Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman talks to Sheela Bhatt on the recent outcry over ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, the JNU issue and beef controversy.
AN atmosphere of intolerance us being created in the country but not by the BJP, as it is being alleged, but by an “interested group”, according to Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Seetharaman.
Seetharaman also defended the Centre, saying it is working for the poorest of the poor. In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express, she spoke about the recent outcry over chanting the slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, the JNU issue and the beef controversy. Excerpts:
You have said on record that the best advice you got was this: “Do not go to any extremes.” But don’t you think that your party, the BJP, is pushing the country, its society and people to extremes. Don’t the Dadri lynching, the Jharkhand killings and the beef scare disturb you?
Not at all. I think many of these issues have been completely blown out of proportion. Many of these issues have been pre-decided.. on how they should be reported. Once that has happened, the BJP is approached for its point of view. As a result, it is unfavourably stacked up against the BJP. The BJP is being pushed to the wall to say things.
You mentioned Dadri as an example. I will take the church attacks in Delhi. The attacks happened, each for different reasons. Now, it is proved that they had nothing to do with the BJP. It was said that the Narendra Modi government has come, churches are being attacked, Christians are being put in difficulty. In the detailed inquiry, it has come out that each attack had its own reason and none of it had anything to do with the BJP. At that time, in that environment, you would have asked me the same question. Do you believe in the middle path? Is this not pushing you to an extreme?
The extremes didn’t happen. An atmosphere of intolerance is being created, it is not the BJP that’s behind it. Things are ‘spoken’ about intolerance, rather than any such thing happening on the ground. There is an interested group which wants to build up such an environment… that under Modi you will not be allowed to speak freely. The ground reality does not match it.
But then, how will you defend the Ramzade-Haramzade comment by your party’s MP?
This government is doing so much. Its actions are for the poorest of poor who never even had bank accounts. A vegetable vendor can now get a bank loan without collateral. Transparency has been brought at the lowest level, workers under MNREGA are being paid directly through their bank accounts. There are so many things happening which is reflective of how this government is helping the common man. Five crore women are being given free gas connections. All these your eyes don’t pick up. You pick up ‘Haramzade’… Did you ask questions when the UPA’s leaders spoke the language of communalism on sensitive issues?
What are your thoughts about the latest debate on forcing people to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
No, wait a minute. What is ‘forcing’? What is wrong in saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’?
Doesn’t the ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ issue carry certain nuances?
What are the nuances? ‘Bharat Mata ki No Jai bolein (Say Bharat Mata ki No Jai)? Bharat Mata ki Barbaadi Bolein (Say Bharat Mata’s destruction)?
Aren’t you aware of the Supreme Court’s judgment that exempted Jehovah’s Witnesses from singing the national anthem?
I know about it… let’s be clear there are no debates on this. We have taken our position and we will go on convincing people.
Let me speak about the JNU issue. On February 9, along with separatists, slogans were raised about ‘Bharat Tere Tukade Hazar Honge (India, you will become a thousand pieces)’… to hold a meeting to remember the man (Afzal Guru) who was given all available opportunity under the judicial process and then say ‘Tere Kaatil Abhi Zinda Hai (Your killers are still alive)’. Are you saying that the entire judiciary was wrong? Are you celebrating a person who has been punished after due process? I am sorry, this is not the JNU that I belong to.
We also had students’ protests. When I was in JNU during Indira Gandhi’s rule, some 67 students were sent to Tihar jail and some 160 were arrested the night before for gheraoing the Vice-Chancellor because he had taken disciplinary action by locking the room of a student. For gheraoing the Vice-Chancellor, you get Tihar jail, for those who speak about ‘Desh ki Barbadi’ (Destruction of the nation)’ you have compassion.
These are just not political issues, these are emotional issues as well. The Indian Express columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote recently that the problem with BJP’s current politics is that once you unleash these emotions in people you will never know the end result. Are you not worried?
No, I am not at all worried. If the government is not concerned about the laws of the land and the future of the country, who else will be? In Delhi, in the campus of learning where I once studied — and I am not at all against discussions — can you have such slogans? From 2002 to May 2014, what abuses had the then chief minister of Gujarat (Narendra Modi) faced? What abuses had we faced when we defended him?
Many of these people have gone to support the JNU issue. The same people went to the USA to take help from senators to stop the bthen Chief Minister Modi from going to America. You are quoting Mehta, saying they are worried about the future. I am worried about such leaders who sought the help of foreigners to stop an elected chief minister from going abroad. Some of them are today identifying with the JNU issue.
But aren’t you letting the genie out of the bottle? These issues of nationalism, patriotism and ‘Bharat Mata’ are very sensitive.
Are we doing it? Are we shouting slogans like ‘Bharat ki Barbadi’? Who is letting the genie out of the bottle? We are the people abiding by the law of the land.
Couldn’t you have responded differently?
That’s what you think. When there is extreme violation against my nation, not against my leader, party or against me, we will speak out. You are asking about a situation where people are talking about the destruction of this country, then how was my action wrong?
In corporate circles, there is talk about JNU, sedition charges, the killings of Muslims in Jharkhand…
Who knows who has done that (in Jharkhand)?
One of those arrested is a member of a gauraksha (cow protection) outfit… Your party too believes in gauraksha.
Is he a member of the BJP? We do (believe in gauraksha). But that doesn’t mean I would go there with an axe to kill anyone.
But it is about the atmosphere. There is an intersection of political and cultural beliefs.
I will ask you this because you are linking gauraksha to the Jharkhand murders. This country has seen Naxal violence for a very long time. You have read Naxal pamphlets, you have read their manifestos. All of them say that this is a war against the Indian state. There are a lot of people who help them with medical and legal support and one of them was an advisor (Dr Binayak Sen) in the Planning Commission during the previous regime. Some of them even met these comrades in Parliament.
When 72 jawans died in Chhattisgarh, some of them celebrated. Did we ever ask them, ‘how are you cooperating with those who have declared war against India’? They were all doing ‘Lal Salams’. Now (you say) if someone spoke on gaumata, he must be a BJP man, why is Modi not speaking on him?
May I, too, talk of a level playing field? Go and ask the CPI(M). In their name, only the L is missing. Their name is, actually, CPI(ML). When these comrades do ‘Lal Salams’ to those whose manifestos advocate the destruction of India, why don’t you ask questions to them?
Investors say that if society is divided, their risk factor increases. If there is no safety of investment, how will you talk of speedy growth?
What kind of data have you got? Your judgement is correct. If society remains disturbed, and law and order is an issue, then investment safety will be absent. I also think so. But see the data. After the Modi government came to power, foreign direct investment has increased by 48 per cent. All over the world, where you think peace exists and law and order prevails, it has gone down by 16 per cent. After the launch of Make in India in September 2015, there has been an increase of 38 per cent in FDI. If FDI is coming to India, it means there is no risk to investments, there are no riots in India.
In January 2016, India’s exports were down by 13.6 per cent compared to last year. Imports decreased by 11 per cent and trade deficit was $7.63 billion.
I am not disputing your figures. Exports are not investments. What is falling in the exports sector? The dollar-rupee value that we are realising out of exports is coming down.
If you were exporting 100 things yesterday, you are exporting the same. The quantity hasn’t fallen. But because of depreciating currencies outside versus the Indian rupee, the realisation is falling. The value is falling, not quantity. Yes, we want to export more but it’s not right to link these things with law and order. Exports are falling and we are conscious of it. The demand outside is contracting.