India-Russia cooperation not about arms trade, but about trust – Narendra Modi

As the rising giant of the East with the world’s largest young population, India has every reason to believe it will become a global leader in the coming decades. With its leaders engaging in economic diplomacy everywhere, from its immediate neighborhood to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, what are they going to offer the world now? Can the huge potential of India’s growing economy be sapped by persistent inequality and poverty? We ask the country’s leader – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on SophieCo. 

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Prime Minister Modi, good day, it’s great to have you on our show today. So you’ve been at the helm of the country for three years now - obviously many things to be proud of. Is there something that has disappointed you in these three years?

Narendra Modi: Yes, it’s been three years – there has been a lot of talk about this date in my country as well. As far as the economy is concerned, all of the world’s credit rating agencies rate India quite high. Throughout these three years, we have been working to make our dreams come true. People appreciate this. In a democratic country, if you have support of the people, this means your policy is right and you’re doing the right thing. Our slogan is, “Together with all, development for all.” From the global point of view, India achieved a lot in these three years. The world expects a lot from India, and India does its best to justify these expectations. So, you can say that these three years were years of satisfaction and happiness. Based on our experience in these three years, we expect that we’ll make even better progress in the next two years, and we’ll be able to achieve our goals. Our dream is to improve the lives of even the poorest people in our country, and we hope that it will soon come true.

SS: We’re gonna get back to Indian economy and some of the main reforms that you’ve initiated, but before I wanted to ask you about India-Russia relations. The two countries have very cordial relations for decades now. Russia is one of India’s the key partners, main arms supplier to your country. You have said once that the India-Russia relationship can go further that just a political relationship. Even though it’s not very popular to be friends with Russia nowadays, can this relationship go deeper than just arms contracts - maybe civil aviation, nuclear energy? 

NM: I have to correct you a little. India and Russia have a long-standing history of friendship. Our friendship has proven strong at every turn along the way. We’ve been together through the hard times and the times of prosperity. Our friendship is not about “give-and-take” or “buy-and-sell”; it’s about trust. When we fight climate change, we do it together. When we fight terrorism, we do it together. We also work together to fight poverty in India. We work together in research and innovation, agriculture and even crisis management. There is no area where India and Russia can’t come together and cooperate. Recently, in Gujarat, we organised the “Vibrant Gujarat Investment Summit”, and a Russian deputy prime minister was there the whole time, became involved in the economic development of the Gujarat state. Our cooperation is diverse; it’s not limited to arms trade.   

SS: Prime Minister I had a chance to talk to people here in Delhi before I interviewed you for a couple of days and they view you as a great reformer. So the programmes you’ve introduced like ‘Make in India’, ‘India the Startup Country’ - еhose are of course the programmes to make India flagship of world innovation. You also tout the concept of self-reliance, the ‘swadeshi’ concept. Can Indian economy be self-reliant in times of irreversible globalisation? 

NM: The world is very interrelated today. This is the age of technology, technology reflects what is changing in the world. Technology has changed man into “network man”. So many great changes have taken place. Today, with globalisation and prospects of a global scale, we have only one path – development. And India has made significant progress with that. Our top priority is a happy family. “The whole world is one family,” that’s our philosophy in India. And this is the foundation of all progress in India. Society, the social aspect is the focal point of economic development for us. We have to try harder to alleviate special conditions in the underdeveloped areas of our country. I have to bring electricity to those areas that don’t have it, first of all. In  those houses that burn wood in their stoves – I have to bring gas stoves to those houses.  That’s what we’re doing, that’s what the slogan is about, “Together with all, development for all.” Our strength is that 65 percent of our population is under the age of 35 – that 800 million people. This is our biggest asset. It should help India and, in fact, the whole world. This is what we’re doing. 

SS: So despite very significant economic growth Indian society is still affected by stratification and inequality. Do you feel like this could hinder India’s role as a main player in the world for the future? 

NM: The whole world thinks today that the 21st century is the century of Asia. And many people think that India plays a big role in that. And I have no reason to argue with that if the whole world feels this way. Our country has a population of 1.2 billion people. We have traditions of thousands of years. We have great diversity, a hundred languages and 1,700 dialects. Our country is very diverse, and we do our best to help everybody achieve self-realisation. This is the centerpiece of all of our plans. We want to develop together with every segment of our society. This is what our slogan means, “Together with all, development for all.”

We have been investing heavily to make sure that even the most poor people are included in the main economic process. We want both small villages and big cities to enjoy the same level of services; we want to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, between the educated people and the uneducated; all these people should have equal opportunities. There should be no digital divide. This is at the core of our planning and everything we do, and so far, we’re quite successful at it. 

SS: I want to touch upon shortly on one of your most bold reforms - it was an initiative actually - currency reform to make India less dependent on cash, to fight bribery and tax evasion. Actually I even felt the effect because it wasn’t very easy to get cash from ATM machines while I’m here. And despite the hardships people have supported this very fundamental, very bold reform. Are you gonna go further? Are you gonna implement some labour reforms to make firing people, hiring people easier, break up state monopolies? 

NM: You see, my goal is to transform my country, and one of the things that involves is reforms. They have to be the right kind of reforms. Our government is proactive, it makes decisions based on what our country needs. If need be, we make far-reaching and sometimes tough decisions. That’s in our tradition. But all the decisions we make are well thought-through and adhere to the principle of “for everyone’s benefit, for everyone’s happiness.” The people put trust in our decisions. When the people feel that we make the right decisions, they support even the toughest of them. We saw this with the currency reform, we saw that people supported it. My goal is to leave behind the regular banknotes, cash and move to digital accounts. I want our society to be a society without cash. Our goal is to create a society with minimal amounts of cash in circulation, and introducing technology could prove to be of great help in that. We adopted a number of initiatives and we believe they will result in considerable success. We’ve worked hard also on the labour reform. That’s because our government cares about the poor. More and more young people find jobs now and don’t have to leave the country to do so. Taking these two things into consideration, we’ve managed to introduce a number of reforms in this sphere.   

SS: Prime Minister I would want to touch upon India’s role on international arena, let me start with Afghanistan. Taliban and ISIS are gaining ground in the country. Kabul is seeking India’s friendship. How can India influence the situation and help the government there?   

NM: If we’re talking about Afghanistan, then it’s mainly terrorism we have to discuss. It’s terrorism that is humanity’s foe.Terrorism is not restricted by borders. Today it rears its head in one place, and tomorrow it might be here. So all the forces that stand for humanism have to unite and fight terrorism together to eradicate it and save humanity. We need to get rid of such notions as “good terrorism” or “bad terrorism,” “my terrorism” or “your terrorism.” The United Nations also needs to be proactive and show determination. For a long time a resolution has been gathering dust there, with no decision and no discussion on it – the one about defining the term “terrorism” and its supporters. No decision has been made on this resolution. When we look at Afghanistan in this context, India is Afghanistan’s friend, and Afghanistan’s India’s friend. We have cultural ties with Afghanistan.

We have economic ties with Afghanistan as well, so we are connected through cooperation. Afghanistan faces a multitude of problems at this point. India contributes to its economic development and helps build government institutions. For example, we built dams and a parliament building for them. Whether it’s developing capabilities or labour resources, India will accompany Afghanistan on this path. India is resolute: we’ve decided to act as a good friend to Afghanistan. But we believe that Afghanistan itself should be the one to solve its problems. Afghanistan has to be the one to find the solution and implement it. Only then would that be a lasting solution. And we need to help Afghanistan, all of us. The international community has to help Afghanistan. 

SS: Despite ages of territorial dispute China is India’s largest trading partner. According to recent polls Indians are very wary of such heavyinvolvement China has had in Indian economy. Can that make India turn away from trade ties with Beijing? I mean we’re talking about 70 billion dollars of trade ties. How easy it is going to be to turn away from that?   

NM: We can’t argue with the entire world saying that the 21st century is the century of Asia. It means that both India and China will influence the situation in the world. India and China have good relations. We are investing in China more, and China is investing more in us. Our economic ties are developing and expanding to include more and more areas of cooperation. The structure of our respective economies lends itself to mutually beneficial cooperation rather than competition and confrontation. Knowing that this constitutes our strength, we will move forward. It will give both of our countries an impetus for further economic development. They are interested in the things we’re good at, and we’re interested in the things they’re good at. We could complement each other. Fully recognizing this, India intends to move forward. But there are many other countries in the world, not just India and China, which is why we always strive to observe the international law and expect others to do the same. This is our responsibility as a country of 1.25 billion people. We will safeguard our people’s interests, but we will lend support when it comes to safeguarding other people’s interests. We need to move forward respecting each other’s interests. We live in a time when all countries need to respect each other, regardless of their size. Each country is important and it deserves respect. With these three or four principles in mind, we develop our relations with other countries and move forward.