Joining us now is the man at the centre of the storm but still keeping a calm and a smile on his face, Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma.
Did you expect, when you made the announcement, there would be this storm?
Anand Sharma: We're surprised that something good for the country, keeping in view the supreme national interest, the interest of the farmer, the interest of the consumer, the interest of the young generation, we're addressing the major challenges, which the Indian agrarian economy faces. At the same time also ensuring that the supplies chain constraints and the lack of integrated infrastructure, those issues get addressed, with the roll out of our policy, which also brings in FDI in organized retail trade. We're pretty surprised that those who are opposing it, what could be the agenda? It's very clear that a major national policy initiative is sought to be trapped in partisan politics, either dogmas or opportunism. Which is very clear when you look at the right or the left.
NDTV: It's very interesting that you'd say that it's a major national policy, because there might be two views on whether this is good for the economics. But let's accept for the moment that this indeed is good economics. The question is, is it good politics? And let me explain to you what I mean by that. Many wonder the timing of this announcement.
Anand Sharma: I know. I know.
NDTV: Why has it been done when Parliament is in session? After all, it's a policy that does not need to be technically approved by Parliament. Why did you choose this time?
Anand Sharma: We did not choose this time but you can say that it just happened. The PM was travelling and the many Cabinet meetings which could have been held but for these summits. PM went for the G-20 Summit, then it was the SAARC Summit, then it was the East-Asia Summit and the ASEAN Summit at Bali; and this Cabinet note was circulated quite a while ago and all the processes were completed way back in July, to be precise 22 July, when the committee of the Secretaries had met, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. That was the last stage. Everything had gone through one year of intense consultative process, involving all stakeholders, whether it was the Farmer's Association, the retailers, the consumers, Chambers of Commerce, Industry, State governments. After all that, and the Standing Committee, though they didn't agree with the entire exercise what we were seeking to initiate, but we had completed all the processes. Thereafter, even Parliament, in the Monsoon Session, got informed. So we were ready. And see, the procedure has to be put in perspective. After all this, yet another Cabinet note has to be circulated of the last comments of all the departments which was done. So even before the PM left for the East-Asia Summit, we got and ready and this got listed. Now, we can say in the hindsight, I don't disagree entirely with those who are saying that, were saying, you know, 'was the timing right?'
NDTV: You feel it could have been better timed?
Anand Sharma: No. But I also look at the other side of the coin, that should a government be frozen because of this issue of timing, when you are ready and the country is waiting.
NDTV: But in a sense, weren't you dangling the red rag before Parliament?
Anand Sharma: No, I don't think so because Parliament must respect the Constitution. Parliament must respect that it is an Executive right. So Parliament should be angry, and the Opposition, I can understand, they had legitimate reasons to do so. But their ideology cannot become the diktat for the day. It is an Executive decision. And it's enabling policy framework that does not require, even remotely, any legislative change or tweaking, and no conflict at all in the federal structure of India's polity. I would say one thing if one side is correct, that you say okay, the timing, the Parliament is in session, but the waters were not tranquil in the Parliament for a long time.
NDTV: I don't remember the last time the waters were tranquil.
Anand Sharma: Yes. Because even before the Cabinet met last Thursday, exactly before, what was happening, one issue over the other? So, larger issue, Barkha, would be that people of this country have such an expectation from their elected representatives, from the government, and also from the Opposition to ensure that the instruments of our Constitutional democracy, and Parliament being the highest forum of discussion and debate, function in a transparent manner, so that they are illuminating debates and matters that really concern our people. Whether it's the national economy or whether it is the common man's issue, whether it is the issue of corruption or whether it is the issue of development or national security and the global changes.
NDTV: So you are saying that the Parliament has been turbulent for so long internally, that in any case you were not hopeful of a constructive debate in the Parliament?
Anand Sharma: No. We were hoping that they would be willing to debate this. It is something which will be good for the country, transformative for the economy.
NDTV: They want a debate but they want a vote and your government seems shy of a vote.
Anand Sharma: It's not a question of a vote. When there is no legislative change required, and in normal course, an Executive policy decision is the functioning of the government. Am even surprised that it is sought to be dragged in this kind of debate. We are very happy. That this is being demanded for one reason that we do not want, as some of our friends in the Opposition do ask me, the PM and my other colleagues, why couldn't you do it after couple of weeks? Good thing. Maybe good politics, but at the same time a government has conviction, which has thought it through in the larger national interest, should we be doing things surreptitiously? When it came up before the Cabinet, we took the decision.
NDTV: Will this be a more politically wise, maybe politically smart?
Anand Sharma: This way, let the country be better informed, but let there be debate and let there be an informed debate. This is what I would urge, the main Opposition parties, particularly the Bhartiya Janata Party, that they should rise above partisan politics. There are issues where the nation expects a bipartisan understanding to be created.
NDTV: Yeah. You know, you've said that all the stakeholders, a sort of consultative process with them was undergone in detail. Your allies are turning around and saying, everybody but us. That's what the Trinamool Congress is saying, that's what Dinesh Trivedi has said on record. And we have reasons to believe that when this issue came up in the Cabinet, it was rather a stormy exchange between the Trinamool representative and many of the Congress ministers. So the question must be asked again, did you play poor politics by not taking your allies on board?
Anand Sharma: That's not correct, Barkha. First of all, all the states were consulted; DMK was in the government at that time. This issue has been in public domain for far too long. As I was explaining to you the process, after the stakeholders' inputs were received, sometime in November last year, this paper was rolled out on 9th of July 2010, to be precise. But this is not the first time that it had happened; there is a history of consultations among the stakeholders which was there, very intense and in a final stage during the previous NDA government.
NDTV: But including the allies, would you say your discussions have included extensive discussions with the allies?
Anand Sharma: In the sense that all the state governments got involved in the process. Now all the political parties are represented in Parliament. Parliamentary Standing Committee has consulted everyone. Then the Ministry of the Consumer Affairs, concerns consumers directly, also circulated it to all and the comments were received. I can understand that in the case of Bengal, there was a change in government. The comments, which were earlier received, was the position taken by the Left Front government. But at the same time, I was mindful of the sensitivities, so was the Prime Minister and the Congress leadership. So I had flown specifically to Kolkata.
NDTV: Before the announcement?
Anand Sharma: Well before the Cabinet notes were circulated.
NDTV: Well before the Cabinet?
Anand Sharma: Maybe, yes. It was around the same time that the PM had gone for the SAARC Summit. And Mamata is an old friend and colleague of mine. I've got highest respect for her. She is a very courageous leader who has thrown out the Left Front from Bengal after three and a half decades and we did talk very openly, and Mamata had opposition because of, you can say the dynamics in West Bengal, and her own viewpoint that she wants a specific model which could be in PPP mode and all. But that is her prerogative and we respect that. And Mamata did ask me that, 'Anand ji, if you could leave entirely to the discretion of the states?' and we have done so. We have ensured it is clarified and affirmed very firmly that it is an enabling policy framework, where we are seeking to do something which is progressive, which addresses the post-harvest losses, but at the same time the states are at liberty to embrace it or otherwise. So those states of the Republic of India who want to go for it, it is their discretion. Those states who do not want it and we respect that, whether it's West Bengal or whether it is our Congress-ruled Kerala state. Some states don't want it they can have it. BJP is going to the extreme, rollback or otherwise, that's unacceptable in a Parliamentary democracy. That's transgressing all Constitutional boundaries. Reason being, they do not like it. When they were in government they were doing it themselves, they had the notes ready. If you look at the interviews of their then Finance Ministers, their signatures on the GOM note, which is the Cabinet Committee empowered GOM chaired by the then Finance Minister. Then for them saying this is pure hypocrisy and opportunism. But, another thing, which I must add and through you inform our countrymen, that when it comes to a position being taken, that the BJP-ruled states shall never have it. Good luck to them. But in the Parliamentary Standing Committee, some of the BJP states and it's a matter of record, Parliamentary records don't lie. And nor are they manufactured by the government of the day. They have asked for it. I can name two states specifically, that's Gujarat and Himachal, the state where I come from. Even BJP ruled Karnataka was noncommittal they never opposed it. And you can access the report.
NDTV: That's interesting because I was going to ask you about the report.
Anand Sharma: No. There's another thing, for them to afford to say no, we shall not allow. Are they trying to convey, to the country, their states can align as their party position, that's their internal issue, that's unfortunate. I feel sorry for those states but those big states of the country who have asked for it, welcomed it and are ready for the rollout, states like Maharashtra, Andhra, Punjab, is a BJP ally, Haryana, even Rajasthan, Assam and many more. Now, does the BJP have a veto against these states in a federal polity? If we accept this premise, it will really undermine India's federal structure.
NDTV: Now, if you quote the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce, there was this report submitted under the leadership of Murli Manohar Joshi in 2009.
Anand Sharma: I'm referring to the subsequent committee where all the deliberations are available with Parliament, which is chaired by Shanta Kumar. It is subsequent to that because the discussion paper came in 2010 July. Murli Manohar Joshi's committee...
NDTV: Because Murli Manohar Joshi's committee opposed the entry of FDI in retail.
Anand Sharma: Murli Manohar Joshi also rewrote the BJP manifesto, apparently Joshi ji was the chairman of their drafting committee for 2009 elections, which reversed the earlier position, because 2004 position which they deny and it again speaks a lot of the convictions or lack of it.
NDTV: So you are saying a BJP headed Parliamentary panel, in a sense, is willing to take FDI in the retail sector?
Anand Sharma: No. They did not recommend, but they deliberated on this very document, which is the basis of this policy being rolled out. So what we had communicated through that has been deliberated upon, and the state views have been elicited and the solicitors were consulted.
NDTV: And on the 2009 report under Dr Joshi, which opposed it completely, in fact asked for a blanket ban, because it was the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce?
Anand Sharma: Well, you see, now that speaks again about BJP's denial of the past and pure opportunistic politics.
NDTV: But it's a Parliamentary panel, not a BJP panel.
Anand Sharma: No, no. I'm saying it was headed by Joshi ji. Parliamentary panel we have not accepted. It's an Executive policy. You see, you consult but we are not going to take a bill to the Parliament. Parliament is supreme, but it's only when it comes to legislation. This very clear demarcation, what an Executive remit is, and what the Cabinet has done, is the prerogative of the Executive of the Government of the day. That's all I'm trying to say...
NDTV: May I interrupt?
Anand Sharma: And it's for countrymen to judge. Yes.
NDTV: No, I was just going to say that you had an extensive discussion with Mamata Banerjee and she expressed her reservations to you.
Anand Sharma: She was very specific that you must leave it to the discretion of the States, which we have respected.
NDTV: Which you have done so.
Anand Sharma: In fact I've written to her. As in, my another communication yesterday had said, that it was in deference to her demands, that we've ensured that it is clearly affirmed that it is left to the States.
NDTV: Given that assurance you've made to her and your policy does in fact incorporate, are you disappointed by the stand that the Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee has taken subsequent to this assurance?
Anand Sharma: No, I think Mamata has also been busy and we will be speaking to Mamata. She is a very valuable ally of the government and as I've said, in my case personally, we've been colleagues for years. Mamata and me, we have known each other for more than 26-27 years. So, we'll continue to make that effort.
NDTV: She has a mind of her own though. She is a very strong-willed politician and it's not easy to change her mind.
Anand Sharma: She is. I myself have said so. But since, we've respected what she wanted, am sure that Mamata will also respect the right of all other Chief Ministers who want it. That's what I hope. But we'll continue talking. You know, you have to keep on negotiating and I'm not giving up.
NDTV: Let me ask you, many people have described this as the first major decision taken by UPA 2.
Anand Sharma: Second.
NDTV: Which would be the first? The manufacturing one?
Anand Sharma: The National Manufacturing Policy.
NDTV: Many people have said that this government, otherwise in its second tenure, to be in the midst of policy paralysis, people wanted to know, with the exit of the Left, why were reforms moving at the pace at which they were? There have been all kinds of other scandals and controversies that have engulfed this government. Do you politically see it as that? Do you see it as reassertion or an attempt by the UPA to set the agenda instead of to react to it?
Anand Sharma: Well, yes. It is setting the agenda. The last 12 months or maybe 14 months has been a very unfortunate period. I cannot deny that, difficult also for the government because what was happening in the country. One was may be because of defaults. We are a transparent and an accountable government. And there has been action. And as one country, where accountability's fixed, but see, we went through a very shrill phase too whether the scam was there or not. Or some accused who went to prison and some of them have come out.
NDTV: It's been a phase of public anger.
Anand Sharma: You know, public anger but also public anger where the opponents, instead of looking at it in an objective and fair manner, sought in that an opportunity to hit out at the government where the government itself was not responsible for some of it.
NDTV: Some would say, all is fair in love and politics.
Anand Sharma: Okay. It is their right. They have done it. But we were reacting, you were right, I agree. But now the narrative has changed. Now they are reacting to a very positive policy initiative. So they should be reflecting themselves.
NDTV: Some people have suggested that the announcement is to divert attention from the Lokpal controversy. That's the agenda you are trying to set, a diversionary debate.
Anand Sharma: No. On the contrary, I would say that thing started in July, before the so- called economist and well-informed Baba Ramdev and then Anna Hazare emerged on the National horizon. So this exercise was already on. So was the National Manufacturing Policy, which actually took a longer period. So, these are well thought out decisions emanating from our conviction and our concerns and national priority. But at the same time, yes, it now shows how hollow were the BJP's concern over the issues that they were raising, and Advani ji's Rath yatra because they have forgotten everything. Why, because of this? And I have to ask certain questions and maybe share this with you. India is the country of 1.2 billion people. Close to 650 million are farmers. And then you have this big number of consumers. Farmers also are consumers and you have 5 million traders. This policy that we have rolled out has a distinct Indian signature. It is different from the model, which is there in Europe and America on FDI retail.
NDTV: Because 30% of it will be mandatory to source in a sense from the small and medium industries.
Anand Sharma: Micro and small industries.
NDTV: Yes, micro and small industries.
Anand Sharma: But more important than that, it's a 51% rollout, whereas similar economies, developing countries in Asia, you look at Indonesia, look at Malaysia, look at Thailand, even look at China. I'm not going as far as to Brazil and Argentina or South Africa, but in these countries it's 100%. There are no restrictive conditions. Here we have put in enough safeguards. There is a threshold, minimum benchmark, 100 million. 100 million is not the maximum, it is the minimum, with the aim to create an integrated value chain and infrastructure. 50% must be invested in this country in rural India. That is where the infrastructure starts, cold chain, cold storage, agro processing, food processing. For a country, which is the second largest producers of the food grains in the world, our post-harvest losses are very high. But in foods and vegetables, again we are the second largest, producing around 230 million tonnes. 40% of it perishes. Farmer does not get the remunerative price. If a farmer gets Rs. 5 perkg, just an illustration, for one particular vegetable, you and I will end up paying, to bring it in our kitchen, minimum Rs.25 if not Rs.30. Now what kind of economy is this? What is happening is because of the number of intermediaries, a farmer bleeds, and you know there has been spate of suicides. Some of the most fertile regions of this country, where a farmer works hard, toils, do not get money. Men and women of honour, they are debt stressed and finally end up committing suicides. Not one or two but in hundreds and thousands, look at the figures of the last fifteen years, these are frightening. Now should we be addressing that or not? That the consumer gets the relief and when we are talking of these conditionalities, 30% is the minimum sourcing from the SME's. When you have big retailers coming to India, they will be setting up manufacturing units here. So manufacturing activities will increase. That will also create the jobs. When NDA-BJP's own internal assessment and their Cabinet paper of 2002 was that small retailer will be protected, which is one of the issues they are raising. Second thing that they are raising is that eight million jobs will be created. Now, after one decade, we are saying it could be at least 10 million if not 14 million because there are lot of jobs which will be created in the logistic chain.
NDTV: So I've got what you are saying. You are saying the farmer will actually get a better rate, you are eliminating the middlemen and in fact you are creating more jobs. The counter argument, let's go through some counter arguments. Arun Jaitley has written a paper on his criticisms of your policies. One of the things he says is 'Why should you need an international conglomerate to create the gold chain? Why can't the government of India do it?'
Anand Sharma: Well, good question. I can ask Arun Jaitley because he is a very wise man that they were also in government, if we couldn't do it, did they start? Did they make any effort?
NDTV: Does that mean both of you fail?
Anand Sharma: No, I'm not saying. It's a question of resources. Are we talking about building a brick wall around India, in a globalised world where there is a flow of capital, flow of technologies, flow of ideas interdependent, that we should actually insulate ourselves from the global trends and global chains? The Indian industry goes and invests abroad, earns billions of dollars through mergers and acquisitions. Are we that insecure? That those who want to come and work with Indian industry and join them as their partners, we are not giving them 100%. To create an integrated value chain, what's wrong with that? I see no merit in this argument. But let me also tell you another thing. When we adopt a model, which has taken into account India's own geographical diversity, socio-economic realities, its complexities, then it should be appreciated. Let's see what the experience is. When the organized retail came, if my memory serves me right, it was during the BJP's time. Organized retail was by the big Indian corporates, there were demonstrations at that time also, concerns were expressed at that time that it will destroy the 'kiraana' store, it will destroy the small retailer. That didn't happen by the way. Then, when Kentucky Fried Chicken to McDonalds to Pizza Huts came, then they said, what will happen to our poor 'Haldiram'? Poor Haldiram has become global. He has flourished. What happened to Bikanerwala, flourished. What happened to Nirula's, flourished, So, Iook at Nathu's and Bengali sweets. No body has collapsed.
NDTV: I take your point.
Anand Sharma: So this is just there are scaremongers spreading canards. I'm not talking of Arun, I'm talking of the opponents as such. And if you look carefully at the policy, India has 8001 towns and metropolis. It is being rolled out in cities with a population of 1 million and above. So, Barkha, that means, in reality, only 53, out of those 53 also, in some of the states, they are not willing. Eventually, they may and I'm telling you today, not a fortune-teller but this will happen and people will see what benefits have come.
NDTV: You think the naysayers will come on board.
Anand Sharma: Eventually. This is partisan politics, but when you look at the reactions, at the consumer forum and we have been receiving delegations and letters from the largest of the Kissan Unions, Confederations of the Farmers Unions. One letter the PM has received today which he has sent to me. Now, these are real people and they are talking. Today's newspapers are full, they understand the rural economy and what they are talking, why are not listening to them? Whose interest is BJP representing when we have taken interest even in the small retailer? And I want to tell the small retailers of India, and the 'kiraana' stores, these 'mom-and-pop stores' which are called in the European or the American parlance, they are fully protected. We've taken their concerns in a policy embrace because any small retailers, i.e. a licensed vendor shall have the right to buy from big retailer at a discounted wholesale price. So, what is sold in Delhi can also be sold in Jhansi.
NDTV: But the anticipation is that there will be what is called 'predatory pricing'. There will be consolidation and Yashwant Sinha, for example on my programme said, look what happened to the colas. In the end, India was essentially left with Coke and Pepsi. To which I said that is the scheme of Capitalism.
Anand Sharma: When the 'Thums Up' sold out, it still retained the largest market share.
NDTV: But 'Campa Cola' died, 'Goldspot' died, some brands do die.
Anand Sharma: Look at the 'Thums Up', and I've given you other examples. And 'predatory pricing' in India shall not be allowed. We have a competition commission and will put in place a structured instrumentality, which will keep an eye. Why, you see, if tomorrow we say that the weather forecasts says that it may rain or it may snow, so we should not send the children to school? You have to have guts. Have confidence in yourself, have confidence in your people. Look at the younger generation, they have received it very well. Why do you deny your people the benefits? Are we the repository of all the wisdom? I don't think I am, but at the same time, I do understand what people's expectations are. You have galloping inflation; you have an economy, which is under stress.
NDTV: Your GDP is down to 6.9
Anand Sharma: You have global challenges. Your manufacturing is down to 0.1. Your Rupee is continuously sliding. Your exports so far have remained in sound positive territory but our import bill is constantly rising. We are dependent on our imports for our petroleum products, for fertilizers and many other commodities. So anybody who is teaching this economics, at least I can say with full sense of responsibility, I can't accept it. I get puzzled when this is thrown at me, that this is the line that we should follow. Good luck to my dear friend Yashwant Sinha. I feel sorry. When they were in government, they had a philosophy. Change of seat, when they go from Treasury Benches to the Opposition, the philosophy changes.
NDTV: They change their mind.
Anand Sharma: Some BJP leaders yesterday were telling in Parliament, arguing with me that 'no, no, no, this 2004 manifesto was not ours, it was NDA'. BJP was a minor party in the NDA or the leader of the day? This is my question.
NDTV: Fair enough. There is a certain politics being played but I want to ask you a citizen's question. Would you accept at the very least, that there will be a redistribution of jobs? In other words, there will be people who will lose their jobs; the 'Kiraana dukan wala' will lose his job?
Anand Sharma: No, no, no.
NDTV: And those jobs perhaps get redistributed in the retail.
Anand Sharma: Can I tell you, even in a decade or so, India's retail trade which employs, you can say 50 million people, will continue to grow from where it is at present., roughly 700-800 billion Rupees maybe to a Trillion. There, the organized retail share will still be in single digit, will not be 40-45 Billion. This is the reality. Even after retail came in India, the same thing was said and the impact was 1.7%. But let's not forget that this trade, like other trades, with the growth of the economy, is growing. So, there has been more growth of small retailer than the organized retail in the last 10-12 years and the projections, analysts, very well informed economists after the FDI policy decision by the Cabinet, have said that in the next 2 decades, the small retail in India will grow minimum at 13%. So they are not going, they will continue to grow.
NDTV: But do you accept that in the process of giving a better rate to the farmer, to the wholesale seller and a big retailer, an international retailer with very deep pockets will almost inevitably be selling at a cheaper price than the 'Kiraana' store.
Anand Sharma: I don't think so that will happen.
NDTV: Even today, if you do a comparison, your neighbourhood store will be slightly more expensive.
Anand Sharma: As I explained to you earlier. No Barkha, you'll be surprised. Because suppose a small retailer buys at a discounted wholesale price, because let's look at the economics of it. If a big retailer comes and invests half a billion or a billion Dollars or Euros here, now when they know that the area where they can sell in trade is restricted and limited, are they going to continuously bleed? Nobody comes, that is bad business sense. They have to sell to the small retailer. Small retailer will not buy at the retail price of their stores but at a wholesale and discounted price. So, finally what the small retailer may end up selling by reducing the margin of profit because they will not need large..
NDTV: ...big properties, real estate.
Anand Sharma: Real estate, they will not have that consumption of power...
NDTV: ...so their capital investment is less.
Anand Sharma: ...or Air conditioning or large number of employees. And so, if they reduced margins, may end up selling at the same price or a reduced price than what these big retailers sell at their big stores?
NDTV: One more argument being made by Mr Jaitley, in the same paper, is that if you look at the American example, you will find that most of these international chains like 'Wal-Mart' etc. have actually diminished the corner store. He goes on to then argue, that in a sense, the farmer today in the United States of America, despite these chain of stores, is still having to be subsidised by the American government.
Anand Sharma: That's their philosophy.
NDTV: Why would it be different?
Anand Sharma: It's a larger issue. Mr Arun Jaitley should also know that in America, the land holdings are tens of thousands of Hectares for one farmer. It's commercial farming. Here it is 5 acres, 10 acres, somewhere 20, but normally fragmented and small holdings. You have half of your population living on agriculture. India's landmass is the same, which it was there in 1947, your population has gone up three times. You have movement of people from rural India to Urban India, because the land cannot sustain the family. In any case, they get such a poor price for their produce and half of which gets lost or 40%, now if you address those challenges, it will reduce that pressure. You will create more opportunities for the rural India, right from sorting, where again experience and technology has come in. What can be marketed? What can be sold? What can be canned? What can be pickled? What can be pulped? Tens and thousands of our rural women will get employment, and then in the processing industry and the refrigerated cold chain. So I do not know, and Arun Jaitley, I would like to most respectfully tell him, that why is he not acknowledging what we have been saying repeatedly what, I told Rajya Sabha on the 3rd of August, in great detail giving the contours of the policy. So for them to say that the Government has suddenly done it, no. Go by Parliamentary record what I told Rajya Sabha on the 3rd of August.
Anand Sharma: What I'm saying there is it is an Indian model, so why are they going back to the American model? I think they are thinking more about the American model. We never thought. We have brought in an Indian model.
NDTV: Okay, you've taken on the economics; let's come back to the politics. You said all stakeholders are on board, you're even confident that Mamata Banerjee will in a sense.
Anand Sharma: We'll keep on talking. You'll see optimism. Because what we are doing is in larger national interest. It will be celebrated by generations to come. Therefore, we will keep on talking and we have taken a decision which is the Executive...
NDTV: ...decision of the government. What about voices of dissent within the Congress party, you have had voices out of Kerala, Vyalar Ravi in the Cabinet, Mr Antony said to be not very pleased, two Members of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, Sanjay Singh Praveen Aaron. These are voices of dissent.
Anand Sharma: Praveen Aaron spoke to me today; he has not opposed the policy.
NDTV: He is worried.
Anand Sharma: No, he is not. He has given a copy of the letter. I've written back to him. I'm supposed to be talking to all our Members of Parliament and I've no doubt in my mind that the entire Congress Parliamentary Party will be convinced, because if you talk, of out of 207, 2 or 3 or 5, we will talk to them. And when we talk, without taking names, in our Cabinet deliberations, it's very democratic. You see, otherwise, how do you deliberate? We have a rich tradition, historically in this country that is of discussion, discourse and debate.
NDTV: What Amartya Sen called the 'Argumentative Indian' and our Cabinet is quite argumentative.
Anand Sharma: You see, eventually, Barkha, these discussion and arguments take place to build a consensus. Now consensus must never be confused with unanimity. I've yet to find, if somebody is ready to give me a name and address of living or the name of those who have been here, the illustrious Prime Ministers and the Commerce Ministers and Finance Ministers and ...
NDTV: Of a Cabinet with unanimous decisions...
Anand Sharma: Of any Government, who have got unanimity in their favour.
Anand Sharma: Nobody has unanimity so let's be very clear. I will still expect the politics, the partisan agendas, the skeptics and opponents but do they crowd out completely those who are not the 'nay' sayers, but those who are celebrating, those who are endorsing? Now, in a Democracy, both the sides have to hear each other and those who do not want it, as I said, have no right to tell others, that I don't have it. Even you can't have it.
NDTV: Do you believe the party backs the government? Sushma Swaraj writing on Twitter today says Congress President should make her mind known. We don't know whether the party backs the government'.
Anand Sharma: Can I tell you, I do not know what kind of internal dynamics BJP has. We have never asked Sushma ji or Arun Jaitley whether Gadkari ji agrees with them or not? Or Advani ji and Gadkari agree with each other or not, or the RSS? They should be worried about their own state. They should not be worried about the Indian National Congress.
NDTV: But does the party back the government?
Anand Sharma: Well, the party has articulated its position through the spokespersons. There is another thing which I'll say, this thing whether the party and all. We are a democratic party. We discuss matters. I can tell you that the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, she does not believe in micro-management or interfering in day-to day functioning of the Government. But as the Party President, she has the right to be informed. But her concerns have been to see that the farmers get their due, the consumers get some relief, and in particular about the micro and small enterprises, so that they grow, they flourish. That's all. But now, those who are saying, if Sushma ji is on Twitter, you know, I used to use Internet before I became a Minister. I was advised to stop using it when I was in MEA, given the sensitivities of the work that I was doing. I was working directly with the Prime Minister. So, I've stopped. Now, there is no time. And I envy sometimes those friends who have so much of time to Tweet and do all these things.
NDTV: Is that a swipe at Sushma Swaraj?
Anand Sharma: No.
NDTV: She is the Leader of Opposition; she is raising a valid point.
Anand Sharma: No, listen. She is tweeting. We don't tweet. At least I don't. I don't tweet about Gadkari and Sushma ji. So, it is, I take it there. But which party does Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, belong to? Shri Pranab Mukherjee, who is the senior most perhaps in any Cabinet anywhere in the world, is the Finance Minister of India or for that matter Home Minister Chidambaram. Or my other Cabinet colleagues, except for the Allies or I myself. I've been in Congress party for 41 years. So what are we saying? Those who are telling us about the party, they should also know that we represent the same Indian National Congress. I'm a Congressman first, then a Minister.
NDTV: Why shy away from an adjournment motion and I take your point that this is an Executive decision. It does not technically the validation of Parliament.
Anand Sharma: It's not a question of shying away. It's a question of what they are saying.
NDTV: If you have the numbers, you shouldn't worry.
Anand Sharma: It's not a question of shying away. It's a question of language also. We ask the government to roll back. We do not like this word at all. You cannot. This could be setting a dangerous precedent that Executive remit, Executive jurisdiction gets assaulted in the process. I think it's wishful thinking on their part. We are prepared for any debate.
NDTV: And a vote?
Anand Sharma: We'll see what the Speaker decides. I cannot speak for the Speaker. Parliament is supreme but the Speaker decides. This is setting a wrong precedent. They should rather be respecting the Government for being so transparent, open and sensitive about it. That the Government took the decision and the next opportunity respecting the Parliament, I went to both the Houses to make the statement, which I was not allowed to read. They could have asked me questions then. They could have started a debate there and then. We are ready. Let them start a debate. Let people of this country hear and let the Speaker decide what the Speaker wants to do with the motion, in what manner. I cannot speculate at this stage, because Pranab ji, the Leader of the House, is engaged principally with the Leaders of the Opposition and I do hope that better sense will prevail. Parliament must function and we must ensure that this highest forum for discussion and debate doesn't get undermined. People are watching.
NDTV: Do you see this as Prime Minister's N-deal Part 2?
Anand Sharma: I wouldn't say Nuclear Deal. This is India deal.
NDTV: Nuclear Deal moment? Kind of like that when he got adamant about the deal.
Anand Sharma: It's not a question of adamant, its question of your convictions. We have acted out of conviction. It's a well thought out decision. It's not something developed overnight and we stand firm on it.
NDTV: Last question. A wag in Delhi said there won't be a rollback but there could be a holdback indicating an indefinite postponement of actually notifying the policy?
Anand Sharma: No, I don't think so, if anybody has told us that.
NDTV: So, no going back Mr. Sharma?
Anand Sharma: Nobody has told me.
NDTV: I'm just asking.
Anand Sharma: To the best of my understanding, there cannot be any rollback.
NDTV: Could there be a reduction in the amount of equity?
Anand Sharma: That would mean we were not...
NDTV: Confident in the sense of...
Anand Sharma: Not only confident, it would then be a question mark on our clarity and our conviction which in my understanding and a very sincere one, is not the...
NDTV: It's going to be an interesting week in Parliament. Thank you so much Mr. Sharma for talking to us.
Anand Sharma: Thank you.