Former US President Obama praised you for your hard work. Where do you get the energy to work without rest?
I get inspired by the hard work of the ordinary man. Our defence personnel guard our borders defying heat, cold and deserts, and police personnel work without leave on festival days. Farmers of this country work day and night. Seeing them, I am encouraged to work at my best. This is my duty. I realise the responsibility that the people have bestowed upon me and I am working for them.
You are nearing 69. What is your view on life?
I would say, there is no one more privileged than me. I have the responsibility of serving the people. This is my pleasure.
What do you feel when you hear the name ‘Rahul Gandhi’? Love, hate or rivalry?
Nothing. I don’t think about him. Speaking for myself, I can say I am an ordinary man, and I get along with everyone - from BJP cadre to people from other parties.
Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Amethi and Wayanad. He said that he is contesting in Wayanad to give equal importance to south India. Did BJP discuss the possibility of you contesting from South India?
If you see the videos of Smriti Irani filing her nomination in Amethi, you will know why he went for another constituency. He may claim that it is for political reasons, but he probably selected an additional constituency to feel more secure. And there’s been a lot of public speculation about this because he chose Kerala instead of any other Congress-ruled states like Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Puducherry.
Did you consider contesting from South India? In previous elections, you had contested from two constituencies?
I don’t take any decision. I adhere to the decision of the party. I don’t want to complicate matters by pondering over unnecessary developments.
Apart from Rahul, the Congress has been giving Priyanka a lot of mileage too, especially in Uttar Pradesh. What will be the impact of this move?
This is an internal matter of the Congress. The Congress party has turned into a dynasty and the family is trying to save it.
What will be the impact of Priyanka factor in Uttar Pradesh?
I have answered this question already.
In 2014, you faced the Lok Sabha election without aligning with AIADMK or DMK. Why is there a change now?
We don’t have any difference of opinion with Dravidian parties. In 2014, our intentions were different. Jayalalithaa was at the helm of AIADMK and we chose an alternative alliance. But, in this election we have decided to go with the AIADMK. We have allied with the party in the past too.
Why did you opt for AIADMK rather than DMK?
We have long friendship with AIADMK. They gave us full support in Parliament.
But some parties allege that BJP coerced AIADMK for the alliance?
In politics, no one can coerce anyone. The BJP doesn’t know to apply pressure to other parties and we don’t need to do that either. This is the truth. Besides, everyone knows about the camaraderie that existed between Jayalalithaa and the BJP.
Can you elaborate on your friendship with Jayalalithaa?
Jayalalithaa was a courageous woman. She single-handedly handled all the political troubles caused by the DMK with tact. It’s not a simple thing and there are no words to describe her far-sighted vision for Tamil Nadu.
You have always raised your voice against corruption, but several AIADMK ministers are facing allegations of corruption. What do you say?
We are just a minor partner in the AIADMK alliance and have aligned with the party for political and electoral reasons. Our fight against corruption will not cease.
If the NDA forms the government again, would CBI investigate corruption cases against AIADMK ministers?
Even Narendra Modi will be enquired if corruption charges are levelled against him. No one can escape an investigation.
After elections, is there any chance of forming an alliance with DMK?
BJP will win the Lok Sabha elections with a simple majority. Reports of the first phase of elections give us the confidence. We believe that the BJP has grown over the years. We formed a government in Arunachal Pradesh too. BJP will win more seats than it had won in the earlier elections. Our allies will also win. So, there will be no need for aligning with DMK. However, we will not hesitate to seek the cooperation of Congress and DMK to govern the country as we have to run the country and serve its people. We will seek the cooperation of all the parties to govern the country.
The Congress, in their poll manifesto, has announced NYAY scheme to eradicate poverty by distributing Rs 72,000 per year. What is your opinion on this?
Through that announcement, the Congress has admitted to the fact that poverty had not been alleviated in the last 60 years of their rule. The Congress, which speaks about justice, should provide answers for the injustice done to former Chief Minister, MG Ramachandran, when they dissolved his government and to the Sikhs in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
How do you view the Congress announcement to distribute cash to BPL families?
It has become a habit for Congress to make tall promises during elections. For instance, take a look at the work of Congress back in 2009, when they claimed that they waived farm loan to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore but actually they waived only Rs 52,000 crore. Similarly, in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh, they are the ruling party and had guaranteed employment for all in their election campaign. But no work has been carried out in that direction so far. They promised waiver of farm loans in Karnataka but that was only a token gesture.
Are you saying that Congress will not implement NYAY scheme?
It is not important whether they will fulfil their promises or not. One can understand the nature of Congress simply by analysing the work that they have done.
What happened to the claims of BJP to bring back black money to the country? What happened to your promise of depositing Rs 15 lakh back into every bank account in the country?
We have signed several multilateral agreements with countries to bring black money into the country. We are monitoring all the accounts in foreign banks and the money deposited in the accounts. We will get complete information of black money after 2019. After forming the government in 2014, we formed a team to investigate black money, but Congress did not appoint any team even after intervention of the Supreme Court.
There are several doubts about the retaliation for the Pulwama attack. After killing Osama Bin Laden, America came back with the terrorist’s body but there are so many doubts about India’s claims, with many saying that India could not target the terrorists in Pakistan. What is your comment on this?
I will take this as a suggestion to act upon.
There is a complaint that after the implementation of GST, people are paying extra taxes and due to this, inflation rate has increased?
There is no truth in it. Before the implementation of GST, at least Rs. 2000 crore was spent in maintaining check-posts alone. They have been removed now that this money is spent for the benefit of the people.
There is an allegation that through GST only the traders and corporates are benefitting and not the common man?
This is not true. The tax rate at hotels has decreased from 33 per cent to 5 per cent. The common man is benefitting from it.
However, Opposition parties are claiming that after demonetisation and implementation of GST, traders have suffered the most. Is this true?
In 1992, when Manmohan Singh was Finance Minister and Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister, the growth rate was just 2 percent but after BJP came to power, India was ranked first in the list of developing countries. In the last five years, domestic production has increased and inflation has been kept under control.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said that talks will happen between the two countries if BJP wins the election. Do you see this as a positive statement, or doubts being raised about BJP’s chances?
We should not forget that Imran Khan is a cricketer. Like his bowling, his recent comments seem to interfere in the elections of India. But Chennai Super Kings fans here know how to hit Imran’s bowling for sixers. During Pakistan elections, we all know how he criticised Nawaz Shariff. He said that Modi’s friend (Nawaz Shariff) was a traitor.
What do you have to say about ECI’s ban on ‘PM Narendra Modi’ film?
ECI is an autonomous institution. As I am a sitting PM, I would not like to comment.
The ECI has sought an explanation from you for mentioning the Balakot and Pulwama attacks during campaigns.
All the MPs, MLAs, politicians come under the purview of ECI. If an explanation is sought from BJP, we will explain. However, I don’t know whether the ECI has clauses to ban praising the martyrs.
Opposition parties have accused you of politicising the defence forces. What do you have to say about this?
I don’t speak about the army during campaigns - I speak about the valour of our army personnel. Is it wrong to announce about the achievements of the government in outer space? What’s wrong in that? If the Balakot incident hadn’t happened, would the Opposition have refrained from criticising me (for the Pulwama attack). If Abhinandan hadn’t returned, would our Opposition have spared me? They (Opposition) had even planned a candlelight tribute to him!
Why BJP is struggling to establish itself in all other south Indian states other than Karnataka?
This is totally contrary to fact. First, they said that the BJP was a north Indian party. Then they labelled us as a pro-urban party and only for the upper class. But BJP has MPs from Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes too. We have won many seats in rural areas and captured several panchayats. They claim we are a north Indian party, but Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka are not north Indian states. In Andhra Pradesh, the government was functioning with the support of BJP. We will also win more seats in Tamil Nadu.
But why was the party not able to establish itself in south India?
No, we have won the election in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. There is no doubt that we are growing in the South too.
In Tamil Nadu, BJP’s allies AIADMK and PMK accord priority to state issues. As you had also been a CM of a state, you would probably know this. At the same time, BJP being a national party, how would you manage the disagreements on safeguarding national interest and rights of the states?
Congress is the reason for the losses faced by the country. Congress had dissolved state governments more than 100 times invoking Article 356. It had dissolved MGR’s government too.
For nation’s growth, coordination with state governments is imperative. To safeguard federalism, there should be good understanding between state and central governments. At the same time, the country’s interest should also be considered. State and central government should work in tandem to resolve issues.
Tamil Nadu faces problems over water needs and NEET
I know the issues faced by the state. We have explained the solutions for Tamil Nadu’s issues in our manifesto. To my knowledge, water is a major problem. We will set up a separate ministry to deal such issues by allocating funds for rainwater harvesting, desalination projects, interlinking of rivers and others.
Actor Rajinikanth also lauded the interlinking of rivers promise made in the manifesto…
I thank Rajinikanth for that. Generally, he will think twice before making political statements.
Though Rajinikanth announced his political plunge, he is yet to launch his party. As a brother, what will be your advice to him?
I’ll talk about that when I meet him.
Will you ask him to enter politics or continue acting in films?
I will advise him in person. Why should I advise through media?
In the Thanthi TV survey on the impact on Central government schemes in the state, there is a positive response for Fasal Bima Yojana but there is a criticism that it takes about one year for farmers to get crop insurance amount. What is your explanation for this?
It is true that there was delay in disbursal of insurance amount. But the reason for the delay was identified and rectified. The government had also ordered to slap fine in case of delay in disbursal of cash. Farmers of Tamil Nadu were paid Rs 5,000 crore so far. When there is growth, people will surely be benefitted.
How do you evaluate your performance in past five years? What will you do if you come to power again, especially for Tamil Nadu?
Most of the promises made in 2014 have been fulfilled. We will fulfil remaining assurances too. Tamil Nadu plays a major role in the country’s overall economic growth. Tamil Nadu is a rapidly developing state and we will support it in its march.
PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
On Jaya: Jayalalithaa was a courageous woman. There are no words to describe her far-sighted vision for TN
On NYAY scheme: Through that announcement, the Congress has admitted to the fact that poverty has not been alleviated in the last 60 years of their rule.
On election outcome: We believe that the BJP has grown over the years. It will win more seats than it had won in the earlier elections. Our allies will also win On alliances: We will not hesitate to seek the cooperation of Congress and DMK to govern the country as we have to run the country and serve its people. We will seek the cooperation of all the parties to govern the country.
On talks with Imran Khan: Like his bowling, his recent comments seem to interfere in the elections of India. But CSK fans here know how to hit Imran’s bowling for sixers On politicising defence matters: If the Balakot incident hadn’t happened, would the Opposition have refrained from criticising me (for the Pulwama attack). If Abhinandan hadn’t returned, would our Opposition have spared me?