It was the bloodiest Eid in Kashmir in recent years. Was the ceasefire a mistake?
It is not true that big attacks have not happened on Eid in the past. I don’t think that the ceasefire was a mistake. It was a decision that was taken keeping in mind those people in Kashmir who wanted peace and wanted to celebrate the pious month of Ramzan in its true spirit.
We are a democracy. So, we have to take certain decisions for the people, keeping their sentiments in mind. Some decisions have to be taken under a strategy. During Ramzan, the Army, the Central armed police forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police exercised maximum restraint. But, the Army and the security forces were never stopped from neutralising the terrorists, who were infiltrating from the neighbouring country. We are not calling it ceasefire; it was ‘suspension of operations’ for a month.
The BJP-PDP alliance is over. Do you think the alliance was a mistake?
The BJP did its best and tried to do everything to bring peace and development to the valley.
Do you miss Mufti saab (former J&K chief minister and PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed)?
He was a senior and mature politician. But, we should not draw comparisons. She [Mehbooba Mufti] also tried, but it can be a matter of assessment of how successful she has been. The Kashmir problem is a very old one and has been a major challenge for all governments. And, a major factor has been the challenge of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
There seems to be an inconsistency in the government’s approach towards the Hurriyat. Sometimes you say you won’t talk to its leaders, then you say you are open to talks.
A lot of people have been giving various statements. But you should take seriously only the statements by the prime minister and the home minister. We have said that we will talk to whoever is willing to talk to us. We will even talk to Pakistan if it wants to talk to us. But Pakistan should first address the problem of terrorism emanating from its soil. I have been saying that if Pakistan is really serious in its fight against terror and acknowledges that it is unable to stop it, then it should seek India’s cooperation. We are neighbouring countries and we can do it together.
There is a proposal that India should hold talks with the Pakistan army.
Pakistan should decide on who would represent it.
If Pakistan can talk to separatists, why can’t we talk to the Pakistan army?
No, it is not true that Pakistan is talking to separatists. I cannot disclose much on the options we have. But if Pakistan wants to talk to us, they should say it upfront. A few days ago, directors-general of military operations of both countries held talks. There was a let up in ceasefire violations for a brief period, but they began again.
Pakistan elections are round the corner. It is being speculated that cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan can form the government.
Yes, the Pakistan army is at it [supporting Imran Khan].
The national security advisers of India and Pakistan have been meeting regularly.
Yes, that channel is always there and those talks keep happening. There are phone calls made from both sides. But, both sides should honestly honour whatever is decided.
Is Modi’s Kashmir policy faltering?
No, Modiji’s Kashmir policy is correct. There is no doubt about it. It will take time; as I said, the problem was not born today or yesterday.
What has Dineshwar Sharma achieved in one year as the Central representative to Kashmir?
It has been a well thought out decision to send Dineshwar Sharma to J&K. Being the senior-most IPS officer, he has wide administrative experience. He is also mature and competent. He has looked after Kashmir affairs at the Intelligence Bureau. So he has enough experience. He has spoken to a lot of people in the interiors.
How is the internal security situation in the country today?
As far as the northeast insurgency is concerned, the security problem has been normalised. There has been a 95 per cent improvement. As far as left wing extremism (LWE) is concerned, there is a 55-60 per cent improvement. Earlier, the killings of security forces and civilians used to be rampant and there was an environment of fear, with a total of 135 affected districts. But today, on record, there are 90 districts which, we say, are LWE affected, but 75 per cent of the problem is concentrated in only ten districts. These include five districts in Chhattisgarh like Sukma, Dantewada, Narayanpur, and Bijapur; Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Malkangiri in Odisha. The Maoists are desperate because they are fighting a lost battle.
What kind of strategy brought about this success?
The biggest reason is the successful coordination between the Centre and the states because of which development has taken place at a fast pace and the security vacuum is filled up. The security forces have been able to set up camps and conduct joint operations in areas where there were heavy attacks on security forces in the past. We have increased connectivity by setting up 2,100 mobile towers, and the Union cabinet has given its approval for setting up more than 4,000 mobile towers recently. Construction of roads and hospitals and skill development programmes have together led to an improvement in the security situation, and our efforts are continuing in the remaining areas.
The states have set up their own forces on the lines of the Andhra Greyhounds. In the Bastar belt, the tribal boys and girls have been inducted to a newly formed battalion of the CRPF called the Bastariya Battalion. A new Black Panther force is being set up by the Chhattisgarh government. We have also tweaked the surrender policy. There has been a 112 per cent increase in surrenders by Maoists during the National Democratic Alliance regime. All these steps have brought about a big change.
But my constant refrain to the security forces is that the Maoists are in a state of desperation and may carry out a big attack. So, we must remain cautious.
Do you think the Maoist threat to the prime minister is a serious one?
We do not know who is planning what, and at what stage the plans are. We need to take all precautions. I have already set up a committee to review the prime minister’s security and it is going to be a continuous process. After we received certain inputs, we have tightened his security further. The prime minister has not said anything about any threat to him, but, as home minister, I have taken the initiative to beef up his security. He is the prime minister of the country and it is our responsibility to take care of his security.
Will the Naga accord see the light of day?
Yes, I am confident. Our effort is to reach a final solution and we cannot rule out the possibility of a final accord before the Lok Sabha elections. It is our honest effort that whatever framework agreement was signed between the Union government and the NSCN(IM), it should be matured fully.
There are concerns about the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill in Assam. Are you going ahead with it?
We are talking to a lot of stakeholders and will do whatever is required to address their concerns. The legislation has not progressed. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We are fully committed to protecting Assam’s identity, its culture and its linguistic identity.
There has been a rise in intolerance in the country—the assertion of majoritarianism, sharp divisions on issues like language and food habits. And, there have been lynchings.
There have been a few incidents of lynching. A few incidents have happened in Jharkhand and Assam recently. But it is not as if too many incidents have happened in such a big country. These have happened in the past as well. Law and order is a state subject. We issue advisories to states from time to time that they should act very strictly in such cases. We have asked state governments to take such incidents very seriously.
There have been allegations that the government is trying to impose Hindi.
No, it is not true. We are a multilingual country, we cannot impose anything.
The BJP has not given tickets to minority leaders, for instance, in the case of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
It may have happened by chance in UP. But when I was in charge, I gave tickets. Tickets are normally given to winning candidates.
Doesn’t it carry the danger of political alienation of the minorities?
In an election, the biggest factor is who is winning it. But yes, I agree, this precaution must be taken, and we will address it. We are also trying to build leadership in the minority community. In Modiji’s cabinet, there is representation for the minority community. It is a well-planned propaganda against the BJP, but I would like to tell all political parties that they should not indulge in any action that creates a sense of alienation among the minorities in this country; they should not do anything that threatens the sovereignty and integrity of this country.
During the independence struggle, the Congress used to be called a Hindu party. So, today it is a propaganda that has been launched against the BJP. If a sense of alienation has been caused by this propaganda, we need to remove it and instil a sense of confidence among people.
There is also fear among the dalit community.
All the schemes being run by this government, such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Bima Suraksha Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Saubhagya Yojana, Jeevan Jyoti Yojana, supplying free gas cylinders and providing electricity to each house are benefiting the dalits. Earlier, these benefits did not reach them properly because of middlemen, but now they are the biggest beneficiaries. This is all being done for the dalits and their empowerment.
How is the political representation for dalits in the BJP?
No other political party has dalit representation like the BJP has, with MPs and MLAs from that community.
In the Union cabinet, two-thirds of the ministers are upper caste, including 12 Brahmins.
The dalits have a significant representation in this government. Their representation will increase, we are conscious about it. We are also asking state governments to take it forward in a proper way.
As BJP president, you steered the party to its biggest mandate in 2014. How do you plan to defend your position?
We are still a challenger party. How can we be the defender? We have worked a lot and we will go to the people with our work. We have tried to fulfil the aspirations of the people and the promises made to them.
From Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka, the country seems to be headed to a ‘BJP vs the rest’ fight in 2019.
We are a healthy democracy. In India, people may be poor, but they are politically aware. They know that many parties are coming together to destabilise a stable government. An unstable alliance cannot give a stable government. And, if anyone can give a stable government in this country, it is the BJP. The example of Karnataka is before us, you read about political conflicts in the state every day. That does not happen when the BJP is in power. Taking everyone together is the BJP’s style. Even though we had a clear majority in 2014, we took our allies together.
The Telugu Desam Party has left you.
Some political reasons must have prompted them to do so. In 2003 also, some NDA allies went here and there. Still, we ran a stable government.
In Uttar Pradesh, the SP-BSP combine can pose a big challenge.
In this country, development can happen only if you have a stable government. And if anyone has a capacity to give a stable government, it is the BJP.
Are you confident of a majority in the general elections?
I am not denying that there could be a difference of two to ten seats, but still there will be a number of areas where our seats will go up. In the northeast, West Bengal and Odisha, the number of seats will increase for us.
In 2019, if the BJP comes to power, will you want to remain home minister?
This is entirely the discretion of the prime minister.
You have been a political successor to Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Yes, we have shared a very close relationship. It has been my good fortune that I have been able to do that.
What is that one unfulfilled vision of Vajpayee that you want to fulfil?
To make India a strong, self-reliant and proud nation where all people are happy and fearless. A poverty-free India, where there is employment for all. Atalji had taken a number of steps for dalit empowerment, for building infrastructure, highways, e-ways, for strengthening the rural economy, building a network of rural roads, conducting nuclear tests and making India a global power. The prime minister is trying his best to fulfil his vision. Our prime minister is very decisive, hardworking, imaginative, and popular among the common masses. The biggest thing is that no one can put a question mark on the intention and integrity of our prime minister.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi says just three people decide everything in this government.
At least there are three. In their party, only one person decides everything. On a serious note, we all sit together, the core group meetings of senior leaders take place, the cabinet meetings take place and there is a lot of consultation and discussion. [His comment] is an attempt to create a wrong impression about our government.
It seems the bureaucracy is dependent on the PMO. It is said that the Naga framework agreement was not discussed with the home ministry.
Was I present when the Naga framework agreement was signed or not? So, if I was there, did I go uninvited? All these decisions being taken on the security front, how are they happening? Is it possible for only one person to do all the work? In this government, there is full freedom for everyone to work. In policy related matters, we definitely consult the prime minister, because that is necessary. But no cabinet note goes without inter-ministerial consultation.
You are talking about a fearless India. The murders of Gauri Lankesh, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar have spread fear.
There was a Congress government in Karnataka when Gauri Lankesh murder took place. Now some arrests have been made. Such incidents have taken place in the past as well. I am not pointing fingers at anyone, but law and order is a state subject. We can only assist and advise the states, but to blame the Central government for everything is not fair.
Did the J&K government mishandle the Kathua rape case?
The investigations have been completed and the matter is in court. It is already under the supervision of the Supreme Court and we should wait for the judgment. The victims should get justice and we are committed to it.
Swami Aseemanand was acquitted in the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blasts cases. Lieutenant Colonel S.P. Purohit got bail in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. What do you have to say about the saffron terror threat?
Terror has no colour, no caste, no religion, no sect. The word saffron terror was coined only to blame the BJP. They [the Congress] even went to the extent of calling it ‘’Hindu’’ terror, but later apologised for it. Today we are seeing that terrorists are killing Muslims; look at Kashmir and the killings during the Ramzan month. So, whatever we have been saying is correct. By coining a word to defame a political party, you must keep in mind that you are hurting national interest and damaging the integrity and unity of the country. All political parties should exercise restraint and caution.
What about the probes conducted by the National Investigation Agency which found them guilty?
The NIA is an independent agency. If anyone feels justice has not been done, they can go to court. But merely blaming someone will not serve any purpose. The door of the court is open for one and all. But just keeping your own political interest in mind and accusing someone wrongly, cannot be considered appropriate.
You talked about bringing underworld don Dawood Ibrahim to India to face justice.
Yes, that plan is still there. We cannot talk about it openly. Hurdles are there, but there is no dearth of effort. And, of course, we need the cooperation of Pakistan.
You held the agriculture portfolio in the Vajpayee government. There is so much distress in this sector today.
The prime minister is committed to doubling farmers’ income by 2022. This kind of commitment is seen for the first time. There are some items for which we are increasing the minimum support price to 50 per cent of the agriculture input cost. Our target is to double the farmers’ income. We have also taken a number of steps to reduce input costs. Earlier, for fertilisers like urea, people had to stand in long queues, now there is no crisis.
There have been farmers’ protests in the country.
A lot of statements have come out, but have you seen any big protests till date?
Your government talked about cooperative federalism, but issues like the goods and services tax and demonetisation have been sore points.
The GST was initiated at the time of the United Progressive Alliance government. We have tried to simplify it. There may have been different political parties in different states, but it was with their consensus that we rolled out GST. It is not as if the Central government has imposed it. The consent of the state governments under the Congress was also there. So, why should you blame the BJP alone? Why not blame the Congress, the BJD or the Trinamool Congress or other political parties? Whatever decisions are taken in the GST council are taken with prior consensus.