UPA government was unable to solve GST issues, PM Modi tells WION

PM Modi spoke exclusively with the Zee Group. Photograph:( WION )

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Jan 21, 2018, 06.38 AM (IST)

In an exclusive interview with the Zee Group, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of why he is the first Indian prime minister to visit Davos for the World Economic Forum in two decades, the difference he has made to the economy, how the world views India since he came to power in 2014, and how India's relationship with the global powers has changed. PM Modi added that it was unfair to list GST (goods and services tax) and demonetisation as the only big decisions of his government, mentioning his economic policy achievements as well. The prime minister -- he was speaking with WION and Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary -- also reiterated his views on the need for simultaneous elections Parliament and the state assemblies.

Here is the entire transcript of the interview.

Prime Minister sir, welcome to Zee. We would like to both welcome you and thank you for taking out time for our viewers before your Davos visit. 

Ans: First of all, I would like to wish the viewers of zee news a happy New Year. May the year 2018 be prosperous. May all their dreams come true, and when the dreams of citizens come true, a nation moves forward. 

Ques: Prime minister sir, you will be visiting Davos. if you look at it, you will be the first prime minister to visit Davos in over two decades. What is it that you would like to achieve. What is going to be your aim?

Ans: The world knows that Davos has become the panchayat of the global economy. The who's who of the global economy attend the forum. There are discussions around the long-term economic situation at Davos. People get the opportunity for networking. Businessmen are there, academicians are there, financial institutions, policymakers are also there. So issues of mutual interest get discussed. For the past few years, I too felt that I should attend. But I was not able to due to prior commitments. A lot of meetings for the Asean Summit are taking place in the run-up to January 26. Leaders from around the world will be here. That is a big thing. I had given consent, so I have to go. 

Also read: Proud to present India's success story at Davos: PM Modi says

India is the centre of the world's attention. The business world has India in their sights. The Indian economy is growing rapidly. The world has accepted it. Global ratings agencies, whether it is Moody's, World Bank or the IMF, everyone is saying it. So on one side, you have an economy that is developing rapidly, and on the other side, we have the democratic values. This is a unique combination, which the world trusts. So, this is a big opportunity for India. Secondly, India is a big market with big demographic dividends. So it is understandable that the world is attracted towards India. 

For the first time after independence, India saw the biggest FDI reform. This has not happened before. So if the world is attracted to India, they want to have direct engagement. Whether it is about policy or feelings, they want to hear from the horse's mouth. 

They are familiar with issues. Their teams keep a track. But, it is always better to hear from a head of state.  And I will be proud to present the growth that 125 crore Indians have achieved before the world. India has world-wide recognition. We must try and make the most of it. 

Ques: You spoke about FDI. I was looking at FDI figures. It has jumped from 36 billion dollars to 60 billion dollars. What do you think is the difference between the time when you took office in 2014 and you would visit such global summits and when you visit them now? What is the difference in the status of the nation from 2014 till date? 

Ans: Before 2014, we knew through the media. Maybe there was no conversation around what the world thinks about India in the country or what India thinks about the world. We were limited to protocols. After 2014, you must have seen that Indians now care about what the world, think about India. this means that there is some progress. 

For the first time in 30 years, you have a government that enjoys a complete majority. Around the world, a peoples' mandate in a democracy matters. I have seen the impact since the very first day, when I invited leaders of Saarc for my oath taking ceremony. 

The world has also seen that this government has a different thought process. So it was obvious that the world is attracted towards India. And India is doing well at home. If we don't perform well at home, then no one will trust us around the world.

The world is taking notice because we are doing well at home. Whether it is from the point of view of the economy, or socially, good governance or transparency. The world notices the impact of the firm steps we are taking. and you must have seen, that when we move from the 142nd to 100th rank in ease of doing business, the world understands that. 

Indians may not take notice of this, but the world does. You can notice what the world feels through the way they talk and engage with India. 

Ques: Have you ever felt that there is more weight to your words as after 30 years there was a prime minister with an absolute majority. If a foreign dignitary is visiting the nation or if there is a foreign investor, there is an apprehension at the back of his mind regarding the fact if the prime minister can keep his word or not. Do you think that the majority you enjoy has increased the world's trust in you and the country at large? 

Ans: We have a mandate of 125 crore Indians. The mandate is of the world's biggest democracy. People understand the meaning of this. It is not important that the mandate is for Modi. What is important are the citizens, their strength, and their choice. My job is to become the voice of 125 crore Indians. and I try to do that with honesty.  


Ques: Prime minister sir, we have seen that earlier, global events, be it Davos, or Saarc or G-20, would come across as a diplomatic exercise. A minister would visit, undertake a diplomatic exercise, follow a structured way. but with you, a warmth is visible, something that your opponents do not like. You hug them, speak to them with your hand on their shoulders. The picture gets printed the next day, which often get mocked at by your opponents, but that is your style. Like when PM Netanyahu visited India, your friendship became the subject of discussion. It was like a movie where you see two friends bonding together. This is a unique style of diplomacy. How do you forge such ties with a leader who is not from your nation, does not even know your language and probably has not known you for a long time. 

Ans: First of all, sometimes some drawbacks become your strengths. And it is in my nature to convert an adversity into an opportunity. When I became prime minister, I received criticism -- how can someone from Gujarat have the knowledge of the world? And everyone used to ask me, how will you handle the foreign policy of India. And in a way. This criticism was right. I had no prior experience of foreign policy. I benefited from that. 

I had no baggage. I was new. I used to tell the world that I have no knowledge of protocol, and I will be like a common man. And this is my open nature. This is being liked by the world, and this helps in establishing friendly ties. If I would have come through the conventional way, I also would have cared about protocol. I came from a humble background. But I try to make sure that my country does not suffer because of my style. 

Ques: But is there no tension in your mind, say if Vladimir Putin is standing beside you or Trump is beside him, how do you go about speaking to them? 

Ans: I may be standing before the world's strongest leader. I may be with the head of state of a superpower. I never think that it is Modi who is standing there. I always consider myself as a representative of 125 crore indians. and I live by filling myself with the strength of 125 crore people. and I always have that in my sight. 

Ques: A new tradition has developed after you took charge. People now debate the GDP growth rate. I don't remember people following GDP rates earlier, but it has almost become like the sensex now with people discussing the growth or decline of economy at regular intervals. You are also cross-examined by the public on the basis of these figures. There is criticism if the rates that you expected aren't achieved. This too seems like a new tradition that has come into being. 

I think this is good practice. The country's attention should be focused on the growth of the economy. One should never feel bad about criticism. In a democracy, criticism translates into strength. If there is no criticism, a democracy will not be able to function. And I think, everything must be analysed. Good things must be appreciated openly. One must be criticised openly. This is democracy's strength. But, one must work hard to criticise. One must do extensive research and factor in the positives and the negatives. We live in the Google age. The world moves at a rapid pace. So criticism is negligible, but allegations increase. And sometimes one misses a healthy point of debate. Yet it is good. The country is talking about GDP, agriculture and industrial growth. People think about the services sector, market forces, international perception. It is good that they have given attention to these issues. 

Ques: Modiji, since we are talking about foreign policy. How do you see India's role at a global level. Earlier we were limited to South East Asia. We laid emphasis on dialogue with neighbours and maintaining harmonious ties with them. We were never on an equal footing with world powers. Do you feel that we have now become a global power? Or do you feel that it will take some more time?

Ans: The world was earlier divided into two camps. We had to associate ourselves with one camp or the other. And policy decisions were taken under the shadow of the leader of a camp. The situation where a country's decisions were independent of a camp was rare. It was there but in a limited fashion. We don't have this situation now. It is like an open field now. Today, we have a situation where everyone maintains ties with each other. and they have their share of differences. We live in a world where we cannot stay isolated. This is an interconnected world. And in a situation like this, one will have to lead to prove one's place in the world. And if you remain pro-active, then the world also accepts your stand. 

Take the issue of corruption for instance. I raised it during my first G-20 meeting. And slowly it became an issue at the G-20 summit. People said that we should take the lead on issues of financial transparency, banking and sharing of information. 

And you see this in the context of India's engagements with other nations. This was made possible. We took a lead here. 

We raised terrorism repeatedly at world fora. We said that those who believe in democracy and human values should come together, and slowly, our position has been accepted. 

On the issue of global warming and environment, when former president Barack Obama came to India, he said that India had a big role to play in the
Paris Agreement. So India is playing the role of a leader on these issues. 

Ques: I was researching before this interview. I was thinking about the new global order. There was a new term that I came across which is P-T-M: Putin, Trump, Modi. This defined the global order for many.

Ans: People find new terminologies. But I think we should not restrict India's position. If we are in Saarc, we must move ahead with friendly ties. Similarly, we should ensure friendly ties with Asean, and G-20. India organised the India-Africa summit, we invited all countries from the African continent to India. 

Now, you take the example of world yoga day. This is not possible through a Putin-Trump-Modi order. Ever since the UN was created, in its 70-year history, if there was one thing that most countries could agree on, it was yoga. A record number of countries voted in favour of it, in record time. Even today, after World Women's Day, World Yoga Day receives the most attention. Had the leaders of just a few countries backed this, it would not have been possible.

We must establish our ties with the world, keeping in mind national interest. And whatever is best for india, we must try and achieve it. 

Ques: Talking about politics at home, Goods and Services Tax (GST)  and demonetisation have been the two most crucial decisions by your government. People had differing views on the same. The opposition parties tried to make the most out of it. How do you view these two decisions of yours? Do you think that the aim that you had in mind has been achieved? 

Ans:  First of all, it is unfair if you list these two as the only decisions of my government. Won't you consider bringing upto 40% of the country's
population into the formal banking system an achievement of the government? Many girls used to leave their school education because their school
did not have toilets. We took this mission, and built 4 lakh toilets in schools in a year. Is this not an achievement? The government gave cooking gas
stoves to three crore thirty lakh families. They used to cook using wood. Is this not an achievement? 18,000 villages of india had no electricity. The
government, in a mission mode, made sure an electricity connection reached their homes. Is this not an achievement?

For urea, our farmers used to stand in lines for days and nights. People used to steal urea. The government, through its programmes, has laid a strong emphasis on making sure that farmers get urea and neem-coated urea. is this not an achievement?

In 90 paise, 18 crore poor citizens were given insurance. Under this, Rs 2,000 crore has been given out as claims. is this not an achievement?

Twenty-eight crore LED bulbs have been installed in the country. And thousands of megawatts of electricity saved. Money was saved, and environment also benefitted. Those families who installed LED bulbs saved money on their yearly bills. In total, middle class and lower middle-class families have saved Rs 14,000 crores through electricity bills. Is this not an achievement?

And all these are economic policy achievements. 

Now about GST. The first discussions took place during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. But the UPA government was not able to solve the issues put forward by the states. As Gujarat chief minister, I used to present the issues of my state, but the central government never listened. The government of Tamil Nadu also used to put forward the same concerns, but they did not listen. the Maharashtra government also put forward the same concerns. 

In contrast, we addressed the issues of the states impartially. and we created ways through which their economic losses could be minimised. and the result of that has been GST.

The Goods and Services Tax shows the power of the Indian federal structure. In true spirit, we have respected the federal structure. This is a massive success towards one nation, one tax policy. When the country moves from one policy to another, there is an adjustment period, just like when you move your home from one place to another.

If you sleep in a different home, and your old home had the bathroom in the right direction. By habit, you would go in the same direction. Even though you had slept in a different home. This is human nature. 

But I would agree. no one will agree to implement such a big transformation in a short period of time. No one will debate this due to political reasons. But, in the long run, people would see these decisions as a successful effort. 

Ques: Both these steps are considered the "Rahu" and "Ketu" of electoral politics. When you went ahead with demonetisation, the Uttar Pradesh polls were around the corner and when GST was implemented, Gujarat polls were coming up. You must have anticipated that these steps could backfire when it comes to vote-bank politics, yet you went ahead with these reforms? What was it that you had on your mind? Did you not face any resistance because till now bold reforms had been undertaken after polls and not before them? 

Ans: It is my conviction that the country does not elect us because we have to fight elections. We get five years to take the right decisions and implement them. It has been the misfortune of India that governments have worked just to win the next election. I think governments must work for the betterment of the nation, and to ease the life of citizens. Governments must work for the long term and for the empowerment of the poor and women. and you must have seen this during my tenure in Gujarat, and now at the centre. Those who don't think of the elections, don't hesitate to take decisions. 

Ques: When every three months you would come under scrutiny, even if the party won one less seat, people would say that the Modi wave is waning. Every time there is a new target, it is said that if you fail the achieve it, people are against you. it seems that electoral politics has been taking a test of yours and your party too seems to be using you for elections. I remember your exhaustive campaigning ahead of the Gujarat polls. Do you feel that the country will ever be able to get rid of this? 

Ans: First of all, on my campaign trail in Gujarat, I don't know how you measure this. When I was chief minister, and not the prime minister, I used to have long travel schedules like these. And when I was just a party worker, I had the same travel schedule. Maybe, I am the first elected leader who has spent nights in 80 per cent of India's districts. 

This means, staying connected to the people on the ground has been part of the way I work. 

Secondly, when we go for election campaigning, and this is true, elected officials must step outside their air conditioned offices and spend time among the people. So when I have to go, I go. It's not correct to say my party is using me. If the party does not make use of me, then what use am I to the party. If I am not of any use to the country, then I am useless. I am not here for myself, I am here to serve others. I want the country to make the most of me. Every second of my existence is for the country. I am proud of that. 

Ques: Many times you have said that the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls be held simultaneously but a lot of people won't agree to this. Do you see a ray of hope or do you feel that you will have to wait till you have a majority in the Rajya Sabha?

Ans: I am glad that Zee News has raised this. No one touches these issues at all. At least you raised this. This is not the first time that this has come
up. Leaders before me also have talked about this. Even former president Pranab Mukherjee used to favour this. If you see this from a logical point of
view, then the country is always in election mode. Even before you are done with one election, it's time for the next one. The government is made up
of people from political parties. Political parties fight elections. The country suffers when politicians are always occupied with elections. Now during
election time, even I have to give my attention to campaigning. 

Secondly, the federal structure of the country is affected due to multiple elections. This is because one has to make political statements during campaigning. And the power of electronic media is such that even if there is an election in Tripura, the speech will be heard in Goa. Similarly, it will reach Kerala as well, and then there will be a politicial back and forth there as well. And this damages the federal fabric of the country. 

Even during Holi, we only celebrate with colours on one day, and not the entire year. elections are like festival. all polls should happen in a fixed time period. Secondly, election commission is also an observer during the election. As many as 70-80 good officers travel around the year because of elections. They have to stay out for 40-50 days. You tell me yourself, if the best officers of a state are out for so many days, how will the state function? 

Third, in 2009, parties spent Rs 1000-1100 crore on elections. In 2014, that expense reached Rs 4,000 crores. In one polling booth, on an average, 11 people are posted. The country has 10 lakh poll booths. This shows how much we spend on manpower and money on elections. The biggest loss is on account of the deployment of security forces. Several thousand troops are involved in elections. They are involved in elections for upto 200 days instead of being deployed on security duties. And the budget is limited. If the elections happen together, then the country can save a lot. 

Also Read: My government's only agenda for Budget is development, says PM Modi

Ques: I feel that you have talked about it today and have explained it in great detail. I think it will trigger a discussion.

Ans: It's not a question of whether I can do it or not. we all can do it together. The day I think that only I can do it, it will not happen. The day BJP thinks that only they can do it, it will not happen. This is not something that can be driven as a political agenda. Everyone needs to come together to make this happen in the interest of the nation.

At least a conversation should begin, on TV debates and in the newspapers. Constitution experts should get involved. We all should get involved. After 2-3 months of discussion, we will reach some consensus.  

You see how much we are spending in the election process. beyond the cost, our security forces are always involved with elections, instead of focusing on things that actually matter.

Ques: One question that everyone wanted me to ask you is about employment. You know that India is a young nation and employment is an everyday topic of discussion. The latest figures by the government are optimistic, there have been greater opportunities for the people but not many trust these figures. They come up with new figures every now and then. For instance, in 2013 you promised that you would generate one crore jobs when you come to power. You had 1,826 days to run the government of which 1,334 days are over today. Do you feel that we are heading in the right direction.
I have figures from the labour ministry. We have been generating 4.5 to 5 lakh jobs every year but to achieve the 1 crore target we will have to create
20 lakh jobs every year.

Ans: In our country, there are two sectors-formal and informal. 

It is an accepted fact that 10% of the jobs are in the formal sector, and 90% are in informal sector. 

A neutral agency has given a report that in the formal sector, 70 lakh EPF accounts have been opened in one year.  

These accounts have all personal details, alongside the money that is deposited. The reality is different from what some people are claiming. No one can deny the fact that road construction has doubled in the country, railway tracks are being laid and developed at double the speed. This is a labour intensive job. Now twice the number of people are required to do these jobs, since the speed has doubled. But this is part of the informal sector, which does not reflect in the reports. In the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojna, 10 crore people have got Rs 4 lakh crore in form of loans without security. Out of the 10 crore, three crore people have never been sanctioned any loan by any bank. So, it means, that they are first time entrepreneurs. They'll open small businesses like grocery shops, selling newspaper, tea shops. Aren't they part of employment generation? If someone opened a small shop outside Zee studios, and they earn Rs 200 at the end of the day, isn't that part of employment generation? These small businesses are not part of the data, but there is growth in the number of such businesses. We have created a skill development ministry. If the hospitality sector sees growth,
manpower is required for that sector. Similarly,  if there is 40% growth in the aviation sector, we need to develop skills accordingly. Around the world, people need new professionals due to an ageing population. we have a demographic dividend, so we want to develop the skill of our workforce according to the needs of the global job market. if you look at our efforts with Skill India, Stand Up india, and other government schemes, job creation is at the centre of it all. 

Ques: Modiji, you came up with so many new schemes. We know that the bureaucracy is responsible for the implementation of these schemes. There
was a lot of red-tapeism in bureaucracy before you assumed office. Do you feel that you have been able to bring about a change in the way they
function? People praise you for your vision but when they come to the officers, their work gets stalled. Do you think this too is a challenge? 

Ans: Instead of me giving this answer, if the truth speaks for itself, then it would be better. 

Within 100 days, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna achieved its targets. Would it be possible to do that, if the government machinery had not got involved. Three lakh crore people got gas connections. Would this be possible if the state assembly would not have got involved? Ensuring 100% adoption of neem-coating urea would not have been possible without the bureaucracy. Also, cutting prices of heart stents couldn't have been possible without the bureaucracy. Opening up small government dispensary to make sure that the poor can get access to medicine would not have been possible without the bureaucracy. So all these things tell us, if you work without any vested interests, then your team also understand your intentions. It may take two or four months, but you will get results. Today I can say, this is Team India, who are bringing these results. 

Ques: My second last question is about caste. You would have seen that politics around caste has grown, it is being used as a plank almost everywhere. We too have seen slogans like 'we will seize freedom', issues like cow-slaughter, freedom of expression, insensitivity, slogans like 'let there be pieces of the country' and the last one being 'democracy is under threat'. These are some of the things that we have been hearing. Do you feel that it is some kind of propaganda or are the conditions around us like these? And when caste is used in such debates? What do you have to say about it? 

Ans: The use of caste in mainstream politics has been the nation's misfortune. Our effort is to only work on the issue of development. There should be politics of performance, politics of integrity, politics around the future of the nation and there can be such people in all parties. It is not restricted to any particular political party. There must be people within the media fraternity too, who hold such views. We must keep trying to eliminate such thoughts. we have launched the 'Ek Bharat, Sreshtha Bharat Abhiyaan' keeping this in mind. It is to sensitise future generations, to rid them of such thoughts and make them think of bigger goals and how to achieve them. It is our responsibility to make it happen. 

Ques: Do you feel hurt when you hear such things like people saying that they should not be forced to sing the national anthem? 

Ans: There can be debate around the issue if it should be forced or not. We must introspect and think where did we falter in our education system that the principles that our freedom fighters laid their lives for are not being followed by some people. 


Ques: We would like to know of a secret from you, though we understand that you won't be able to tell us everything. You will be presenting the budget soon after your return from Davos. this is going to be the last full budget to be presented by your government. What is going to be the crux of the budget? Will it be a political budget? Will you try to appease the voter or will you go for strict measures? I am sure it will be a difficult choice for you to make.

Ans: Budget or no budget. Election or no election. First budget or last budget. BJP and Modi have only one mantra -- development. whatever is required to achieve this mission, we will do. That has been our only intention. 

Ques: Are you thinking about 2019? You must have started thinking about it because many of your schemes which will not be able to give results in five years time and they would need another term. Do you feel that you will come back to power in 2019? 

Ans: I do not waste time thinking about elections. I have reached here because of the faith of 125 crore people of the nation. I have complete faith in them. They will do what they feel like. I am here to fulfil the mandate that I have been chosen for. Where do i have the time for all of this? The future of 125 crore citizens is my mantra. 

Ques: Are you thinking about it? Is it at the back of your mind? 

Ans: Where do I have the time for all of this? The future of 125 crore citizens is my mantra. 

Ques: You live an ascetic's life. You also have a family of over 125 crore people. You never take leave. I have heard that when you are on an overseas visit, you travel in the night, you don't make a pitstop anywhere at night and spend it in the airplane instead. How are you so energetic even at this age? A lot of people can't even imagine doing what you do at your age. Your energy can put the youth of the nation to shame. 

Ans: I feel that it is my responsibility. All the time that has been given to me by God, I would like to put it to optimal use for the benefit of citizens. We have been hearing of this from our childhood that all our time and energy must be spent for the betterment of the nation. These are lessons that we have learnt in our childhood, the habits that we have acquired. It is true that the way I work is not the best. Some doctor friends of mine advise me against this. A few close friends also tell me to keep some time aside for myself. but I cannot stay idle. It wasn't my nature to live for myself. I have always been dedicated towards my work. I have always fulfilled my responsibilities. The blessings of the nation are with me and I guess this is what gives me energy. Whenever I see a change in the life of a poor person, I feel good about it. That gives me the energy to work harder. Satisfaction in the eyes of people gives me strength. It is my duty and I will continue to work. I would like to tell the people to continue blessing me to work with greater energy, enthusiasm and dedication.  

Ques: I have put all the figures aside. I don't have anything else to ask you. I just wanted to know if you ever think about your trajectory in life. The path that you have traversed. You are counted among the top three leaders of the world. There are surveys about you. You have a tremendous following on social media. Do you get such thoughts? 

Ans: I am a very detached person. I don't fret about superficial things in life. If I believe that this is what I have to do, I go ahead with it. I don't feel any difference between my childhood and my present. I am not prime minister in my head, and I don't want it to change me either. Though I am the PM according to institutions and I fulfil my responsibility. But I feel like a common person.

Ques: I remember when I met you first after you became the prime minister, I thought to myself how could you stay alone in such a big house? 

Ans: I don't even get to see the entire house. I keep to a room of my own. 

Ques: Thank you so much sir for speaking with us. Thank you.

Ans: I am very thankful to you and Zee TV.