring those culprits to justice?
And I think BJP-ruled states have a very good record of that.
What would you say about Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlanding the accused in a mob lynching case?
I would not comment on this incident because I think Jayant has already issued a statement.
I’m very clear that if somebody in public life acts out of lack of knowledge then it’s a different thing.
But being in public life demands higher standards of decorum and public decency.
I would condemn all such acts (of lynching). And I don’t think elements that indulge in this criminal behaviour should be allowed to go unpunished.
You say that while the Congress plays ‘divisive politics’, the BJP believes in Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas. But how does it explain the elevation of a divisive figure like Yogi Adityanath (born Ajay Singh Bisht) to the post of chief minister?
Yogi Adityanath is not a divisive figure…
But he has issued statements…
I seriously recommend you to go and visit him. He is one of those people who spent their lives devoted to social causes.
I know Yogiji very well. There is no point branding him divisive.
I talk in my book about fake narratives.
People have a habit of picking up one incident here and one incident there and then trying to do something.
Look at the law and order situation (in Uttar Pradesh) under Yogiji, and compare it with that under Akhilesh (Yadav) or Mayawati.
But the forces which don’t want the law and order situation to be rectified will spread stories about divisiveness and so on.
In the same context, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (which will now lapse on June 3) kept Muslims out of the ambit of refugees or persecuted migrants who can be granted citizenship, which many say is a violation of Article 15 of the Constitution.
Look, I don’t want to go into those issues because here we are discussing my book, and the Citizenship Amendment Bill is way past it.
Secondly, look at the context of some of these legislations. You have a number of Islamic countries around India where the minorities are persecuted.
If the motivation of the bill is to deal with persecuted minorities, those who are bringing the criticism should have their heads examined.
See what Mamata Banerjee is doing in West Bengal, you know all that.
Well, this is not part of my book.
But in your book you are critical of European Union nations for their ‘complete disregard for human rights’ of refugees who fled ISIS. So what would you say about India’s approach towards the Rohingya migrants?
First of all, let us take the EU case. The EU closed its borders to people fleeing the violence in Syria. They just turned them away.
In our case the Rohingyas came here. Do you know you have districts in Jammu and Kashmir which have sizeable Rohingya population?
We have provided refuge to different people of different religions from the world for thousands of years. We are actually, in many ways, a country of refugees. It’s only a question of drawing the line.
Let me tell you, India has been in the forefront of following the policy of non-refoulement.
We never say no anybody. And therefore Rohingyas have come here in a very large measure. And as I said, they are here even in Jammu and Kashmir.
Look at the irony of it, people say that there are problems in Jammu and Kashmir and the Muslim population there is suffering.
How is the most persecuted minority in the world — the Rohingyas — coming all the way from Myanmar to Jammu and Kashmir and finding succour there?
So there’s something about the false narrative.
Even in the most accommodative situation where you are providing succour to persecuted minorities from elsewhere, there’s a national security environment.
Are you going to open your borders to anyone coming from any place? Don’t you want a system of checks?
In the case of the EU, they don’t allow them in at all. Here we’ve allowed them in.
And then we are giving money to Bangladesh and Myanmar to rehabilitate (them).
What is our line? Look if these are your people, you look after them. If you need any help from us, we will provide it.
It’s not as if we’re turning our backs on them.
Coming to trade, as someone who supports multilateral trading agreements and and as someone who is so critical of Brexit, what is your opinion about India keeping out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative?
BRI is not a trading agreement. That is something India has done very well to stay out of.
China is using surplus capital to make investments for strategic purposes in other countries.
So India has done exceptionally well in keeping out of it.
Even in Pakistan, which is supposed to be an all-weather friend of China, they have second thoughts (about BRI).
There’s been a backlash on many of these investment projects (in Pakistan).
You discuss at length the reforms the United Nations needs to address the challenges of the 21st century. What role can India play in that direction?
Also, the kind of enthusiasm that was expected of this government in trying to get a permanent seat for India at the United Nations security council was somehow missing in these five years.
First of all, India is an important player in the multilateral system. But systems lend themselves up for reform in periods of stability.
Just now what is happening in the world? I mean the election of the 45th president of the United States. He is questioning multilateralism at the fundamental ground.
Then you have Brexit, which is again a major disruption.
When Mr Modi got elected, certainly the most important thing here was the domestic economic development — building homes for people, roads, ports etc.
There has been a very high foreign policy emphasis in the first term.
But no country has been able to spend enough time on security council reforms. That’s also partly because of the global situation.
I personally believe that it not the correct time to talk about fundamental reforms in the security council, because you have a situation where there are major differences between the United States and China.
There are differences between the US and Russia, because of the alleged Russian meddling in the American elections. There is a major problem between the French and the British on other issues.
So I think you have to take the timing (into account). And I’m sure the timing will come when we are in our second term.
Meanwhile, when you’re a $5 trillion economy, the world comes to you more easily than you go into the world. And your ability to contribute to global processes is also that much higher.
And as the US withdraws from the leadership role it once played on the world stage, the importance of India and China is growing. Do you see more confrontation between the two nations on global platforms in the coming days?
Confrontations don’t take place by themselves. They take place when the ability to manage challenging bilateral situations is undermined due to a number of factors.
I think both India and China, and India certainly, have the capacity to manage that relationship in order to ensure that differences do not become problematic.
Look, there will be differences. These are two large countries, these are populous countries, these are countries growing. These are countries with differences of opinion, differences of interest, there are different strategic perceptions on issues.
So there will be differences. But we have to be able to manage those differences in order to be able to contain them and resolve outstanding issues.
And I think we have the capacity to do that.
Talking about delusional decision-making, can it be said that demonetisation was also a delusional decision? Now that almost all of the money has come back, critics say the exercise failed.
I have a very clear view on that. If you want to end the culture of impunity, large-scale corruption and other problems, you have no choice but to have demonetisation.
It’s not the money which has come back. Somebody has put the money back. The taxman can at least know whether the money you’ve put is your money of somebody else’s.
You’ve already won the battle.
All I’m saying is you look at the number of income tax assessees. Thanks to the efforts of this government the number of assessees has gone up.
Whenever you take a difficult decision, all the vested interests oppose you.
You not only have to take a decision but you also have to implement it.
You may argue that in the process of implementing demonetisation, some additional safeguards could have been taken to avoid hardships.
But for 70 years, black money was rampant in India.
I’m not interested in saying whether all black money has ended. But sure use of plastic money has increased tremendously.
Have we done enough? I don’t know.
Demonetisation is one step. GST (goods and services tax) is another.
(Look at) RERA (Real Estate Regulation Act), for 70 years as an independent country we did not have a regulator in the real estate sector.
And the construction sector is 16% of our employment.
What does that mean? Agriculture is the largest (provider of employment), this (construction sector) is the second largest, so did not have any regulation for 30% to 35% of your economy.
I think those who criticise note ban as delusional — including Dr Manmohan Singh who called it organised loot — have a lot to answer for.
Yes, there were some hardships, but look at the situation now. I deal with the real estate sector, I know there’s still some black money. But is it at the same scale (as earlier)? Not at all.
I think we got a handle on this black money thing, but there’s still some distance to go. And it is happening slowly.
Why did you say that the 2019 elections are ‘India’s last chance’?
No, I say Modi was India’s last chance.
Because the kind of work this government has done — I’m talking about physical delivery — is fantastic, like no time in our history.
I will tell about the urban sector. In the 10 years of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government you had (spent) something like Rs 1.5 lakh crores. In the period between 2014 and January 2019, we spent Rs 8.6 lakh crores.
Yes, I think he (Modi) needs another 10 years. Because by then we will be a $10 trillion economy, per capita incomes would have gone up four times, and I think we’re getting there.
You don’t see any challenge from a united Opposition?
Let’s get serious. You have 11 Opposition parties there. Seven of them have active prime ministerial candidates. So you’ve one different prime minister for every day of the week.
But that’s not the issue.
If you’re like-minded parties, alliances will be predictable and stable.
But look at the history between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, look at the relations between the Telugu Desam and the Congress. The Telugu Desam was born because of so-called Congress corruption.
SP and BSP were abusing each other. Same with the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress.
If you think these people can come together, I have serious difference of opinion.
First of all, you can’t transfer your votes. If you and I form an alliance, doesn’t mean your vote bank will agree with the alliance.
But even if they come together, I don’t think it’s a credible alternative.