Interview with BJP leader Narendra Modi
By Ross Colvin and Sruthi Gottipati
Narendra Modi is a polarising figure, evoking visceral reactions across the political spectrum. Critics call him a dictator while supporters believe he could make India an Asian superpower. (Read a special report on Modi here)
Reuters spoke to Modi at his official Gandhinagar residence in a rare interview, the first since he was appointed head of the BJPās election campaign in June.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions are paraphrased and some of Modiās replies have been translated from Hindi.
Is it frustrating that many people still define you by 2002?
People have a right to be critical. We are a democratic country. Everyone has their own view. I would feel guilty if I did something wrong. Frustration comes when you think āI got caught. I was stealing and I got caught.ā Thatās not my case.
Do you regret what happened?
Iāll tell you. Indiaās Supreme Court is considered a good court today in the world. The Supreme Court created a special investigative team (SIT) and top-most, very bright officers who
overlook oversee the SIT. That report came. In that report, I was given a thoroughly clean chit, a thoroughly clean chit. Another thing, any person if we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and weāre sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is. If Iām a chief minister or not, Iām a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.
Should your government have responded differently?
Up till now, we feel that we used our full strength to set out to do the right thing.
But do you think you did the right thing in 2002?
Absolutely. However much brainpower the Supreme Being has given us, however much experience Iāve got, and whatever I had available in that situation and this is what the SIT had investigated.
Do you believe India should have a secular leader?
We do believe that … But what is the definition of secularism? For me, my secularism is, India first. I say, the philosophy of my party is āJustice to all. Appeasement to none.ā This is our secularism.
Critics say you are an authoritarian, supporters say you are a decisive leader. Who is the real Modi?
If you call yourself a leader, then you have to be decisive. If youāre decisive then you have the chance to be a leader. These are two sides to the same coin … People want him to make decisions. Only then they accept the person as a leader. That is a quality, itās not a negative. The other thing is, if someone was an authoritarian then how would he be able to run a government for so many years? ā¦ Without a team effort how can you get success? And thatās why I say Gujaratās success is not Modiās success. This is the success of Team Gujarat.
What about the suggestion that you donāt take criticism?
I always say the strength of democracy lies in criticism. If there is no criticism that means there is no democracy. And if you want to grow, you must invite criticism. And I want to grow, I want to invite criticism. But Iām against allegations. There is a vast difference between criticism and allegations. For criticism, you have to research, youāll have to compare things, youāll have to come with data, factual information, then you can criticize. Now no one is ready to do the hard work. So the simple way is to make allegations. In a democracy, allegations will never improve situations. So, Iām against allegations but I always welcome criticism.
On his popularity in opinion polls
I can say that since 2003, in however many polls have been done, people have selected me as the best chief minister. And as best chief minister, it wasnāt just people from Gujarat who liked me, not like that. People outside of Gujarat have also voted like that for me. One time, I wrote a letter to the India Today Groupās Aroon Purie. I requested him ā āEvery time Iām a winner, so next time please drop Gujarat, so someone else gets a chance. Or else Iām just winning. Please keep me out of the competition. And besides me, give someone else a shot at it.ā
Allies and people within the BJP say you are too polarizing a figure
If in America, if thereās no polarization between Democrats and Republicans, then how would democracy work? Itās bound (to happen). In a democracy there will be a polarization between Democrats and Republicans.
This is democracyās basic nature. Itās the basic quality of democracy. If everyone moved in one direction, would you call that a democracy?
But allies and partners still find you controversial
Up till now, no one from my party or the people who are allied with us, Iāve never read nor heard any official statement (about this from them). It might have been written about in the media. They write in a democracy ā¦ and if you have any name that this person is there in the BJP who said this, then I can respond.
How will you persuade minorities including Muslims to vote for you?
First thing, to Hindustanās citizens, to voters, Hindus and Muslims, Iām not in favour of dividing. Iām not in favour of dividing Hindus and Sikhs. Iām not in favour of dividing Hindus and Christians. All the citizens, all the voters, are my countrymen. So my basic philosophy is, I donāt address this issue like this. And that is a danger to democracy also. Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process.
If you become PM, which leader would you emulate?
The first thing is, my lifeās philosophy is and what I follow is: I never dream of becoming anything. I dream of doing something. So to be inspired by my role models, I donāt need to become anything. If I want to learn something from Vajpayee, then I can just implement that in Gujarat. For that, I donāt have to have dreams of (higher office in) Delhi. If I like something about Sardar Patel, then I can implement that in my state. If I like something about Gandhiji, then I can implement that. Without talking about the Prime Ministerās seat, we can still discuss, that yes, from each one we have to learn the good things.
On the goals the next government should achieve
Look, whichever new government comes to power, that governmentās first goal will be to fix the confidence that is broken in people.
The government tries to push a policy. Will it continue that policy or not? In two months, if they face pressure, will they change it? Will they do something like — an event happens now and theyāll change a decision from 2000? If you change decisions from the past, you will bring the policy back-effects. Who in the world will come here?
So whichever government comes to power, it would need to give people confidence, it should build the trust in people, āyes, in policies there will be consistencyā, if they promise people something, they will honor that promise, they will fulfil. Then you can position yourself globally.
People say economic development in Gujarat is hyped up
In a democracy, who is the final judge? The final judge is the voter. If this was just hype, if this was all noise, then the public would see it every day. āModi said he would deliver water.ā But then he would say āModi is lying. The water hasnāt reached.ā Then why would he like Modi? In Indiaās vibrant democracy system, and in the presence of vibrant political parties, if someone chooses him for the third time, and he gets close to a two-third majority then people feel what is being said is true. Yes, the road is being paved, yes, work is being done, children are being educated. There are new things coming for health. 108 (emergency number) service is available.Ā They see it all. So thatās why someone might say hype or talk, but the public wonāt believe them. The public will reject it. And the public has a lot of strength, a lot.
Should you be doing more for inclusive economic growth?
Gujarat is a state that people have a lot of expectations from. Weāre doing a good job, thatās why the expectations are high. As they should be. Nothing is wrong.
On indicators like malnutrition, infant mortality
Infant mortality has improved tremendously in Gujarat, tremendously. Compared to every other state in Hindustan, we are a better performing state. Second thing, malnutrition, in Hindustan today, real-time data is not available. When you donāt have real time data, how are you going to analyse?
We do believe in inclusive growth, we do believe that the benefits of this development must reach to the last person and they must be the beneficiary. So this is what weāre doing.
People want to know who is the real Modi – Hindu nationalist leader or pro-business chief minister?
Iām nationalist. Iām patriotic. Nothing is wrong. Iām a born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So, Iām a Hindu nationalist so yes, you can say Iām a Hindu nationalist because Iām a born Hindu. Iām patriotic so nothing is wrong in it. As far as progressive, development-oriented, workaholic, whatever they say, this is what they are saying. So thereās no contradiction between the two. Itās one and the same image.
On Brand Modi and people behind the PR strategy
The western world and India ā thereās a huge difference between them. Here, India is such a country that a PR agency will not be able to make a person into anything. Media canāt make anything of a person. If someone tries to project a false face in India, then my country reacts badly to it. Here, peopleās thinking is different. People wonāt tolerate hypocrisy for very long. If you project yourself the way you actually are, then people will accept even your shortcomings. Manās weaknesses are accepted. And theyāll say, yes, okay, heās genuine, he works hard. So our countryās thinking is different. As far as a PR agency is concerned, I have never looked at or listened to or met a PR agency. Modi does not have a PR agency. Never have I kept one.
For timeline on the rise of Modi, click here
For a picture profile of Modi, click here
For Modi’s statements that made news; click here