M. Venkaiah Naidu, Union urban development and information & broadcasting minister, argues that the entire Rs 15 lakh crores in old notes that were issued by the RBI coming back into the banking system is a ‘great success’ of the demonetisation process. In an interview with E.T.B. Sivapriyan, Mr Naidu spoke about reforms in funding of political parties, the Opposition’s criticism on demonetisation and the political situation in Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa’s death. Excerpts:
It has been two-and-a- half years since the Narendra Modi government took charge at the Centre. How do you assess its performance and how well is the BJP prepared to face the coming Assembly polls?
We are moving towards more stability and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not only consolidating his position, but expanding his base as well. The Opposition is totally exposed because of its wrong moves; all the parties come together for a photo opportunity but fight amongst themselves. Other Opposition parties are unable to come out of the clout of the Congress, because of its dominance in the Opposition due to its all-India presence. The Congress’ image is negative in the minds of people, thanks to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Mr Modi’s mantra of “reform, perform and transform” has caught the imagination of the people and the best part is no one has any doubts about his intention to bring about a change though some people may have reservations about the method he follows. People think that the four Cs — Congress, Communist, communalist and casteist — have joined together to protect the fifth C — the corrupt. I am not saying they are corrupt, but they are coming to the rescue of the corrupt.
How are the Opposition parties coming to the rescue of the corrupt?
Their opposition to demonetisation sends a message that they are coming to the rescue of the corrupt. Demonetisation is a move that cannot be opposed by anybody; one may find fault with its implementation but not with the move as a whole. Any party which calls itself pro-poor cannot oppose demonetisation because it will be seen as an attempt supporting rich or supporting those possessing black money. The Opposition parties are opposing the move without understanding the basics.
The Opposition parties allege that demonetisation is a failure after the end of the 50-day deadline given by Mr Modi. What is your response?
It is a success. Currency, which was hitherto hidden under beds, carpets and in safe boxes inside homes, has now come into the system. Black money is unaccounted; it becomes white the moment it is accounted. I personally feel `15 lakh crores coming into the system is the biggest success of the move. Now there will be scrutiny. People who have deposited money in large numbers will be asked whether they have paid their taxes. If not, they will be penalised according to the law. The demone-tisation has ensured more money coming into the system and this means money will be accounted for and more money will be available for carrying out development.
Are you saying that the amount of (old) currency coming into the system is a success?
Yes, of course. According to the Reserve Bank of India only 50 to 60 per cent of the money it issues is put into circulation and the rest never comes into the system. But now, this move has ensured all money is coming into system. And now with digitisation of the economy, the role and importance of currency will be reduced.
But several people are alleged to have used Jan Dhan accounts and accounts of others to convert their unaccounted cash. How do you respond to this criticism?
In this “kalyug” do you think anyone will give the money back? As Mr Modi said, the money in your account is your money. The process has just begun on December 30 and now we will go after benami transactions. We will do it step-by-step. If someone has given money to a slum dweller, the person in the slum will get richer. That’s all I can say. I know scrutinising every account is a gigantic task, but Mr Modi is known to take up challenges.
Opposition parties say that from unearthing black money the demonetisation move has just been reduced to achieving a cashless economy.
They are either ignorant or trying to be oversmart. Digitisation is one of the processes to arrest black money. There will be fascination towards digitisation in the coming months and once they are attracted the new generation will stick to it. Digitisation is further to strengthen the fight against black money. It is not an afterthought.
Every political party says it wants to fight black money but its source of funding still seems to be non-transparent. Why can’t the government initiate political reforms?
I totally agree with you. That is the matter to be discussed. Why only political parties? Business leaders, media and every-body has to be trans-parent. Once the media was a nobel profession but today a lot of people are using the media for furtherance of their business and we have the new phenomenon called “paid news”. Is it not a fact? The point is that funding of political parties should be transparent, and Mr Modi himself has initiated a debate recently. We are trying to create awareness among the people and the next step is to get a political consensus. We are clear we want to be transparent and the donors should be named. Also, the amount for not naming the source should be reduced from Rs 20,000.
When can we expect the reforms to be initiated?
It is another challenge. All parties should come together; there should be a consensus and amendments will have to be made to existing laws. It will take some time, but we are committed.
What is your reading of the political situation in Tamil Nadu after the death of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa?
It is a great opportunity for the BJP to expand its base. It is but natural for any political party to try and expand its base. Earlier it was bipolar politics in Tamil Nadu, and even national political parties like the Congress and BJP had to align with them. We, the BJP, could not penetrate into Tamil Nadu till Jayalalithaa was alive. And I don’t know how much impact the AIADMK can create just by simply ruling in the name of late madam. The impact is yet to be known, and everything depends on the functioning of the O. Panneerselvam-led government and the AIADMK.
For the first time in the history of the AIADMK, there is dual leadership. Mr Panneerselvam heads the government while V.K. Sasikala heads the party. What is your opinion?
It is their internal problem. In a way, it is good for the party being led by one leader and the government by other. We (in the BJP) are following the same practice where Mr Modi is the leader. When I was BJP president, I took care of the party, and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was the leader of the government. Till now, in the AIADMK, both were one and the same. It is yet to be seen how long it will continue and how smooth it will be. It also depends how they function and coordinate without comprising on the basic principles of democratic accountability and constitutionality.
There is an allegation that the Tamil Nadu government is being run by the Union government through the backdoor.
It is totally wrong because the AIADMK is a friendly party and we had a special relationship with Jayalalithaa; we took extra care during her cremation. The AIADMK has always been a friendly party, though it is not an ally, and I hope the relationship will continue....