By Soumitra Bose/Mukesh Kumar Sinha
Against the backdrop of growing criticism over minority issues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asserted that his government “will not tolerate or accept” any discrimination based on caste, creed and religion and that there was no place for “imaginary apprehensions” on rights of minorities.
The PM also came out strongly against controversial remarks made by some BJP leaders, saying, “we have immediately negated” wherever an individual view has been expressed regarding a particular minority religion.
In an interview to Time magazine, he was asked about remarks by some BJP leaders about minorities that have raised concerns among Muslim, Christians and some others about the future of practising their faith in India.
By the end of his interview with TIME magazine, prime minister Narendra Modi was in tears. That’s because after two hours of questions and answers the conversation finally turned to Modi’s difficult childhood.
But before that, the prime minister spoke—if somewhat repetitively considering his recent speeches and interviews, and sometimes evasively—about everything from foreign policy and economic management to religion and secularism. With a transcript that exceeds 6,000 words, not including the questions from the TIME journalists, this follows Modi’s rather lengthy interview with the Hindustan Times newspaper last month.
Quartz analysed the transcript posted on the TIME magazine website, omitting the preface and the questions, and charted only the prime minister’s replies. Here’s a selection of what he said—and, equally importantly, what he didn’t:
HE TALKS – On what he has learned so far about running India: The biggest challenge was that I was new to the federal government structures. Different departments tend to work in silos—each department seems to [be] a government in itself. My effort has been to break these silos down, [so that] everybody … looks at a problem in a collective manner. I see the federal government not as an assembled entity but as an organic entity.
On how he sees the U.S. : We are natural allies … [It’s not] what India can do for the U.S., what the U.S. can do for India … The way we should look at it is what India and the U.S. can together do for the world … strengthening democratic values all over.
On whether economic reforms have gone far and fast enough : [This time] last year, nothing seemed to be happening in the government. There seemed to be a complete policy paralysis … There was no leadership. My government’s coming to power should be viewed in the context of the developments of the 10 years of the last government vs. 10 months of my government … The whole world is, once again, excited and enthusiastic about India and the opportunities that India represents. Whether it is the IMF, the World Bank, Moody’s or other credit agencies, they are all saying in one voice that India has a great economic future.
On whether he would like to have the kind of authoritarian power that China’s leader has : India is a democracy; it is in our DNA. As far as the different political parties are concerned, I firmly believe that they have the maturity and wisdom to make decisions that are in the best interests of the nation. So if you were to ask me whether you need a dictatorship to run India, No, you do not. Whether you need a powerful person who believes in concentrating power, No, you do not. If you were to ask me to choose between democratic values and wealth, power, prosperity and fame, I will very easily and without any doubt choose democratic values.
On India’s religious diversity, which some citizens believe is under siege: My philosophy, the philosophy of my party and the philosophy of my government is Sabka saath, sabka vikas—“Together with all, progress for all.” Take everybody together and move toward inclusive growth. Wherever a [negative] view might have been expressed [about] a minority religion, we have immediately negated that. So far as the government is concerned, there is only one holy book, which is the constitution of India. The unity and the integrity of the country are the topmost priorities. All religions and all communities have the same rights, and it is my responsibility to ensure their complete and total protection. My government will not tolerate or accept any discrimination based on caste, creed and religion.
On what influences him: [Chokes and tears up.] This touches my deepest core. I was born in a very poor family. I used to sell tea in a railway coach as a child. My mother used to wash utensils and do lowly household work in the houses of others to earn a livelihood. I have seen poverty very closely. I have lived in poverty. As a child, my entire childhood was steeped in poverty. For me, poverty, in a way, was the first inspiration of my life … I decided that I would not live for myself but would live for others.