Narendra Modi speaks to Fareed Zakaria on India’s world relations

MUMBAI: Narendra Modi’s much awaited interview with CNN International took place on 21 September 2014. Here is the transcript of the interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed Zakaria, Host, CNN GPS: Prime Minister thank you so much for doing this.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India:  Thank you.

Zakaria: After your election people have begun asking again a question that has been asked many times for the last two decades, which is, will India be the next China. Will India be able to grow at 8-9% a year consistently and transform itself and thus transform the world?

Modi: See, India does not need to become anything else. India must become only India. This is a country that once upon a time was called 'the golden bird'. We have fallen from where we were before. But now we have the chance to rise again. If you see the details of the last five or ten centuries, you will see that India and China have grown at similar paces. Their contributions to global GDP have risen in parallel, and fallen in parallel. Today's era once again belongs to Asia. India and China are both growing rapidly, together.

Zakaria: But people would still I think wonder can India achieve the kind of 8 & 9% growth rates that China has done consistently for 30 years and India has only done for a short period.

Modi: It is my absolute belief that Indians have unlimited talent. I have no doubt about our capabilities. I have a lot of faith in the entrepreneurial nature of our 1.25 billion people. There is a lot of capability. And I have a clear road-map to channel it.

Zakaria: China's behavior in the East China Sea and the South China Sea over the last two years has worried many of its neighbors. The head of the governments in Philippines and Vietnam have made very sharp statements worrying about it. Do you worry about it?

Modi: India is different. It is a country of 1.25 billion people. We can't run our country if we get worried about every small thing. At the same time, we can't close our eyes to problems. We are not living in the eighteenth century. This is an era of partnership. Everyone will have to seek and extend help mutually.  China is also a country with an ancient cultural heritage. Look at how it has focused on economic development. It's hardly the sign of a country that wants to be isolated.  We should have trust in China's understanding and have faith that it would accept global laws and will play its role in cooperating and moving forward.

Zakaria: Do you look at China and feel that it has been able to develop as fast as it has, really the fastest development in human history, because it is an authoritarian government, because the government has the power to build great infrastructure, to create incentives for investment. Do you look at that and think to yourself that that would be -- that there is a price to democracy that you have to do things a little bit more slowly.

Modi: If China is one example, then democratic countries provide another example. They have also grown fast. You can't say that growth is not possible because of democracy.  Democracy is our commitment. It is our great legacy, a legacy we simply cannot compromise. Democracy is in our DNA.

Zakaria: So you don't look at the power of the Chinese government and wish you had some of that authority.

Modi: See, I have seen the strength of democracy. If there were no democracy then someone like me, Modi, a child born in a poor family, how would he sit here? This is the strength of democracy.

Zakaria: From the strength of democracy to the strength or weakness of the crucial relationship between the US and India. Mr. Modi goes to the White House next week.  This after he was actually banned from even stepping on U.S. soil for many years. How does he see relations between the two nations?  Also, I ask about India's recent record of terrible crimes against women. The Prime Minister will tell me what his government intends to do about it.


Zakaria: And we are back with more of my exclusive interview with India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Next week, he will make his first trip to the White House, warmly welcomed by the Obama administration. That's quite a turnaround for a man who was placed on a blacklist by the George W. Bush administration in 2005 and, for many years, denied a visa to enter the United States. The ban stemmed from an incident in 2002, when he was chief minister of India's state of Gujarat. Modi was criticized for failing to quell riots there, riots that, according to a U.S. government report, killed more than twelve-hundred people, the majority of the dead were Muslim.  Modi is Hindu.  Modi has been exonerated three times by India's Supreme Court, notes the New York Times.  The Obama administration reversed the ban and has been courting Modi actively. Has Modi any qualms about warmer ties with India? I asked him.

Zakaria: There are many people in the United States and some in India who wish that the United States and India were much closer allies. The world's oldest democracy, the world's biggest democracy, but somehow that has never happened and there have always been these frictions and difficulties. Do you think it is possible for the United States and India to develop a genuinely strategic alliance?

Modi: I have a one word answer: Yes. And with great confidence I say "yes". Let me explain. There are many similarities between India and America. If you look at the last few centuries, two things come to light. America has absorbed people from around the world and there is an Indian in every part of the world. This characterizes both the societies. Indians and Americans have coexistence in their natural temperament. Now, yes, for sure, there have been ups and downs in our relationship in the last century. But from the end of the 20th century to the first decade of the 21st century, we have witnessed a big change. Our ties have deepened. India and the United States of America are bound together, by history and by culture. These ties will deepen further.

Zakaria: So far in your contacts with the Obama administration, you have had several cabinet members come here. Do you feel that there is a genuine desire from Washington to try to upgrade the relationship with India substantially?

Modi: Relations between India and America should not be seen within the limits of just Delhi and Washington. It's a much larger sphere. The good thing is that the mood of both Delhi and Washington is in harmony with this understanding. Both sides have played a role in this.

Zakaria: With regard to Russia's action in Ukraine. India has not been particularly active.  Do you, how do you view Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

Modi: Firstly, whatever happened there, innocent people died in a plane accident. That's very saddening. These are not good things for humanity in this age. There is a saying in India that the person who should throw a stone first is the person who has not committed any sins. In the world right now, a lot of people want to give advice. But look within them, and they too have sinned in some way. Ultimately, India's view point is that efforts need to be made to sit together and talk, and to resolve problems in an ongoing process.

Zakaria: One of the areas that India has come on to the world scene or people have read about and heard about it, which has been unfortunate has been violence against women. This issue of rape. Why is it do you think that there is this problem of, it seems persistent discrimination and violence against women in India and what do you think can be done about it?

Modi: Look, us political pundits shouldn't tangle ourselves up in knots by searching for the root cause of this problem. More damage is done by statements from political pundits. Dignity of women is our collective responsibility. There should be no compromise in this matter. There should be no erosion in the law and order situation. We have to revive the family culture in which a woman is respected and considered equal, her dignity encouraged. The main thing here is girl child education. By doing so the possibility of empowerment will increase. On August 15, my government pushed ahead a movement called: educate the girl, save the girl.

Zakaria: Next on GPS, the head of al Qaeda says he's opening a franchise in India. What does Prime Minister Modi have to say about that? I'll ask him.  Also, when you lead 1.25 billion people, the pressures mount.  How does Mr. Modi relax? You'll find out, when we come back.


Zakaria: Earlier this month, Osama bin Laden's successor as head of Al Qaeda - Ayman Al-Zawahiri - announced in an almost-hour long video that the terror organization was going to open a new branch in India. India's Muslims are a minority - just over 13 percent of the population, versus more than 80 percent of the population that is Hindu. And, thus far, the cause of "jihad" amongst that Muslim minority in India hasn't taken off at all, certainly not as it has across the border in Pakistan. At a time when terror is atop the headlines, I wanted to get Mr. Modi's thoughts on al Qaeda's plans for his country.

Zakaria: Ayman al-Zawahiri the head of al Qaeda has issued a video and an appeal trying to create an al Qaeda really in India. In South Asia he says but the message was really directed towards India and he says he wants to free Muslims from the oppression they face in Gujarat, in Kashmir. Do you think, do you worry that something like this could succeed?

Modi: My understanding is that they are doing injustice towards the Muslims of our country. If anyone thinks Indian Muslims will dance to their tune, they are delusional. Indian Muslims will live for India. They will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India.

Zakaria: Why do you think it is that there is this remarkable phenomenon that you have a 170 million Muslims and there seem to be almost no or very few members of al-Qaeda. Even though al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan and of course there are many in Pakistan. What is it that has made this community not as susceptible?

Modi: Firstly, I am not the authority for doing a psychological and religious analysis on this.  But the question is, whether or not humanity should be defended in the world? Whether or not believers in humanity should unite? This is a crisis against humanity, not a crisis against one country or one race.  So we have to frame this as a fight between humanity and inhumanity. Nothing else. 

Zakaria: A year or two from now, what would you like people to say, that these are the things Narendra Modi has managed to accomplish in terms of actions in office.

Modi: See the biggest thing is that the people of the country have faith. That trust should never break. If I can win the confidence of the people of India, not from my speeches, but by actions, then the power of 1.25 billion Indians will come together to take the country forward.

Zakaria:  One final question. How do you relax? What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

Modi: Look, I'm not the "not-working" type. I derive pleasure from my work. Work gives me relaxation too. Every moment I am thinking of something new: making a new plan, new ways to work. In the same way that a scientist draws pleasure from long hours in the laboratory, I draw pleasure in governance, in doing new things and bringing people together. That pleasure is sufficient for me.

Zakaria: Do you meditate? Do you do Yoga?

Modi: I'm fortunate that I was introduced to the world of yoga. That has been very useful to me. I always advise everyone to make this a part of their lives

Zakaria: You gave a long speech about the benefits of Yoga. Explain what you see them as.

Modi: See, sometimes we notice our mind works on one thing, the body on another, and time brings us in conflict. Yoga synchronizes the heart, the mind, and the body. That is Yoga.

Zakaria: And that was Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India in his first interview in office.

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