Ravi Shankar Curated
Musician & Classical Music Composer
CURATED BY :
How would you describe the music of Sitar?
Could you share your experience of doing live concerts in India?
Have you felt any variation in response among the people you perform for?
What kind of relationship have you had with critics?
Do you react to criticism?
How was Paris back in the year 1929?
What impact did Paris have on building up your personality?
What were the things that you have watched as a child that you shouldn’t have while living in Paris?
What role did your brother, Uday Shankar play in your life?
How and when did you start learning to play sitar?
What role did Baba Allauddin Khan play in your life?
What was the impulse that helped you to add creativity in your music?
Did you follow any script while performing?
What distinguishes a great performer from an ordinary one?
Would you say a person who was not a good human being could be a good musician?
How important is the response of the audience to you?
What do you look forward to the rest of your life?
Did you ever feel frustrated by your life?
What is the meaning of the word classical?
Is it true that you felt disturbed with the Indian audiences initially?
What do you have to say about the criticism you received in the initial phase of your musical career?
Could you share the story of meeting Mohammad Rafi for the first time?
Could you share the story behind the composition of the song ‘sare jahan se acha’?
When did you return to the Global stage of classical music?
What according to you was your role in the Indian classical music?
How was your experience of being a Guru in the US?
How was your musical journey initially?
What is your contribution to the common people who look forward to watching your live concerts?
Do you think that film music is bringing down the scope of classical music?
What is your way of music composition?
What was your role in collaborating with traditional and contemporary forms of music?
Could you share your memories of your early days in the US?
What struggle you had to go through in order to gain popularity among western audiences?
Could you share the technique of playing Tanpura?
How are micro notes used in Indian music?
Could you elaborate on the theme of Raga?
What is Alap in classical music?
Could you elaborate on the various forms of raga?
Could you say something about yourself?
What role did Allauddin Khan play in your life?
Could you tell us a bit about your training under Allauddin Khan?
Do you think there is any similarity between Indian music and flamenco?
When did you first meet Yehudi Menuhin?
Did you ever try experimenting with western music?
It is true that Annapurna Devi influenced you to choose sitar?
What was the awareness of Indian classical arts in Europe back in 1930?
Why do you think there was a lot of criticism in the initial times of your musical journey?
Would you say that you had a bohemian lifestyle?
Are there any regrets?
How strong was George Harrison’s role in your career?
Could you say a few words about the Gurukul system in India?
What did you realised in your later life?
Did you ever take drugs?
How do you feel about the fact that millions of young people look up to you?
How do you see your future?
Is it true that you always experimented with music?
Were you satisfied with your music composition for the film Gandhi?
How difficult was it to compose music for the western orchestra?
Could you elaborate on your work with the western musicians?
What is ‘sadhana’?
Could you elaborate on the anatomy of a Sitar?
Do you see a contradiction between the composer and the musician in you?
What helped you to gain popularity in the 1960’s?
How is a Sitar different from a guitar?
Who and which are your sources of inspiration?
Could you tell us about your orchestral composition for AIR?
Could you tell us about your new orchestral composition?
Did you mix western and Indian music in your composition?
Was it difficult for western musicians to follow the rhythm of your compositions?
Did people acknowledge your work in your initial musical journey?
Which were the memorable concerts in your life?
Which were your favourite records?
Which are your favourite compositions?
Some are saying the virus came from passport holders, but the affected were the ration card holders,what do you think?
There are two things here. I get a lot of calls to get my daughter from Dehradun, my son from Kota. That is a valid concern, but I can’t help. I can counsel, and I don’t grudge their emotional stress. As for passports, that is a substantial fact. For example, what happened in Nizamuddin. If the Tablighi issue had not had been there, maybe the issue would have been under control.
There appears to be an attempt to communalise this issue by repeatedly picking up this incident.
The party president has stated publicly. The PM has said this virus does not see geography, religion or race… those who are in the wrong, action must be taken. But no one should communalise it… I also appeal to religious leaders to…dissuade any community from resorting to violence with doctors…
But even before Anand Vihar, mass migration was taking place?
They were stopped in many places. But then Anand Vihar came. But even they have been segregated and quarantined in all districts. The larger issue was not difficulty in surviving…but the quest to return home…
But as you are now closed, China’s factories are working again.
I don’t want to make any comment on China. Many countries have even stopped having any trade linkage with them… I foresee the world will look towards India…
The economy has taken a hit and the state governments are demanding more funds from the Centre daily. Won’t this disrupt all the cooperation you describe?
You don’t become the proponent of doomsday in this crisis. The PM has always talked of Team India. Already it has worked well…Whatever is further required shall be done.
There seems to be a noticeable blindspot when the lockdown was announced — the unorganised sector, the migrants. How did the government not foresee this?
You are not properly informed. Lots of migrants come from my state. The government of Bihar is running nearly 13 feeding centres…I appreciate all state governments for taking care of them… Anand Vihar was where it started and could have been avoided by the local administration.
What have you done to ensure that the digital ecosystem can handle this major shift in the economy?
This is the first challenge that India’s great IT success story should not be disrupted. The first thing I did was to permit work from home in the most liberal manner, which required relaxing the rules of big deposit, of authorised permission of TSPs, etc… I foresee, the world is going to become a different world post-COVID… Work from home may become the new norm. I have asked my department to work with a robust mechanism so that India’s work from home model is economical and beneficial…
What are that risks you foresee?
When the world is grappling with whether to do the lockdown or not, PM Modi took a great risk and I’m very proud of my leader… civil services have also risen in great heights, managing people in isolation, tracing victims’ contact, feeding so many people. The other asset is that whether it is the stakeholders, the business community, or the traders, all have realised that in the course that the PM has adopted, saving lives is most important… I can never say there will not be difficulty. But there will also be opportunity.For example, India is a big centre for electronic manufacturing… I am very keen that under the encouragement of the PM, we shall become the top manufacturer in the world post-COVID.
But even before Anand Vihar, mass migration was taking place.
They were stopped in many places. But then Anand Vihar came. But even they have been segregated and quarantined in all districts. The larger issue was not difficulty in surviving…but the quest to return home…
What is driving our protesting students across the nation?
Frustration towards the system and negativity are driving them. At the same time, they are motivated to do something for the country. So, the demonstration is a mix of both. In between, anti-social elements are taking advantage of the situation. They bring a bad name to the demonstration.
The protesters say that the country’s constitutional values are being derailed.
Their perception is true for them. Either they can change it through dialogue or come up with a solution. Demonstrations should be objective and not emotional. People should not be swayed by rumours. The right information should be disseminated. The benefits of the Act should be explained. If there is a correction needed for a particular demand, a fair hearing should be given.
What has the government got to do to resolve the issue once and for all?
The administration should pay heed to genuine grievances with patience and perseverance. At the same time, the demonstrators should also resort to peaceful methods. It is not one-sided. If the demonstrators fail to convince the administration, there are always the courts. We have a vibrant judicial system. Look at how Kerala had set an example by organising peaceful protests against the Supreme Court verdict allowing women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple. A review petition has been filed in the case.
Does the government have to do more to assuage the concerns of the Muslim community?
In any reform, some people would be affected. They should have a place to air their grievances. Any national issue should be seen beyond politics. Educators, professors, and persons of integrity and calibre should come forward and educate people. Eliminate fear and concerns. If there are any unjust provisions in the Act, they should highlight these.
You have overwhelmingly welcomed the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict. Has the verdict pained the Muslim community?
It is not pain, they have understood the issue. I had met more than 1,200 Muslim institutions and 500 imams to resolve the Ayodhya issue. Muslims were very cordial.
After Ayodhya, will there be similar whipping up of passion over Kashi Vishwanath temple and in Mathura?
Our judicial system is very strong. There is an Act in 1991 that stipulates that status quo should be maintained in all disputed religious places except Ayodhya. Nobody has challenged that Act so far.
Has India’s image taken a beating during the second tenure of the Narendra Modi government?
India is moving in the right direction. A more vibrant India is here and Indians, wherever they live, are contributing to it in a big manner. It is true that women’s safety had gone down. But not to that extent as is being projected.
You have overwhelmingly welcomed the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict. Has the verdict pained the Muslim community?
They wanted a solution to this. Muslims had only one demand — that the disputed site should not be handed over to those who demolished the masjid. And the SC has ruled that the site should be given to a new trust. That honours the Muslim sentiments. There would be some vested interests on both sides who want to keep the issue alive.
Why do you think Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who retired less than four months ago, can be nominated to Rajya Sabha?
First of all, he has been nominated from the eminent persons category in which category historically persons like M S Swaminathan, Raja Ramanna, MGK Menon… a whole range of eminent people entered the Upper House. There has been a tradition. There have been great journalists too — Kuldip Nayar, H K Dua, Shobhana Bhartia etc. Let me draw from the history. Jawaharlal Nehru appointed Justice Fazal Ali as the Governor of Odisha in 1952-53, one of the most iconic figures of India Justice Mohammadali Carim Chagla, who was chief justice of Bombay High Court for nearly 11 years and still remains as the one of the finest judges of India of intellect and courage, was offered ambassadorship to the US. He became a distinguished ambassador in the US, high commissioner in the UK and then chose to become the HRD and External Affairs Minister. Come to the next issue. (Koka) Subba Rao was a chief justice of Supreme Court. He contested for the post of president against Zakir Hussain. Was the independence of judiciary compromised because of these? Nothing.
What was the criteria for Ranjan Gogoi?
This is the discretion of the President, something you will have to trust. The President decides in consultation obviously. If a former CJI is coming as a fully nominated member to Rajya Sabha without aligning to any party, his great wisdom and experience will add to the standard of debates in the Upper House. On that analogy, let me ask you. If an editor is nominated — two of the editors have been nominated, Kuldip Nayar and H K Dua. Does it mean that the integrity of The Indian Express was compromised? Did it affect the independence of The Indian Express? The owner of a newspaper was nominated, Shobhana Bhartia. Did it mean that her newspaper has stopped criticising? No.
How did the government reach a conclusion? Who took the decision? Were you in the loop?
I don’t want to comment on it.
But the BJP is a party that always criticised the Congress for such moves? BJP claims to be a party with a difference? Where is the difference here?
This government is led by Narendra Modi. Rajnath Singh, M Venkaiah Naidu, late leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad fought against the Emergency. We fought for three freedoms — individual freedom, independence of judiciary and for media independence. We have suffered from the cause of independent judiciary. So, please dont preach us. That is our commitment and that is our standard for a party with a difference.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi dealt with a number of politically sensitive cases such as Rafale, NRC and Ram Mandir in which the government’s role came under criticism. Also there is a perception that the judgments were line with the BJP’s liking. Against that backdrop, don’t you think that the nomination would trigger doubts in the minds of citizens?
This is a very sad comment to make. Do you make similar allegations against judgment given by the judges I mentioned — Subbarao to Chagla to many others? Was that because of the induction of persons like Baharul Islam and Ranganath Mishra, which were highly questionable at that time, the independence of judiciary suffered? What’s the logic behind this argument now? Emergency was a bad time and the collective wisdom of people of India had risen. Congress has no face. You have to see these judgments on their merits. Whether they were good judgments on facts, evidence and law or not? Some people wanted to stall acquisition for the Army? Was that fair? As a former lawyer of Ram Lulla, I know for sure, there’s so much of overwhelming evidence that any fair court would have come to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, a new trend is developing, some people want to control the polity of the country through motivated litigation in the Supreme Court corridors. They are those who have been defeated by the people of India. When the judgments are not to their liking, they start raising questions which is unfair.
Former judges, especially those Collegium members who came out with him (Gogoi) to make an allegation of government interference, have reacted strongly and said this would compromise the independence of judiciary. Your comment
There are judges and there are judges. I dont want to join any issue with any retired judge except to say there are judges, there are judges.
The first Law Commission report led by then Attorney General M S Setalvad had proposed that like the CAG, judges should also be barred from taking any posts?
There is a larger issue here. They have a point. I respect the reports of the Law Commissions. But that judges should not take up any appointments post-retirement is a question to be decided in its entirety. This will includes the tribunals, many commissions and many arbitrations. You should not become an arbitrator when the government is a party!
How is the Electronics Ministry trying to make the most of the corporate tax reduction?
The new tax regime which we have brought about is the biggest reform since the early 90s. Close to 15-17 per cent for a new company and 25 per cent plus for existing company. Minimum alternate tax has been reduced, CSR can be invested for R&D. India’s tax regime is now comparable to the best in the world as far as investment is concerned. So, we hope large investment will come in India and I’m in particular pushing the case of electronics manufacturing. As you all know, India has a very good track record as far as mobile manufacturing is concerned. Now, even PCBs are being made in India. We are hearing encouraging stories from Apple also, and for me, the happiest moment would be to see on my Apple phone “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China”, where China is replaced by India. Samsung has also withdrawn from China.
Are there any specifics that the Ministry is working out to attract further investment in electronics manufacturing?
There is immense potential and India has to offer a large market, good human resource, a very proactive leader globally and pro-investment policies. All the ecosystem is in place. Therefore, with new, very promising and pro-investment tax regime in place, we’re going to make a big case for India. I have already instructed my department that components manufacturing should be given priority so that entire value chain is covered, including the possibility as to how some incentives can be accorded to the value chain. We are also looking to send our officers with some industrialists to showcase India in roadshows abroad. We are going to push electronics manufacturing in a big way.
But as far as mobile manufacturing is concerned, less than 20 per cent of the value chain is being sourced locally…
We will work out the details, but there should also be a window for global manufacturers. You must understand that our electronics manufacturing was $29 billion in 2014-15, and it grew to $70 billion in 2018-19. Most importantly, India’s share in global manufacturing grew from 1.3 per cent in 2012 to 3 per cent in 2018, which is a big jump.
There was an expectation of a trade deal between India and the US, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out…
Piyush Goyal, our Commerce Minister, is in discussion and it should work out. India-US relationship and President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship is at a new high. I will not go into specifics but it will work out.
There was a specific demand from the US on reduction of import duty on some mobile phone categories, which we haven’t done. Was that one of the reasons the deal wasn’t finalised?
I will not comment on specifics. When something is part of negotiations, I will not comment unnecessarily.
One of the realisations that India had from the Huawei episode was that we needed more localisation as far as telecom equipment is concerned. What are your plans towards that?
I already instructed my department that India should become a big centre of telecom equipment manufacturing. Chinese companies are there but other companies are also there. I don’t want to see everything from a China focus. I have to make India the big centre because India is a huge market.
Is there any update on whether Huawei is being allowed for 5G trials?
Things are in progress, security concerns are being worked out, but I will not like to make any comment. It is a process and the consultations are on.
You had said while taking charge as Telecom Minister that India will conduct 5G trials within 100 days, but it hasn’t happened so far…
All the players are trying their best to do the trial. The whole point is that whenever I talk of 5G, it gets engrossed in Huawei. That’s not a fair way to look at it.
What are you doing to mitigate the stress in the telecom sector?
I have already conveyed it to the Finance Minister. We understand the telecom sector is important. We are in dialogue with them. But they also have to become professional.
What, according to you, is Pt Ravi Shankar’s contribution to the world of music?
When you talk to a person who has a radically opposite idea of music, one has to tread very carefully to not be misunderstood. As far as Pt Ravi Shankar’s contribution to music is concerned, it is unparalleled. For someone to have started as a dancer in his brother’s troupe in Paris, which also tells us that he was already exposed to the West, and then taking it further as a sitarist, it is remarkable. When his association with the Beatles happened, people started understanding what sitar was all about. And then people like Ut Ali Akbar Khan sahab and my father were able to establish who they were and what was their style and the fact that there were other thoughts of music too. It also opened the door for people like me and some others to walk into the world – Europe and America – and play for the people who by then already knew what sitar was. We didn’t have to start from the start.
Pt Ravi Shankar’s association with the Beatles made him a rockstar. Your father was always uncomfortable with the idea of music being played for an audience that didn’t understand Indian classical music.
I don’t know whether it was the greatest thing for the sitar to have been played at Woodstock or the other pop festivals. Because it began to be associated with drugs, marijuana, hippies and yoga theatres. But at least they knew what sitar was. Musically, or even in terms of thought process, my father would say, ‘Why should I go all over the world spreading my music? Why does Robi da (Shankar) go and play at art galleries, theatres, sitting in front of 50,000 hippies, why? Do the hippies understand the seriousness of this art form? Do they understand that this art form is not supposed to go to you, you have to come to it?’ He believed that this is one of the greatest fine arts in the world and this is not the music that I should have to take to you. But Ravi Shankar ji wanted to take this music to the world and to see that other people also enjoyed the greatness of it. Vilayat Khan sahab would also go and play abroad but not at a jazz or a pop or rock festival since he knew that people there would not accept that one-hour alaap. He’d say, ‘when I get up on stage, I want to play my long alaap and if someone on marijuana or anyone else can’t understand that this is the path of our music, I don’t want to be there’. Now, it’s a matter of debate as to who agrees with what. But the interesting thing is that we have two artists, legends of their own time, who have two such radically different points of view.
What’s your opinion about Pt Ravi Shankar’s style of music?
His music, in my opinion, which I think is a normal opinion and also that of my father’s, had him think mathematically and that was because of who he was as a dancer. It was like the bol padhant (syllable chants of rhythm in dance) infused on the sitar.
Pt Ravi Shankar’s sitar playing from the dhrupad style and your father’s gayaki ang — created faultlines amid art connoisseurs and the masses. Would Khan sahab get annoyed?
As for Vilayat Khan sahab, everything in him was the opposite of Pt Ravi Shankar — music, thought, dealings with the world, his public relations, which is very exciting for me to see, because it’s nice to look at these two musicians, who are such excellent artistes doing the same thing — the same Yaman Kalyan, same sitar — but there is no similarity. The comparisons were made often. My father used to get annoyed and express it very often as to why people compared them. Ravi Shankar ji was a much cooler and calmer man, much less theatrical. He thought of every word and every line he said, in an interview or on the stage. Vilayat Khan sahab used to speak off-the-cuff. He said what he thought. For example, some people find Amitabh Bachchan very boring because you never get to see him emotionally excited about anything. You take any interview, everything is clearly thought of. And then you take the interview of someone who gets emotional, theatrical, angry. Some people find that interesting, some people find this interesting. My father used to get irritated and say, ‘why are you comparing two people who have nothing in common, because apart from the fact that this is wood and saregamapa, there is nothing else which is similar’.
The rivalry became the talk of the town as people spoke in hushed overtones about it. It is still spoken about. Also, over the years, a lot of gossip has been added to it.
I believe that if there is no rivalry, what’s the fun of things. Rivalry is also very important because that keeps you on your toes. There has to be a point of reference. Rivalry is a wonderful thing. I am absolutely for it. Rivalry and enmity are two different things. Now Shahid bhai (Ustad Shahid Parvez) is not my enemy, he can’t eat my food, I can’t play his programmes, we are living our own destinies. Vilayat Khan sahab’s point was that yes, we are rivals, let’s not be hypocritical about it and say, ‘hum toh bhai hain’. They were not. But there was mutual respect for the musicianship. Whenever my father was sitting with a group of people and he saw that the conversation was veering towards anything even slightly derogatory, because people would do that and say, ‘Khan sahab, uss din humne suna Ravi Shankar ji ko, pura dhul gaya festival,’ he would steer the conversation away and say that they may have a difference of opinion but please do not take away from the greatness of the man. The number of times I have met Ravi Shankar ji, he has always spoken so greatly about my father to me. And this is not in front of someone, this is when we were completely alone. I understand that it is difficult for someone in that position to not respect the other artiste. I was once in the Kamani (auditorium) green room and an artiste was performing before me. Someone told me Pandit ji has come to hear my concert and is waiting in the car. I won’t forget that. It is only the greatness of him to want to come and listen to Vilayat Khan’s son.
A resolution passed by 20 Opposition parties has said that the CAA, NPR and NRC are unconstitutional, specifically targeting the poor and the downtrodden. These will crush the tribal and the linguistic and religious minorities. What do you have to say about this resolution?
If the main mover of the resolution, the Congress, had done their homework, they would not have exposed themselves to the charges of duplicity. Who conceived the idea of the CAA? Didn't Dr Manmohan Singh in 2003, as the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, ask the then home minister L.K. Advani to grant citizenship to all persecuted minorities? In 2002, Ashok Gehlot, as the chief minister of Rajasthan, wrote to Advani, requesting citizenship for Hindus and Sikhs from these countries. Tarun Gogoi, as Assam chief minister, also wrote about it. When they ask for it, it's fine. When we do it, it's a problem. This is basically a human issue. Can we deny that the minorities in Pakistan are being subjected to barbaric treatment?
Besides Opposition parties, even common people have expressed concern about the CAA and staged rallies in metros and big cities.
We have been speaking to them and clarifying that the CAA does not apply to any Indian at all, much less Muslims. It only applies to Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhist, Jains and Christians in the three countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Did Mrs Indira Gandhi not give sanctuary to Gujarati Hindu refugees from Uganda? Did Rajiv Gandhi not give citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamilians? Why was it not argued then that Muslims had been left out? We have been talking to protesters and a lot of them have understood that their protest is based on disinformation spread by the opposition parties.
Instead of specifying six religions, you could have just mentioned "persecuted minorities" in the CAA.
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic countries. We are open to giving accommodation to any individual Muslim from these countries who is being persecuted. More than 600 have been given citizenship and more than 2,000 have been given asylum here. But the religious groups mentioned in the CAA are being persecuted as a community, their faith is contrary to the official faith.
Why is the CAA restricted to these three countries when refugees come from all over the world? It has created diplomatic tension as well. Afghanistan and Bangladesh are quite upset with us. How will you address that?
Bangladesh and Afghanistan are our friends and we are talking to them. Since this is a scourge of Partition we are handling, there was a need to name these countries. In Sri Lanka and Uganda, it happened from time to time. It can happen in the future too.
Many petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court seeking repeal of the CAA on the ground that it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which talks of equality before the law for every individual residing within the political boundary of India. Did the government not take this aspect into account while drafting the amendment?
Article 246 of the Indian Constitution gives Parliament exclusive power to make laws with respect to any of the matters enumerated in the Union List. Entry 17 of the Union List mentions citizenship, nationalisation and aliens. So that gives Parliament absolute right to frame laws related to citizenship. Article 14 talks of equality before law and equal protection of law. There have been 25-30 judgments by the Supreme Court which say that if the law is applicable to a particular group, then the clause of reasonable classification is valid. This law applies only to the persecuted minorities who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, to live lives of dignity. It is a classified group. Article 21 talks of the right to life. The Supreme Court has said that the right to life must be interpreted as the right to live with dignity. We are giving a life of dignity by granting them citizenship. Article 25 of the Constitution says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. All persons, not citizens. So, if persecuted minorities are being denied basic existence, we are fulfilling our obligation as specified in Article 25.
Many states have said they will not implement the CAA.
We'll talk to them. Article 256 of the Constitution says the executive power of every state shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament. There is a constitutional obligation imposed on them.
If they still don't?
I don't want to reply to the "don't" part of it. I think the robust nature of India's Constitution is such that we will be able to talk it out.
Many Indian Muslims have joined the agitation claiming that the CAA follows a pattern in the functioning of the BJP government. The criminalisation of triple talaq, the abrogation of Article 370 and then the Ayodhya verdict.
Triple Talaq was a curse. If Pakistan, Afghanistan and 20 other Muslim countries have curtailed it, why not India? Muslim women in India now feel liberated. Article 370 was temporary and the changing scenario in Kashmir is the way ahead. Ayodhya is, after all, a Supreme court judgment. Also, have we been fair in our governance or not? If Ujjwala Yojana covered more than 80 million women, were not many of them Muslim? If more than 80 million toilets were constructed under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Muslim households were not bypassed. The Muslims have benefitted from the 13 million houses built under the housing scheme. When we electrified villages, did we ignore the Muslim villages? As the IT minister, I am leading the Digital India programme. Nearly 375,000 common service centres today are delivering electronic services in the hinterland, many of them run by Muslims. I'm very proud of that. In our governance record, there has been no discrimination and victimisation. I don't think there is a need for any apprehension. But if they are apprehensive, we will talk to them.
What's your response to the objections raised against the NPR?
The NPR is a register containing details of all persons, not just citizens, usually residing in a village, a rural area or a town and so on. The Citizenship Rules of 2003 say that the Centre may decide a date by which the population register shall be prepared. The first NPR was done by the UPA government in 2010. When they did it, it was good. When we do it, it's bad.
Doubts have been raised about the two new questions introduced in the NPR-the date and place of birth of parents. It's alleged that since the government had to back down on the NRC, these were inserted to determine citizenship status, specially of a particular community.
In NPR, nothing is mandatory. If people don't want to, they are free to not give these details. In any case, these details are asked while getting documents like voter's card, Aadhaar card, passport and PAN card made. Nobody has any problem with that. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clarified that we have not even decided about the NRC. Now, to come to a more germane issue, let me talk of democracies like the US, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands. These countries maintain a list of their citizens. But when India wants to do it, we have a problem. These issues need to be articulated and explained.
Critics say that the CAA came as a consequence of the NRC in Assam. Out of that 1.9 million people left out of the Assam NRC, more than 60 per cent were reportedly Hindus, so the NDA government rushed it through because its entire campaign was to isolate Muslims.
Again, this is a misinformation campaign. Those Hindus will have to explain that they are persecuted.
But the CAA doesn't mention the requirement to prove persecution.
When you see an act, you cannot divorce it from the statement of objective mentioned in the act and from what is said in Parliament. We did not use the word persecution in the act but used it in the statement of objective of the act. We did not use the word because it would have made the entire law bulky.
Why didn't the NDA bring the CAA in the first term? Why only after the NRC in Assam?
Had we done it in the first term, you would have asked, 'Where is your development agenda?' People trust us. Leave that chronology to us.
It's believed that there is a kind of sequencing in bringing up the CAA, NPR and NRC. The Union home minister said the NRC would follow the CAA. Then the prime minister said that the government had no discussion on the NRC. Now the NPR is coming.
There is a defined procedure for the preparation of NRC. Whenever the government decides to implement it, there will be a decision by the Cabinet, a notification will be issued fixing the date for the start of the process.
When do you think the NRC exercise will happen?
That we will decide. We'll do it lawfully, carefully and properly.
The Assam NRC left out 1.9 million people. If a national NRC excludes, say 20 million people, what will happen to them?
Any valid citizen of India need not worry. Whenever the NRC is carried out, in whatever form, there will be no victimisation.
What's the truth about detention centres? Do they exist or not? There are six in Assam.
The Mamohan Singh government started these. Detention centre is the wrong word. Under the Foreigner's Act, there should be a provision for keeping those foreigners found to be living illegally in the country. They can't be kept in a hotel. They have to be segregated. That is all.
It is alleged that these issues are being used by the government to divert attention from the faltering economy.
Who raised these allegations? Who made it a political issue? The Opposition did; the Congress did; the Left did. The fundamentals of Indian economy are strong. With regard to the global pressures, there have been some unease. Yet, India has been the recipient of the highest FDI in the world; we are 6 per cent higher than the previous year. We have reset the Indian economy.
What has been the response to the government’s move to cut taxes, especially on new manufacturing units?
Practically, we have redone the entire architecture of taxation law as far as manufacturing is concerned. Post early ’90s, this is probably the biggest reform initiated by any government. We are already the second biggest manufacturer of mobile phones in the world. Now, even Apple is coming in a big way, Foxconn 2 and 3 are going to be established, initially in Sriperumbudur. Apple reportedly is going to open its biggest state-of-the-art shop in Mumbai, and Samsung is withdrawing from China. The biggest day for me will be to pick up an Apple phone and read, designed by Apple in California, assembled in India, replacing China. I see that happening soon. Samsung already has a very powerful presence in India. We have also already removed the open cell 5% customs duty. We had a meeting with all the top CEOs of the country and overseas. They had this teething trouble… this has been resolved. Consumer electronics is also picking up fast. Some of the other companies who are very keen on India are Flextronics, TCL….
What does India offer vis-à-vis competing markets?
India has a stable government, pro-investment leader, good human resources, a proactive, pro- policy regime and obviously a big market.
What next? Does the government have any specific plans for pushing exports?
As of now this, corporate tax cut, in itself is massive. Mobile phones already are a success story. Components, consumer and medical electronics are going to be our next focus. Also, ITI has very large land banks which are lying idle. So, as the communications minister, I have asked them to work with those in electronics manufacturing. ITI can lease out huge land tracts.
Indian handset manufacturers have had a tough time of late and have been seeking government support…
We always stand by our Indian champions. Lava has done a good job, and we will stand with others as well. But they have to become professional and competitive.
The industry feels there are still disabilities vis-a-vis some markets like Vietnam.
We are exploring ways to address disabilities with Vietnam and China. We are looking for alternatives to M-Sips (Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme).
What is the status of the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill?
I am very keen to push India as a data refinery – 1.3 billion Indians are generating massive data. The architecture of our data privacy law will soon go to the cabinet.
How do you plan to tackle the issue of impersonal data?
I have set up a committee under S Gopalakrishnan (Kris). Personal data itself is going to become a very big proposition in the coming future. How many taxis are there in this country? All that is data. Thus, we need to understand that data privacy laws concern the individual and impersonal data is different from that, which can be properly commercially used, exploited and also developed into a big industrial proposition. Therefore, when I talk of data refinery, data processing, data cleaning, this is going to become a huge enterprise in coming years and I want India to become a huge centre in that.
But companies won’t give up data easily, owing to issues of privacy.
That is why the committee is in place. The last word on data is yet to be heard. Let the committee’s recommendation come. It might need some legislative intervention because data business is an evolving business.
Will there be any changes to the draft PDP Bill before it goes to the cabinet?
Some minor changes are possible. It will be consistent with the SC (Supreme Court) judgment on privacy and individual’s rights and address the larger issue of data security.
Will it take into account concerns of various MNCs on data localisation?
That we will consider, and why not. But as far as supersensitive or critical data is concerned, that has to be in India.
How hopeful is the government on its demand on traceability?
What I have been pushing for is being done by America, England, Australia and others. They are pushing for decryption. Now we have a global support on the matter, as far as law enforcement is concerned, you have to do decryption. I told Facebook’s Nick Clegg that I am accountable to my people as law minister and IT minister. They have to share (the origin of the message)… I am only saying in case of mob lynching, communalism, reckless violence, terrorism, you give all ring-fencing. But who is the originator, that they will have to tell. They told us about many of their plans but the issue of (tracing the) origin of the message is still not resolved.
Will the social intermediary guidelines come in the next six months?
WhatsApp has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the issue of traceability even before the guidelines are out. What is the government’s medium-term solution to deal with the challenge?
Social media has empowered the people of India. Expansion of social media in India is a welcome development. But if anyone uses social media to defame, to abuse, to promote terrorism, to compromise India’s security, it is surely a matter to be taken note of and requires intervention.
Have you received any response from the finance ministry on the relief measures for the telecom industry?
It’s a work in progress. Same with BSNL. I am very keen to revive it myself. We are working with the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) – that’s all I can tell you. For BSNL to survive and to do well, it has to come up with competitive plans. This kind of human resource load is not acceptable.
By when do you expect spectrum auctions to happen? Will they include 5G spectrum?
They can happen this fiscal. There is already a recommendation of Trai (telecom regulator). As far as the operators are concerned, they need to be professional, they need to be competitive. Same about BSNL.
Has the government taken any decision on Huawei?
No, not yet.
The PM has asked every ministry for 10 ideas that will help revive the economy after the Covid-19 crisis. What will be your submissions?
We are working on it. One is surely electronics manufacturing; secondly, some great initiatives can be taken on working from home which can lead to more innovation. We can also revisit the spectrum issue. Spectrum can be used to drive a lot of innovation.
You just announced a Rs 48,000 crore push for electronics manufacturing. How will the government go about wooing the big companies?
We are in touch with them and all are very excited. They are waiting for the present situation to ease. Already, we have notified everything. This is going to be a different world after the Covid-19 crisis. India has to push economic activity in a big way. So, this policy will ensure that it becomes a robust centre of electronics manufacturing.
How is the government dealing with the issue of videos spreading misinformation about Covid-19 going viral on platforms such as TikTok and WhatsApp?
I appreciate the cooperation of social media platforms, but they must behave responsibly during these times of challenge and stress. I have taken up the matter in a very tough manner with these companies. My simple statement to them was that they have to do the monitoring themselves and encryption can’t be (used) as an excuse.
What has been holding back the IT intermediary guidelines, which will address some of these issues?
It is under process. We are looking at finalising them after a final consultation.
The IT industry is seeking several incentives to tide over the current crisis. Are you considering their demands?
We will take all appropriate initiatives that India’s robust identity as a good IT services provider and the Digital India initiative require. The IT ministry did a big job by permitting work from home by relaxing norms swiftly; today 85-90% of people are working from home. I have also instructed the department to come up with a policy framework so that work from home becomes a mass movement in India. There is great potential to permit innovation, reduce load on the system and the establishment, taking a cue from the current success of work from home.
What are the ways in which we are leveraging telecom networks during this time?
We are enabling geo-fencing through mobile phones. It is a mobile-based system to monitor the breach of geofencing by Covid-19 infected patients. The moment an infected person breaks his or her quarantine, the system shows an alert, health authorities are informed and the police track the patient.
Arogya Setu is for smartphone users. What about feature phone users?
Today, we launched an Interactive Voice Response Service (IVRS) with the Government of Tamil Nadu. IVRS is for people who don’t have smartphones. Arogya Setu and IVRS are taking care of privacy and will be extended to other states as well. The Aarogya Setu app has been downloaded by 2.7 crore people and we are making all efforts to ensure that it is widely used.
Has the quality of telecom services deteriorated?
Our telecom infrastructure is performing to its maximum. Out of 21 lakh Base Transceiver Stations in the country, only 355 today have malfunctioned. BSNL has also surprisingly performed well and I appreciate the good work that the postal department is doing to help the needy and the poor.
It’s been suggested that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) goes against Article 14 of the Constitution and that there are enough provisions in the unamended Citizenship Act to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities.
The CAA is perfectly legal and Constitutional. Under Article 246 of the Constitution, the Parliament has got the exclusive power to make laws with respect to any matters listed in the list one in 7thSchedule, in that, item 17 is to do with citizenship and naturalisation of aliens. Therefore, only Parliament has got sovereign powers to legislate on Citizenship. Article 14, that you refer to, says equality before law and equal protection before law, but the Supreme Court has got more than 20 judgments where they say that if there is a reasonable classification of groups who form a class by themselves then that legislation will be valid. Here a persecuted, victimised group based on faith of six communities from the three countries Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, which are declared Islamic countries, form that reasonable classification. Therefore, this CAA does not relate to any Indian, even Muslims. Neither does it create any citizenship to them nor takes it away. Now take the case of precedents, Mrs. Indira Gandhi gave citizenship to Hindus exiled from Uganda, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi in the case of Tamilians. The CAA is perfectly legal and Constitutional. Under Article 246 of the Constitution, the Parliament has got the exclusive power to make laws with respect to any matters listed in the list one in 7thSchedule, in that, item 17 is to do with citizenship and naturalisation of aliens. Therefore, only Parliament has got sovereign powers to legislate on Citizenship. Article 14, that you refer to, says equality before law and equal protection before law, but the Supreme Court has got more than 20 judgments where they say that if there is a reasonable classification of groups who form a class by themselves then that legislation will be valid. Here a persecuted, victimised group based on faith of six communities from the three countries Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, which are declared Islamic countries, form that reasonable classification. Therefore, this CAA does not relate to any Indian, even Muslims. Neither does it create any citizenship to them nor takes it away. Now take the case of precedents, Mrs. Indira Gandhi gave citizenship to Hindus exiled from Uganda, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi in the case of Tamilians.
But they never made it religion specific.
But did they say we add Muslims to these groups? Dr. Manmohan Singh in Rajya Sabha in 2003 specifically mentioned minorities fleeing our neighbouring countries. Mr. Ashok Gehlot and Mr. Tarun Gogoi wrote letters on this to the government from time to time. Congress doing it is ok, BJP doing it is bad. What is this logic.
The Congress’ argument is that they did not mention any specific religion either for inclusion or exclusion.
What did Dr. Singh say to Mr. Advani in 2003? The video says legacy persecuted minorities should be given citizenship. Coming back to your question on why CAA, individually people can be considered for citizenship, as more than 2,000 Pakistanis have been given citizenship, but the whole group of minorities who have been persecuted only because of faith needed the CAA. It’s a fact that there were six-seven lakh minorities in Afghanistan now only 500 left, what happens to Hindus — rape, murder, forced conversion in Pakistan — is too well known. Go to Indore, to Jodhpur, to Majnu Ka Teela in Delhi to see their condition for yourself. Therefore, the entire group of these communities are being given a platform for citizenship. The law provides for that. Individual asylum, protection is always there. One particular provision is rarely talked of in this context is Article 25, which provides for all persons, not just citizens, the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion, therefore they have that right, after having coming to India.
There is a continuum being drawn between the CAA, the National Register for Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) by those protesting. What is your view on this continuum being drawn?
There are four concepts — the CAA, the Census, the NRC and the NPR. CAA we have already spoken of, the Census is an enumeration after every 10 years of Indians, it’s also a constitutional sanction, but there is one issue, under the Census Act you cannot disclose the statistics of individuals, households. The NPR is a register of usual residents, not citizens. This you get from the Citizenship Act of 1955 and then there is a citizenship registration and issue of National I-card rule of 2003. Rule 3, sub-clause 4 says the Central government may decide the date by which a population register might be prepared. The point is that you can release NPR data for better targeting of welfare, to be used by both Centre and State. On 7th May, 2010, during a debate in the Lok Sabha initiated by late Ananth Kumar, with the participation of Mr. Lalu Prasad, Mr. Mulayam Singh and Mr. Sharad Yadav, then Minister Mr. Chidambaram’s reply says, that it will be “obvious” that the NRC would be a “subset” of the NPR. Census 2011, he informs will be conducted in two phases, as well as reiterating the aims of the Census to do an “accurate de facto head count of the usual residents in India” within the deemed period. So, these very things I spoke of were spoken by the UPA, but they persist in their hypocrisy. Also the entire political class that is opposing us was supportive of the UPA on the same thing. Coming to the NRC, it has a defined legal framework, also under rule 4. The data would be collected, scrutinised by the registrars, appeals will be heard, but most importantly, the registrar general of citizens will have to notify the period and duration of the exercise in the official gazette. Nothing so far, not a word has been done so far.
Except that Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said on multiple occasions that it will be undertaken.
Prime Minister Modi has clarified that no discussion has taken place so far. There is a possibility that it may happen, but there is a legal process attached to it, NRC preparation has a distinct legal process to be initiated, with defining of rules with adequate consultations. But nothing has been done. The UPA did not repeal any of the Amendments of 2003, which kicked in only in December 2004 despite heading a government propped up by the Left Front and the socialists. This double standard of Congress party is astounding. There is now a serious competitive, aggressive and, at times, extremist positioning for vote-bank politics. Elements like PFI, like MQM, they are the urban Naxalites, the way they have hijacked the issue, it’s regrettable that a party like the Congress is competing with them. We acknowledge the right to dissent and protest for all Indians but violence is not excusable. What were the hidden forces behind the sudden escalation of violence?
Did the government anticipate this level of protests?
We did not anticipate that the Congress party would behave like this. My take is that hidden elements have joined hands to escalate the violence around the protests. In Uttar Pradesh that is what happened, and the internet had to be shut down for that reason. Protests and marches are fine but if the ‘tukde tukde’ feels they will derail the government, that won’t happen.
The Congress itself has acknowledged that it doesn’t have the street strength to organise such widespread protests, so what is this reference to their behaviour?
Their comments lead to giving voice to these causes. Let me reiterate, India is as much home to Hindus as Muslims. From leaders like Ashfaqullah Khan to Maulana Azad, to Abdul Kalam to Param Vir Chakra Abdul Hamid, their contribution to the country is widely known and appreciated.
The NRC in Assam was hardly a role model in terms of a process to count citizens, wouldn’t it be worse if scaled up for the entire country?
Assam is a different case, under the Citizenship Act of 1955 there is a clause 6A, there is a special provision for Assam under the Rajiv Gandhi Accord. There is also an undertaking to preserve the culture and heritage of Assam. UPA did nothing for this, it was the Modi government which did.