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18-min read

'Economy is in Gloom, We are Coming to Doom': MP CM Kamal Nath Expresses Concern on Current Crisis

Nath said the sentiment and will to invest in the country currently does not exist, which further amplifies the problems.

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:October 3, 2019, 11:27 PM IST
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'Economy is in Gloom, We are Coming to Doom': MP CM Kamal Nath Expresses Concern on Current Crisis
File photo of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. (Photo: News18)

New Delhi: He is the chief minister of one of the few states where the Congress is in power while the BJP electoral juggernaut crushes rivals across the country. An astute Kamal Nath on Thursday, in an interview with CNN-News18, expressed concern over the current state of the Indian economy, saying the country is unable to attract investment. Excerpts:

Analysts say that the Indian economy is going through its worst phase in the last six years. Where do you think is the root of the problem?

We must recognise that the Indian economy has gone from boom to gloom to doom. The indices for this aren't in the GDP figures. In India, the moment your two-wheeler and four-wheeler sales start going down, that's a red signal. That should set the alarm bells ringing because that is basic consumer spending. And you are seeing across the board that consumer spending has gone down. Why? Investment sentiment is at the lowest possible. At the WEF (World Economic Forum) India summit today, I talked to so many industries. I told them, what are your investment plans? Come to MP. They said, meh. Drop it. No one is in an investment mood. Investment is an article of faith. You cannot demand investment. You have to attract investment. And what are we seeing today? That the banking system has collapsed, banks are not lending, projects are not taking off and projects are not completed... 30% completed. The whole economy, every facet of it, agriculture is in a mess. And until this is looked at afresh... That is what we need to do, to stimulate demand, to stimulate investment. Which are the sectors which are employment generating. We must not forget that employment-unemployment is a very big index also.

You talked about banking and financial services. Would you shoulder the blame because of the indiscriminate lending that happened during your tenure, during the UPA?

Not at all. These were good loans because the bad policies turned into bad loans. These were good assets and with bad policies you made them bad.

What about Vijay Mallya? All this happened during your tenure.

Of course. It happened during our tenure. He was replying to all very well. He had a rescue plan. The government sat on it and did nothing. And the timing was so bad. The government could have rescued it. Governments have rescued it. In 2008 when I was the commerce minister, we knew what to do. Then the global crisis came. We had a strategy. But here if someone is going down, we have an airline that's going down. The government should have held his hand. Not to rescue him, but the business. We could have found another investor and told Vijay Mallya to take a walk.

But the government says that they have shown the political will and intent of improving the economy through big bang reforms, such as the cuts announced for corporates.

Cuts for corporates? First you raise the taxes, then you decrease the taxes. Why did you raise it in the first place...now just this reduction of taxes is not going to induce anybody to invest. Let's face it. There is much more to it. There has to be a sentiment, investment sentiment in the country which does not exist.

Is the worst over?

I don't think so. I think the worst is yet to come. We are today in gloom, we are coming to doom.

Mr Kamal Nath, you give a sense that the economy is falling off the cliff. If this is such an important issue, then why has the opposition, particularly Congress, failed to make it a rallying point to pin down the government?

I want to make a point here. What is now not in crisis is not because of government, it's despite government. If certain parts of the economy are functioning, are doing well, it's not because of the government. It's despite the government. And it's not what the congress does. Congress can't tell them to make these policies. It's for the government to analyse. To do postmortems of failures. It's for the government to see what the global situation is on trade. It's for the government to make these policies. Of course, Congress is talking about unemployment, of course we are talking about lack of investment, of course we are talking about joblessness in the auto sector and so many other sectors. The mid-sized industries are in crisis, small industries are in crisis. If the auto sector is in crisis then all the ancillaries are in crisis.

So you've done a postmortem of the economy. Come to the postmortem of your party. You are a dyed in the wool Congress leader who has been a Congressi all his life. The Congress party is today imploding. There are reports coming from the state of Haryana, from Rajasthan. Former Congress Haryana chief Ashok Tanwar has alleged that congress leadership is selling tickets. Congress Rae Bareli MLA has defied party lines. Congress is in a crisis in Karnataka. It's also in a crisis in Rajasthan where Ashok Gehlot demanded that there should be two deputy CM’s. Sachin Pilot should be removed as PCC chief as the party believes in one man, one post...

What's wrong? All this happens. This happens in the BJP. This happens in all political parties. I have a by-election in MP and there are so many rebels from BJP who file there nominations. That doesn’t mean that this always happens. In ticket distribution, what do they say? That so and so has got it and the ticket has been sold... Every time it happens. Whoever applies for a ticket says he is a winner, and whoever doesn't get it says 'oh so and so gave me a cut or the ticket was sold'.

So you don’t really need an opposition if you have this kind of opposition coming from within...

I don't think so. These are titbits of opposition. This is not the entire opposition, it's disappointment... You can't call it a crisis. Congress is throughout the country... You must remember that in four-and-a-half lakh villages of this country there are three things you'll find. You'll find a place of worship, you'll find a flower and you'll find a congressman... It was there, is there and will always be there.

Do you think it's also a problem because you don't have a full time Congress president?

I don't think so. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has been Congress president for so long. You must remember all this criticism that I've faced, all these questions I've answered... In January 2004, when I was general secretary for the party and we had Vajpayee as PM, what happened? Anywhere I went, people used to say Sonia Gandhi doesn't do this, doesn't do that... And you remember late Sushma Swaraj said I'll cut off my hair, I will become an NRI. Someone said I'll leave politics. And what did Sonia do? She made Mr. Vajpayee sit at home in 2004. I've heard all this before, I've seen BJP with 2 seats in parliament... We've had ups and downs. They had a narrative, a narrative which the people of this country accepted. But it's not necessary that this is the narrative that stands forever.

But do you think that the high command narrative you built is now a myth?

There is nothing known as a high command. It's built by the media. And what about the high command in the BJP? It's not even a high command, it's just a command. Two people running the show. And that's what BJP people themselves tell me.

But don't you think, Mr. Kamal Nath, that it's bad optics coming at a time when the Congress party is imploding? I am using that word again because you are also facing the same in MP because of Jyotiraditya Scindia.

I don't think so. It's not imploding at all. Neither in the country, and very far from it in MP.

What about Jyotiraditya Scindia? Looking at his nature of opposition, he has talked about how he is unhappy with your government survey of crops destroyed by rains and floods. And then he has also talked about illegal sand mining, stopping of which was part of your manifesto, and you have not kept that poll promise...

He has said that we should do the survey again. I know what he has talked about. The government is doing it. The monsoons there stopped. During one survey, the monsoons continued, so we had to do another survey. What is wrong with that? What we are saying, we are doing ourselves. I don't see anything wrong with that.

But this constant opposition...

I don’t call it opposition.

Doesn't it worry you that your government is on tenterhooks as far as MP is concerned?

I don’t think my government is on tenterhooks. We've demonstrated it in the assembly time and again. So I don't think it's on tenterhooks at all.

But particularly what Scindia has said, he has objections, has complaints. Has all that been placated?

I don't have to placate it. He doesn't need to be placated. If he is saying we should do a survey again, what's wrong with that? I don't think this is opposition. There are so many others saying it. Just because he happens to be Jyotiraditya Scindia, you pick it up in the media. The MLA’s are saying it, the ministers are saying it. And it is good they say that we must do this, we must look at this, look at that.

Is it a fight between the old guard and the young blood in the Congress? You are facing it, Ashok Gehlot is facing it...

I don't think there is any old guard vs new guard. We are a very cohesive set-up in MP.

What about Rajsathan?

You must remember that there will always be aspirations. There is nothing wrong with aspirations. If you are aspiring for something, somebody else is aspiring for something. An MLA aspiring to be a minister, a minister aspiring to have a better portfolio...

But why does this crisis actually reach the party president's doorsteps?

It doesn't. It reaches the media.

We saw you visit Delhi twice, thrice, in order to ensure that all is well within your party...

That was not my agenda of coming to Delhi. And I don't think there is a problem for me to come to Delhi for the party in MP. She (Sonia Gandhi) didn't step in at all. We never discussed it. We never discussed MP. I talked to her about a new president for the party (in MP). I've been president, and since the last 6 months I've been saying please get another president. I gave her suggestions of what consultations she should have. I said it because I want it. I've been saying this for the last 6 months publically, that we must get a new president for the party. I'm the CM, I can't do both things.

Let me ask you a question, the seed of which was sown by your own minister, that Digvijaya Singh is running the government from behind the scenes. We did not say it, opposition did not either. It was one of your own who did that what is the role of Digvijaya Singh in your government?

He has no role. He has an advisory role and I have so many people advising me. Mr. Digvijaya Singh has been CM for 10 years. He has been PCC president, Congress president in MP for close to 10 years. Now I will consult him, I will consult so many others. Consultation doesn't mean he is running the government. I don't need anybody to run the government... I do need advice, I consult so many people, that doesn't mean they are running the state.

One criticism is that you have not kept your poll promise of farm loan waiver, that farmers are continuing to wait and Mr. Kamal Nath has not fulfilled it...

It is the biggest fraudulent statement which can be made. It's on the internet. We are doing it in phases. I always said we will do it in phases. Out of the 38 lakh farmers, 20 lakh farmer loans have been waived... Please get into the portal, their names, their village, their telephone numbers...

But your own party MLA, none other than Digvijaya Singh's brother has said that Rahul Gandhi should apologise for not keeping the poll promise of farm loan waiver?

Interpreting Rahul Gandhi's statement that in 10 days the farmer loans will be waived... It was done, it was the first thing I did in 2 hours. You can't start waiving 38 lakh farmer loans...what is their bank, what is their Aadhaar number, what are their details in 10 days... It takes months. In UP what has happened? They are still doing it. In Maharashtra what has happened where they promised it 4 years ago?

Do you need the support of the Centre?

Well, we would have loved the support of the centre... Why are they agreeing in Maharashtra, why are they agreeing in Haryana? Where it's a BJP government, there is all support. But where there is a Congress government, there is no support.

So are you alleging discrimination, because this is not the cooperative federalism that the Modi government believes in...

This cooperative federalism is a catchy word; is a phrase which is used. There has to be equity, distributed justice between the states. Now you cannot compare MP and Haryana. We have a state with the largest forest area in the country. We are a state with the largest tribal population in the country. Are you going to compare us to Kerala, Haryana and Rajasthan? So this whole thing is distorted.

So you're of the opinion that the Centre is fine to have these biases...they have a bias against your state?

Well we are trying to convince the Centre... We have the finance commission's report which is going to come in 3 months. Let's see what happens then. So I don't want to make a premature charge.

Mr. Kamal Nath, coming to the question of the high-profile Honeytrap case, which is involving politicians, bureaucrats, top cops. You have changed the constitution of the SIT and the chief thrice. The criticism and the charge coming from BJP is that how will there be justice? How will the truth come out under these circumstances?

The SIT, we haven't changed. What we did was that the person who was made in-charge of SIT said that he had personal family problems, so he wouldn't be able to give time. So another one was appointed. Now there is a rule which we have made that anybody who has served more than 3 years on a post will be moved to another post. So that officer went to another post. That doesn't mean we are changing, that doesn't change the objective. This has to be exposed. And if in 15 years BJP has been up to such things, whether they are political leaders, whosoever they are, this is all going to be exposed.

There are reports of a political angle to this entire scandal...

What is the political angle? If a girl goes and files an fir and another girl goes with police complaint, how can the government come into it? The complaint has to be investigated and in the investigation one thing leads to another thing to another thing.

It has been speculated that there is political pressure...

I don’t need such things to ease political pressure. This happened. This isn't planned. Here is a girl who went and filed a police complaint. The police complaint goes under investigation. Another girl files a police complaint and they are interrogated. They reveal a lot of things. What am I to do?

Is it right to say that this is the biggest scam after Vyapam?

Vyapam was a financial scam. This is a sleazy scam. And one was misappropriation of government funds, and this is something different. But a scam is a scam.

Will we know the truth soon? Are we looking at some kind of timeline?

It's an investigation and I don't want to interfere in it. Let the investigation take its own course. And wherever there is evidence, corroborate it with facts, of course we will take action.

Coming to the question of your party again, you are facing leaders like PM Modi and Amit Shah, who are 24x7 politicians. In your party there are very few like you and Mr. Ashok Gehlot who are 24x7 politicians. Do you think there is a problem of aspiration in your party now?

To start off, aspiration is a problem... Now, not everybody can aspire to be president of congress party. But everybody has aspirations. Somebody from the block wants to be a leader of the district. Somebody from the district wants to be a leader in the state. It's natural.

But what about the role of Rahul Gandhi? What is he doing now? What about Priyanka Gandhi? Before the elections we saw Congress make her in-charge of eastern UP. What is her role now? Where is she?

She is still general secretary of the party. She is still in charge of UP. Everything has a timing. When new governments come in, you don't start after one month running around saying the government isn't doing anything. It's being done in a calibrated manner.

But the elections... If she is aiming for some kind of role or some kind of place before the 2022 UP elections, isn't she late? Because you have been on the ground, you started working for MP almost 5 years before you actually managed to topple the government.

Well, I think there is plenty of time. Now is the time to strategise. First you make a strategy and then you go on to the field, and that is what is happening.

There seem to be some kind of differing views within the party, be it on article 370, or on PM Modi's foreign tours. Was it right for the congress leaders to criticise the PM when he was on foreign visit?

They've done it. When the BJP does it, it's alright. When Manmohan Singh was the PM and I used to travel with him many times... It's alright when they do it? It's not criticism. He is just saying things which are not correct...

Anand Sharma says something, Shashi Tharoor says the other. What exactly is the view then of the congress party?

That's what the Congress is all about. Congress party is a party of different views. That's the strength of the Congress party. Unlike the BJP, which has a singular view of divisiveness, who want to divide this country. That's their only view.

But aren't those differing views showing that there is no chain of thought, there is no high command, there is no command of thought?

This shows exactly the opposite. It shows that there are different views, that nobody is bullied, that nobody is oppressed into following a particular line. It shows exactly that.

There are very few states left for congress to showcase. You are now the CM of MP. Whatever you will be doing will now be seen as the larger view of the congress party. Is soft Hindutva the way you are convinced about as the way forward for the party?

I don't think there is anything called soft Hindutva or hard Hindutva. If the BJP is of the belief that they are the sole selling agents of religion then I am afraid they are mistaken. Religion is a very personal affair. India is very religious. Whatever religion one follows and they get a stomach ache. If I go to a temple, why do they get a stomach ache? Have they taken the agency of all the temples? Have they taken the agency of the Hindu religion?

No, it appears Rahul Gandhi does it only before elections, during elections. We do not know whether Rahul Gandhi is observing navratri fasts or not. For the other side, PM Modi and Amit Shah visit temples regularly. It's a part of their lifestyle...

So does Rahul Gandhi, so do I. We don't make it a media event. The BJP makes it a media event. That's the big difference.

What about the Congress in the sense that you've failed to read the mood of the nation?

Well, our narrative was one, BJP’s narrative was the other in the last election. The people of the country accepted the BJP’s narrative, and voted for them.

What about nationalism?

I can't understand how BJP can talk of nationalism. Can they talk of one freedom fighter who has ever been in their party? And they'll become nationalists? They are the ones who opposed all the nationalistic leaders. Just now they are talking of Mahatma Gandhi. For the last 50 years did they have any yatra, did they do anything on the 2nd of October? They sat at home. But now they think that it is a part of nationalism that we must have all these programmes for Mahatma Gandhi. It was the congress party who did it. We always did it. Don't you see that as complete hypocrisy now?

Coming back to the WEF, this is my last question to you, you are organising 'magnificent MP’ in Indore from October 18 to 20 to attract investors. Have you managed to get some commitments?

I am not looking to sign fake mouse which is optics. I am looking for the real thing. As I said, investment is trust and I believe that people are going to trust MP with the political atmosphere there. I believe that people are going to trust MP for the logistic advantage. MP is centre of the country, and 60% of the country's market is around MP. So we have some advantages, we have some disadvantages.

Are you confident that you'll be able to serve full five years in MP as CM?

Why only five years?

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