Hitting back for the first time at critics who questioned his perceived friendly relations with corporates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that unlike "some people" he was "not afraid of" publicly standing beside industrialists and business magnates because his intentions were "noble".
He said industrialists too contribute to nation building and it was not right to label them all as thieves but those who do wrong "will have to leave the country" or live in jail.
"We are not the people who will be afraid of standing beside industrialists. You would be knowing some people (who are such) that you would not find a single photo of them with an industrialist/businessman. But there is not a single businessman in this country who would not have gone to these people's places and bowed to them in reverence," Modi told a government-industry interface here as he inaugurated several development projects for Uttar Pradesh.
"If your intentions are noble, you won't be tainted no matter with whom you are standing," Modi said, adding that Mahatma Gandhi never had any qualms about living in the Birla household.
The opposition has been targeting Modi over his picture at Davos economic forum in January this year with fugitive diamondtaire Nirav Modi who is at the centre of multi-thousand crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam besides the Prime Minister's perceived closeness with another fugitive, Mehul Choksi, whom he once publicly addressed as "Mehul bhai".
The opposition has also been critical of Modi government's inaction while persons like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Choksi, Jatin Mehta and Lalit Modi easily flew out of the country after being accused of committing huge financial frauds.
The Congress has of late also targeting Modi for allegedly giving the offset contract in the Rafale jet deal with France to "one of his corporate friends" at the expense of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
"Mahatma Gandhi never hesitated standing beside (Ghanshyam Das) Birlaji because his intentions were right. But those who do things behind the curtain and wish not to be seen publicly (with corporates), they are afraid," Modi said.
"Just as much as the labour of a farmer, an artisan, a banker, a government employee or a labourer goes into the making of the nation, the efforts of industrialists too have a role in nation building. Should we insult them, call them thieves and robbers? Is this the way?
"But yes, whoever (among corporates) does the wrong, he will either have too leave the country or live in jail. This would not happen earlier because a lot happened behind the curtains then."
Pointing at former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, who was in the audience, Modi said that Singh can give details of many such deals of "those people".
"Do people not know who is flying in whose plane?" Modi said with a sarcastic smile.
Also laying foundation stones - by signing a brick and placing it in symbolic brick foundation - of 81 projects worth some Rs 60,000 crore whose MoUs were signed at the UP Investors summit, he lauded Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for making this happen in a period of less than five months.
State Industry Minister Satish Mahana thanked investors for partnering into the initiatives of the state for development and prosperity.
Kumarmangalam Birla, Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, assured UP of full support as his company expands its foot print in the state, while Gautam Adani, the founder and chairman of the Adani group, said the 2,000 MW Ghatampur power station which will supply Kanpur, Hapur, Agra and Greater Noida will be completed much before the 2021 deadline.Chairman Emeritus of the Essel Group Subhash Chandra spoke about the big investment of his company in e-rickshaws, while Yusuf Ali, chairman of the Lulu group which owns the largest chain of malls in the UAE, said that 35 per cent work on the Rs 2,000 crore mall he was constructing in Lucknow - and would be the largest in north India - was complete and similar malls would also come up in Varanasi and Noida.