Kamal Nath, Minister of Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs, spoke to NDTV's Vikram Chandra and Shweta Rajpal Kohli on the sidelines of the annual WEF meet in Davos, Switzerland.
Here's full transcript of the interview:
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Hello and welcome to Davos! It's such a pleasure to have with us the leader of the Indian delegation to Davos, Minister Kamal Nath. Sir, thank you so much for being with us. How hard is it to sell the India story to Davos this year given the sharp slowdown and the policy paralysis that we are facing?
KAMAL NATH: Well it's not hard, it's relatively different to many years ago when a lot of people were looking at India and now everyone knows India. So the story is not to be sold, the story is not to be resold, but only has to be enhanced. And that's what we are doing as India continues to be one of the best investment destinations.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: Having said that, Kamal Nath, can I say- you were not here last year and you stayed away probably because you knew how the atmosphere here would be? I have been to Davos in many years, you have been coming here and you know that the India story has changed. There was time when there was complete apathy. You walk in here saying India and nobody would listen to you. Then there was a period of complete hype. India was the next superstar and nothing could stop it. Last year was of gloom and doom depression- India story over, finished and all rubbish and the government completely messing up. What's the story this year?
KAMAL NATH: Well, the story this year is that India...
VIKRAM CHANDRA: You agree that there were those cycles?
KAMAL NATH: There have been those cycles. Last year was not so good, essentially because you must recognize that India has never seen a 2008, has never seen a depressed Europe and the US. And India itself was adjusting to a depressed Europe and the US. Secondly, about 60-70 per cent of the capital flow of Europe are exported whether to north America or to Asia or wherever it is... That was slowing down and then a psyched has built up that bloom in India has gloomed. And that's the story this year also. Our auto sector is growing at 15-20 per cent, cement sector is growing and our steel sector is also growing. I mean what countries in Europe and the US are looking for growth... They are struggling to get to a 2-3 per cent growth and we are talking an excess of 15 per cent of growth.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: That's not what people were arguing about last year. People, last year, were saying that India has got the most fantastic opportunity now. The rest of the world is slowing down, the rest of the world is going to continue to have growth problems. India is messing up its own story. The government is asleep. There is policy paralysis. Nothing is being done and that is before retrospective tax and all of those things have happened. That's what people were saying last year. You are saying that things have changed from a year ago.
KAMAL NATH: Of course, things have changed. There was a lull in policy. It was not a paralysis, but a lull because you can't keep that momentum going. You can't start announcing new policies at the same pace which you were doing earlier during 2004, 2005, 2006 and so on... And that was about 18 months of a period. There was a period of consolidation for India.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Consolidation or sheer slowdown? Because many believed that's precious time lost and the momentum that we lost in those months will be very hard to cover up.
KAMAL NATH: No, I don't think, at all, that momentum was lost. As I said, India was also
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: We are talking about 9 per cent; we are down to 5 and a half...
KAMAL NATH: That's there with every country. We don't have banks going bust. I remember us being here and, in all those years, being preached by all the financial institutions, all the bankers, big guys with big banking practices, and I had the privilege of coming here in 2009 and telling them you are where you are and we are where we are. That's the story. Let's not think that things are bad in India.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: So you are admitting that there was a lull for 18 months. You can call it policy paralysis or lull. Now you are saying "okay that period is behind us." The government is back and talking about business, (and) the same issues that were rallying last year. How can you guys flip flop? You could tell people "look, we have done it now at the end of the day...we are back Is that what you are saying- India is back?
KAMAL NATH: Yes, and more is coming.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: India is back and more is coming what?
KAMAL NATH: Well, you will see and it is not that something is Davos centric. But there is going to be a rollout of some other policies and reforms in the next two months.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Let's believe that the government is getting its policies wrong. We interviewed Wipro's Ajim Premji, who cited concern in the FDI push in multi brand retail is not worth while... Even the Supreme Court questioned the government's push; it was a mere political gimmick. How do you respond to that?
KAMAL NATH: I don't know what the Supreme Court is asking. The Supreme Court should confine its role to the judiciary.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Do you think it's overstepping and moving in the policy domain?
KAMAL NATH: Certain comments do tend to let people think that is it the judiciary or something more, and without going into that I would like to say that it's not that these are things that are for fact. These are substantially the things that are happening. Take the financial system rolling out and going to roll out much more, and much more is happening. But there has to be in every country some consolidation. And that's what is happening. We must remember it's India relative to a depressed Europe and a depressed US. It's not the India versus the pre-2008 Europe and US. So it's a relative situation. Do they have the same financial flows to move out? Do they have the investments to move out? They don't.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: How are you luring the investors here, given the fact that we have not seen a single investor coming to FDI and multi brand retail space? We haven't had attracted interest in multi brand retail space despite all the debate that we have seen and you, of course, will credit it with the wonderful win in the parliament. What we want to see happened on the ground in terms of foreign investment.
KAMAL NATH: We are certainly going to see investment coming into multi brand retail. I know. People have been talking to me. I don't want to name them but some big retail players were talking to me and I see that happening. I think this hype got built up that nothing is happening in India because they were used to 35 per cent growth in India. And now they are not having 35 per cent growth in most of the sectors. They are at 20 per cent and there is a phase after that. That really is not realistic.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: Let's look at the next step. Some of the most crucial steps that you are now are speaking about are going to be in your hands. You have to get them through the parliament. Let's look at the budget session now. You have the land acquisition bill. It's going to be your baby to push that through, food security bill may come up, you could still have to push GST; these things are most crucial measures in a long time. But it's not that easy. How confident are you that you will get some of these things through?
KAMAL NATH: I am confident because I think these are some things that are not for Congress party or any political party, these are important things for a country and all political parties would want good things to happen for the country. Of course, they have their own thoughts on this but I think we are going to have a very constructive parliament session.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: But of the ones I mentioned, which will be your priority- land acquisition or food security?
KAMAL NATH: Both are absolute priorities. Insurance bill, pension bill, these are all our priority.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: There could be some more things for women safety.
KAMAL NATH: Of course, we are waiting for the Verma commission.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: ...recommendations. They are out and they are talking about a complete change in legislation. They are talking about the changes in the mind-set. They have indicted the government and various administrations. So do you think the need of the hour is really to send out the message that not only India is doing enough on the reform front and doing enough to ensure the changes take place to make India a more secure place for women?
KAMAL NATH: Absolutely. I think it was we who appointed the Verma committee. It's we who wanted these changes. It's unfortunate that very ugly incident triggered it off but we wanted it. We were the one who wanted the sexual harassment bill, who wanted to bring it to the parliament in the last session. We couldn't get it passed but we will do so. That's another very big priority.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: So the extent that changes in the law that are being suggested by now what Justice Verma has said... Is that something that you are going to push through as early as the budget session? I am sure there is going to be political consensus on that.
KAMAL NATH: Absolutely. We are going to push that through. That is going to be our priority in the first half of the parliament session. I think that's a very major priority along with getting the necessary things. Like we are going to get the motion of thanks to the President... Then we got to see that the finance bill is passed, that is in the second part of the session. But the grants all the financial issues go in the first session including the new amendments for women safety... That will be absolutely on the top of our agenda.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: We also know that we have a very narrow political window of opportunity. Everyone already has their eyes on 2014. We have seen Rahul Gandhi elevation, which is obvious. Also breaking like it has also become the big talk of the big time show with us how it's really going to impact and what will be some of his responsibilities especially vis-a-vis Sonia Gandhi.
KAMAL NATH: Well, I think as vice president of the party he will play a more active role with the organisation and he has been playing a role in the organisation for the last 8 years, and now as formally as vice president, he was the general secretary but as a vice president... He will be taking some of the load off Mrs Gandhi and engagement with the party apparatus across the country will be useful.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: How do you see the task are we seeing, the battle grounds for 2014 already being formulated- Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and some of the sections of BJP pushing?
KAMAL NATH: BJP struggle to decide who the president would be but now they are struggling to decide who the prime ministerial candidate would be.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: They are struggling to decide so that means you have decided?
KAMAL NATH: Well, in the party there is consensus that they would like to see Rahul Gandhi. It's not that the names floating around there is one single name.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: So Rahul Gandhi is the person who now will be the Congress party's prime ministerial candidate for 2014?
KAMAL NATH: Well, it's for him to decide but if you ask me personally, and every section of the party, would like to see him. It's up to him to take that decision.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Many even question if he is ready for the job as yet, given the fact that in past he has not managed to display what many had expected of him.
KAMAL NATH: Well, I think he is absolutely ready and saying ready and not ready but when Mr Modi went as chief minister, he had never been a minister in his life thus recognise this then. Mr Vajpayee became Prime Minister (though) he had not held many ministerial positions before. So you cannot say who is ready and who is not ready.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: So we do not see a dual leadership structure still continuing if the Congress comes back in power in 2014, where you have Sonia Gandhi the Congress head and you have got another Prime Minister, do we see that as a possible structure that can be taken forward if the government comes back in power even in coalition?
KAMAL NATH: We are confident of coming back to power and then it depends that what kind of numbers are thrown of and, of course, coalitions are a reality and they are not only reality in India, but are reality in Germany and reality in France, they are reality in Italy and in all democracies. President Obama had to cancel his vacation to come back to Washington to see his financial business back so the country would not financially run in... So everything in politics is now coming to be a coalition and maybe that's good because you get a large consensus on that.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: Do you think the question of who the leader is will settle down now?
KAMAL NATH: I think so, it will settle down.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: Now only Rahul Gandhi is speaking he will lead the party?
KAMAL NATH: No, of course, he is vice president. It's Mrs Gandhi who continues to be president and he will be taking off some of the load. He will play a much more active role and if you see his speech say," life is my country, my life is congress party that's it," (you see) he will remain more intensively engaged. And that message is loud and clear- there has to be transition from one generation to another and I think that transition has taken place. That's the more important thing and that's what the country needs to be certain about, that this transition is taking place and we must understand that as a country with a young age profile we are the largest aspiration society on this planet and as the aspiration society you need to understand that aspirations of the youngsters of today are very different, as compared to the aspiration of youngsters a decade ago.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: The socialist agenda of the Congress party vs. the whole reformist tone that would like to take...
VIKRAM CHANDRA: ...in the grievance as the aspiration
KAMAL NATH: In India, both the politics have to go together. You must not forget that there are 300 million people less than $1 a day... We must not forget that the human development index is still very low so you cannot have just one policy, you've got to have both the policies you've got to have the reformist policy and also the forward looking policy at the same time. You must (also) be addressing the social challenges of the country.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: are we doing enough in that direction because the real worry is the social inclusion has not happen and also just to add to entire youth focus you were talking about its the same youth of the country that actually asking this government for answer on critical issues they are the ones taking it to the streets and protesting whether it is on issues like corruption or on women safety is that not a wakeup call for the government.
KAMAL NATH: There are different governments in the country... There are seven state governments that are run by BJP.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Centre cannot rush.
KAMAL NATH: No, centre cannot. That's what I am saying. It's a sentiment. Corruption is a huge issue, it's not an issue on Delhi, it's an issue on districts, an issue on villages. And we must not forget that it is corruption people there are rising up against. There is a different lot of corruption people in Delhi are rising up against but corruption nevertheless is a huge issue and has to be addressed... I think Congress understands what nobody understands- the aspiration of the youth. I know, I was a youngster when I came and joined the Congress party. I was a youngster when I came into parliament. How things have changed how aspirations divide urban youth and rural youth today... There is nothing known as rural youth, everybody has a phone, everybody's on the internet...so there is no question of the difference between rural youth and urban youth.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: But sir, you may admit that you have lost the pulse of the youth of the fact that you perhaps have underestimated some of the issues that will worry this countries youth we always taught we would not see some of the responses that we have saw to some of these issues is there somewhere the realization within the congress party that they did not address some of the concerns.
KAMAL NATH: The politics have changed a lot and change every 5 years and every decade. In Congress, the process of change has happened as it doesn't happen instantly like a switch you put on and off; the Congress party now recognises its expectations of the youth of this country and their worries and their fears.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: But you know, there is one way in which politics has changed- it's that now increasingly the voters vote the government they have seen to deliver...deliver on governance, deliver on promises, and deliver in improving the lives of people... How confident are you?
KAMAL NATH: I am very confident that I will be able to do it and we must understand that politics is also very localised, electoral politics in India is very localised.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: Final question- let's come back to Davos, a nice sunny day, it's much warmer than it was last year I can tell you and warmer also because in Indian point of view you have a much easier job this year.
KAMAL NATH: Yes, I think I would not say easy but people want to engage with India and I see that the number of meetings wanting you to participate.
SHWETA RAJPAL KOHLI: Sir, the big message coming out of your interview is that India is coming back, the India story is alive and don't write off India.
KAMAL NATH: No, India is alive and kicking.
VIKRAM CHANDRA: Thank you so much. We look forward to promises for the budget session.