Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday he was prepared to pay a political price for fighting corruption as part of his government’s wider efforts to change the “broken system” of the past 70 years and improve the lot of the country’s poor.
Addressing the inaugural session of the 15th edition of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Modi said measures such as scrapping high-value banknotes and a new Goods and Services Tax (GST) had left the corrupt scared and brought black money into the formal economy.
“There is a behaviour change in the country you can see today… the corrupt are afraid to deal in black money and there is a healthy and clean corporate culture,” he said.
“Going forward, organised corruption will come down by these steps. I may have to pay a political price for the path I have taken but I’m ready for it.”
Modi has faced criticism for pulling out 86% of the country’s cash last year and the teething problems over the rollout of the GST that some blame for a sharp drop in the country’s economic growth.
Opposition parties, especially the Congress, have made demonetisation and the GST glitches an election issue in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, which votes for a new assembly on December 9 and 14.
But the Prime Minister said the information the clampdown on cash had unearthed on the “black economy” was a treasure trove that would help India in its war against corruption. “Demonetisation brought in proof of black money… finished parallel economy,” he said.
Modi said the 12-digit biometric Aadhaar number would be used to track “benami property” – assets bought often with slush funds in a proxy’s name -- and referred to the bar on directors of dodgy companies from holding similar positions in other firms.
The Prime Minister described Aadhaar, which is facing legal challenges over privacy concerns, as an irreversible change, a term he used to play on the HT summit’s theme of The Irreversible Rise of India.
He also listed a raft of government projects – the Swachh Bharat initiative, Jan Dhan bank accounts, the Ujjwala subsidised cooking gas scheme, the Ujala scheme for affordable LED lighting, affordable life insurance for the poor as well as Digital India -- to underline a new ease of living that was helping the “irreversible rise” of India.
He said all these schemes had injected Indians, especially the poor, with a new self-confidence and belief in their country.
“In 2014, people didn’t vote only to change the government. They voted to change the system; they voted for a system that is permanent, irreversible…a system that is corruption-free, citizen-centric and development-friendly.” he said.
“People had to fight with the system. It’s my endeavour to end that fight, change that permanently, irreversibly.
“If we look at our country as a living entity then you see that the positive attitude seen today was never seen before.”