Nirmala: Do you expect armed forces to take selfies and show proof: Nirmala Sitharaman


Here is the government which is giving a clear signal that it will stand up to the challenge of terrorism, said the Union defence minister.


  • Zero tolerance to terrorism is what we have promised and shown.
  • Nobody has transferred technology for Mission Shakti. It is all indigenous.
  • Indians want a government which will not sit back and watch when Indian lives are lost.

The tough-talking Nirmala Sitharaman is as blunt as she can get. Ask her about the alleged politicisation of security matters in light of Balakot and Mission Shakti. Political nod is required for any such action, unlike Pakistan, the Defence Minister minced no words while speaking to ETNow as part of India Development Debate.

Edited excerpts:

A lot is being said that the Modi sarkar going into battle 2019 is playing the patriotism card, the national security card to try and deflect from the lack of job creation from the economy. How do you react to that charge?

Well, who are the ones who are talking about these charges and who are the ones who are telling us that we are actually distracting people from what has to be discussed.

It is a shame that in a country which has over the decade suffered because of terrorism and our neighbour, who constantly disturbs us. We have seen a huge loss of lives, assets and everything else. The one single worry of every government has been how to contain terrorism and also the naxal problem.

If at a time when we have seen some of the major hits and as a result, you saw the mood post Pulwama, how the entire country reacted and the kind of disappointment and anger which was seething, we have responded to this. And I have said this before too that if only after Mumbai attack, had the then government taken some steps to curtail terror, we would not have faced this situation at all.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Pakistan will behave itself after one such lesson, but if we showed firm determination even then, we would not have had this problem. The sum and substance of it is here is the government which is giving a clear signal that it will have to stand up to the challenge of terrorism.

Zero tolerance is what we have promised and shown. We are telling people look here is a leadership which really addresses the concerns which are in the minds of the people, particularly on national security, be it at the borders or be it at some inland pockets where we have had a problem because of Naxalism.

So, what is wrong in distinguishing this government based on our actions as different from the previous government and saying here are we making the country feel absolutely safe? If the country is safe, all of us can get going with our normal day-to-day activity with the greater sense of confidence.

That is why we talk about it and the country is talking about it, not just us as a political party.

We have already seen it being a major election plank.

We will certainly speak about it. That is a major plank, it is obvious.

After our attack on Pakistan, there were certain charges of politicisation. Do you concede whether it was the BJP or the Congress, both of you are guilty of politicising that?

I would not agree with that at all. Politicisation happens if people are trying to talk about whether the armed forces took the right step or not.

Now, the debate here is armed forces did not act because they had to get the direction because in India unlike in Pakistan, the armed forces are clearly under the civilian government. Any action that the armed forces will have to take will have to have a political clearance and that is why when I talked about post Mumbai attack, even though the armed forces were ready, political clearance did not come by.

In this ASAT attack I mean the satellite, where the missile had gone up and hit the satellite, even the capacity existed even in 2012 when one of the missiles was tested. Some of the missile was tested, but the government then did not give the go-ahead. Political will is required for any such action.

Now it becomes politicised if you suspect that the armed forces acted only because there was any other motive than security considerations about Balakot. The politicisation started when the Opposition instead of standing by the country started questioning what the armed forces did.

Whether you question the government or not is understandable because especially nearer the elections, a party in power will be criticised, if not ideally be critiqued for their activity. That one can understand. But by asking for probe by questioning whether they really went into the Pakistani territory and so on, it is very clear that the object is to question the armed forces rather than the government.

You did not give the free hand to the armed forces when it was your time and your government. We have given as the Prime Minister said a free hand to the armed forces to say you take an action when you deem it fit. That is a political direction given by the party in power.

They are demanding proof.

That is where the politicisation commences and ends.

What do you say to all of those who are demanding proof and just not believing what you or the armed forces have to say?

That is politicisation. You have to trust the Indian armed forces because what they are doing is for securing the country and if you want proof, I have in fact said it in a light-hearted tone earlier. What is the proof you want other than they are saying it to you, other than the fact that Pakistani defence people have themselves said they saw the Indian aircraft and so on.

And of course, Pakistan is not allowing foreign journalists or anybody to go and visit the site. They are waiting to probably whitewash whatever has happened much before they take that.

Do you have satellite images?

That is always available, one can always see it.

Has the government ever wanted to release those images? Has that ever been considered?

I am sure it will be sometime but the point is I would recall and I like to mention this as an example 2016 surgical strike. You do recall the way in which the debate happened about where is the proof, give us some pictures and the proof asking for proof went to such an extent that after due time, when it was released, the debate quietened.

You do not trust your armed forces, but you expect them on a mission like this, on a dangerous mission like this in which our people are trained and well equipped to do it. Do you expect them to take some selfies and come and show it here?

As the Defence Minister with this government, we have seen two big strikes against Pakistan — the 2016 one that you just raised and the one we have just seen after Balakot. The message has been sent very loud and clear to Pakistan forces. However, are we still on high alert? We keep hearing about how it is not still safe at the border. How do you see this being settled, once and for all?

Well, once and for all is…

It has to be diplomatic as well.

It has to be diplomatic as well and there should be a recognition from the side of Pakistan that terrorism from the soil of Pakistan will have to come to an end that is how you can put an end to this because we have provided dossier after dossier, evidence after evidence, only to be told no-no this is not good enough, no this does not help.

You would neither put them through a court and prove that either they are wrong or they are right or whatever. Nor will you accept any number of dossiers and evidences that we give you, so where are you?

So, is this the strategy now — Go to allies like the United States which is supporting or France and Germany which is supporting India’s case at the UN. China of course once again is being pulled up globally for supporting terrorism. Is this going to be the strategy?

It is actually already on. It is very clear that with Pakistan, you really cannot negotiate and come for a compromise not just with India, but anybody, unless they show tangible proofs of removing those huge network of terrorist camps.

Globally, our effort has been successful. Otherwise post Pulwama, we would not have post Balakot that is, you would not have had all these countries standing by us. Not one spoke against India. Even China’s statement was more calibrated.

Banning and listing Masood Azhar as a global terrorist is more symbolic in nature simply because his organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed already had that status, but it is an important symbol that India is trying to win at the United Nations. Once again, China is blocking that, buying more time even if it is with the calibrated statement, the one that you just raised. How confident are you that India will get its way?

Eventually yes, but when is that eventuality is going to be is something very difficult to speculate. Our efforts will continue. We shall tap every forum with strong evidence and show.

It is a question of time, how long can anyone stay away from recognising that the terror networks are so strong in Pakistan and today there is no one country which will hesitate to admit that.

Our efforts will have to be ongoing, but the fact is that this extent, this scale, this intensity, and this continuity with which we are dealing in the international fora, I wished had happened even earlier. Probably, there could have been some difference by now.

You mean you could, even this government should have done it early.

Earlier governments should have kept up this kind of momentum. The heat would have been felt by Pakistan even long before.

I want talk to you about Mission Shakti as well your critique. It is being timed before the election. What was the need for the Prime Minister himself to address the nation? What do you have to say to those charges and allegations?

If you ask me these as I said in 2012, while testing…

They did not give the go-ahead…

While testing the missile capability of, probably, the Agni series, one of the missiles which was tested gave you the capability. You recognise you had the capability to attack a satellite and that is a live satellite and so on.

There can always be a dispute saying, was the DRDO chief asked. What it does give you is now a proven capability, which provides you to get into that small league of countries which have that capacity.

Futuristically, you have the capacity to take care of tomorrow’s warfare rather than today, be ready on it. Also, it gives you the capacity and eligibility if I would want to use that word to sit at the negotiating table for setting up everything that will govern the space area.

If there are going to be conventions and rules of the game for engaging in space or space-related matters, India will be part of that rule rather than stay away and wait for somebody to negotiate those terms and conditions. These sort of things really show your capacity.

Why did you also wait till the end of this term?

Well, it does take time even though you have your capacity and you priorities keep moving and there are too many institutions, whether it is DRDO, ISRO and many other institutions. All of them will have to integrate their capacities and only when they integrate and successfully say yes, we are confident, we can do it, will the go-ahead be given. We had given the go-ahead then.

So, it is a coincidence it happened before elections?

Obviously because see even in 2014 if I can say late half of 2014, a lot of issues which required long-term planning were reviewed by the Prime Minister…

This is one of them…

This and many things were reviewed. You could go ahead on a few and others could wait. The few would also require time for each of these institutions to be ready. By the time they get into like 15 or 16, they get into actual planning and moving of the timeline happens.

When scientists are ready and are going to do something, we cannot say sorry, do not do it now because elections are three years or three months or six months away. Hence, India is going to be proud with this decision making, all Indians are going to be proud.

And that is why the Prime Minister had to announce it himself.

Mind you again, there are two angles. The space department is with the PMO. So, Prime Minister is naturally the minister for that. Second, India has acquired a capability that has pitched India into a small league of countries. We are the fourth going into it.

When you are giving a message to the globe that we have achieved this, would it be the Prime Minister or somebody else speaking for India? Naturally, it is the PM who spoke. I cannot see any harm in it, why should he not as he is the minister?

It is a stage achieved by Indian science and technology. To tell the world that I have this deterrent, mind you we have achieved this to 100 perfection of a football size if I may put it graphically. The football size satellite 300 km away from the earth was moving on its orbit at 30,000 km speed per hour.

From here an object goes and hits it, a missile goes and hits the bull’s-eye and the debris falls off. The debris will be cleared within a certain period of time, it is not going to keep hanging around into the space. Just imagine what level of precision and science and technology levels of achievement you would need for it.

And for this, nobody has transferred technology. It is all indigenous.

It is all indigenous.

Since you were talking about the Prime Minister speaking, I am going to ask you a question that has also been raised after Balakot and Pulwama. Where was the defence minister, why was not defence minister talking especially after India’s air strike? What do you have to say to them?

I find this absolutely ridiculous because once it was decided because it involves an international matter the ministry of external affairs spokesperson or foreign secretary himself took the call. So, he spoke.

It was decided that he would address it, he spoke. On February 26, we go to Balakot. On 27th, when the air attack from Pakistan happens, we came out with the forces themselves speaking.

What do you want, the raksha mantri to do also in between come and say no, no, I exist. I want to say this. You are getting credible information from the external affairs foreign secretary himself and then from the three forces who actually went in and came out the next day. The forces had one of their wing commanders caught. With all this happening, official information is coming out of the respective ministries. Rraksha mantri is with all these decisions.

It all worked out very well while you are talking about patriotism. A new India everyone feeling proud of. In the surveys ahead of the elections, it is also showing the Modi factor on the upswing. I am sure you have also seen all of that.

Yes, I can see it. In fact, I had eagerly spoken a lot more about what all this is doing to the country and the youth. Our youth understand that India today is capable of standing on its own and on the right side of international law, whether on the ASAT missile or conforming to every international law.

Therefore, abiding by law and asserting India’s achievements, we have done that so successfully. That is about all that I would say. I am not here speaking at a time when you can easily ask the question and me giving the answer. Are you engaging in propaganda, no I am answering this way.

Priyanka Gandhi says that. She is emerging as a popular leader. It is a late entry. She is accusing the BJP of providing the definition of patriotism.

I do not think Indians are getting carried away by your or my definition of patriotism or anything. They want us to function as a good government, a government which will not sit back and watch when Indian lives are being lost. That is a message Indian citizens are giving us. We are not telling them any definition, but we are very clearly hearing them out which is what the earlier governments should have done.

If I ask you, I know you will say iss baar bhi Modi sarkar, the question is will it be better than last time? Before Pulwama, there were talks that the number of seats will be around 180, what is your internal projections at the moment?

Well, I am not going to engage in any number scheme, but I certainly think that people of India have seen a government which has over the five years worked very hard, addressed every section of society and their concerns and has a record to show. People of India are clear that they want a government which is working and this is what is seen in this government, with Prime Minister Modi leading the charge. Therefore, I think people will appreciate and vote for this government back again.

What about NYAY? What do you make of Rahul Gandhi’s announcement of Rs 12,000 a month, Rs 72,000 a year? Does it sound promising?

A promise made can always sound promising.

From 1971 onwards, you are talking about removal of poverty. You have spent 10 full years just before 2014 in power. There was also a whole debate about real poverty having been removed during our tenure. The Congress has started claiming that if poverty is still there, then you have to give this much. But these calculations have been debunked by Finance Minister Jaitley himself.

He has very clearly shown that if people are already receiving over Rs 2 lakh crore in total for that category of people who are under Rs 12,000 income, you throw various schemes. What is it that the Congress party is trying to offer now? Where will they get the money from and also what happens to these existing schemes? Are you subsuming them at one point?

Are you giving these and saying we are the only ones? Just go back to 2009 farm waiver which they themselves claim, saying we did that and that is why we came back to power in 2009. So, it is all fine to have high-sounding claims, but Congress’ record in executing and fulfilling those promises beginning from garibi hatao till the latest of farm loans is nowhere near fulfilment.

You had that press conference this week by former finance minister P Chidambaram and now it has been confirmed that former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan is also assisting the Congress and has spoken about the NYAY Scheme. They seem to have the numbers together, they are saying it is fiscally prudent, it is not going to cost more than 1.8 per cent of GDP. Your thoughts?

Well it is all right. As I said before, it is a question of how they are going to execute it, given their record of execution. Garibi hatao failure, 20-point programme failure, the last of 2009 farm loan, the Congress party has a record of giving such promises only during elections. After that, they forget. They are only there to serve the first family of the Congress party.

The big poll plank is the BJP failed to create jobs. In 2014, it was part of your government’s election campaign. How do you react to claims that job creation has not kept pace with the expectations. There are charges that we do not have credible data.

I think in this a lot of other things have also got to be looked at. Even if I do not get into the politics of economists speaking the political language, I certainly will want to say all of us know employment data in India relate to only a small group of formal employed people. Only those who are in formal sector jobs are surveyed. Data are collected on them.

You mean pakorawalas are not?

Well, if you want to give that twist, you can because mudra loan was given to so many people who are in the informal sector. Where is this increase coming from if there are not new jobs, if there are not people who are now being paid enough to take care of their basic requirements and also given the provident fund benefits.

All of us inclusive of the opposition party will have to accept the data collection by government agencies only confine themselves to the formal sector jobs.

There are charges that the NSSO data did not come out as they basically did not suit the government.

I do not think that is right. In fact, I have to talk about surveyed data which have not been released not of
tu tu main main, but the fact remains that the during socio-economic surveys during the Congress, how many discussions we have had on that.

It is now in the Supreme Court. It is a point that the Rahul Gandhi and the Congress keep levelling against this government…

What is in the Supreme Court…

The Rafale case which is being…

No, the Rafale case has had its…

The review petition…

That is a different story.

The review petition case is being heard. There was an open court hearing etc. This is the one charge the Rahul Gandhi and the Congress keep levelling all the way against the top. Will this be one major election plank as well?

But Rahul Gandhi’s charge has very different dimensions — not that they do not pertain to Rafale, they all pertain to Rafale, the review petition is in the court. I am not talking about it.

The CAG report has very clearly said there is no issue at all. Now in spite of all this, it is all right you can always go to the court and seek a plea for a review.

Rahul keeps calling the Prime Minister of this country a chor. What can I say except that it is a “khandani brazenness”, none of us carry any khandani names and therefore it is easy for them to go hitting at us.

Since you brought up chor issue, I am going to actually make this a last question. There was a crucial…

I wish you know when you have one of these interviews with the president of the Congress party, one such question should be you are out on bail and could you please tell me for what… Prime Minister is not out on bail, he was never even charged with any allegations. None of us are charged with any allegation whereas the person who is constantly calling the Prime Minister of this country a chor is the one who is out on bail.

You are talking about the National Herald case.

Obviously. So, let him tell us what it is, why is he being charged, why does he have to require a bail. Maybe you should ask him.

Is your government also perhaps guilty when you had come to power or saying you would go after Robert Vadra? It happened very late.

We did not say we will go after anybody. We said we will contain corruption, we will make sure people who are corrupt would be…

His name was named in every rally. Now it is looking almost vindictive because right at the end of the tenure?

Well, you can always say this. You will take action on somebody who is corrupt and you say you are vindictive. One has to be objective in these issues. Action follows after quite a lot of paperwork.

Whether it is ED or CBI, every such institution has their own time to take. So, it does take time and now when things are moving, we are being alleged that it is vindictive.

We are talking on a day when Nirav Modi’s bail hearing is taking place in London there were two big economic offenders who manage to flee the country for whatever reasons during the Modi government tenure. Can Nirav Modi be back before elections?

I do not know. Then you might say you brought him back because of elections. No, there is a serious and genuine attempt to get all these people back. The fact that they fled the country is because this intense going by the rule has now no favouritism for anybody.

You may flee, but we are getting you back, you may flee, your properties are all being taken by the authorities and auctioned off, your assets are being seized.

In fact, recently a couple of days ago, one of the international agencies very clearly said India can no longer be an easy place for people who break law or do anything else illegally. That impression does not come without you being firm on implementation.


Author: Prakash Poojary

Business Analyst

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