New Delhi: While the Congress slammed the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for twisting gross domestic production (GDP) calculations and demolishing almost all democratic institutions for political benefits, finance minister and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley dismissed all such allegations and said that opposition parties are resorting to comments which do not corroborate on the ground as well as defy logic.
In an interview with CNN-News18's Pallavi Ghosh, Jaitley termed Congress president as a "pathological liar" and said the charges that the Congress leader was making were only a work of his imagination.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: There was a recent controversy on the GDP revision. The opposition says that you want to hide the truth and that is why you are talking about revision.
Arun Jaitley: This is not a matter of propaganda. In this country, there has been a revision of the base year for calculating the GDP, some 5-6 times. This has been a practice since independence. The logic here is that with the national and the global economy expanding and growing what would be the best global standards to calculate the GDP? So, in every 10-12 years, it is revised and is brought about in accordance with the best global standards so that the ground reality of the economy gets reflected in the GDP figures.
When it was applied in a previous timeline, the GDP decreased. When it increased, the Congress welcomed the yardstick, when it decreased, they engaged in a political conflict calling it a cruel joke. Now, the question is, for instance, our first quarter was 8.2, so we welcomed it. This time it is 7.1, so should I start questioning the data?
Q: Why are you doing it at a time when the elections are around?
Arun Jaitley: We don't do it. It is the CSO, which does it. I keep telling this to everybody. They say, 'The move is good but what about the timing?' This is a very 1970 thing. If this yardstick is correct and can increase the GDP under the UPA in 2012-13, 2013-14, then it can decrease it for a few years, too. Just because the UPA has issues with it, the calculation of the GDP is wrong?
Q: The Opposition always talks about demonetisation. They believe that your reasons for demonetisation failed.
Arun Jaitley: As far as Arvind Subramanian is considered, he has his book. The entire book has not been published entirely and it has multiple chapters. The way it has been projected in newspapers, whether it is right or wrong, I will not want to have the last word on this. Not, right now. I believe that waiting for one week to maintain personal credibility is better. His last word to me is in the Economic survey in which he has, himself, written the chapter and has also given a detailed explanation. The Chief Election Commissioner is not the appropriate authority on black money transactions.
Q: The Opposition alleges that the government has made it a CBI versus CBI issue.
Arun Jaitley: What is the role of the government in this? The Opposition goes overboard and lacks understanding of the issue. There were personal tensions between the two officials. Both of them have their own positions. The Supreme Court is ceasing it. What has the government done? The CVC, for the sake of the CBI's credibility, made a recommendation that let this matter be investigated and till the investigation is going on, let them be outside the system. The government did not provoke a fight between the two of them. They contested the case and the matter is in the Supreme Court. Whatever the court decides will be final. The government has no role to play.
Q: Somebody like a Rahul Gandhi is saying that Alok Verma was forced to go on leave because he was planning to investigate the Rafale deal.
Arun Jaitley: I am disappointed. In English, there is something called pathological liar, someone who lies with conviction and sometimes are even unable to understand that they're lying. They are not able to stop themselves. If there was a prospective investigation, there should have been some file, some noting. Somebody would have taken an initiative that one prima facie case is due for registration of a case. When there is nothing, this is just Rahul Gandhi's imagination. An imagination from which only lies crop up. You don't investigate without a shred of paper with you.
Q: Retired SC judge Kurian Joseph has said that there seems to be certain pressure on the former CJI from the government and in fact that has become an issue for Rahul Gandhi to go and say that all this government wants is court puppets.
Arun Jaitley: Let me be very clear. When we talk about issues relating to the judicial institution and comment, one has to be very careful of the language that is used. Anyone who occupies a high office, be it a Minister, be it a functionary of any other constitutional body or a court, your word is very precious and the use of those precious words will determine the credibility of the person who speaks it. There is a sanctity attached to every word you are speaking. So, when you say, I am attaching a motive to what the previous CJI did, a citizen can't say this. If a citizen said this, he'd be in serious trouble. When a retired judge says this, I think, ordinarily, I would believe that he has some material to substantiate this. After all, he is judge and it is an office of great credibility. If he has material, I think it is incumbent on him to put this material out in the public domain. If you don't put this in the public domain, I, at least have reason to believe that no material is given because no material could have been given.
Q: Do you think Rahul is trying to take revenge for the Bofors allegations?
Arun Jaitley: He is trying to take revenge on this country by weakening its security. But he claims that the CCS had not decided on this. There was a different meeting after the CCS where the PM decided.
It has already been put into the public domain. I have spoken on it, I have written about it. The defense minister has spoken about it. There have been as many as 74 meetings of the contract negotiating committee and the price negotiation committee. Thereafter it goes to the CCS. Then the CCS gives its final approval. Then the contract is signed. We have even given the dates, it was decided.
Q: Do you look at the present state elections as a referendum?
Arun Jaitley: I cannot argue on the basis of presumptions. I believe in one thing, the media's coined phraseology that every election in this country is a semi final. All the elections that happen are a referendum. Elections happen on multiple issues.
Q: But, when you win, you call it a referendum.
Arun Jaitley: I don't believe in any of our elections to be a referendum. Elections happen on multiple issues. The performance of the central government, the alliance with political parties, their strength, the social conditions are all taken into consideration. I will not answer any question on 'ifs' and buts. I am confident, we will do well.
Q: There is a meeting of the Mahagathbandhan on December 10.
Arun Jaitley: It was supposed to happen on the 22nd, so let us wait for the 10th. They said there will be a meeting on November 22 and all parties will come. Then they felt everybody will not come. Then, the floor coordination meeting of the Opposition before the Parliament that is being called as the face saving Mahagathbandhan meeting. This is not a Mahagathbandhan but a meeting that happens before every session. Parliamentary session starts on 11, the floor coordination meeting on the 10th is being called the Mahagathbandhan meeting. This is a good thought to comfort your minds.
Q: The people from your party say there is pressure from the RSS, the VHP on the Ram temple issue. Will Ram Mandir be made?
Arun Jaitley: Because it is in the court, I don't want to say much. I feel there is a High Court decision that has come which has been challenged in the SC. It will be decided in January, when the hearing will happen. That is why, it is important that people have some patience. The feelings of a large section of this country's community is associated with Ram Mandir. You used the word referendum. If there is anyone who has an issue with it, let us have a referendum on whether people are with Ram Mandir or not and the reality will come in the front. So, only because there are sentiments attached, people get excited. I cannot find faults in them. Therefore, if we want Ram Mandir, in the right sense, that is we want it, naturally, then the most appropriate way ahead will be keeping the constitutional and legal provisions in mind and with patience.
Q: Rahul recently questioned the PM on Hindutva, asking what kind of a Hindu is he?
Arun Jaitley: Many have tried teaching Christianity to the Pope. But, it doesn't really work.
Q: Do you think it is working for the Congress?
Arun Jaitley: I think for some people, Hindutva is a matter of ideology and conviction, for some others, it is a matter of electoral convenience. Because till about a year and a half ago, I was not aware or the country was not aware of these credentials of the Congress party. Today, observer after observer is saying if you see the Nehruvian tradition, this is not a part of the Nehruvian tradition. If Rahul Gandhi wants to go back to his roots and wants to bring those traditional arguments, how can I have any objection to it?
Q: Your party and government talks about development and some people talk about the Ram Mandir.
Arun Jaitley: In such a big society, such sentimental issues will remain. But in the end, governments work for the public. And mostly, the country's economic development, benefitting the poor of the country, till you don't succeed in these matters, the real measure of the government lies here. And the way Modi, even his speeches, even if you take some of the content, which the media does not find captivating, the benefits that he has given to the common man, he only talks about that.
Q: Isn't there a worry on the ground level that your party will be considered to be regressive?
Arun Jaitley: On ground, it is not my party in Kerala. The Congress is in Kerala. The Left is backtracking in Kerala. This is also a reality. Therefore, the reason being that there is the constitutional right and ritual. How do you balance the two? The ritual emanates out of article say 25 or 26, if at all it does. The rights emanate out of another provision. So, the court has to do the balancing act of harmoniously getting them in. Rather than allowing one to supersede the other.
Q: But your party is talking about not agreeing with the Supreme Court.
Arun Jaitley: Everyone has their own way of presenting and what I have felt is that this is an issue where a very delicate constitutional balance has to be struck. Let us assume the other way round, well why should the Bishop not be a woman? Why should the Maulana not be a woman? You try a government fiat or a court judgment, invoke article 14 and just try and ensure whether the same is being implemented or not. Therefore, statesmanship is not only for Parliament. There is a judicial statesmanship, also. Therefore, you have to have a third eye, where while interpreting the constitution, you don't pass orders which are really unimplementable in nature. And that's what seems to have had happened at the moment.
Q: There is a lot of criticism of your government, also of the fact that there are very hardcore, so called, right wing elements. You know, they just don't have control over what they say.
Arun Jaitley: It is not only here. The quality of public discourse across the board is much lower than what it ideally should be. You spoke about the Congress president tweeting against me, perhaps he has made more attacks on my children. Now, I think, you should be, first in the forefront, to question him on this. Therefore, if the quality of discourse even by leaders who hold august offices like AICC president is so low, then what do we expect the lesser souls to do? So, please hold me responsible for what I have said.
Q: Today, the Finance Ministry has given some figures. You saw there was a protest by the farmers in Delhi. It is being said that farmers are very upset with your government.
Arun Jaitley: In the last four and a half years, or in this tenure of 5 years tell me one big movement against the government. The governments that were there before this, be it for corruption or socio economic discontent, saw so many movements. There is a reason. The development that we have brought about, the improvements that we have brought in, the country does not run just by that. You will get the benefits of those improvements, on one hand you have to improve the economy, focus on infrastructure, quality of life and the vehicles that come should reach the poor. In the last 4 years, the work that we are doing in these areas and I believe, even today, that we will have to spend at this rate for the next 10-12 years in the rural sector so that the quality of life comes closer to life in our urban spaces. The Congress only gave slogans. PM Modi has given it some medium.
Q: We've got news that middleman Christian Michel's in the VVIP chopper scam has been extradited to India. Do you see Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya also being extradited.
Arun Jaitley: I really want all of them to come. You commit offences here, loot the country and then flee away to the world's role model democracy, England, and sit there. That is why I told the officials there also that we base our democracy to yours and then such people get protection in your country, this is something we cannot digest. We would want all of them to come back and they're held accountable in front of the law of the land.
Q: You're often accused by the opposition that you let them go.
Arun Jaitley: The scam took place during the time they were in power. Mallya's loan was a UPA scam. Just because somebody has the capacity to lie 10 times, it does not become the truth.
Q: The Gandhis and Mr Chidambaram keep on accusing your government of bungling. Do you accept these allegations?
Arun Jaitley: Tell me one case where we have purposely targeted them.
Q: Say, the National Herald, Robert Vadra case.
Arun Jaitley: I don't want to talk about anybody personally. You said National Herald. You make a trust. A section 25 company. You take all kinds of tax exemptions in it. Then you take a land for a newspaper. There is no newspaper. The building is made and it is made for Rs 1000 crore. The shareholding of that entire company is shared between two members of one family. You become the biggest property owners in this country. A family, where nodody seems to have worked for a living, became the largest property owner in this country by dividing the share holding and you say this is in public interest that we're holding a section 25, not for profit company. The fact of the matter is successive authorities, not only the assessing officers said so, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, which is the judicial body said so, the Delhi HC said so, now let us leave it to the SC. The matter is pending there.
Q: Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti are not going to partake in active politics. Does the party not need them?
Arun Jaitley: Uma Bharti has made these statements many times in the past. We will convince her. It is unfair how some people have reacted to Sushmaji. I have said this earlier also, somebody made an unfair comment to her in a press conference about her activity and outreach and she clearly had to say that she has gone through a serious transplant surgery and I have infection issues because of that I am not going to contest elections. I have gone through an identical treatment. I think it was quite unfair on her. I would logically support the clarification she gave that day. Because it was unfair for the correspondent to put that question, there is a certain level of civility that is required which was lacking by whoever put that question.
Q: Will your government come back to power in 2019?
Arun Jaitley: I think 2019 is going to be a great election, as far as India is concerned. I am confident because India does not want an unstable regime. It does not want an unstable alliance which will collapse within days. It probably will collapse even before the elections. The meeting on the 10th will be an indication of this. India wants a stable regime, a decisive leader and as I have said earlier, the next election will be either you want a NDA government under Narendra Modi which is tried and tested or do you want something in the era of uncertainty where the policy is not clear, programme is not clear, leadership is not clear, the stability of the coalition is not there, its longevity is in question.
Q: The SC/STs anger, the anger of the Dalits, farmers’ anger. How are you taking this?
Arun Jaitley: The SC/STs anger? Who is saying so? We have won elections in 19 states. We've lost in 2 or 3 and that is why you call it anger. Those who are limited to 2 and 2 and a half states, the mandate is in their side? Which language of democracy is this?