New Delhi: Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath in an interview on CNN-IBN said that the media has been 'uncharitable' to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the manner it has spoken about him. He added that the Prime Minister has not tried to escape from answering questions that have been raised.
"In 30 minutes when they wanted a statement from the Prime Minister, he went to the Rajya Sabha and made it, he then immediately in 2 hours made it in Lok Sabha. Can it be faster?," he asked.
He also said that the government is willing to have discussions over all issues including the coalgate but is opposed to the manner in which Parliament has been disrupted.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate and a special interview with the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Kamal Nath on the Monsoon Session of Parliament that has just ended. It began as a disastrous session, but it ended up actually as a very productive one, are you surprised by the number of bills you managed to pass?
Kamal Nath: Well, I am surprised, I was hopeful of doing much more, but we lost two weeks because of the Andhra-Telangana issue and that disrupted the House, until the Speaker had to take a decision, an unpleasant decision to suspend the members from the House.
Karan Thapar: But, thereafter you passed Bills rapidly in both Houses, who do you give credit to, the government, the Opposition, both or to yourself?
Kamal Nath: Well, I want to give credit to everybody because Bills can only be passed if everybody in the House is working, everybody wants to work and I think there has to be a realisation that in Parliament you discuss, you debate, you dispose and you don't disrupt, and this philosophy of disruption doesn't do good to parliamentary democracy.
Karan Thapar: So do you believe that at the end of this session the attitude of the BJP which looked obstructionist to members of your party has now changed decisively for the better?
Kamal Nath: Well, its not merely the BJP because there are so many political parties with the fragmented polity and all political parties are in their own orbit, be in their own orbit, the Samajwadi has their issues, the BSP has their issues, the TDP has their issues, the Trinamool Congress has their issues, the Leftists have their issues.
Karan Thapar: So forging a consensus is very difficult?
Kamal Nath: It is a formidable task, putting everything together and making them all want to do business.
Karan Thapar: Which means the job of Parliamentary Affairs Minister is becoming a more challenging job with every session?
Kamal Nath: It is, it is a very challenging job because you have to arrive at a consensus and you got to put together a consensus and if you don't do that the House doesn't function.
Karan Thapar: Let's now come and talk about the critical issues that came up during this session and first lets begin with the performance of the Prime Minister in Parliament. There is a widespread belief that both the statement he made on the economy as well as the statement he made on the missing coalgate files were virtually forced out of him by the Opposition. Why is the Prime Minister so unforthcoming and so reticent?
Kamal Nath: He is not, he made a statement on coal within 30 minutes of their demanding it, but the way they demanded, we said and I repeat that the government is willing to have any discussion and the moment they asked for coal, the moment they said that we want the Prime Minister to respond on the economy, he did so.
Karan Thapar: You know, there is a perception in the country that as Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh is someone the country looks for leadership, and at the time of economic crisis or moral concern that becomes his paramount duty, why does he fail to rise to the occasion in the eyes of the country?
Kamal Nath: I don't think that is true, I think this is a media perception which is been hyped by the media, I must say this very honestly to you, because he his very forthcoming and he understands the economy more than anybody else.
Karan Thapar: Are you saying the media is being unfair to the Prime Minister?
Kamal Nath: Absolutely, you are being very unfair to the Prime Minister.
Karan Thapar: But, it is shared by public opinion in practically every corner of the country.
Kamal Nath: It is not, it is not shared, it is the media which builds this image and the people.
Karan Thapar: So after nine years the Prime Minister is a victim of the media? That's a pretty sorry statement
Kamal Nath: No, he is not the victim of media, I think the media is being very uncharitable to him.
Karan Thapar: You know what people say, they say he either lacks the confidence to be able to stand up and speak in his own Parliament or he lacks the judgement and he doesn't know when to stand up and speak.
Kamal Nath: No, not that's not true, there was UPA I in five years this was not said, you mean to say he has changed?
Karan Thapar: So then its in fact age that's taking him so long?
Kamal Nath: No, its not age, he is there, but the way the things are demanded. You stop Parliament, you demand it; you can stand up and say so decently that we want the Prime Minister to say this, he will be very happy to come and say it.
Karan Thapar: But you know, a sound Prime Minister knows in advance when something is going to be a flashpoint and he instinctively stands up and nips it in the bud, Dr Manmohan Singh gets overwhelmed by offence and then is forced to have to stand up?
Kamal Nath: No, in 30 minutes when they wanted a statement from the Prime Minister, he went to the Rajya Sabha and made it, he then immediately in 2 hours made it in Lok Sabha, can it be faster? I myself stood up in Parliament and said the Prime Minister will respond on the issue of the economy the following day, he did it.
Karan Thapar: Lets then focus for a moment on the content of the statement he made on coalgate, this is what he said, he referred to them as so called missing files, he said it would be premature to say that some papers are missing, after almost four months of people knowing files are missing, when the Prime Minister uses this language, people say he is in a state of denial, he won't even accept the fact that the files are missing.
Kamal Nath: No, you can not say they are missing until you are sure they have not been in found, they could be in another ministry. The CAG was looking at it, so until and unless they are just not there you can not make a substantive statement saying they are missing.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that the Supreme Court has readily accepted the files are missing and they said so on the very day the Prime Minister was in denial. The Attorney General of the government in a letter to the coal ministry again on the same day the Prime Minister was on denial accepted the files are missing. People say why can't the Prime Minister accept this simple little fact?
Kamal Nath: Not at all, its very clear, he said at this point of time we can not say they are missing, supposing he says they are missing and a week later you find it.
Karan Thapar: The files have been untraceable for nearly four months, the first intimation was a letter sent by the Coal Ministry in May 2013 to say the files were missing, surely after four months you come to a conclusion they are missing.
Kamal Nath: You are misconstruing it, they were not all files, there were some which were papers, there were some which were forms
Karan Thapar: Call them what do you want, call them documents, call them papers, call them what you want, but they are missing.
Kamal Nath: But, they could be in another file, so if you say are they missing, I will say at this point of time we are locating them. That's all I will say and if eventually we can't find them you will say they are missing.
Karan Thapar: The problems is that after four months this looks like a technical excuse, it looks like an attempt to deny the obvious, and cling to some last hope that you will find them one day somewhere under a table.
Kamal Nath: No, its not true, this is I think factually correct that you can not say that something is missing until you sure its missing because if it is found what will you say, that was missing and now its not missing.
Karan Thapar: You know something, you will never be sure if something is missing because by definition the word missing means you cant find it, so you will never be sure.
Kamal Nath: At that point of time, that's what it means
Karan Thapar: You know the second thing that irritated people about the Prime Minister's response on that coalgate issue which I think is a touch stone its the manner in which defensively almost as he fevers stonewalling, he said I am not the custodian of the Coal Ministry. So, I said of course he is not, but that's not the sort of response you expect from the Prime Minister of the biggest democracy in the world.
Kamal Nath: What is a Prime Minister supposed to do that he is going to look after the store, which stores the files.
Karan Thapar: No, sound more concern.
Kamal Nath: Then is it the Prime Minister's job, I said so, I said this on television that he is not custodian of the files.
Karan Thapar: He said it well.
Kamal Nath: Do you expect the Prime Minister or do you expect me in my ministry to be a custodian of files, forget the Prime Minister.
Karan Thapar: I expect the Prime Minister to be more concerned. I expect the Prime Minister to show that concern in his language, tone and manner and more so because many of the files refer to a period when he was himself coal minister.
Kamal Nath: But the files were not missing then, we are talking about it today.
Karan Thapar: He is in charge of the government when they are missing. Ultimately if files that are critical to a potential criminal investigation of missing and the government is the target of that investigation, then the Prime Minister has to accept responsibility for what's gone wrong. He can not duck it, he heads the government.
Kamal Nath: He is not ducking it, if some files are missing in my ministry, am I to say that I am responsible for the missing files, my ministry is.
Karan Thapar: The buck stops with you, that's why at the end of the day you are responsible.
Kamal Nath: Personally, I can not be not responsible for files in my ministry, if they are lost or they are missing, you can't say it, you should have looked after the stores better or you should have locked them up better, I think its ridiculous.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this, its not just that the Prime Minister's tone, language and manner when he was commenting on the missing files, let people to despair. Its also the fact that no one believed seriously that he intended to get to the bottom of the matter because he hasn't instituted an FIR and people say why not, if files are missing, you ought to institute an FIR and he hasn't done it.
Kamal Nath: Only when it is confirmed that they can not be found, then you will say they are missing. They could be stolen, only you do it at that point of time, you don't preempt finding them and file an FIR.
Karan Thapar: I tell you why an FIR is essential.
Kamal Nath: He said so that appropriate action will be taken if files are not found.
Karan Thapar: But, he didn't say when and people thought he was stonewalling and playing for time and in fact people thought he was prevaricating.
Kamal Nath: Your saying people thinking that, doesn't mean that people are thinking that .
Karan Thapar: Well , the Opposition thought that, the Press thought it.
Kamal Nath: The Opposition will say that, and that's why I said the press is building this hype and this is what's going wrong.
Karan Thapar: So, once again the press is being unfair.
Kamal Nath: Karan, let me say this at this point of time and I think its very important saying it to you and to everybody watching this, for three days channels ran that 640 kms of land, Indian territory had been occupied by China, in a report which some channels claimed they even had and when the Defense Minister said there is no such report, what did you do then, was that not a hype being built up.
Karan Thapar: I agree, you are absolutely right on the issue of Indian land occupied by China, that's a different example. But come back to coalgate. On coalgate, the reason why people feel the filing an FIR is essential is because only when you file an FIR can you have a thorough criminal investigation till then or to have an informal enquiry and people think that's a whitewash. Filing an FIR has therefore become a test case of the PM's seriousness and he has failed it.
Kamal Nath: He did not fail it, but first let me thank you for agreeing that this canard and this false news by almost all channels, you accept it.
Karan Thapar: But, now don't deflect the conversation, come back to my question.
Kamal Nath: I am not deflecting the question, you will file an FIR when you are certain t the files are missing, the PM said at this point of time the files are missing, he did not say at this point of time the files are lost.
Karan Thapar: The point I am making is without an FIR you can't have a proper thorough criminal investigation, that's what needed and its not possible.
Kamal Nath: You can not say that until you have done a thorough search .
Karan Thapar: You are going round in circles.
Kamal Nath: No, let me tell you, 15 days ago there were many more missing, they were found, three days later some more were found, four days later some more were found and I am certain that many more will be found. I don't think there is any malafidy in the files missing, if there is any malafidy there will be an FIR.
Karan Thapar: Lets come to an another aspect of this whole coalgate controversy, the Indian Express has revealed that a gentleman called KR Chourasia, the CBI Superintendent of Police wishes to examine the Prime Minister, Mr Chourasia happens to be the CBI official investigating the coalgate matter. He wants to examine the Prime Minister and he is not been given permission to do so and I ask you a simple question why?
Kamal Nath: I do not know of that report, just because the Indian Express says so, we can not assume that to be correct. The CBI director has already come out and made a statement that this is not the appropriate time or something like that, I don't remember but let me say so very bluntly, if the CBI takes a decision that they need to speak to the Prime Minister on that there is nothing wrong.
Karan Thapar: So the Prime Minister will be available if the CBI makes a formal request.
Kamal Nath: Why not.
Karan Thapar: You sure, you are not speaking out of turn? You are committing the Prime Minister to an examination if the CBI asks for it?
Kamal Nath: CBI under law can question anybody, and the Prime Minister is within the law, so if the CBI wants to question him, finds that for the purpose of the investigation they need to question him, the Prime Minister is a part of the law.
Karan Thapar: This is a very important statement you have made and I am underlining it, because in a very real sense you have also replied to the public statement put out by Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, when they demanded, a, confirmation that Mr Chourasia wants to examine the PM, we don't know about that officially as yet, the second thing they wanted to know was the basis on which he wants to investigate the PM, we still don't know about that. The third thing was they wanted an explanation why it had been refused, you have answered that now, it hasn't been refused, when it's formally made by the CBI the PM will agree to be examined.
Kamal Nath: I said that the law allows the CBI to question anybody. The PM is not above any law and knowing the way he is, he will subject himself to any inquiry. He's had the cleanest image in the political world and i don't think this is a matter of any controversy.
Karan Thapar: Mr Nath, it is now my turn to congratulate you. You have surprised me by your openness and candor. You have said the right thing, but very often ministers when it concerns the Prime Minister on something as controversial as a CBI investigating him, don't say the right thing. I'll congratulate you but I am going to go one step forward. Pause for a moment now and pull back and look at the situation the Prime Minister suddenly faces. Four months ago, it was revealed that the Joint Secretary in his PMO was responsible alongside others for altering the CBI status report in a manner which the Supreme Court thought had changed the heart of the matter. He's then been accused thereafter in Parliament of being less than forthcoming on the coalgate missing files and now there's this question of the Prime Minister having to being enquired to or being personally investigated and people turn around and say this is becoming a problem for the PM. It suddenly looks as if this Prime Minister has something to answer to or may be even something to hide.
Kamal Nath: He has nothing to hide, let me say that as emphatically as I can, he happened for a short period of time to hold coal portfolio in addition to him being the Prime Minister, if there is something to be asked from him it is nothing to hide, and to say that there is something suspicious, they may want to ask him because he was a coal minister, he hold that portfolio for a little bit of that period..
Karan Thapar: Three years
Kamal Nath:Well, whatever it is, for whatever period he was there, there was no harm. He is going to be absolutely forthright and a minister can respond to what came to him, a minister can respond to what he acted upon, a minister can not be held responsible for missing files...
Karan Thapar: I deliberately did not interrupt you on that because I think as it was important as a minister who has been so open and candid that you should get a chance to speak freely. It used to be said as a joke a year ago, it was then said as something that was a barb six weeks ago, and now I would ask it seriously, is coalgate turning into Dr Manmohan Singh's 'watergate'?
Kamal Nath:No, its not turning into his watergate, this would be the watergate of the Opposition, who have brought out so many charges, everyday they fish out a charge because they can not talk, they can not talk of policy, they can not talk of growth, they can not talk of development and they seem to block it all the time, that's the problem.
Karan Thapar: So, Dr Manmohan Singh, you are saying even when the CBI, if they talk to him and investigate him will emerge clean, his credentials untouched
Kamal Nath:Absolutely, his credentials will remain untouched, he is been the cleanest Prime Minister this country has had.
Karan Thapar: Mr Kamal Nath lets come to the government's attempt to amend the right to information act to ensure that political parties not deemed to come under its purview. You hit a problem which is why, suddenly you referred to a standing committee, and you know the problem is that practically everyone in the country who understands the issue including many MPs, is against the amendment and I ask you, behind the disguise of sending it to the parliamentary committee, why don't you admit, this is a Bill the government won't go further with, drop it.
Kamal Nath: We sent it to the standing committee because there is complete misconception, its absolutely wrong and false that politicians or MPs or MLAs have anything to hide. Today, the RTI act stands the way it is that you can get any information you want from the election commission under the RTI. On the other hand if there are any financial statements they are available even today.
Karan Thapar: On the financial statements and that is the critical point full details are not available , donations below 20,000 are not made public, and the BSP claims that every penny it gets is a donation below 20,000 and therefore no one knows, and I put it to you, this is a moral issue
Kamal Nath:This is available under the RTI, under the income tax act.
Karan Thapar: Not if its a donation below 20,000
Kamal Nath:What was sort in this amendment was that if you were to ask a political party, why was Mr Kamal Nath asked to contest from this constituency, why was so and so district Congress committee formed, let me say this, this is not what is acceptable to us, what is fully acceptable to us and which is available even today without calling political parties a public authority is financial statements
Karan Thapar: No, just a moment, forgive me, on financial statements you are critically wrong, which is why I am interrupting you
Kamal Nath:I am not..
Karan Thapar: Donations above 20,000 are made public through income tax act revelations, below that are not, let me point out to you, I am taking your party as an example in 2009-10, claimed that it had earned fifty seven thousand three hundred forty seven lakh from something peculiarly called sale of coupons and no details of the break down are available today, the BSP in the same year claimed they had earned seventeen thousand two hundred and sixty seven lakh from donations and all of them they claimed were below 20,000 and so they were all exempt from greater revelation, and I put to you this is a moral question, don't the people of India, the voters of India have a right to know how the parties are funding?
Kamal Nath:How will the RTI act help in this? Because if donations are given by coupons, which they are, if it is 10,000, it is 5,000, it is 500, how will the RTI act say this?
Karan Thapar: Because it will require to reveal the details of where you get money from
Kamal Nath: Absolutely not, people come, they put in Rs 500, Rs 1000 or Rs 2000, but what is the amount? It's no huge amount.
Karan Thapar: The question at the end of the day is one of moral principle , don't the voters of India have the right to know who funds their parties and how that funding is spent?
Kamal Nath: The voters of India have the right to know about the financial affairs of a political party or political people and that is available to them under the RTI act, what we are not wanting them to get into is, how our party functions, somebody will say why did you elect a district president of a party without a proper election
Karan Thapar: Can I conclude by saying this to you, do I get the right impression from your response that in fact even though this Bill has been sent to a parliamentary standing committee, the government remains determined to pass it and in the Monsoon Session it will pass regardless of what the rest of the country thinks?
Kamal Nath: Let it come back from the standing committee. The standing committee will invite people to give their comments, I do wish you are one of them, you will understand this Bill better
Karan Thapar: But, you are committed to the Bill as a government
Kamal Nath:We had introduced this Bill in fact, we have said, it is the government which took it to the standing committee so that the people can understand it better and do not fall into the trap of media.
Karan Thapar: So you are not having second thoughts as some people hope
Kamal Nath:At this point of time, no.