New Delhi, March 16: Narendra Modi today sought to cast himself as a better executor of ideas than Manmohan Singh, departing from the BJP’s stated policy on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and proposing partial privatisation of the railways.
Addressing the India Today conclave on “Reinventing Democracy”, Modi clarifying that his opposition was not to the retail policy per se but to the Centre’s failure to consult the states before “foisting” the decision on them.
It was always assumed that Modi did not share the BJP’s stated opposition to FDI in retail but this is possibly the first time he has spelt out his stand unequivocally since the controversy became a national issue.
Modi explained: “The Government of India forgets we have a federal structure and it is incumbent on the states to implement the FDI decision. First, consult and convince the states and then decide. The other safeguard that I will insist on is protecting the small and medium industries. The issue is not tied up so much to the interests of the small traders (which is the burden of the BJP’s contention) as to the fear that India might become a dumping ground for global products. If our SMEs are threatened, many people will lose their jobs.”
The Gujarat chief minister then told the congregation of industrialists, corporate leaders, opinion-makers, former bureaucrats and military officers: “My advice is that ‘open your window a bit, top up, then open a door partially, weigh in the pros and cons and then open the door fully. The point is not whether the NDA or the UPA brought in FDI in retail. It is about talking to and convincing the stakeholders, in this case, the states.”
Modi mooted the partial privatisation of the railways and laid stress on self-sufficiency in defence manufacture to eventually make India an exporter of arms and ammunition.
Modi also recounted a meeting over tea he once had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Modi had earlier said he was used to bouncing off ideas whenever he called on the Prime Minister.
“So, in this interaction, I gave him another idea. I said the fencing on the border that Rajasthan and Gujarat shared with Pakistan was no good because the soil wouldn’t hold it together. The Border Security Force was permanently stationed on this terrain. Why not use the land for setting up a long facility to generate solar power and let the BSF handle the project because it had the infrastructure? The country will get energy and the presence of the installation will deter the infiltrators. The PM said, Modiji, this is a good idea. But nothing has happened so far.”
Modi then came to the point. “My point is that if there is a good individual at the Centre, then good ideas like this one will get implemented. One should live with the conviction that development is the panacea to our problems and development and good governance go hand in hand. It is no good setting up a bus stand unless you have bus drivers and conductors who behave themselves with the passengers.”
Modi did little to quell speculation of a possible relocation from Gandhinagar to Delhi but refused to add or build on the suggestion.
In a Q&A chat, Modi was asked by Aroon Purie, the editor-in-chief of India Today, if he was ready to become Prime Minister. The otherwise plainspeaking chief minister said: “My life ‘mantra’ is do not dream or lust after something. Just do what you are tasked to and to the best of your ability. See what happens in life. Parents are often asked what your children will grow up to do. A commonplace reply is one son will be a doctor and the other an engineer. The child, assigned for a career in medicine, flunks in class five and his and his parents’ ambitions are snuffed out. He probably becomes a teacher but he will live under a shadow of failure all his life and for no fault of his. And today, no astrologer has said anything to me. I am busy doing my job as the CM and I work like a mad man.”
To another question if some leaders were trying to thwart his move to Delhi, Modi cracked a joke: “I am sitting right here in Delhi. If somebody was stopping me, could I have come here?”
Modi steered clear of answering questions on his government’s inability to contain the 2002 violence.