'Focus is Development, Hijacked Headlines A Concern': Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Hindutva Controversies

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'Focus is Development, Hijacked Headlines A Concern': Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Hindutva Controversies

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'Our mandate is for development,' Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told NDTV

New Delhi:  In an exclusive interview with NDTV's Barkha Dutt, Arun Jaitley speaks about a whole host of issues, like his government's mandate for development, the decision to take the ordinance route for reforms, the raging conversion row, disruption of the Rajya Sabha and Robert Vadra's land deals.

Here is a full transcript of the interview:


NDTV: Hello and welcome. The government may have managed to reassure the corporate community with a spate of ordinances, which includes ordinances on land acquisition and foreign investment in the insurance sector.

But it's also at the same time received mounting criticism as to why it chose the ordinance route at all and is this tantamount to bypassing Parliament, given that the government does not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha, how often can the government rely on the ordinance route?

Well, it's not an easy time to be the Finance Minister of the country. On the one hand, you have the opposition and activists up in arms about what they call dilutions to the Land Acquisition Act. On the other hand, you have the corporate or the business community saying that the pace of economic reforms need to be much faster and they're expecting bold reforms from the Budget which is now just a little over a month away.

Joining us now, is the Finance Minister, the Corporate Affairs Minister and the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Arun Jaitley.

Do you believe you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, because you've got your left of Centre philosophy, represented in the Congress and several NGO groups attacking you? You've got the business community saying, for exactly the opposite reason, that you're not bold enough.  

Arun Jaitley: Well, their left of center philosophy is not visible anywhere in the country now.

NDTV: Politically, politically weak.

Arun Jaitley: Except in the Rajya Sabha. And therefore, it's been confined there. Now as far as the steps we've taken in the last seven months and the other series of reforms, which otherwise look very difficult, now if I ask you, name two good reforms between 2009 and 2014, and I'll name 20 negative things that happened during that period. But we've chosen this time to clear up a lot of mess that was lying on the table. Now you asked a question, why an ordinance?

NDTV: Yes

Arun Jaitley: You see, the Supreme Court said in the coal blocks that go in for an auction, we brought in a law immediately, so that the auctions could take place. Otherwise, the power sector in India is suffering. Between 2006 and 2014, this was a declining sector as far as India is concerned. 70% of India's power is coal dependent. We have one of the largest coal reserves in the world, and yet we couldn't mine, because of a faulty policy. So, urgently in the interest of the economy, it was required. The Lok Sabha clears it, what's the Constitutional provision, the Lok Sabha clears it, the Rajya Sabha either clears it or it rejects it. Then you go to a joint session. The Opposition adopts a policy we won't allow the Rajya Sabha to function. So it's struck there.

NDTV: But if you hadn't handed them issues on a platter, for example this whole, so-called 'ghar wapasi' controversy

Arun Jaitley: Well, I'll come; we'll come a little later....

NDTV: Yes, yes, But the question is if you hadn't handed this over to the Opposition, they wouldn't have had an excuse to stall the Parliament.

Arun Jaitley: No question, we didn't hand it over to them in a; they were determined not to allow the Rajya Sabha to function, come what may. And I have reasons to believe that, I've also been having conversations with them. Forget this session, now we'll look at the next session. This was the communications being given to most of us. On the first instance, when that lady minister made an improper statement, the Prime Minister clarified in the party meeting in the floor of the House, they said let the Prime Minister clarify, and that'll be the end of the matter. The Prime Minister clarified and for the next four days they didn't allow the House to run. We're not satisfied with the explanation, and the Prime Minister had give an unequivocal explanation, disapproving what she'd done.

NDTV: Why couldn't he take a similar, make a similar articulation on the conversion controversy...

Arun Jaitley: No, No, therefore...

NDTV: And thereby end the excuse of the Opposition to stall the Parliament.

Arun Jaitley: Therefore and still the Opposition would have again rejected it because the intention was not conversion. The intention was a convergence that Parliament should not be allowed to function. That was the whole objective. It's a strange scenario where the Trinamool, which has nowhere to hide after the Chit Fund Scam decides to disturb Parliament. Curiously, the Left loses its identity and becomes a stand by behind the Trinamool. And the Congress, which has traditionally supported some of these measures, stands behind the two of them. And they all collectively don't allow the House to run.

NDTV: You don't think the Prime Minister; had the Prime Minister spoken in the Rajya Sabha

Arun Jaitley: It still wouldn't have run

NDTV: Would've been forced to do business?

Arun Jaitley: But Barkha, we had the first illustration on the Sadhvi episode, when the Prime Minister spoke and for the next four days it was not allowed to run. We'd seen it in this very session, so what's the re-assurance to us that ii would happen? The Rajya Sabha may not run, but the country has to go on. People need power and that's the reason for the Ordinance. Now you come to insurance. Standing Committee clears it. Thereafter they say, a select committee of Rajya Sabha and we pass it in the December session. You don't allow the December session to go on, you don't allow it to be passed. You had billions of dollars of investment waiting to come into this country, you have people having to pay through their nose when it comes to health care bills, and therefore you need to establish those systems of health care insurances. And somebody says, well, because I have a grouse, because I have a problem with this government for some reason, you don't allow the Rajya Sabha to run. Now, on the Land Bill,

NDTV: Yes

Arun Jaitley: Nobody, unfortunately, and I'm sorry I'm saying this also about my friends in the media, seems to be seriously examining it. On the 31st of December, a draft notification under the UPA, Bill had to be placed before the Parliament. Not the final notification, a draft, which provisions will be applicable to the exempted laws. The Parliament would then have to approve, disapprove or modify that notification, obviously that couldn't go in December.

NDTV: Yes

Arun Jaitley: You haven't allowed the Parliament to function at all. And it is only after satisfying themselves that the government itself, the government decided to issue the Ordinance because 31st December was the last day. We substituted that provision and said all these provisions of compensation will apply to the exempted laws. In fact, that's a major pro-landowner relief that we've given in this bill. And the President then satisfied himself, and it is only then that the Ordinance was passed. And mind you....

NDTV: But the President did ask you why the hurry, why the urgency? 

Arun Jaitley: Well, therefore, this was the answer, that if by the 31st of December evening, it had not been issued then there would have been a stalemate as far as this bill is concerned. It's only after satisfying himself that the President agreed to endorse that Ordinance. Now you said, it's bypassing Parliament. Who says so? Doesn't an ordinance have to come to the Lok Sabha, doesn't it have to go to the Rajya Sabha?

NDTV: It will have to come back to Parliament.

Arun Jaitley: Obviously, you don't bypass the Parliament. It's a very nice phrase 'bypass Parliament'. Because of urgency, you've legislated, subject to legislation being approved by both Houses of the Parliament.

NDTV: But the amendments to the Land Act, have gone beyond what would have lapsed on the 31st.

Arun Jaitley: Obviously.

NDTV: Right, so you've made a number of other changes that have become subject to some debate. Let me first start with what Jairam Ramesh is arguing. Jairam Ramesh is first asking you were part of this decision. You were party to this decision, as an Opposition leader. He's making the point of this Bill, or the un -amended Act rather, went through two standing committees that were headed by BJP leaders Kalyan Singh and Sumitra Mahajan. He's saying Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were a part of this decision; it me after a 12-hour debate in both houses of the Parliament.

Arun Jaitley: Well, well.

NDTV: Why have you changed your mind within the year?

Arun Jaitley: Well, first of all let me tell you, since he's chosen to blame me, he knows what my views were then and what my views are now.

NDTV: You opposed it then as well?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I gave whatever suggestion I could, even to him. Why is it that Mr Nitin Gadkari, as a Rural Development Minister, calls all the governments State Governments? Every state government, including Congress government said, we know where the shoe pinches. The Centre doesn't acquire land; most of the land is acquired by the State governments. It's there that the development takes place. And most of them say our development process is completely crippled. Who's going to build the rural road? I'll give you an illustration. After this bill, which was passed during the UPA to develop rural roads, rural infrastructure, 35% of India has proper houses. For 65 you need housing. How will you get land? Your EMIs are going to multiply 3 times, once all this implemented. What about infrastructure? Infrastructure, industrial corridors, they all generate employment for the rural people who need to migrate into the urban sector. You need housing for poor, the rural migrants into the urban sector. Now, these are the segments that are going to be benefited by these amendments, which we made. The entire creation of the physical and the social infrastructure, at least cities, are still tolerable in India

NDTV: But you know this phrase 'social infrastructure'. Now, private hospitals and private educational institutions are now in the exempted category when it comes to consent and social impact assessment.

Arun Jaitley: No, no, no

NDTV: The argument is...

Arun Jaitley: It is not; let me correct you, the existing bill said, the original bill said, 'no acquired land shall be used for private educational or health care institutions.'

NDTV: Yes, yes.

Arun Jaitley: Now the effect would be a hundred smart cities, and those hundred smart cities would have a government hospital and a government school, a government college, but you would not have a private educational institution. You won't have a private college, you won't have a private university; you won't have private health care institutions. What is the rationale behind that? Are you, are you thinking of India? Maybe Jairam Ramesh's idea of India, that is not my idea of India, that we create world class cities but we don't have world class healthcare or educational institutions? I'm sorry. I disagree with that.

NDTV: I think the argument being made against this is that you're allowing profit-seeking big companies, whether they're in healthcare or whether they're in education, to acquire land without the consent of those who're impacted and how can this be defined as 'public good'? How is this 'public good'?

Arun Jaitley: The whole concept of acquisition, which is a sovereign power, it is described in a Latin phrase, which says it's a power of eminent domain.

NDTV: Yes.

Arun Jaitley: Larger public good prevails over private interest. And therefore..

NDTV: But is a private hospital public good?

Arun Jaitley: No, no, of course, any hospital is public good, any educational institution; what about the DAV institution? What about the missionary school, they're not for public good? There children are being educated...

NDTV: But tomorrow for Smart Cities, will this be extended to private hotels?

Arun Jaitley: No, we're not extending-

NDTV: You aren't, but I'm saying tomorrow you can make the argument that the smart cities are not complete without....

Arun Jaitley: No we haven't and that's why we've kept the hotels out. But to have Smart Cities without a single hospital or an educational institution, what kind of India do we want? Just because you thought it was a vote bank, which it didn't turn out to be. We are in the 21st Century, a 1894 law had to be amended, it had to provide for a 21st Century compensation, which it did. But it also has to provide for a 21st Century development, which, I'm afraid, it didn't. And therefore the aberrations we partly corrected.

NDTV: One of the other changes that your government has made through this Ordinance is that land, if the land is acquired but not used, earlier it said that if within five years, if it's not used, it would go back to it's original....

Arun Jaitley: That was, that was a provision put in out of sheer populism, without application of mind.

NDTV: But you supported that...

Arun Jaitley: I'll put it, it's only when you know where the shoe pinched that you decide to correct yourself. Now I'll tell you. You create a city. A township takes 40 years to be completed, a dam will take 10-15 years to be completed, a cantonment will take 20 years to be fully built. A highway, a railway track, they take years. Even a university, you build it block by block. Everything doesn't come up in the first day. So you will have a smart city, where 20 % is occupied by housing or by buildings, 80% goes back and it becomes agricultural land. I have said yesterday, in a blog that I wrote, that India would be a country of incomplete projects. Projects don't get completed, townships don't get completed in 5 years, dams don't get built in five years; irrigation projects don't get completed in 5 years. So, partly what is done is done, the rest goes back. What kind of a senseless provision was this? We now realize where the shoe pinches, once it was put into effect. The state governments have been representing to us, and therefore, what have we done? We have kept the compensation provisions where they were...

NDTV: Yes

Arun Jaitley: We've kept the resettlement and rehabilitation provisions where they were. We've gone a step further, we've extended all these compensations and R&R provisions even to the exempted laws, so the land owner get more, that's uniformally done. But at the same time, for five specified purposes, and those five purposes are defence and security of India,

NDTV: What Jairam Ramesh says, he provided for in the urgency clause of the last act...

Arun Jaitley: I'm afraid Jairam then, hasn't read the bill, which he drafted. And I'll just come back to it in a moment.

NDTV: Yes, okay.

Arun Jaitley: Defence and security of India, then you have rural infrastructure, you have housing for poor and affordable housing, you have industrial corridors so once, a corridor passes narrowly, an industrial corridor, it develop every village, which is close by; and then you have physical and social infrastructure where government owns the land. Now, coming back to defence....

NDTV: Yes.

Arun Jaitley: It's, it was a drafting terror that defence was not an exempted purpose. So you have to go through all the assessments,

NDTV: Due to the urgency clause...

Arun Jaitley: You have to go through all the assessments etc. It was only an urgency clause. So in wartime you can acquire for defence because there's an urgency, or in some urgent requirement you can do it. But the normal defence, for instance, if we need it for strategic purposes or nuclear purpose, we need it for a cantonment, we need to build ports, we need to build air force bases, there's no urgency. It can, the project would itself take ten years to be completed. And therefore, there is difference between an exempted purpose and an urgency purpose. They put it as an urgency purpose but not an exempted purpose.

NDTV: I think philosophically the criticism, or the question to you is, in a participatory democracy shouldn't the citizen have a right in what the state deems to be development in his name?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I'll tell you.

NDTV: Or a saint.

Arun Jaitley: In a participatory democracy, people elect a government. In a participatory democracy people can vote out a government. But in a participatory democracy, you can't, in the name of, create some provisions, which put the entire developmental procedure to a halt. Now I have given an option, let Jairam Ramesh, or others like him, who are opposed to the present amendment, tell the four or five chief ministers of his party, please don't implement this law and go by the old law. And I do believe, that we're not merely a country with co-operative federalism, Centre and states, we are also a country where there is competitive federalism. Which states they gain and which states, they lose out. Those states, who are opposed to it, have an option to say we'll have our own conservative law.

NDTV: You still have to take this Ordinance and all the other ordinances back to Parliament as you yourself said. How do you get it, if your argument is that the Opposition has converged to block legislation? How will you get around, because even to call a joint sitting, you need the bill, correct me if I am wrong, to be defeated in the Rajya Sabha first?

Arun Jaitley: You, you have, the Constitution itself provided for it. They did envisage this remedy in these situations. One House passes it; the other House doesn't pass it. There is a provision. You go to a joint session; one House passes.

NDTV: Only if its defeated, what if the Opposition doesn't let you work...

Arun Jaitley: One House passes it, the other does nothing for six months; even then you go to a joint session. So the Constitution thought of an India where there are reformists and there are obstructionists, therefore, these battle lines, which were not clearly stated then, probably were envisaged by those wise men

NDTV: Is that another way of saying that 6 months down the line, we are going to see this legislation through a joint sitting. Would you like to avoid a joint sitting or would you...

Arun Jaitley: Certainly, I would.

NDTV: You'd like to avoid it?

Arun Jaitley: Certainly, I would. And therefore I have no reason to believe, after-all, I have faith in Indian politics, that people eventually will realise that there is no point organising, asking people to invest in a state and then say that I wont give you land. Who is going to come to your state if you give him land? And how do you give land? Well, I have a 10 year programme of acquisition of land, then people will say that we'll look at another state where its more easily available or we'll look at another country where its more easily available.

NDTV: Lets talk about some of the other economic issues that are dominating the headlines. The Congress says that the price of petrol, by its own calculations, should be at 32 rupees and that the government has prevented the consumer from deriving the complete benefits of the plummeting oil prices, global oil prices. Now even if you agree with the figure of 32, the fact is by increasing excise on oil companies, the oil companies are not passing on that benefit to the consumers, so how is that really, in the sense, deregulating the sector?

Arun Jaitley: There is something seriously wrong. In the last 7-8 months, with the Congress party's arithmetic they thought that they'll get 272, got 44. Now, how do they arrive at Rupees 32, I really don't understand. You see, first of all, this is a very transparent mechanism, which is followed and Congress has been in power in the government. Every fortnight, you reassess what the oil pool profit is, what the oil pool deficit is. Now, out of the 11 occasions, that we've brought the prices down, 8 times it has been passed on entirely to the consumer. On 2 occasions, because manufacturing is low, Congress left the economy in a bad shape, we have taken it into the revenue, that advantage, after all the country has to support many developmental programmes, all your social sector schemes, I can't complete MNREGA because I have less money..

NDTV: So therefore, it's not going to be a deregulation from the consumer's point of view?

Arun Jaitley: No, no, therefore its gone, its a deregulation, so it comes in, otherwise, the other option is, I would pass this benefit off to the consumer and increase the income tax, or increase the excise in some other product. After all increasing excise is also a legitimate weapon of the government. On the last occasion, something very sensible we have done. What are the challenges to the economy? The mood is positive, people are looking favourably to us, investment is waiting to come in, we need to give a kick-start to infrastructure, improve on manufacturing; these are the two big challenges. The highway sector, which during Mr Vajpayee's government, when it was started, it was a success story has been a legacy, has been left behind by the UPA as a disaster. Today, there are no takers for tenders, the contractors have gone bust and bankrupt, therefore the government has to increase its spending on highways. So what did I do this time? The entire money on the 11th occasion is going to be coming to the government account and passed onto the National Highway Authority, that's spending, who benefits from the highways, the consumers or somebody else? So this Congress party's arithmetic of 32 Rupees is like its election calculations, they rely on imaginary figures, on each occasion, even if it goes on the government kitty, its spent on social sector schemes, the poor people benefit from it

NDTV: You have spoken about the cost of capital being the single biggest issue, the media interpreted that to me in the difference of agreement with the RBI Governor, which was subsequently clarified, but without the controversy attaching itself to it. Do you have a disagreement with Raghuram Rajan's assessment not to cut interest rates?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I don't think...

NDTV: Would you have cut interest rates?

Arun Jaitley: The RBI is a responsible institution, the government and the Reserve Bank have their own level of communication, its not fair for me to comment on this

NDTV: But when you spoke of the cost of capital being the issue, what else did you...

Arun Jaitley: Can anybody speak on improving Indian manufacturing and say, oh the interest rate, the money, should be available at high interest rates. Everyone who wants India to grow in manufacturing, compete with China and other manufacturing giants, would necessarily have to say capital must be available at very competitive rates

NDTV: So you do think that he should cut rates?

Arun Jaitley: Well, whatever the communications...

NDTV: You will not impose that view, but that's your view...

Arun Jaitley: My views on rates have been publicly express, I did not re-affirm them, but at the same time, let me say this, the level at which we communicate with the Reserve Bank, we maintain that communication and its a fair communication

NDTV: Looking ahead at the Budget, because in many ways that is going to be your, personally, your big test, many expectations of it. Are you going to continue with the incremental approach or are you going to deliver what the media calls a big bang Budget?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I have said this earlier, And I am repeating it, I am not in the business of a 9 o'clock programme that I must have a big bang show and then increase the TRPs. Management of the economy is a 365 day affair. Ever since this government took over we have done more reforms in seven months than probably most other governments that I can remember.  

NDTV: Yet you have corporate India saying hurry up, speed up the pace, you're not doing enough.

Arun Jaitley: People will say that. People will say that and I don't mind people saying that because India must get impatient. India must be in a hurry. It's only then that the obstructionists can be put on the defensive. But at the same time, let me say this, for a government who believes in a 365 activity, the Budget is a one-day affair, and therefore yet, Budget is an important affair. Just because Budget becomes a big media event, it's very easy; it's normal for anyone to assess what's the big announcement in the Budget. The direction for that year and the economy is certainly indicated in the Budget. The steps that you want to take are indicated in the Budget. But the Budget reforms and economic decision making doesn't stop for the Budget. A very large number of decisions, which we've taken, now the GST, the Planning Commission, the Insurance, I announced Insurance, defence, all the major decisions....

NDTV: Are you hoping to get GST passed in the Budget Session? It's the same conundrum, the Rajya Sabha conundrum.

Arun Jaitley: No, no. I think the GST, the way it's structured, hugely benefits the states and it mostly benefits the states and I have reason to believe that most states and most political parties are actively in support of the GST.

NDTV: But you know, there are specific...

Arun Jaitley: I am quite hopeful that in the coming session of the Parliament the Constitutional amendment will be passed and thereafter, we'll have to clear the enabling legislature

NDTV: But are you, are you exploring specific reforms? I take your point it's a 365-day business managing the economy, but are there specific reforms that you could act but you're not acting on. Let's take the LPG subsidy, it's been pointed out again and again, it's a 50,000 crore subsidy.

Arun Jaitley: You're 5 days late. We've actually started on the 1st of January...

NDTV: What've you started? Are you rolling back the subsidy?

Arun Jaitley: No, no. You see, can you, can you roll back on the subsidy completely so that the poor people are also not entitled to it?

NDTV: No, but people like me, don't deserve a subsidised gas cylinder.

Arun Jaitley: Therefore now you must tell your dealer...

NDTV: So you're leaving it to a voluntary....

Arun Jaitley: No, no. You tell your dealer, that's only as far as your individual case is concerned. But as far as we are concerned, you see the first step is that you put it on the platforms...

NDTV:  Yes

Arun Jaitley: which have been created, Aadhar and so on, so that there is going to be significant saving. The entire duplication and so on, the entire misuse will come to an end. The next stage would be...

NDTV: To cut the subs...

Arun Jaitley: Who are the categories to be excluded...

NDTV: So remove the middle class and the upper middle class...

Arun Jaitley: Which is the class you remove is a, is a different matter. At this stage we've implemented, for instance, now petrol is linked to the market, diesel is linked to the market, LPG subsidy has started going to the bank accounts, therefore you pay the market price...

NDTV: So you're saying, that going into the bank accounts, you're hoping to categorise people on those who deserve it and those who don't?

Arun Jaitley: No, that is the next stage. As of today, the duplications, that I can't get it twice over in my name; those duplications...

NDTV: But are you willing to set a timeline for cutting back some subsidy?

Arun Jaitley: I think you knew, this itself is a process that's going to bring some subsidies down.

NDTV: What about privatization? You have the Prime Minister ruling out the railways being privatised. You previously said the coal sector, we're allowing private players, but it is not the same as privatisation. There are PSUs like Air India waiting privatisation.

Arun Jaitley: No, you see the difficulty is when I take major reforms, whether it's insurance and coal and the land, a contrarian view, which is expressed by you, is why've you done it this way?

NDTV: Like I said, it's bet... you're caught between a rock and a hard place, because both sides will attack you.

Arun Jaitley: You see, no, but, as far as important steps are concerned, in coal, for instance, we've taken a major decision. For instance, everything now gets auctioned....

NDTV: Yes

Arun Jaitley: The PSUs get it, state and Center, the actual users get it by an auction, and once that is done, thereafter, while Coal India's monolith for the present remains the same, the others, you will consider using private investment into mining itself. But that's a step forward. Thereafter, we're not going in for privatisation of Coal India, the government has no plan at the moment. But there are ways of encouraging investment without entering into a reform, which may today, whose time today may not have come. Now, similarly, as far as other PSUs are concerned, we have a large dis-investment programme in December, one of the important PSUs we have divested significantly, and all I can say is please wait for the next few weeks.

NDTV: What, what are we expecting? Give us a hint.

Arun Jaitley: No, I won't

NDTV: Are you looking at complete privatisation? Are you looking at partial dis-investment, what are you looking at?

Arun Jaitley: You see at the moment I'm looking at dis-investment in some cases. And some cases arise which are absolutely non-revivable or which are not necessary in the government, I'm willing to look at privatisation at that stage..

NDTV: What specifically can we expect from the Budget in terms of any of these reforms?

Arun Jaitley: Well, you would've had a few dozen reforms that wouold have preceded the Bbudget, which they have. What is the challenge today? Despite all these reforms, I need to expedite investment, both domestic and international to come in and I need to....

NDTV: And you need to spend more and yet to have your fiscal deficit...

Arun Jaitley: And then I need to give a spurt to manufacturing, I need public spending and thereafter public- private partnership in infrastructure. These are the major steps which are further required to go back to that 8%-9% in due costs. Hopefully, this year we'll end with better than last year. The next year will be better than this year, and that's the road map. And therefore, steps in this direction are what we're going to take.

NDTV: Okay, now so since this is within the ambit of your Ministry and your expertise, how do we read the recent spate of some decision making vis-a-vis the Robert Vadra land deals? We've seen an income tax notice; we've seen reports that the Rajasthan government has scrapped the mutation of land that includes his....

Arun Jaitley: First of all, let me tell you...

NDTV: We've seen Haryana government ordering an inquiry...

Arun Jaitely: I'll only answer what deals with my Ministry. The correct facts are that whatever notice has been issued, the process was started before I took over this Ministry,

NDTV: You say that the process was started under the UPA?

Arun Jaitley: Well, what I...

NDTV: That's what it means. The process was started by the UPA

Arun Jaitley: It's for you to draw your conclusions.

NDTV: So you're saying the Congress government, the income tax authorities under the Congress government were wiling to act against Robert Vadra?

Arun Jaitley: To be fair to the Income Tax department, they have a system where individuals, that is, assessing officers don't take these decisions. If a particular return falls within the categories, which are marked categories, the computerised system itself chooses cases for scrutiny. And therefore, if a particular return did have something, which merited a scrutiny, the computer would have decided.

NDTV: What about scrapping of the mutation? That's a BJP government. The Haryana...

Arun Jaitley: I'm, I'm not dealing with that case so I'm not in a position to comment.

NDTV: But you know, some of the BJPs own supporters are a bit restless as to why the government is not acting more swiftly in Mr Vadra's land scam allegations. So how do you respond to that?

Arun Jaitley: I'll tell you. I'd rather confine myself to my own department because I've not checked up those facts completely and it would not be....

NDTV: But on the income tax notice?

Arun Jaitley: On the income tax notice, therefore, it's for the assessing officers in the normal course to ask for explanations. If valid explanations are given, that's the end of the matter. If valid explanations are not given then go and make an assessment order 

NDTV: So it shouldn't be seen as...

Arun Jaitley: And, therefore...

NDTV: The government finally getting tough on...

Arun Jaitley: Well, there's no question. This whole process had already started much before I became the Finance Minister, and to the best of my knowledge, it's a computerised selection of which cases to be assessed, and it's not a random draw of lots. There are criteria and if you come into the criteria, you're chosen for that.

NDTV: But you know, in Opposition you said, there was prima facie, enough to have questions raised by Mr Vadra's land deals. Have you changed your mind about that? Do you still stand by that?

Arun Jaitley: I still hold the same views. Except that, now as a Minister I comment on issues that I'm dealing with.

NDTV: Okay. Now I want to, since you wear so many hats, I want to shift gears to some of the other areas that you're actually dealing with in this government. The Jammu and Kashmir government formation, you went to Jammu, you met with your MLAs. The BJP has spoken about installing its own BJP-led government, a BJP chief minister. Is this realistic and what can you share with us about your conversation with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I don't think it's fair for me to share the conversation that I had with another political leader. Because once Assembly results throw up a hung result, there are only two options, either you don't have a government, go to Governor's rule and thereafter go to elections again, or within the parameters of a hung government you try and find a solution. Now here is an extraordinary situation, the BJP has an ideological position very different from both the PDP and the National Congress...

NDTV: Yes

Arun Jaitley: In fact, there is greater similarity between those two, but the arithmetic of the result is that either the three of them get together, the PDP, the NC, the Congress, which is unlikely, because the PDP and the NC probably won't get together, or the BJP gets together with either the PDP or the National Conference. It is therefore natural that people will talk. But, when you talk, you talk in confidence to find out what the stand of the other party is. They try and assess your own position. So these are only preliminary courtesies, which are meant to be...

NDTV: Are we heading for Governor's rule before Government formation?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I think if there is one state, which needs a popular government, it is Jammu and Kashmir. Secondly, the battle in Jammu and Kashmir is not essentially a battle between BJP and Congress, UPA and NDA or BJP and PDP or BJP and National Conference. The battle in Jammu and Kashmir is predominantly about the democratic parties, the Indian State versus the separatists; it's also a battle where some of the separatists are supported by our neighbour. So it's a much larger battle.

NDTV: Mufti had this grand idea of a grand, national government. A PDP-BJP-Congress government....

Arun Jaitley: I, I don't think...

NDTV: ...to make its own statement to Pakistan.

Arun Jaitley: You see, I don't think it's possible. But in terms of somebody with a sense of idealism suggesting it, that you can fight out with between Congress and the BJP in the rest of the country, for the sake of the country, come together...

NDTV: Would the BJP willing to consider it?

Arun Jaitley: I think, I think such a proposal doesn't seem idealistic, but there may be rationale, whoever suggested it. He has an argument in his favour so I'm not de-strengthening the argument, but I don't think it's realistic.

NDTV: But if it's about India versus the Separatists, why is the BJP not willing to be the more magnanimous party and say, for the sake of India, let it be a PDP-led government, we'll back off on our demand for Chief Minister?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I'll tell you the reason. We almost swept the Jammu region. The Jammu region, particularly, has always felt neglected in the power structure in the state. And the aspiration of the region is, for developmental reasons, not for any other reason, we want the same power and we want developmental processes to take place here also. And therefore, this whole idea of staying outside and supporting somebody else...

NDTV: Be the Deputy Chief Minister, let the CM-ship go to Mufti....

Arun Jaitley: I don't know frankly what will happen, I'm not involved in the nitty-gritty of the dialogue itself. Certainly when the main thing is discussed, I take an active interest in Jammu and Kashmir, so we'll all be there. But it's too early for me to say what will be the final shape.

NDTV: But you know these ideological differences, the PDP for example, wants the BJP to take a position on the Armed Forces Special Provisions Act, your position is the same as that of the Army, it cannot be amended, it cannot be diluted. The PDP wants a dialogues with Pakistan, look what's happening at our borders all over again...

Arun Jaitley: You see, I'll tell you; I would rather not go into individual issues. It's very difficult to expect parties to give up their ideological positions. Can I expect the PDP or the National Conference to give up their ideological positions? The answer is no. Similarly for them to expect that I give up my ideological... 

NDTV: On 370 or so...

Arun Jaitley: Maybe a little difficult

NDTV: But you can have a common minimum programme for this?

Arun Jaitley: At the same time, the issues in Jammu and Kashmir are three. One is sovereignty...

NDTV: Yes.

Arun Jaitley: The other is good governance; development arising out of it and the third is the regional balance and the regional representation. Therefore, any future government, I said this during the campaign also, will have to be on the principles of sovereignty, governance and regional representation. Once we take care of these three aspects, then to work out on what is to be said and what is not to be said without disowning your ideology is...

NDTV: Is the Chief Minister post non-negotiable?

Arun Jaitley: Well, I'm not dealing with the nitty-gritty of negotiations...

NDTV: Isn't it, should be, given the sensitivity involved in this?

Arun Jaitley: Well, according to me, for everyone, considering nobody has an absolute mandate, the best mandate, it was the PDP followed by the BJP; the NC and the Congress are clear losers. The BJP and the PDP are the winners in this area...

NDTV: But the BJP has also been talking to the NC...

Arun Jaitley: Because in this kind of a format, you'll have to speak to everybody. You'll have to discuss with everybody because then you, because it's the underlying question, does Jammu and Kashmir deserve a government; does it need a government or it doesn't need a popular government? We will be too happy, let's say, if there was Governor's Rule or President's Rule. After all we are in the power in the Centre, but we are not happy with that. We'd like a popular government.

NDTV: How likely is Governor's Rule?

Arun Jaitley: Well eventually there has to be a government.

NDTV: But it could be a Governor's Rule and then a government, which is what happened in one of the last elections.

Arun Jaitley: Everything is possible but eventually there has to be a popular government.

NDTV: And what are the odds of your to be able to reach a working agreement with PDP?

Arun Jaitley: I hope, I hope the party is involved in this process. Put their heads together and in the larger interest that Kashmir needs a government, we work for that direction.

NDTV: Now, Mr Jaitely, wearing your hat as Information & Broadcasting Minister, are you dismayed at the kind of silly controversy we have seen around a movie that has been cleared by the Censor Board? I am talking about PK. Now we have seen groups that are affiliated to the larger Sangh parivaar, the Bajrang Dal among them, actually indulging in vandalism and hooliganism

Arun Jaitley: You see, first of all let me tell you, first the legal position and then I will come to the political position. We have a Censor Board, which clears it. There after we have an Appellate Tribunal. If you disagreed, you go to the Appellate Tribunal. It's now going to be judged under the Appellate Tribunal. So, there is a judicial component to it. Theoretically the central government had the revisionary powers. But the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, in two recent judgments, have said, this is not the power that government can exercise. And therefore by virtue of a judicial construction they have said, the government should not get into it, and if anybody is aggrieved because that it has been wrongly granted and these Boards have wrongly cleared the film, they have to go to court. They can't come to me. But in a large country like India, free speech is sacrosanct, so whoever produces a film, has his own right of free speech. He can be an atheist and he say's that I want propagate a point of view, that's fair enough. Somebody who is hurt in a large country, with a particular, with a particular idea that has been projected, has a right to protest. But...

NDTV: But peacefully

Arun Jaitley: But the right to protest has to be peacefully. The moment it crosses, he can do it by an article, he can do it by an idea; he can even have a simple peaceful dharna, that's also free speech. Nobody has the right to indulge in vandalism and if somebody does, the law and order machinery must act accordingly.

NDTV: But I think the skepticism is that these are groups that are part of the Sangh parivaar and therefore BJP governments will not act against them.

Arun Jaitley: You've had in the past, after all we are a large country, some individuals and groups are more sensitive then others, so you've had people of all ideas and ideologies who protest to some such exercise of free speech or creative ideas of somebody else.

NDTV: But are they feeling more embolden because it's a BJP government, part of the larger parivaar?

Arun Jaitley: Not in the least, not in the least, because the government has made its very position clear, this is not an area we are getting into.

NDTV: So, you disapprove of what the Bajrang Dal has done in regard to this movie?

Arun Jaitley: I would not, I would not disapprove either the creator's right to free speech, or a protester's right to free speech. I would certainly disapprove any form of violence or vandalism.

NDTV: But how do you distance yourself from a group that is part of your larger ideological parivaar? Is that the main challenge before the government today, in getting its message...

Arun Jaitley: I think that's an obsession that some of you in the media have. After all has the government got into it? The very fact that the government has not got into this act, the very fact that we have made it very clear abundantly that we have no plans to act in this matter, is the end of the matter.

NDTV: No. No plans to act, means what, that you will not curtail this screening of the movie?

Arun Jaitley: We are certainly not going to encourage any protestor, has the BJP people participated in any procession anywhere or protest anywhere? The answer is no. Have our state governments done anything? The answer is no. Have our state governments not provided security? The answer is yes.

NDTV: Have you acted against these hooligans? I think, not you Mr Jaitely, but you are the government.

Arun Jaitley: The state governments will take a law and order action, whichever is the party in power in state, that's all; if somebody has a peaceful protest so be it. But if somebody has a violent protest, the state government must act.

NDTV: Now as I&B Minister and in many ways you are the face of the messaging of this government, do you believe that what has been unfortunate for the Modi government is that your headlines have got hijacked from within? You may blame the Opposition for being obstructionist, but what about the obstructionists in your parivaar who have created this unseemly controversy over this conversion and re-conversions?

Arun Jaitley: You see I'll first of all tell you; let me first make the position clear. Everybody has the right to propagate his religion

NDTV:  Yes

Arun Jaitley: You have no fundamental right to convert anyone. People can voluntarily convert themselves.

NDTV: But some faiths are proselytizing faiths, so you leave it to the people to decide....

Arun Jaitley: To decide. Therefore we can't have a position in Indian society where you say anybody who encourages conversions is all right, but to re-convert the converted is bad. Then you will have to have a uniform yardstick to deal with both the cases.

NDTV: But the re-conversion groups are associated with one larger political formation and that's why it's much more political.

Arun Jaitley: No, let me again reiterate, because I don't think I've been able to make you understand. is re-conversion any better or any worse than conversion? Or are you going to put both of them at par? Therefore the correct debate has to be, what is, is conversion permissible? What is the manner in which it has to be done? And that is why, when the present government in Parliament clearly stated, you have a model law and in this model law was made during Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru's period. Madhya Pradesh and Odisha and other states have accepted it. Let's have a national law to that effect, therefore, which is a national law, which will absolutely make it clear that how does voluntary conversion take place; either you ban it altogether, banning it altogether may not be possible, but then the process has been circumscribed by...

NDTV: So what would you like this law to be? Would you like this law, national law, to be anti-conversion law? That is the position of the RSS that stop all of them then....

Arun Jaitley: No, I'll tell you, I'll tell you. The law has to be fundamental right, compatible. And therefore the law which has worked in several states, it is there in Odisha, it is there in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, it's in several states and these are those regions which have a lot of tribal populations. Where conversion is an issue, re-conversion also took place in those areas, who wants to volunteer has to go to the Collector and file an affidavit and documentation, inform him, take a certificate from him that he is doing...

NDTV: Re-conversion is also counting as a conversion...

Arun Jaitley: The re-conversion is also a conversion

NDTV: In the Chhattisgarh Bill, for example, the Governor did not approve that the re- conversion is not a conversion

Arun Jaitley: Therefore you will have the same standard for both. Therefore the law will have the same standard. At the same time the criticism of the Ghar Vapasi programme will also have the same standard. Well conversion you can't say that conversion is good and re-conversion is bad, both will have to be dealt with the same label

NDTV: At the same time I think what I am asking you, are you worried about the headlines getting hijack, are you worried?

Arun Jaitley: Yes I am, for the reason that this government has come up on a particular mandate. The mandate has to be that the last few years of non-governance, economic slow down in the country, India has been falling off the global radar. We have to rectify that. The Prime Minister and the Ministers in this government are working overtime to actually correct that situation. There is a lot we are doing, there is a lot of distance we still have to cover and therefore at this stage we want our concentration on those issues. We would like to see the Parliament function, we would like to see the decision-making becoming much faster. It's already quite fast.

NDTV: But these headlines are coming from within your own ideological parivaar.
When Mohan Bhagwat says all Indians are Hindu's for example, that's not a headline that has anything to do with development.

Arun Jaitley: He said this earlier also, except that today, if two media organisations today play it up in a different context it becomes a controversy. And particularly if the Parliament is in session, people look for controversies to disturb Parliament. Therefore, everybody who has some sense of sympathy for this government and agrees with the road map that we are following will certainly try to keep these controversies away.

NDTV: But there is an abiding question, that the media, we got to know that the Prime Minister expressed his anger and displeasure in two different meetings of BJP MP's in Parliament. Why doesn't he express his displeasure publicly?

Arun Jaitley: Well he has done it.

NDTV: Publicly?

Arun Jaitley: Let me tell you. The MP's meeting is not a secret meeting, within 5 minutes everything is broadcast outside. In fact Mr Venkaiah Naidu comes out and briefs the media is to what's happened. On the first of these two occasions the Prime Minister stood up in both Houses and expressed his opinion, that's when the Opposition still didn't accept and allowed the House to be disturbed. I am asking you a question, why is it, the Lok Sabha is not disturbed, only the Rajya Sabha is?

NDTV: Because you don't have a majority there, it's a political....

Arun Jaitley: You need only 20 people to disturb, so the answer to this question is, the idea is not the issue, the idea is that in the Rajya Sabha, you can prevent the legislation from going further. The Congress has committed support to a large number of these legislations. So they also don't want to reach a state where they have to actually vote, because once they vote, they wouldn't know where to vote.

NDTV: But you wouldn't want the headlines to be what they have been this last month?

Arun Jaitley: Obviously I won't. I want the headlines to be, what a great bill in insurance, or in coal, or in land acquisition or GST that we have done.

NDTV: Well, all eyes on the Budget Session. Thank you so much, Mr Jaitely.



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