OPENING UP?

After shunning them for years, Narendra Modi has spoken to almost every big English-language newspaper in India

Quartz india
Quartz india

In the 25 months that he has been the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi has barely met the Indian media.

Apart from a lone interview to an Indian newspaper and a few to some foreign publications, Modi’s interactions—mostly one-way—with his countrymen have been through a weekly radio address, Mann Ki Baat, or at public rallies.

Wielding an iron grip on his government’s narrative, Modi had asked his officials to discharge little information to the general public.

However, all that changed over the last few days. First, he decided to speak to Arnab Goswami of the Times Now television channel last week.

And yesterday (July 4), in a rare interaction, Modi opened up to mainstream Indian newspapers on topics including, jobless growth, political opposition, the economy, and election-2019.

However, even this interaction was tight-gripped, as the prime minister’s office only responded to some of the written queries sent out earlier, although Modi did meet reporters separately on the same day.

Here are the key takeaways:

On his two years in power: “When we took office, there was a pervasive atmosphere of gloom and pessimism. Newspapers were filled with scams and their aftermath,” Modi told the Indian Express newspaper. He now believes that his government has managed to change much of the gloom. “A strong foundation has been laid for a takeoff.”

On media: Modi also said there was a section of the media that had hoped he would lose the 2014 election. “Before and during the parliamentary elections, there was a section of the media which strongly hoped that we would not win. My regret is that in the last two years, I have not been able to convince or persuade that section regarding our point of view. My challenge is to win over these sceptics, and persuade them of our sincerity and good intentions,” Modi said.

Goods and services tax (GST): The prime minister said states and political parties now understand GST’s benefits. This tax reform was a key highlight of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral agenda. “The states and especially the consuming states now understand the benefits of GST… I do not think any political party will try to commit suicide by opposing GST,” he told the Economic Times.

GDP: India is one of the fastest-growing major economy, but the 7.6% GDP growth hasn’t pleased many. One reason is that the on-ground situation still shows signs of a slowdown. But Modi defended his government’s record saying, “I do feel that ground reality is well reflected in purchasing power of the common man.” Modi also explained that investment in roads and railways has been good and credit ratings of private firms are improving. These, according to him, are “signs of a turnaround.”

Elections: Modi reiterated his long-held view on changing the election schedules to bring them all in sync. “The government’s work comes to a standstill during elections. That is why many people are calling for holding the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections simultaneously. If this happens, the character of the Rajya Sabha will also be ‘in tune’,” Modi told the Economic Times.

Tax terrorism: Global companies have often had problems navigating India’s complex tax structure. Even as the most high-profile cases remain unsolved, Modi is sticking to his stance that the government won’t resort to retrospective taxation. “As per our commitment, even while successfully re-negotiating the Mauritius double tax avoidance treaty, we have provided a clear transition arrangement to avoid any retrospective effect,” Modi told Hindustan Times.

Make in India: Modi’s ambitious manufacturing program, Make in India, has made headlines with glitzy events and massive exhibits. But there hasn’t been any material impact on manufacturing. In fact, growth in manufacturing continues to be anemic. Yet, he thinks otherwise. “Make in India has already begun to achieve tangible and specific results… We have much more to accomplish, but we have made an excellent beginning,” Modi told Hindustan Times.

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