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April 4, 1998


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The Rediff Business Special: BJP national agenda's economic policies

'The BJP will ensure total internal liberalisation'

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Rediff On The NeT has made special arrangements with In TV, producers of Crossfire, to publish transcripts of the popular television programme. Presenting the first in the series: A debate over the Bharatiya Janata Party's national agenda featuring BJP general secretary M Venkaiah Naidu and Business India editor Omkar Goswami, and moderated by commentator Sanjaya Baru.

Sanjaya Baru: Welcome to Crossfire, a programme of debate and discussion. The subject is the national agenda for governance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. Is the document a mere wish list or is it a real agenda for policy? Is it promising every thing to everybody, as the Americans say, motherhood and apple pie? Or does it put forward a clear agenda for the government to pursue in the next few months.

Mr Naidu, the national agenda for governance reads like a wish list all the good things security, education, housing for all, price stability, health and drinking water, empowerment of women, etc. This is a long list of things we have been wanting to do for the past 50 years. Why should the people of India take you any more seriously than all other parties before?

Venkaiah Naidu: First of all, for the last 50 years we had the same set of rulers. Now there is a change. A new regime has come, a new leadership has taken over. Now the people should understand that this is a political party which is known for its commitment to certain principles and ideology. It is a party with a difference, whatever it says it means, and it implements. This has been our track record.

SB: Omkar, you are the editor of Business India, living in Bombay. Is the BJP a government with a difference? Is this a real agenda or is it a mere wish list?

Omkar Goswami: This is as you said in the introduction 'motherland and apple pie,' or since apple pie may not be allowed any more, call it, motherhood and gajar ka halwa. It has got everything and when something has got everything I am very scared of it.

And you know there is a wonderful thing that Percy Barnevik said, which I want to share. He said during his visit people in India were talking of what we are going to do in 2005, what are we going to do in 4 years. Ask them what they are going to do in the next 3 months? They never have a reply for that!

SB: What will you do in the next 3 months or let us say next 6 months? What do you see as your priority?

VN: No, sir, my agenda is very clear. My priority is first of all to provide security to the people of this country.

SB: What do you mean?

VN: There is a no security to the people today. There is total lawlessness. RDX can be found anywhere.

OG: No, Mr Naidu. You have got a 100 day period with this Cabinet, which has got all sorts of strange people whom you have had to accommodate. What is it you are going to take to the people in the next 100 days?

VN: There is no disagreement on a majority of the issues. Nobody has taken issue with my taking a strong stand on the lawlessness in the country. And suppose I want to stop the inflow of arms into the country. None of my colleagues or my allies are in disagreement with me on that issue.

SB: Your agenda says you will meet 7 per cent to 8 per cent of annual growth. What are the priority issues you would like to take up so as to ensure growth? This year we have had only 5 per cent growth.

VN: First of all, if you see the policy document, we have said that we would like to allocate 60 per cent of the Budget to agriculture.

SB: But before we get into the allocation of agriculture for growth, we can't allocate 60 per cent for agriculture this year. What are the priority things you will do right now, say in the next Budget?

VN: I will not say anything about the Budget because the Budget has yet to be formulated, there has to be proper discussion.

SB: What would you like to see?

OG: I would like to see straightaway some statement, not generalities. I would like to see a statement that says the Insurance Regulatory Act is going to be passed right away. I want to see a statement which says that I will not wait for the Budget to be passed in June but that it will be passed in April-end, however difficult it may be so that the economy gets 11 months to work on it. I don't want to hear ministers talk about wanting a strong rupee. These are not important things.

SB: Mr Naidu, how do you react to Omkar?

VN: The finance minister has already given an indication that the Budget will be passed at the earliest.

SB: So, the Budget will be passed in April?

VN: That is the thinking right now. And secondly with regard to insurance we have made our stand very clear about allowing internal competition. With regard to allowing external competition, there is no total agreement.

SB: A statement says that 'India shall be built by Indians. Now supposing America were to say that America shall be built by Americans' what happens to the NRIs who are supportive of your party in the USA?

VN: We are living in a world community today. We are not living in isolation. But India cannot be built by Americans. You see the Japan model. Even in Japan there are subtle restrictions. Japan is talking of economic nationalism. The BJP and its allies thinking is similar. The thrust is more protection, priority to Indians.

SB: Omkar?

OG: See, this kind of thrust makes no sense, because I don't know that those thrusts are. This again is motherhood and apple pie business. For the past 50 years, I see protection in the name of self-reliance, regional integration, public sector. What has it got us? Shoddy products….

VN: You must understand that for the past 50 years, we have been following the Soviet model of socialism. You have seen what has happened to the Soviet Union. Also, there was no total internal liberalisation. What I am saying today is that I will ensure total internal liberalisation.

OG: Are you saying that in 100 days you will sell Ashoka Hotel?

VN: I can't talk of a specific issue.

OG: I am talking of internal liberalising. Will you say in 100 days, you will sell Ashoka Hotel?

VN: My priority is to see to it that these bottlenecks that are coming in the way of Indian industry will be removed and that you need not run to a number of departments.

OG: But there is a very good way of removing bottlenecks in Indian industry. Just raise tariff, put some quotas, prevent competition and then go downwards!

VN: But who is saying prevent competition? Till yesterday, you don't allow me to have any competition. You allowed only Hindustan Motors and Fiat to have competition for the last 50 years, and now you are throwing open to international community! What will happen to this industry? My priority is to first allow Indian companies to have competition among themselves. Total internal liberalisation and selective globalisation. If you don't do this you will be another Soviet Union.

SB: Does India have the kind of time that the BJP is talking about?

OG: All you got is ten years -- 2005 - after which the WTO comes up, irrespective of the sabre rattling by Messrs Murli Manohar Joshi and his friends.

VN: Five or seven years is a very, very "equal" time. We will be able to make it before that. It is a signal to the Indian industry also to get ready.

SB: Excellent. Mr Naidu has spoken of internal liberalisation. A lot has been done by the central government but let us look at state governments. Omkar, what are the things they should be doing?

OG: Very simple. Provided you are doing a project that doesn't have noxious or hazardous waste you should give 60 days to get over with all your clearances. End of story. Most states will do it. The way to do is to make them feel poor enough to do it.

VN: I agree with you.

SB: Mr Naidu, you have said you need time to implement changes at the national level but look at the states you have been in power for some time. The fact in this election is you haven't done too well in Maharashtra and Rajasthan, is that a verdict against your policies?

VN: That's not because of our economic reforms. A new social polarisation took place, a new social arrangement and the appearance of the third force.

OG: That was in Maharashtra. What about Rajasthan?

VN: Even in Rajasthan. Earlier, the Janata Dal had a presence and it polled 14 per cent or 11 per cent votes. Now it has totally disappeared. The difference between the BJP and the Congress is only one to one-and-a-half per cent!

SB: So your performance in the states is not going to make any difference to your policies in the national agenda? Omkar, do you see hope in this?

OG: I think that is very, very hopeful. Basically the thrust again has to be at the state level. You know my feeling is that 4 or 5 quick things have to be done. Let me give an example. There are about 25 to 30 commodities that the common person uses. Find out what they are. Don't prejudge them like the Congress -- that these are luxury items and these are necessities. Some of them have excise. Some of them don't have excise. Forget about those that don't have excise. In the budget, those that have excise, decide to drop excise by 10 per cent. End of story. And say that this is for people to get relief. Immediately that idea will get formed. You know say you will get rid of three luxury hotels use the money for money for Berozgari Yojana.

SB: Omkar, lets get back to the national agenda. Is it a reassuring statement that the common minimum programme was too much into specifics and that this agenda is a board direction to formulate policy.

OG: This is a very politically astute sentence because then you can't catch me on anything. If you have 20 specifics and I have only delivered 2, then you can say that there are 18 remaining. But if you have 20 generalities then you can't catch me on anything!

SB: Mr Naidu, do you agree?

VN: No, no, no. In the CMP there was no agreement on a majority of the issues. If you go by the performance, on each and every very issue there used to be disagreement within the United Front itself and also the Congress party. As far as the BJP and its allies are concerned on all these issues in the national agenda there is total agreement. Look at what happened to the CMP's women's reservation -- the prime minister passed the bill, however the president of the ruling party (Sharad Yadav), opposed it on the floor of the House! Whereas in the BJP national agenda, a broad policy direction has been identified.

SB: Does it worry you that in arriving at a broad policy agenda, you have been forced to resisting itself to generalities? You are not able to take up specific things.

VN: It will take time now, after all we have just been elected, we have to work out all the details. We have to work out groups. Once we get into the government, we will also know the real situation -- the finance of the country. Simply making promises is not enough! You have to create enough public opinion.

SB: Mr Naidu, lets get to the issue of allocation of 60 per cent of Plan fund to agriculture. Critics say that if you do this you would literally squeeze out the other sectors of growth. So how are you going to get the funds?

VN: Number one, you have to crack the low personal tax collection system, so that you can get greater revenue. Secondly, you must allow internal competition also. There is a lot of money in this country which can be put to great use. You have not allowed internal competition with regard to power generation also.

OG: That's a good point you are raising. In power, one of the dangerous problems in growth is the ridiculous power tariffs. Most people would rather pay more and get power rather than pay less and get no power. What are you going to do about restructuring state electricity boards?

VN: It is on the cards now, the restructuring of SEBs. Nobody is going to stop it. The only thing we have to decide is whether straightaway you can increase tariffs from 50 paise to Rs 4 per unit. What will happen to agriculture? It has to be brought in phases, not overnight. Chandrababu Naidu tried to do this in Andhra Pradesh and you know how that ended!

OG: One of the agenda's promises is housing for all. Now, we know that the Urban Land Ceiling Act is a major deterrent to housing. Also, your erstwhile Jan Sangh was totally against it. Are you going to repeal it?

VN: Yes, there is an indication in the agenda that the Act is going to be reviewed, keeping the practical side in view.

OG: Forget about reviewing it. Just get two states to say that you want to repeal it and then remove it under Article 252.

VN: Many of the states are willing to do it. In the coming days you will see.

SB: To sum up. Omkar, do you feel reassured after this?

OG: Well, only in so far as this is a new government, it promises to be different, that is a plus point. We should give it a time -- 100 days. And the negative point is that it has a lost of ragtag people hanging about in the periphery.

SB: Mr Naidu, ragtag people and a lot of generalities…. Do you see the ability to focus on real issues?

VN: Yes, the leader has the ability, the government has the ability. These are men of integrity. They will be able to do it. They know the responsibility on their shoulders. People aren't willing to give them 50 years like the Congress.

SB: Thank you.


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