Edited Excerpts from an interview •
After working in the campus politics for several days, you have reached at the rank of a union minister. How do you see your journey from being a Banaras Hindu University President to an independent minister?
There are many people who have come across the student politics to the mainstream politics. There was a time when students’ politics used to be nursery of politicians. I believe that the same training is helping me in my work. I joined the student council and later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having the same ideology. This may be the reason that Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) has given me the responsibility.
During the Assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh 2017, the results were unexpected, and there was also a buzz around that the top leadership had preset the responsibility of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for you. The situation changed in the last few moments. Do you agree with the media reports?
At first, let me tell you that the results of Uttar Pradesh were not unexpected ones. It was only unpredictable for those media persons who do politics in Delhi. We were working on the ground and we were assured that the results would be in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party. As far as the chief minister’s post was concerned, it was in media only and they have lesser information about the BJP’s decisions. That is why such news was aired. The party decided very carefully and according to me, this decision
After some time, you were allege to be involved in a crime. The way politics has been blemished in the past what is your take on it?
I think it will not be appropriate for me to comment on a criminal’s word and I do not even want to say much about it.
In the last Assembly elections, the result was in favor of the Congress and after that the Ram temple issue was talk of the town in Uttar Pradesh. It was just your party that had included Ram temple issue in its manifesto. How long will you wait for the court’s decision? After the court’s decision, any party can build a temple there. Apart from this, the public frustration is increasing and your voters are getting agitated too. People are questioning the local leaders and they are saying that in the Center and the state, it’s your government. Where is the problem? Ordinance can be issued for small issues, new laws are made for minor issues then what is the problem in building a temple?
You are a senior journalist; you have asked many questions in one go. As far as the state assembly elections are concerned, if you analyse it, you‘ll find if we could have got 2,800 more votes in Madhya Pradesh then 12 MLAs would have been ours. Similarly, if we could have won 8,000 more votes in Rajasthan we could have formed the government. So understand this difference that the BJP is not defeated in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Congress has won. Sometimes luck plays an important role. If we would have done a little better management we would have won both the elections. Secondly, I would like to say that just before the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the three assembly elections were held.
BJP got majority in the three states, while the Lok Sabha elections were not favorable. In 1984, Congress had got a huge majority in the country and when the elections were held in Karnataka, Ramkrishna Hegde came in power with a huge majority. So, there is no need to connect the state elections with the general elections.
Those who have some understanding of politics should stay away from them. Secondly, as far as the temple is concerned in Uttar Pradesh, I feel that those who have read the 2014 election manifesto of Bharatiya Janata Party, they do not ask such questions.
The party has made two clear statements in the manifesto that Ram temple will be built either by mutual harmony and mutual consent or by Supreme Court’s verdict. I believe that any political party is bound by the promise made in its manifesto and fulfilling it is its biggest responsibility. And we are bound by our promise and we will fulfill it. The prime minister has given a very clear opinion on this, after which there is no doubt in the country and I feel that even you should not doubt too.
Understand one thing. Around 100 crore Hindus in the country want the temple to be built. But what’s more important is how the temple should be built. There is a system in the country and under that system the temple will be built.
In Uttar Pradesh people are talking that ‘the leaders are enjoying and Ramlala is sulking’?
You people create such slogans. Such slogans are created in Delhi that does not have any concern with the public. We meet people every day. I think public does not raise such questions. People really feel that Lord Rama’s temple should be built in this country. We are also in favour of this but the government will decide how it will be built.
Not at all. Your question is not completely based on facts. You have wrong information and I want to tell you that what is happening in Kashi is historical work. None of the temples have been broken there. I want to tell you with full responsibility that not even a single temple has been broken. I take full responsibility of this matter. Some people brought some Shivaling from a shopkeeper, who makes Shivaling, under political conspiracy and put them there. People of Banaras came to know the truth later. If anyone will go to Banaras, he will know what is happening in Banaras and how much it has changed.
Veteran BJP leader Sanghpriya Gautam — one of your former ministers, who was also a minister with Atal Behari Vajpayee and is close to RSS — has openly written a letter that the party should reconsider about Aditya Yogi Nath?
The party cannot run with RSS aide Gautam ji’s opinion. This is a party, not a single person and it is not a party where only a person will take all the decisions. We have a parliamentary board; our party has an organisational structure. It might be Gautam’s personal opinion, but it is not the opinion of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In a cabinet meeting, the government had decided to provide 10 percent reservation to the upper castes and it has been passed in the Lok Sabha too. What would you like to say about that?
For a long time, it was felt that those who are financially weak, no matter which caste they belong to or what is their social base, they should also get justice at some point of time. And I believe that this important and historic decision has been taken after great thoughts. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the entire cabinet for this. The government will do whatever is in the realm of the Constitution and if anything is required to be done in it, the government will do that too.
A political question in relation to Uttar Pradesh is that in the upcoming elections the real test is in Uttar Pradesh. BJP has bagged most of the seats in UP and there are talks of coalition between Samajwadi party and Bahujan Samaj Party, where do BJP finds itself?
It is true that the way to Delhi is via Lucknow. Even earlier, we used to say this, and this time also we are saying the similar thing. I feel that BJP won’t be in a bad state in Uttar Pradesh than it was in the year 2014. Whatever the political alliance may be, country needs an effective and decisive leadership. Yet one thing I want to tell you that after independence, this is the first government which is being seen in the village.
What was the general perception about the Government of India? The general perception was that when the common man went to the bank or a post office or when he used to board a train or a flight, he thought that this is Indian government. During the war, the soldiers of the Indian Army fought at the border, and then people believed that the Indian Army belongs to the Indian government. Now go to the village and ask the poor man he will tell you — who gave you the electricity — Modi ji; who gave the house — Modi ji; who made the toilets — Modi ji; who gave the social security — Modi ji; who gave gas cylinder in Ujjwala — Modi ji; who opened a bank account — Modi ji; or who gave you the facility of treatment of up to Rs 5 lakhs in Ayushman India — Modi ji.
I believe that after Independence, this is the first government that is seen in the villages. Government is knocking at the doors of the poor. All the coalitions and all the caste equations will be broken and Modi ji will again become the Prime Minister of the country with huge majority and Uttar Pradesh will make him PM.
There is another aspect related to this. Even after all these developments, people are looking for jobs. The public is talking about the past statements of the party. They are asking about employment. What the government has to say about these questions?
See as far as employment is concerned, I think government has recruited as much as there were positions. We have now advertised for 1,20,000 openings in Railways. We did recruitments in every department. Employment in private sectors has also increased. When we assumed power, India was the tenth largest economy in the world. Now, we have left France behind and have become the sixth largest economy. I want to tell you that in few months we will be ahead of England and become the fifth largest economy in the world.
Employment opportunities are constantly growing and will continue to grow. The people who have taken a loan from the Mudra Bank scheme, I think that they are the only ones have not been employed, they have become employers. This process is going on in small districts. In our city like Ghazipur, two job camps have been organised. Millions of youth have taken loans and are giving jobs to many people. So this is a misleading campaign being done
deliberately, but the public is not going to be misled by it.
I am not a big leader. There are many other big leaders in Purvanchal of our party. That’s why I am not claiming that but one thing I want to tell you that Ghazipur-the place where I belong, Lok Sabha constituency is not favorable for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Ask anyone, he will tell you that it is a tough seat for the BJP but now some people have made alliance and some others are in the process. So, in Uttar Pradesh we have to fight that. Under the leadership of powerful and influential leader like Modi, we shall definitely win.
You talked about coalition, but there is strife within NDA. As Amit Shah had said in Maharashtra that if Shiv Sena won’t treat us properly, then we will treat them like enemies. Isn’t it a strong message from Amit Shah?
Please do not misinterpret Amit Shah ji’s words. He has not said this. He has not said that we shall behave like enemies. He said that Shiv Sena is our ally party and will be with us and we will fight together. If it will fight against us then we will try not to lose to anyone and I am quoting the exact words of Amit Shah.
The moral of the story is that the NDA alliance is in turmoil, the partners are leaving. Anupriya Patel, of your state is also getting a bit negative?
Anupriya Patel is absolutely with us. We will contest together. Be assured that the all is well in NDA and it will remain fine.
PM Modi appointed you as an independent minister of telecom. How are you fulfilling your responsibility?
This is the prime minister’s prerogative, which role to be assigned to whom. I do not to want to say anything on this. This is his prerogative. Yes, I can thank Prime Minister for providing me this responsibility. As far as, the ministry is concerned, this ministry was in headlines till 2014 for some other reasons. After the formation of Modi ji’s government, I believe that the Ministry is in headlines for different reasons now. There was a huge trust deficit in the era of previous governments, especially in the telecommunications ministry.
The trust deficit had grown; the investors did not want to invest. We rectified that trust deficit, whether it was of an investor or the stakeholders, we have reinstated it. Whether Indian investors or foreign investors, they are investing in this government with open-mind. As far as foreign investment is concerned, a lot of investment has been done in comparison to the earlier. Government has also increased investment six times in the ministry.
People believe that in the telecom sector Reliance Jio has domination. The Ministry of Telecommunication and TRAI were seen using the Prime Minister’s photo while projecting Reliance Jio. How do you see this?
This is an open market and in the open market the consumer will decide who will dominate it. The government does not have to decide on it if the consumer is attracted towards someone. This is a same level playing field. If someone gets impressed with the service and goes to someone, then the government has no right to stop it. So I think that no sensible person can allege this because telecom is an open market.
The consumer has the freedom that he can take anyone’s service any day. If someone is taking services of Airtel, Idea-Vodafone or BSNL-MTNL; neither Government interferes nor TRAI.
When the Congress started criticising all these issues, then you answered that, 10 to 20 senior Congress leaders who have written the letter in which this matter has been discussed. Why did not the department exposed their names?
This will be a very small state of mind if I take the name of those politicians who had written me a letter and I do not do such politics. Politics has a limit and everyone should follow the limits. I am committed to it.
In the last one year, Aircel Limited had declared bankruptcy; Reliance Communications Limited sold its property to Reliance Jio InfraFircom Limited, while Tata Teleservices Limited and Telenor Communications Pvt Ltd sold their property to Bharti Airtel. Vodafone India Limited and Idea Cellular Limited merged. Is everything going well with the Indian telecom sector and going towards the positive direction?
Consolidation is a worldwide phenomena and it is in every industry. A successful story of the telecom sector has been in this country. This is a technology dependent sector and investment is more. Naturally, the small players have faced difficulty, but I believe consolidation has happened in the whole world. If you see the developed countries of the world, US to any country of the world, everywhere there are two to three or four players. In our country consolidation has happened at a bigger level so only four players are about to remain.
Today, Jio is one of them, Airtel is second, Idea-Vodafone combined third, and BSNL-MTNL four players. If there are car players then I think the competition will remain and consumers’ interests will be safe. It is such a huge market that even after this consolidation, I feel that this sector had a successful story and it is going to be stable in the coming days and things will be fine.
What is the reason behind your department’s decision to wait for the second half of 2019 for the additional spectrum auction? Is it because some operators have demanded a delay in the auction due to high level of debt and the price war between Reliance Jio and the rest?
I think this is not the right question. The spectrum is available in large quantities in the market today. TRAI has sent the recommendation. Now the Government has to decide the preferred time for the auction. The government has not taken any decision on this; right decision will be taken at the right time.
Experts believe that in 2010 auctions a major contributor for the high base price for spectrum, debt of around Rs 7 lakh crore, in Telecos. As a result, the wholesale price of airwaves has gone up many a times. Keeping this in view, the TRAI spectrum can discuss the new method for determining the base price. What is the vision of telecom ministry on this issue?
In general, one thing should keep in mind that the market theory depends upon demand and supply. Accordingly, the price of something increases if its demand is high. If the demand for spectrum will increase, then its cost will increase. If the need for spectrum will be reduced and the price will be lower. But TRAI decides the price of spectrum after thinking thoroughly, and then the ministry takes decision.
We will take right decision at the right time and I want to assure you that our government does not take any decision in anyone’s influence. The interest of the customer is our highest priority. If we will face any problem of service quality, we will auction without any impact.
The government’s tenure is about to end but it has apparently failed to solve the problem of call-drop in four years. I have personally asked this question to your predecessor too many times. Apart from this, the question was raised several times in Parliament too. Wi-Fi does not even work in the Central Hall, so what to do to get its better level? And how much time will it take? What is the government doing on this?
Call drop does not only happen in India. It is a universal phenomenon. The problem of our country is that those who understand technology know that wireless network is not a reliable network. Wire line network is the only reliable network. The problem in our country is that the wire line network could not be made properly, the mobile came and we switched. In the last four years our government has made Telecom Infrastructure more than twice.
Optical fiber was seven lakh kilometers in this country; we increased to fourteen lakh kilometers. If we talk about BTS, it was eight lakhs, now they are increased to twenty lakhs. So to stop the call drop and for better connectivity and better quality telecom infrastructure is required.
For this the infrastructure is Tower and BTS, which we have increased in bulk. But there are some scholars who say that it produces radiation and lead to diseases. We have conducted many seminars across the country to create awareness. We released the wave communication portal.
We gave freedom to know the radiation level of any tower of the country. While sitting at home they can get information about it. If you want to know the radiation level of a particular tower, through the wave communication portal you can get the information while sitting at your home, you just have to pay four thousand rupees and within one month will get the result of tower near home. We have repeatedly told in the Parliament about how much radiation is happening and outside the Parliament too, our rules are very strict.
We have seven times strict rules than other countries of the world. I want to assure the country that EMF radiation will not affect anyone’s health. But who will explain the Intellectuals? A base tower was established in Lodhi Garden.
A morning Walker said, “Sir, Influential people come here. They are associated with Welfare Association. They did not allow us the tower and this caused a lot of trouble, especially in the metro cities. The main thing is that we have put in many efforts in this direction. We have allowed government buildings, and we had a word in Cantonment and airport area too. The policy has also been made.
There we can set up towers and we had a meeting with the representatives of the state government too. State governments have also assured that whatever new rules we have made, they will get permission from the municipal corporations as soon as possible. I believe that continuous monitoring has improved call-drop significantly and the TRAI report has its standard. If you see the report of last three quarters, there has been a lot of improvement in the call drop in every quarter.
I have also set up a system for the survey in my ministry, in which 2.5 million subscribers have been called by us, and we have asked them frequent questions like where does call drop happen, at home or on the way or somewhere else. Whichever place they tell us we try to solve it in a week.
Due to high reserve price in 2016, the 700 MHz spectrum remained unsold and the government kept it for the second time auction. Only 60 per cent of the proposal was available in the auction. Year 2017 was an unsuccessful financial year in this area and due to this the auction was postponed. What do you have to say about this?
It is completely factually incorrect that the auction was not done due to bad financial conditions. We had kept so much of spectrum in the market that as many people could buy it but there was not much need of it. I think that our telecom service providers were not ready to buy the spectrum of 700 MHz. Again, when we will do auction, I believe people will buy a lot.
On one hand, you are doing new experiments while removing the regulatory barriers of the telecom sector as Telecom Minister, but in the Ministry of Information Technology, there are efforts to bring the right data protection and online content in constitutional ambit. What is the difference between both of them?
This is a government in which the work is done with mutual consent between the ministries. Mutual agreement and mutual dialogue between our ministries remain constant. Therefore, there is no difference between both Telecom and IT departments and there is no dispute. Whatever the topic is, both the ministries sit together and agree on decisions. Then we have formed a National Digital Communication Policy and we have received a huge support from that ministry. I can say that the vision we have placed in front of the country it has secured our place in 50 countries of the world. For this, we have created a council. We have emphasized on Fimbriation and I can say that we have been working together with the concerned Ministry to make Digital India successful.
America, Japan, Canada, UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand have already taken steps to block the purchase of equipments from Huawei and ZTE. Telecom Export Body TEPC has requested National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to ban the purchase of equipment from Chinese companies like Huawei, ZTE and Fiberholm, for the government network, claiming that they can create a serious national security threat. How do you see this development?
We have created the way of security in our country and we are standing at par with any country in the world. We will test all equipments of any country and we will use only those products that will clear our test.
Initially you were given the charge of the Minister of State for Railways. The prime minister had a dream bullet train under the Ministry of Railways. Do you feel that this will be true and is ground reality in its favor?
It is absolutely possible. Ahmedabad corridor will start in 2022, which will be run by High Speed Rail Corporation.
Do you think all is well in the Railway Ministry?
The people who understand the Railway Ministry know what were the real problems of Railways. The problem of railways was that after the Independence, the number of passengers increased by 23-24 times and the freight increased by 10 times but the investment did not increase. We could add on the railway line by 40-45 per cent after Britishers left. Ever since the remaining halfway on petrol and diesel in this country, investment in the highway sector was 6 times higher than the Railways. I want to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for understanding the requirements of Indian Railways.
He considered the means of transportation of common man and increased investment. In general, the average investment in various projects before 2014 was 48-49,000 crore, increasing it our government has invested 1,30,000 crores and this year, we have invested 1,48,000 crore rupees in various sectors of Indian Railways. With this we have done the work of doubling, electrification, third line, loop line, satellite station. Once this work will be completed, we will get rid of the congestion of the Indian Railways, especially on the trunk route. It will help in running trains securely and on time.
Are you also trying to make investments that can fix the tracks and can assure the safety of the tracks that can help trains run during haze or fog, and protect them from accidents?
The renewal of Indian railway tracks was pending in the previous governments. We have completed the track renewal on priority basis. If you see the new line, doubling, electrification, we are doing 3 times more than what it used to be. So, our speed is fine and the investment is fine. We are working on safety, security and punctuality; these three are the basic principles of railway.