Arun Jaitley, finance and corporate affairs minister, is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court and former additional solicitor general of India. He has served as a member to the Board of Governors of Asian Development Bank. Follower of Jayaprakash Narayan, Jaitley started his political career in 1974 when he won the election to become the president of Delhi University Students’ Union. During the emergency, Jaitley was detained and imprisoned for 19 months in the Tihar Jail, Delhi. Jaitley did his schooling from the St Xavier’s School, graduated from the Shree Ram College of Commerce and later did LLB from the University of Delhi. Calling Indian Air Force's Balakot air strike based on intelligence report, he denied that bombing was revenge to Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir. Jaitley also spoke about the so-called 'Mahagathbandhan' (Grand Alliance) of opposition parties, GST, dynasty politics, upcoming Lok Sabha elections among others.
Watch the interview . here
Marya Shakil: In less than four weeks, the biggest democratic exercise in the world will begin. Around 900 million Indians will vote to elect their new government. Amitabh Sinha: We are with union finance minister Arun Arun Jaitley. Marya Shakil: Arun Jaitleyji welcome. Arun Jaitley: Thank you for this opportunity. Marya Shakil: You wrote that this election is the clash of ideas and ideologies. Which topics BJP is fighting?
We are growing at a greater speed in the world and the entire world is recognising it.
Arun Jaitley: I think that the country's economic and social character is changing. I was doing a study, in which it was mentioned that in 2005, 18 percent people were in the middle-class category. In 2015, it will rise to 25 percent in 2024. People from the lower strata of society are trying to make their lives better. They want to migrate to the cities, they want to ensure a better education for their children and they want to send their kids to cities for higher education. If a person does better in a family, he tries to make life better and secure for his future generations. Today’s politics is completely different from the politics done earlier. If we analyse the 2014 elections, it was a wave of Modi.
If we look at the other side of the same, the dramas of parties who were involved in caste-based politics were broken. Even people from their own castes did not support them. Those parties who involved themselves in dynastic politics, whether in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or whether in Delhi, they are all decimated. I think that ideology, performance, values will be the core issues in the upcoming elections as the family or society someone has come from won't be the basis for their election.
Look at one thing, you are media people and looking at electronic media's clout people decide, does this person make good policies or how do they talk? Are they just doing drama, a politics of shouting? What are the truth and people decide that themselves? On social media, you can put out tweets and it’s reaching young people in schools and colleges whose knowledge is growing. That’s why this election and all the elections coming up, they are going to have a very different character.
Amitabh Sinha: You are talking about caste-based parties and they are coming together in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The family parties you're seeing are coming together. Will they affect this? Arun Jaitley: When society’s status changes, when it wants to see development, it takes a harsh judgement. I said this after the 2014 elections also that elections are not of arithmetic, they are of chemistry. When chemistry works, then on the ground caste breaks down and these myths of dynastic power break down and it will have impactful governance as they've come up with this myth of dynasties. You've seen so many families where they only have family politics and opposition within the family happens. China's philosopher Confucius said just like the sky can only have one sun, so earth can only have one ruler and in dynasties, there can only be one. Wherever there are two, look at the impact. In Bihar, there are two brothers and see what happened. In Uttar Pradesh, there's a father and son and see what happened between them. All the families who are trying this formula, thinking two will be better than one, the end of that we can predict right now. Marya Shakil: What do you think of the equation in BJP, between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP)? Arun Jaitley: Look this is a very old estimation. BSP had a huge vote back and still in Lok Sabha, they got zero seats and in assembly, they got 19 seats. SP had a huge Muslim - Yadav vote bank. These two communities could have in a three or four-cornered fight made them the victors by giving them 30- 40 percent of the vote. Only five family seats have come and a sixth didn't come. Congress's dynasty was supposed to be very powerful in Uttar Pradesh, but only two family seats came and this is why they are shrinking. Even in those sections, the aspirational classes are leaving. So that’s why if you're just fighting on numbers without an agenda, people will ask one question if this country can have development, that development would be under whose guidance? This country, if it is safe, that’s under whose guidance? Marya Shakil: Anti-incumbency is a phenomenon when unhappy people vote an incumbent person out and the opposition wins by default. So are you calling this a pro-incumbency election? Arun Jaitley: I agree that what we used to call anti-incumbency, it is not a permanent phenomenon. Anti-incumbency happens when a government's performance is poor, people are upset with it, people are worried and the upset unhappy people think the governance is bad so let’s vote for them to be defeated. So the opposition wins by default but thinks it’s an opposition win. But pro-incumbency is an election when a leader’s leadership and his government's performance can be strictly analysed and then they choose that government again. Now, five years of Narendra Modi’s government are over and show me one opinion poll that says that his personal rating is falling.
After five years, there is still so much difference in favorability between him and the person who’s coming second. As the elections have come closer, all your polls are showing that the situation is only getting better from the one it was sixth months ago. Remember, elections have one basic principle – hung parliaments and assemblies only exist on channels. On opinion polls, the electorate is smarter than me and you – it’s decisive. In the last elections, we started with 150 for the BJP, then 180, then they were very liberal gave us 200 to 210.
Marya Shakil: But the elections in Madhya Pradesh, they were a cliffhanger. Arun Jaitley: Look, even in Madhya Pradesh there wasn’t anti-incumbency as both the parties had almost equal votes and sometimes anti-incumbency is on a candidate level. When you are in power for 15 years, a section gets upset, so particular, state-based reasons. But this election will be an election of a different formula and different chemistry.
On one side, in five years, you have had a government that's governed with honesty, taken bitter and tough decisions. They have made the country the world's fastest growing economic power and improved the government's means. The people who lived outside the medium and thought corruptly, that we can evade, they were brought inside the system and the means that came were spent on three things: defence was increased, infrastructure was improved and how much we gave to the poor of those resources. I can guarantee no government in India has done the same.
Amitabh Sinha: But in every state, there are alliances being created from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to beat BJP even in Tamil Nadu also. Arun Jaitley: Look political parties can be negative, but people can’t. I think for the BJP that this is the biggest pro-incumbency argument, that even after five years people are so afraid of your strength and they are so worried of Narendra Modi's popularity, that everyone else thinks that there are intra-party conflicts. But that alliance that you talk of, at least once we should analyse those. Marya Shakil: On that note, in the context of BSP you have said, Mayawati is strengthening BSP and she wants to make Congress weak. She holds her cards close to her chest and she will open them only when the results are declared. Arun Jaitley: Look, this much is clear that the one thing I keep calling it a coalition of rivals. This isn’t even an alliance, because in this there are many smaller alliances that are pulling each other’s legs. On Trinamool Congress, what’s Mamata Banerjee’s politics in West Bengal? I won't give you a single seat and I will maximise my seats and I want your seats to be decreased. What is BSP and Mayawati’s politics? I have made a strategic alliance in Uttar Pradesh to increase my seats and in the whole country, I will put my candidates up. Now, people are saying that she might even put them up in Amethi, then what will happen? What is Congress’ politics? Where I am strong, no politics there. Where I am weak, I will take part in any alliances, so that in any provinces where I am the main player, I won’t do an alliance.
All the three have the same objective: To increase my own strengths and to reduce the strength off all parties against BJP so that after, in the tug of war that will take place, I can claim a bigger stake. What’s happening in Maharashtra for Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)? We talked of family intra-opposition. Sharad Pawar had in 2014 said that he won’t be running for Lok Sabha elections and he thought that if the situation is chaotic, maybe my wish will get fulfilled. So he announced that he will run and then, the family bickering and opposition started. So he won’t fight.Now the news coming from there it’s the same thing that in the sky there can only be one sun, not two. So this is why I think this coalition of rivals - neither do you have politics nor do you have a manifesto, nor was your past performance that great, nor do you have a past politician who can take the country forward - and before the elections, you're engaged in bringing each other down. So are they trying to make the state of this country chaotic and what has been this county's experience?
Chaudhary Charan Singh, Chandrashekhar, VP Singh, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, these are what I call, ‘tried, tested and failed’ ideas, and for an aspirational society, they just won’t work. Amitabh Sinha: After this 'tried and tested', they put Priyanka Gandhi, maybe they were done with tried and tested? Arun Jaitley: It is possible that for their party, it’s an internal issue. She was not tried and tested, but they have given some land and told her to go to farming on it, so this is the outcome of tried and tested. Marya Shakil: In Amethi and Rae Bareli, will there be a special BJP focus? Arun Jaitley: Look for BJP, in all constituencies, for ourselves and for our friends, we will have a special focus and that’s why BJP and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have a difference. BJP is a big political part and the Mahagathbandhan’s nucleus is strong that the whole alliance accepts Narendra Modi as a Prime Minister on a national level. Also, we have given our sitting seats to our allies and look at the outcome, all of the northeast, all seven states and eight Sikkim, we brought in a national coalition. Tomorrow, if someone from the northeast states became ministers in the centre and they work for their states, that’s the very meaning of Parliamentary democracy. Marya Shakil: BJD, TRS, YSRCP are all not with the Mahagathbandhan, so are these your potential post-poll allies? Arun Jaitley: I think every political party that is a state party they try to come to the centre with the thought that after coming in the centre, we will figure out what to do and how to benefit my country. All these state parties are trying to take care of their states and in that, all three have had one condition. I think from the BJP, I can’t say what will happen tomorrow and if we will need them or not, but we know how to exist with regional parties.
Let me give you two examples. We got GST to the country, but before that, there was the finance commission, which said that states with 32 percent revenue now make it 42 percent and no other state did it. We made it 42 percent. When GST came, states said why was not Congress able to bring this? States said what happens if my revenue is lost? So in the constitution, I put that for the first five years, your revenue will grow 14 percent that was a constitutional guarantee. So in this manner, we took a stand with states and even the states against BJP, they couldn’t talk of discrimination, not Orissa, not Telangana.
In the case of Andhra Pradesh, when the finance commission said there won’t be a special status, then I took out another formula. Instead of special status, we will give you a special package, which will give you as much money as special status was going to give you - this is no right. Naidu welcomed it with a letter, thanked me with a press conference and when he wanted to make a political turn he said, no and made this an issue again. So this change was made from a political perspective.
Marya Shakil: So with Telugu Desam Party (TDP) all roads are closed? Arun Jaitley: Look how big TDP will remain after elections as they have chosen their road. So I don’t think there's any hope for a conversation with them. Amitabh Sinha: But Rahul Gandhi called this a Gabbar Singh Tax.
Arun Jaitley: I think I challenge them that this country - the taxes that were amalgamated, how the country was helped. If they don’t have the information on this, they need to know that they don’t need to speak on this. I think Goods and Services Tax (GST) has finished all the harassment. Up to Rs 40 lakh, the manufacturer is not taxed on, up to Rs 1.5 crore they are taxed for one percent. No inspectors knocking doors, no barricades are left in the country and tax collection has increased. All people who predicted how taxes will change must know that the Modi government is the first in history that did not increase income tax by even one percent. Instead, the government decreased them, improved tax collection by 80- 90 percent and lowered the taxes and increased the base.
Marya Shakil: The opposition has to say that this government is via conversations of nationhood and terrorism is hiding its failures? Arun Jaitley: The opposition doesn’t have any issues, so they have taken up fake issues.
On Judge Brijgopal Harikishan Loya’s death, the SC has said it’s a fake issue. Rafael deal and electronic voting machine (EVM) are fake issues. An election can’t be run on fake issues. Pulwama’s incident was a terrorist incident. Did we anticipate it? To say that with terrorism, we are hiding our failures, with Pulwama what kind of reaction did you want? The country had emotion and it was correct. The decision of the air force to cross the international border, for which the Narendra Modi gave the nod, there is no link to Pulwama. We liquidated Pulwama’s perpetrators here. But, we thought when you have so much information that there is a huge camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed where fidayeen’s are getting trained and planning to attack in the next two-three months, what should we have done? If we listen to Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal’s accusations and sit on this information, that would betray the country.
We had precise information and the Indian Air Force did an act of such bravery that any country should be proud of it. It is unfortunate that those who are against Narendra Modi instead of standing with the country have become weapons in the hands of the Pakistanis. What the Pakistanis were saying that you are doing this with a political purpose and we did not use terrorism and our parties started to say that. When Pakistan asked for proof on Balakot Indian Air Force strike, then the opposition also started asking for the evidence even though the government had not. All media channels are not BJP friendly and still, every channel did its own investigations and using the world’s satellites got pictures to show before and after February 26. Every channel showed those pictures and some even interviewed the people there, like proxy correspondents. Those people said we have heard the bombs, seen people die and bodies were taken away.
Marya Shakil: According to The New York Times on IAF strike: “This was the first time an Indian aircraft had crossed the Kashmir LoC to strike in decades. But it was unclear what if anything the attack jets hit on the Pakistani side raising the possibility that India was making a calculated bet to assuage public anger but minimise the risk of a major Pakistani military response.” The Guardian on February said the attack was celebrated in India, but it was unclear whether anything significant had been struck by fighter jets. Arun Jaitley: I think the people sitting on the desk is doing relaxed journalism and they can do anything. Go once to America and watch CNN and Fox news in the evening and you will think you're watching news from two different countries. My Indian friends, I was right there. Rather than trusting space filler columns, I would trust scientific evidence. When Indian Air Force’s chief says we went to bomb a target, not in a forest, we had information on this. Channels interviewed the people there and used independent satellites to scan and find what the truth is. Thirdly, when Azhar Masood's brother gives a speech and he said that they blasted JeM’s camps, his family is agreeing. Amitabh Sinha: The population thinks that when the Indian Air Force Chief says, the strike has happened. Arun Jaitley: If we never reached there, why did Pakistan send F-16s over the next day? Why did they tell the world that India has entered our borders? If it was a simple breach, then why was such a storm created in Pakistan that in parliament there were proceedings? I understand Pakistan's situation and why they had to lie. Two possible reasons and these are my personal thoughts. First, Pakistan is run by a civilian government with Prime Minister.
But, the Pakistan army has an aura in that nation that we are the best. What would they tell the country's population that India’s planes entered and destroyed camps in surgical strikes? So that the aura and this image doesn’t break in front of the population, they told their people that nothing had happened. If Pakistan had said that we agree that yes planes entered and destroyed our camps, so then the world would ask, what damage was done, where the damage happened and what kind of people died? You people researched and pointed out that those names were there.
Marya Shakil: Imran Khan says that the sole purpose of carrying out the strike across LoC was to convey to India if they come here, we can go there too, are you convinced with this argument? Arun Jaitley: The retaliatory action was the most botched up action for any air force. Just try to link the evidence.
On February 26, we went to Balakot. IAF knew that Pakistan would retaliate. When they came on the morning of 27, there was a wall of our fighter aircrafts across the LoC and the international border. The moment the alert came, our planes swung into action. As soon as PAF saw counter aggression, they took a U-turn.
One of their F-16 was destroyed by one of our very brave soldier. He could have taken a U-turn himself and come back. But the IAF pilot kept chasing them and his plane was attacked. F-16 had two pilots and they ejected earlier. He ejected later. The public thought all the three from India. The public's reaction is to assault. So, he ran away, but the army rescued him. What happened with the remaining two? Pakistan’s initial misunderstanding is fathomable that we destroyed two Indian aircrafts. We did not have anyone else - two pilots are under our custody.
The third, Pakistan was not admitting because probably he was no more. Pakistan's social media was publishing articles of two Air Marshals, one from India another from Pakistan. But, no one from Pakistan was ready to accept that the F-16 pilot is no more. So, initially there was confusion in Pakistan and they cleared the air in the evening that they have only one pilot. So, which two aircrafts did you destroy when you have only one pilot? Hence, if you join two and two, our friends who are trying to form a 'gatbandhan' should join the two and two of their coalition. No need to become a military statistician and their biggest demand was for the body count.
Let me answer this - there can’t be more foolishness in the politicians of any other nation and I am using a harsh word here. Indian Air force's job is to strike the target and come back. The Air chief has said it is not their job to land their pilots and count how many terrorists have died. Those who gave you prior information, would they go to the spot to count the corpse later when the Pakistan military has surrounded us? What interest do we have in counting corpse? We can have an assessment as to how many people were there? Whether or not anybody would have survived can be an assessment, but reducing the entire debate to this frivolous issue - did IAF count and did the government count? The next time, we will say that send someone from the Mahagatbandhan to verify how many corpses are there.
Amitabh Sinha: There is a discussion that the government has all the resources. On a lighter note, the government would have satellites monitoring that area? The government would have something? Arun Jaitley: I feel this would not be fair to the country again. Military operations are never made public. How many of our planes went, of which make they were, what was our intelligence input?