NEW DELHI(ET): Demonestisation is like chemotherapy to cure the cancer of black money, Urban Development and I&B Minister M Venkaiah Naidu tells Nidhi Sharma and Ravish Tiwari. The minister blames the Congress-led UPA government for the problem of black money and says the controversial note recall decision was not a sudden one. Edited excerpts:
How do you think the note recall decision would affect the BJP politically? How do you assess a government’s performance?
There are three yardsticks – outcome of elections, opinion polls and response to its leaders. If you see the recent elections, BJP is expanding its base. Whether it is Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal (the voteshare has gone up) or Tripura (pushing Congress to the third position), it is a clear indication BJP is becoming more and more popular under Modi’s leadership. After demonetisation, local body elections in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Panchayat elections in Gujarat took place. Then in Chandigarh, the Congress fought only on demonetisation and the BJP won 20 of the 22 seats it contested. One seat it lost by 25 votes. All this speaks of the growing popularity of the Prime Minister and the growing appeal of the BJP. People believe that this is a big transformation required for the country despite the inconveniences they suffered. It is unparalleled in the history of any country; people have shown their loyalty towards a leader. They have understood our message – short-term pain for long-term gain.
Has the note recall exercise been successful?
Fear has made black money hoarders fall in line. The fear is that here is a tough Prime Minister, an honest man who will not compromise. Laws were always there. But law is being implemented now.
Do you think the management could have been better?
There is always scope for improvement. Initially the banks worked very well. But subsequently some of the acts indulged in by some crooks in the banking sector disturbed everybody, including us. Wherever we could do anything, we did.
Didn’t you take an economic risk with the notes recall when you were looking at an economic growth rate of 7.6%?
No. The latest figures show that it could still be 7.1%. There is a recession in the international market. Still you are growing at 7.1%. There will be some setbacks initially. There will be some temporary setback to growth also but it is required. If you are affected by a disease like cancer you need to undergo chemotherapy. If you do chemotherapy, there are some side effects like hair fall. The choice is yours, either you have hair fall or you fall.
The government is not worried about people losing their jobs?
Of course we are worried. But this is only temporary. When we are going for reform, there will be some pain… Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said in L&T these many jobs were lost. I spoke to L&T chairman Subramaniam, he said it’s wrong. I spoke to Tiruppur Exporters Association president. He said 95% of the people are using these coupons and opening accounts. There is no major loss of employment. There was some for some time but once the system corrects itself and the economy picks up, there would be more opportunities. The agriculture sector is not affected negatively.
What is your response to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s charge of monumental mismanagement?
Manmohan Singh has held every economic position in this country. He has been RBI governor, finance minister and our prime minister. Wasn’t it his responsibility to curb black money? I am sorry to say Manmohan Singh is a failed economist, a failed finance minister and a failed prime minister. It is because of his government and his party’s monumental mismanagement that we have the problem of black money. He seems to have spoken out of vengeance. We are in this mess because of them.
What do you have to say about the impatience of the one-time NDA partner Mamata Banerjee?
She is aiming for something big, something higher. She is thinking that she can be the main alternative.
The Opposition is linking this move to UP elections…
It is not a sudden move. This was always on the Prime Minister’s agenda. The first item on our first Cabinet meeting on May 27, 2014, was the formation of SIT under Justice M B Shah. All our steps over the years have been towards checking black money. We have signed international agreements.
Is black money history in India?
Yes, definitely. You cannot say that with this move alone the entire black money will go. It is not only in cash but also in kind. The ultimate aim is to move towards digital transfers.