The Narendra Modi government’s negotiator-in-chief and one of the BJP’s key electoral strategists, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley explains how the 2019 poll is different from the 2014 edition. If 2014 was about hope, 2019 is about national security, he says, in an interview with Shweta Punj. Excerpts.
Q. After five years of the Modi government, all surveys show rural distress and jobs are a key concern. Is there a sense within the government that these are the key issues this election?
A. We have tried to curtail rural distress. The kind of investment we have made in rural areas is much higher than those done earlier. Who are the people getting houses, gas connections, toilets? They are farmers and rural workers. We have tried to raise the MSP of farm produce, but in the case of a large number of products, gaps still remain. Efforts are being made to narrow this gap. There’s a delivery gap too, but state governments have to be made accountable, they have to build a strong public procurement system.
Q. Why is it that rural infrastructure creation or Mudra loans are not getting reflected in the jobs data?
A. Data depends on who collects it, and the questions asked. You and I go to a family of four brothers who own a farmland of 10 hectares; you ask them: do you have a job? They say, ‘no’. I ask them: do you have a livelihood? They say, ‘yes’.
Q. The government faces criticism on ‘jobless growth’.
A. We have encountered so many fake campaigns; you can’t be the brightest spot in the world, one of the fastest growing economies and also be dealing with a crisis.
Q. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan was also quoted saying that a minister told him that we cannot be growing at 7 per cent if we are not generating jobs.
A. When you become a consultant to a political party, your views are no longer objective. You do it at a cost. He never questioned the data as long as he was the RBI governor.
Q. The BJP’s election narrative has so far focused on identity politics rather than development.
A. That is absolutely incorrect. If there is one election that has been free of Hindu-Muslim issues, it is this. It is national security that is the dominating concern and not identity politics. The performance of the government is one of our main electoral planks.
Q. How different is 2019 from 2014?
A. 2014 was an election of hope. Modi promised a future and represented a hope. He wanted to rid the nation of a non-performing, corrupt government. People voted for him. 2019 is an election for consolidation. It is an election for aspirations-this man can deliver because he has delivered.
Q. How will you counter the narrative that the Modi government will give you Rs 6,000 a year and the Congress will give Rs 6,000 a month?
A. There is no such narrative. The Modi government has given you thousands of things beyond that. According to me, NYAY carries no credibility with the masses because of the Congress’s poor record. Garibi for them is an instrument for fighting elections.
Q. The Congress has said there will be a single GST rate.
A. This is the suggestion of a person who doesn’t understand GST or India’s economic profile. Taxing rice and Mercedes at the same rate is an idiotic idea.
Q. Is there a sense that demonetisation could have been avoided?
A. Demonetisation was a critical step in the moral transformation of India. Post-demonetisation, the tax base has increased, digitisation has increased, tax collections have increased and India is becoming a far cleaner country.