Ahmedabad: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has claimed that he never targeted UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi over her treatment and expenditure abroad. Instead, in an interview with IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Modi said that he was concerned about the health of the Congress president as she is the wife of a former prime minister of the country.
However, he targeted the UPA government saying not Sonia, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should clarify on what amount, if not Rs 1880 crore, was spent on her expenditure abroad, adding that the controversy was "spoiling the image of Soniaji".
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader also tried to downplay his Prime Ministerial ambitions insisting that Gujarat remains his focus and any planned move to Delhi after the December elections in only media speculation.
Modi also chose to keep silent on the contentious issue of apologising for failing to control the 2002 Gujarat riots. In the interview, Modi also refused to answer the contentious issue of the criticism he has received from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and whether he would campaign in Bihar.
Here is the edited transcript of the interview:
Rajdeep Sardesai: Hello and welcome to the CNN-IBN special. We are on the road across north Gujarat with the man who is never far away from the headlines. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is on his Vivekanand Yuva Vikas Yatra ahead of the Gujarat elections. Modiji, thanks a lot for speaking to us.
Narendra Modi: Many, many thanks.
Rajdeep Sardesai: A lot of people have been gathering during this yatra. Please tell us how did you think of something like the Vivekanand Yuva Vikas Yatra. Is it in some way, a part of your election campaign?
Narendra Modi: See, it is the 150th anniversary of Swami Vivekanand. And my government has been focusing on issues related to the youth since the beginning of this year. We celebrated the whole year as the Yuva Varsh. And throughout, we have focused on skill development amongst the youth. See if we are calling the 21st century, the Indian century… and 65 per cent of its population is below the age of 35…we need to focus on that group. Their skills need to be honed. They need to be given employment pportunities. And if we want to compete against China, we will have to focus on skill development among our youth. That is why, we decided to focus on skill development during this Yuva Varsh. Secondly, I have seen this. Two personalities influence today's Indian youth greatly. One is Bhagat Singh and the other is Swami Vivekanand and both of them inspire today's youth.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Modiji, Swami Vivekanand was a saintly person. You are a politician. So somewhere it does feel like you are politicising the issue. You are using his name to garner support amongst the people, that's what your opponents say.
Narendra Modi: As I told you already, we are celebrating this year as the Yuva Varsh. And it was not I who decided that the 150th anniversary of Swami Vivekanand would fall this year. It was decided 150 years ago. So it's not my fault that it fell this year.
Secondly, this is the year of elections in Gujarat. And elections are imminent. So I believe that it is the responsibility, the duty of the political parties, the duty of the social organisations, to strengthen the masses, the people through 'lok-shiksha'. One should reach out to the people.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But you are focusing more on politics than on Swami Vivekanand.
Narendra Modi: One should reach out to the people and educate them on important issues. I went to all the cities and organised Vivekanand Yuva Parishad where I spoke to the youth, numbering in lakhs, about Swami Vivekananda. I taught them about Swami Vivekanand and him alone. So it is not like we are focusing more on politics than on Swami Vivekanand.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But I am talking about now. Now that the elections are imminent, aren't you focusing more on Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh than on Swami Vivekanand?
Narendra Modi: Even now, even now, if I have time, I speak on all issues… But if there is time crunch, then I speak on the most important issues pertaining to specific areas. For example, in Dhanera, which is a small place, water is a big problem there. And I did not have much time either. So I focused on those aspects which are specific to the area and concern the people. So I spoke about water related issues and tried to address their concerns and then moved on.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But I did notice that you tried to target Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh and the Centre. So somewhere, has it now become a battle between the Gujarat government and the Centre, keeping in view the elections in December?
Narendra Modi: First of all, I have not targeted any person. I simply try to impart correct information to the people of Gujarat when it comes to their state. Secondly, it is not that the Gujarat government is fighting against the Centre. We just have a few complaints. For the last eight years, the Centre has been targeting Gujarat like an enemy state, in fact it's behaviour has been worse than that with an "enemy country". All the Constitutional bodies are being misused to attack the Gujarat government. Gujarat, which today has become the growth engine of the country, is being attacked only out of political reasons.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You said you have not targeted any person. But a few days ago, when you said that Sonia Gandhi spent Rs 1880 crore on her treatment abroad, it was a kind of a personal attack on her.
Narendra Modi: I am happy that Rajdeep Sardesai, a known Modi commentator has asked this question. At the same time, I am sad that Rajdeep Sardesai, who has visuals of my speech, makes comments without seeing them. I did not, I repeat, I did not, even once, raised a question against Smt Sonia Gandhi's health. In fact, I requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to spend as much as possible on her treatment on humanitarian grounds and that the figure need not be revealed either. It should be kept out of RTI's ambit.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So all the media reports were false?
Narendra Modi: Those are utter lies. You can see the copies of my speech. In July, magazines such as Outlook and newspapers such as the Times of India and the Indian Express and several other newspapers carried a news report from PTI, which said that the expenditure on Madam Soniaji's foreign trips over the last three years amounted to Rs 1880 crore. So I asked a clarification on that. The report came out in July, three months back. It's time we got a clarification on that figure. And it is not Soniaji who must clarify. The expenditure was incurred by the Government of India. The government has to answer. The government must clarify. The public is seeking answers. And if they haven't spent on her trips, then too they must speak out. Whatever be the case and even if the report are false, the government must clarify.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The PMO did clarify that only Rs 3 lakh were spent on Sonia Gandhi's foreign trips. You had offered to apologise if the figure you quoted - that of Rs 1880 crore - and the newspaper reports were proven wrong.
Narendra Modi: I had said that if the information that I received was wrong, I will admit it. But the PMO too clarified the expenditure on her treatment abroad and not her foreign trips.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So you had questioned the expenditure on her foreign travel and not her treatment abroad?
Narendra Modi: I never questioned anything. I just saw some newspaper reports and I brought it out to the public. I never asked anybody anything. That is the RTI activists' job. They ask. I just saw a newspaper report and I just brought it out for the Indian public to know. So if the newspaper reports are false, the government must come out and speak and clarify their stance, so that Madam Sonia Gandhi's image remains intact.
Secondly, the RTI activist from Hisar, Rakesh Verma found out another thing, which was published in our local newspapers here. He had queried the Indian embassies abroad and found out that they spent as much as Rs 17 lakh to 35 lakh on Madam Sonia Gandhi during her visits. So, if the government of India says that it spent only Rs 3 lakh on Sonia Gandhi and the Indian embassies say that up to Rs 35 lakh were spent on her during her visits, then the Government of India, that prides itself on the RTI Act, is actually trying to stifle it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Modiji you have said that your election campaign will revolve around Swami Vivekanand and focus on development. So what made you attack Sonia Gandhi, nearly three months after the reports on expenditure incurred on her foreign visits were published?
Narendra Modi: If you pride yourself on having brought in the Right to Information Act for the people, then you must follow it fully. If the Government of India is not willing to reveal the details of expenditure on Sonia Gandhi's visits abroad, then it is a blatant violation of the Right to Information Act. The Prime Minister's Office itself is violating the RTI Act.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Rs 1880 crore is a huge figure. Doesn't it come across a bit unreasonable to you?
Narendra Modi: I keep telling the Prime Minister's Office. The amount is so huge that it is ruining the image of Madam Sonia Gandhi. Please publish the correct figure.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But it is all going to boil down straight to a battle between Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi or Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh. And this will be in direct conflict to your statement that you are going to fight the elections on development plank… on the basis of your records alone.
Narendra Modi: I am telling you this again. You just heard my speech. I am only asking for votes on the basis of my records, the works that I have done, the development that I have brought about. And I feel proud of the fact that after 11 years of public service, I am able to ask the people of Gujarat whether they are satisfied with my work. I have the courage to face them. But if anybody raises a voice against my Gujarat, we will respond to it strongly. I am ready to fight any number of battles for my Gujarat's sake, for the sake of its pride and glory.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But do you feel somewhere deep down inside that it was not right to question the expenditure incurred on Sonia Gandhi's visits abroad, or did you feel that that this was the right time to raise questions against it?
Narendra Modi: See if you are priding yourself on the fact that you introduced the revolutionary Right to Information Act but the people are not benefiting from it, then it is my duty to raise the issue again and again. And that RTI activist, who has been silenced by the powers-that-be, it is my duty to voice his complaints, to raise his questions.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But isn't this a personal attack? Doesn't this all boil down to Modi vs Sonia? In the media, it has become so.
Narendra Modi: If you want to convert it into a Modi vs Sonia battle, please do so. People have been doing it for the past 11 years. But my mantra is the reply which I gave you.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Okay tell us one thing. Sonia Gandhi, when she visited Rajkot recently, did not raise the 2002 riots even once during her rally. Instead, she targeted you on the development plank. She had called you "maut ka saudagar" in 2007 but this this she did not repeat those words. So do you see this as a change that is coming about in your opponents' strategy… that they are not focusing on 2002 riots anymore and instead focusing on development?
Narendra Modi: I had said it then, in 2002 itself, that the country doesn't need votebank politics but development. I said it in 2007 too. And I will repeat it in 2012 too… that the country is looking for development and not votebank politics. So if after 11 years of my insistence, the Congress has finally agreed to fight elections on development plank, I welcome their decision.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sonia Gandhi, during her rally in Saurashtra, raised the issue of water supply. She said that the water of Narmada was yet to be made available to that region. This year, several areas of Gujarat have been drought-affected too. So somewhere, do you feel that the water supply issue is the chink in your development record armour? You have worked a lot on the issue of power supply, with a special focus on solar power. But the issue of water supply got ignored somewhere, don't you think?
Narendra Modi: You should be aware of a show that your channel ran two years ago on the amazing methods of water conservation and usage in Gujarat.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Yes, yes… It was on dry land farming.
Narendra Modi: Your channel had showed it and you people had showered praises on the work done by the authorities. There was a time when, by the month of January or February, there would be about 4,000 villages in Gujarat that would receive their daily supply of drinking water through water tankers. Today, those villages receive drinking water through pipelines that are connected to the Narmada. This year, I agree, that there was less rainfall, due to which we were forced to supply drinking water through tankers to a few villages. Even in Kutch, where the BSF personnel are deployed, water supply is directly from the Narmada. Earlier there used to be around 900 camels that used to carry water for these personnel. We have changed all that. Now they get water from the Narmada. So Madam Sonia Gandhi may say what she wants to say due to political compulsions, but the fact remains that Gujarat has worked a lot on the water front.
Secondly, I tell the people very clearly during my speeches, that perhaps they may be satisfied with my work so far. But I am not. Till now, I have just filled and covered all the ditches that Congress rule inflicted on the state and smoothened the roads out for the people. My real work for the Gujarat of my dreams will start now.
Rajdeep Sardesai: There is also the malnutrition issue. The Planning Commission has said that Gujarat lags behind when it comes to the issue of proper nutrition for all. So what do you think is the reason that Gujarat may be striding ahead when it comes to development and yet its malnutrition levels are so high?
Narendra Modi: The Planning Commission never spoke about Gujarat specifically. The Indian Prime Minister himself called malnutrition a national shame. And the Prime Minister and I, we both said that we must all work together to eradicate it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Gujarat does lag behind.
Narendra Modi: Please listen first. I will give you ample time to speak against me. But listen first. First of all, there has been no official scientific survey of malnutrition across India. There is no concrete, specific information on it. Therefore I had demanded a scientific survey on it… which studies different states and specifies the details pertaining to different areas, the reasons and conditions peculiar to those areas. Sometimes if the water is not pure, it is unhygienic, it can cause problems. Pakistan too had made a similar report. I haven't read it, but I was informed about it. The report had found that out of those children who died in an year, 40 per cent had died because they did not wash their hands before eating. Now there is not much difference in the way in which Pakistanis and Indians behave. So there might be many Indian children who eat without washing their hands. Similarly there must be many other problems and issues which need to be addressed.
Secondly, Gujarat is the first state in India that has initiated a mission called the Nutrition Mission, and allocated Rs 1,000 crore to it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The Congress government leveled some charges regarding land allotments against you for which you set up the MB Shah Commission.
Narendra Modi: See, Justice Shah is a respected Supreme Court judge. And he found out that one of the land allotments, that the Congress alleged was a Rs 65,000 crore scam, was made in 1983, when the Congress was in power. So the Shah Commission said that if this former Congress chief minister were to know the allegations leveled against him by his own party, he would be really disappointed.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir how do you perceive Sonia Gandhi's attack on you in 2007 when she called you 'maut ka saudagar' referring to 2002 riots. You are still targeted because of this. How do you perceive such attacks?
Narendra Modi: I give my best wishes to the Rajdeep Sardesai, that he has been harping on this issue for the past 10 years, that he gets his daily bread by harping on this issue.
Rajdeep Sardesai: No, there is nothing like that…
Narendra Modi: You have to listen.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Yes.
Narendra Modi: I even heard that those who abuse and slander against Modi are rewarded with Rajya Sabha seats, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan. So I give my best wishes to Rajdeep Sardesai that you continue this campaign of yours against me. And may you too enter the Rajya Sabha one day through such "friends". May you too receive the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan one day. I give my best wishes to you.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But you did not answer my question. You did not say whether 2002 riots is a major hurdle between you and your next step. As you already know, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already refused to allow you to campaign in the state. So do you think that 2002 is a major hurdle in the development of your political career?
Narendra Modi: Rajdeep Sardesai, you have your 24 x 7 news channel. You can debate there for hours and hours. I give my best wishes to you.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Will you go to Bihar?
Narendra Modi: (Refuses to speak, waves to supporters, addresses the crowd, speaks on the Narmada, and the Narmada dam issue.)
Rajdeep Sardesai: I have seen you are really popular here, especially amongst the women and the children. What is the secret?
Narendra Modi: See I have not analysed all this. This analysis is the job of political pundits. I am a public servant. My aim is to serve the people of Gujarat. I have not thought beyond that.
Rajdeep Sardesai: It is not easy for any chief minister to stay in power for 11 years continuously. So what is the secret?
Narendra Modi: There is no such secret. I am just committed to the people, to my work. My work is sincere. And if people see that sincerity in your work, they are willing to forgive your mistakes, even delays in your projects. Your hard work, commitment and sincerity must shine through. You must be devoted to your work.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I have heard that you wake up daily at 5 am and work till midnight. Is this true or is it just a media-concocted story?
Narendra Modi: No, this is true. This is true. I have been an RSS worker. I have been trained by them. Then I used to wake up at the Brahma-muhurta time, which is around 3.10-3.15 am. However, after joining politics, I lost that habit. Now I wake up at 5.
Rajdeep Sardesai: A few days ago, I spoke to Nitin Gadkari. I asked him if Modi will be considered as the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate if he wins the Gujarat elections by two-thirds majority. He said Modi is one of the frontrunners. So do you think, if you win the elections, you are now ready to come to Delhi?
Narendra Modi: My question is to the media. Has the Indian public granted you the task of finding out the PM for the country? You are on the job 24 x 7.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Do you have Prime Ministerial ambitions? Do you want to now move to Delhi from Gandhinagar.
Narendra Modi: Answer my question first.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I am asking my question because I want to know if the BJP will make you its Prime Ministerial candidate.
Narendra Modi: But the public has not asked you to find out, has it? Why are you trying to do a job which is not yours.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But opinion polls show that Narendra Modi is the most popular BJP politician. That's why I want to know if Modi is ready or not to come to Delhi.
Narendra Modi: I have said this time and again. The people of Gujarat have handed me the responsibility of take it ahead. And I am only focusing on them, on my people, on the 6.5 crore people of Gujarat, on their welfare. And I want to and I do spend my entire time and energy trying to take my Gujarat to even greater heights.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir just like a reporter wants to become an editor one day, even a chief minister would want to become PM one day. So I am asking very seriously, do you think that you are sending a message across to your voters that if they vote for you and help you win by a majority, India will have a PM from Gujarat?
Narendra Modi: BJP will win by a huge margin in Gujarat in 2012, which will be even better and bigger than the previous victories. And post that victory, my entire focus will be on Gujarat nirman… on fulfilling my dream of a 'divya, bhavya Gujarat'. My entire energy will be spent on that.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So you are saying that your future lies in Gujarat. Now I have one question. On the one hand, you have an image of a hard working leader who strives for development, while on the other hand, your opponents have built this extremist image of yours, someone who believes in a one-man show, who is a lone strider. So who is the real Narendra Modi?
Narendra Modi: The reason behind the success of Gujarat is Team Gujarat, behind BJP is Team BJP and behind Gujarat government is Team Gujarat government. No one can work alone and hope to win in this age. No work is possible without a team. So, all those claims that my opponents make are false. So the credit for Gujarat's success goes to my team.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But when you ask people today, who will you vote for, they say Narendra Modi. They don't take any other name. The rest of the leaders have either left or have been marginalised.
Narendra Modi: See people recognise Narendra Modi more. Not just because of my good work, but also because my opponents kept harping on and on against me, so much, that people themselves became curious about me. And when they came to know the truth about me, they loved me.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But you cannot deny the fact that you have become a larger-than-life figure. You cannot deny this.
Narendra Modi: (Waves to supporters)
Rajdeep Sardesai: Some of your critics allege that you have sidelined other leaders within the party by building your campaign around yourself, by keeping yourself at the centre of your entire campaign. To what extent is that correct?
Narendra Modi: See, I have never come across such criticism. But if I have made some mistake, and that mistake is brought to my notice, I will rectify it. I will fix it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Any word of advice for leaders like Keshubhai Patel who left the party citing differences with you or is it a forgotten chapter?
Narendra Modi: (Waves to supporters)
Rajdeep Sardesai: My final question. I know you don't like it but it is something that your opponents feel and talk about. I know you see me as your opponent. But I am a political analyst. My question is that people feel that Narendra Modi must apologise for the 2002 riots if he has to become the Prime Minister of the country. Your message to them… What would you like to say to those people?
Narendra Modi: I have never called you my opponent.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You called me that today.
Narendra Modi: I said that those people who earn their daily bread out of criticising me, and are awarded for the same, they have my best wishes.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I did receive the Padma Shri but that was for journalism. So you are not going to answer that question of mine? Regarding your apology for the 2002 riots.
Narendra Modi: (Waves to supporters)
Rajdeep Sardesai: Narendra Modi, you answered all of our questions in detail, thank you very much.