India has witnessed some crucial developments in Jammu and Kashmir, besides the national upheaval brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, New Delhi brought a new domicile policy for the newly-created Union Territory of J&K —almost nine months after scrapping Article 370. This month, the security forces eliminated the top leadership including terrorist Riyaaz Naikoo of Hizbul Mujahideen. For the first time, India has also started broadcasting weather reports for Pakistan occupied Kashmir, a development that came just days after New Delhi asked Islamabad to vacate the territory it has been occupying illegally.
Ram Madhav, General Secretary of BJP, offers insights into the recent developments to help us understand the broader impact of these events as well as India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Edited excerpts from an exclusive interaction with Financial Express Online.
India has for the first time started forecasting weather reports for PoK. This has ruffled Pakistan, which has termed it “another mischievous action” by New Delhi. What do you make of this new beginning? Does it change anything on the ground?
Indian parliament had unanimously restated in 1994 the historical fact that PoK belonged to India and is under illegal occupation. We should have started officially using appropriate terminology from then. When the state was reorganised in 2019, the two new UTs have by definition declared these areas as a part of respective UTs. Pakistan’s objections are inconsequential.
The Centre has introduced the first domicile policy for Jammu and Kashmir in which it had reserved only few jobs for the locals. But days later, the Centre made amendments giving protection to locals in jobs irrespective of grades. What led to that change?
The domicile policy for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir was the first of its kind. The government in its wisdom decided to reserve jobs in all grades to domiciles for now. The definition of domicile is expansive and includes those who have stayed in the state for a definite number of years.
The security forces recently eliminated Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo and arrested few terrorists alive. How big is this achievement in your view and what will change in the Valley after this?
Neutralization of Riyaz Naikoo was a major achievement for our security apparatus in Kashmir. Riyaz Naikoo was one of the last leftover terrorists from the Burhan Wani gang. He took over as HM chief of the Kashmir Valley in 2017 and indulged in many terror incidents targeting innocent civilians and security forces personnel. His elimination would end the Burhan Wani created chain of terror command. However, our forces have to be alert to the fact that Pakistan will continue to push more terrorists into the Valley using summers.
The world is now talking about cutting down its reliability on China. India could be the next manufacturing hub, in case firms decide to exit China. Are you ready to take a risk and make concessions to industries by land and labour reforms, key to inviting big firms to emerge as a manufacturing hub?
There is a lot of buzz about companies wanting to find alternate destinations for investment. India can’t let the opportunity slip out of its hands. In post-Covid economic scenario, job creation occupies high priority. India is an attractive destination for many investors primarily because of the availability of skilled manpower at affordable costs. We need to work on our land and labour laws to make India more attractive. Some states have already started working on those reforms. However, we also need to balance the interests of the labour force too.
WHO had declared Covid ‘a public health emergency of international concern’ on January 30. But India suspended all incoming international flights only on March 22. Could India have avoided this situation by shutting international flights earlier?
India took precautionary steps when there were no international warnings from WHO or any other source, nor were there even 200 Covid infections in the country. We took precautions well in time. The results speak for themselves. It is worthwhile to recall that lulled into complacency by WHO’s false reassurances, many western countries have delayed stern steps and were forced to pay heavy prices. India didn’t.
We succeeded in slowing down the speed of Covid spread initially due to the lockdown. But now cases have been rising at a significant pace. Does the new trend worry you?
Rise in the number of Covid cases in the country is certainly a cause of worry. Yet, the rate of positive cases out of the total number tested is way below the other developed countries. Similarly, our mortality rates are also comparatively low. Moreover, the virus has been effectively contained to some regions only. That is certainly a silver lining.
Congress has found flaws in almost everything the Centre has been doing to handle Covid crisis. Do you think Congress has a point when it demands that the Central Vista project to be put on hold and an audit of PM-CARES?
The role of the opposition during this major crisis has been very disappointing to put it mildly. While the Prime Minister has been working hard to mobilise everybody along, including the leaders of the opposition, the opposition was content with playing politics over this national challenge. Our government is transparent and fully committed to helping the states in tackling post-Covid economic fallout. No other project will hamper the government’s efforts in managing post-Covid economy. The opposition parties are losing their credibility further by indulging in politicking during such vital national healthcare crisis times.
Rahul Gandhi has been talking to economists like Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee and has also offered some advice on managing the economic situation arising out of Covid-19. But his complaint is that Prime Minister Modi doesn’t listen to him or Congress.
All suggestions from all well-meaning people are welcome. Government listens to all wise men. The Prime Minister himself talks to many economists, and other experts on a regular basis besides interacting with leaders of the political parties.
Now Congress is claiming that the Trump event in Ahmedabad is responsible for the Covid-19 spread in Gujarat. Your comment?
Does it deserve a comment?
The Centre is at odds with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal over the death numbers and ineffective implementation of lockdown, keeping upcoming assembly election in mind. How do you rate her handling of Covid-19?
Mamata Banerjee’s handling of the Corona crisis was extremely disappointing. Her continuous refusal to cooperate with the central government shows her poor and biased political outlook. So many voices have come out from Bengal itself castigating her actions and suggesting that there was an effort on her part to hide the facts. Corona is not a stigma. It is just a virus for which the vaccines are yet to be found. There was no need for hiding the figures in the belief that it would pay political dividends. That’s precisely what the Mamata government was doing. It would actually harm the interests of the people of Bengal and the entire country. Mamata should realise that.
Mamata Benerjee held a number of rallies and press conferences during anti-CAA protests but not one press briefing in the last two months over Covid— that too when she holds the health portfolio. What is your comment?
Her actions smack of politics of irresponsibility. She was leading from the front all through the fact-hiding phase. When the facts started tumbling out despite her best efforts, she withdrew herself claiming she has ‘better things’ to do. What better things than tackling the healthcare of the people do CMs have, we don’t know.
(The interview was originally published in Financial Express on May 12, 2020)