Information and Broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu has been working behind the scenes along with others to get the GST bill passed. As the Parliament session ended, Pratul Sharma caught up with the minister to talk on host of issues.
He reveals the efforts to get everyone on board for bill, to articulating his stance on leading issues of the day, be it Dalits or Kashmir. In his new avatar as I&B minister, a charge he holds with the Urban Development ministry, Naidu talks about content regulation and censor board.
Are you satisfied with the Monsoon session?
It was really very productive and more positive this time. The highlight of the session was both Campa and GST bills were passed. I am very happy.
Prime Minister acknowledged your role in the passing of the GST Bill passed. How was this done given there were a lot of opposition from the Congress?
After we came to power, we decided that we must take GST forward. We started interacting and going to states, held talks with parties and then engaged with individuals.
Concerns raised were addressed by Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley). After we completed one or two rounds of talks, we found there was broad acceptance from CMs. Congress was saying on record, we have no problem, but they did not allow one session to pass.
We decided to engage with Congress. I went to Soniaji’s house, some progress was made. Subsequently, there were some comments (against GST) by some Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi.
We told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it will be good if he calls Congress president and former Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh). That has also helped us.
Thirdly, we must really appreciate Arun Jaitley’s perseverance and patience. Even as people kept changing their arguments, sometimes there were genuine concerns, but he addressed one after another.
Later, other Congress leaders like P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh, who were not in the picture earlier, started raising certain issues. They raised the issue of cap (on GST rate) in the constitution.
Then we discussed among ourselves that we came to the conclusion that we cannot accept that one.
How was this logjam resolved?
Prime Minister told us one day that you speak to all the parties on record. Informally we were talking, he wanted it to be formal talks, so that we can come to a conclusion. We spoke to all the 48 parties.
I spoke to all the regional parties, some of them in the South also. I spoke to all nominated members and requested them for presence. They were by and large supportive.
Then I went to Chennai, where I met Madam Jayalalitha. When she came to Delhi, she met Prime Minister who made a request.
She said she will consider it. Finance Minister also assured her as there apprehensions in the mind of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, the three manufacturing states who would lose certain revenue.
FM addressed those concerns. Last month, I went to Chennai and met the Chief Minister and explained our position. Then she said she will not create any problem in passing of the bill.
She said they have views, which they will articulate on the floor of the house. Later Congress realised that majority of the regional parties there was a broad consensus.
Even the finance ministers of various states as part of the empowered group on GST had travelled to several countries to study the system.
They wanted it here, so there no reason to oppose, everyone was on board. PM also called Soniaji, and then final round they also accepted that they have to pass it. Ultimately it was the public opinion.
The government was successful to the extent of creating the public opinion.
To sum up in one line: The Opposition had its say; the Government had its way.
Does this mean, the government has scored over the Opposition ?
I don’t think in terms of scoring or winning. The credit goes to the people of India. Secondly, when we realised we had the majority still we did not pursue.
The reason is, the GST has to be implemented by all the states of which some are ruled by Congress and Communists, or regional parties. That’s why we needed consensus.
We waited otherwise we could have got one year back. We were working for consensus, which came. We are thankful to all the parties.
The Government came under attack on the issue of atrocities against dalits. Opposition tried to corner you in the parliament. How will you react?
This is nothing but political agenda. Did the atrocities against Dalits start after Modi became the Prime Minister?
Are they confined to Gujarat or BJP ruled states. It’s a politically motivated campaign to tarnish the image of this Government and this Prime Minister. Modi is accepted in all communities.
After Vikas Parv, celebration of two years of government, they (Opposition) were really disturbed. So they were waiting for some issue. It has become a fashion for the opposition to raise an issue before any election. Atrocities against Dalits are a social issue. It is a shame to all of us.
It’s challenge to all of us. We have to introspect and take corrective action. We brought the atrocities bill. It was our initiative. We have the largest number of Dalit MPs. What is BSP talking? They have zero representatives in Lok Sabha. Dalits have deserted them.
Taking advantage of these unfortunate incidents they want to create an impression that this government is anti-dalit. They can paint but cannot dent the image of PM.
Modi is seen as Messiah of the poor because of initiatives taken like Jan Bima Yojna, Jan Dhan Yojna, Fasal Bima Yojna.
Similarly, Kashmir is a burning problem for which all have expressed concerns
Kashmir is not because of Modi. It has been hanging fire for many years. If I were to say politically, had the Congress party which ruled the country for 60 years, had taken they taken effective steps of social emancipation or bringing harmony, things would not have such to such a pass.
They used dalits for vote banks. It’s very sensitive issue. There cannot be a compromise on the nation’s security or integrity. Our neighbour is fishing in troubled waters.
Terrorists have gone on record to say they were trained, funded from across the border. It’s a challenge to us. All of us have to rise to the occasion. And resolve it politically. With regard to dealing with the general protests, police and forces have to be extra careful.
You now have new responsibility of the Information and Broadcasting ministry. The issue of regulation of content on TV news channels has been a perennial cause of tussle between media houses and the ministry. What is your take on the issue?
It is a larger and serious issue. For the role played by certain channels in the Pathankot episode, people are not happy. I don’t want to name anybody. But one must understand, he may be a media baron or an editor or a journalist. You are an Indian first. You have a responsibility towards the country.
You must keep the nation’s interest in mind. I am not saying suppress any news. But glorifying something or continuously showing certain things which can affect the social harmony or peace of the area. It’s a larger issue. They should have voluntary code of conduct, self restraint. Lets us what they have to say.
When will Censor Board reforms take place or new bill be brought.
Shyam Benegal committee has given its report. My ministry is now examining it, after which we will take a call.
Government is pro-actively celebrating the 70 years of Indian independence. Some opposition parties say the government is pushing nationalism to overcome negative publicity from issues like that of dalits.
What is there to overcome? Look at our track record, communal tension, and Dalits atrocities have come down; highest foreign exchange; lowest inflation.
The country is going forward. They are not able to digest our victory and growing popularity of Modi. And now they are trying to divert attention, by painting us. But they will not succeed.