Union tourism and culture minister Prahlad Singh Patel, in an interview tells his views on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, post-poll violence in West Bengal, allegations of irregularities in the purchase of land for Ram temple in Ayodhya, farmers protest, holding Kumbh during second wave of Covid pandemic and impact of the coronavirus disease on tourism in India.
Q: Do you think that the law and order situation has improved in Jammu and Kashmir because of it being a Union Territory (UT)?
A: Of course. The holding of panchayat and District Development Council (DDC) elections after so many years, the visit of unprecedented number of tourists in the UT and infrastructure development taking place at a fast pace are proofs.
Q: Will it continue like this? Won’t Jammu and Kashmir get statehood?
A: The party (BJP) and the (Modi) government do not renegade on their word. We are firm on our commitment but when things are happening peacefully, some other development works should take place. Moreover, being a border area, there are challenges from the strategic point of view. One aspect has been taken care of but the remaining part of Kashmir [Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK)] remains to come back (to India).
Q: Does that (PoK) have to come back?
A: That has been passed by Parliament.
Q: Will it be merged under this tenure of the Modi government?
A: All the works so far have been done under the leadership of Modi ji, such as nullification of Article 370, the Ram Mandir verdict by Supreme Court, CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), Triple Talaq Act, International Yoga Day, sending COVID vaccine to 150 countries and all other good things. We expect that this will also happen under his leadership.
Q: So, will PoK merge within India this term ( of the NDA government)?
A: I feel all of us would like to see that fortunate day. If anyone can achieve this, and the way things are moving, it is my firm belief that we would see with our own eyes that the Akhand Bharat concept would materialise under his leadership.
Q: Is the enhanced military movement happening towards achieving this goal?
A: I would not comment on this. My job is to ensure improvement in tourism, which I have done.
Q: Are there any plans to further bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir and make Jammu a separate entity?
A: I should not comment on this. The decisions of the government are well thought of. The gaps have been bridged. Leh-Kargil is an example. Their culture had suffered for all these years. Jammu would also be having its own sentiments. Our attempt would be to reestablish their cultural heritage. This is our work.
Q: What do you have to say about the alleged post-poll violence in West Bengal?
A: During the election, I stayed in North Bengal for a long period. There is a Naxalbari assembly constituency from where naxalism started. I went there. BJP and all of us are staunch opponents of the naxal ideology. A BJP candidate won from Naxalbari in the election. This is a significant political development. This means we have triumphed over the naxal ideology.
The post-poll violence taking place in West Bengal is pseudo-naxalism. There are several differences between the naxals and the perpetrators of the violence in Bengal. They followed democratic principles only till they won the election. They indulged in theatrics by showing a fractured leg. Thereafter, these pseudo-naxals have started terrorising the people worse than the naxals do. The naxals target and kill only the leaders whereas these pseudo-naxals are killing and attacking the common man who voted for a certain party. The naxals never indulge in rape. But these pseudo-naxals have adopted rape and gang-rape of common citizens as a major tool to terrorise those who supported a party.
The terror could be gauged from people announcing from loudspeakers that they committed a blunder by voting for a party and that they would never do so in future. We will have to fight this loathsome pseudo-naxalism. Not just democracy is in danger but also humanity is threatened. This is a violence which is based on power, authority and rule and which is quite dangerous.
We have fought the naxals. The BJP workers will fight them out too.
Q: Are you hinting at West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee‘s role in this?
A: I do not have any hesitation in saying that this political violence is 100 per cent taking place with the knowledge and under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. I do not have any doubts about this. She is 100 per cent responsible for this. No one else can be blamed because only her diktat is followed in the party.
Q: Several BJP supporters have demanded imposition of President’s Rule in West Bengal. Do you agree with this?
A: The BJP has always believed that elected governments should not be destabilised. But it is not possible to reply in yes or no in this particular case. In a democratic set up, the concerned departments will take the right decision. While the Constitution allows many things, it also prohibits other things. The government will take the right decision within the constitutional framework. But those who believe in democratic principles should not wait for five years or the full tenure to end.
Q: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Sanjay Singh and the Congress have levelled allegations of grave irregularities in the purchase of land for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Your comments.
A: AAP was born recently but the Congress has left no opportunity to oppose and defame the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation in a planned manner. I am a person with a rural background. I know I will buy the land near my house even if it is 50 times the normal price. The same holds true for the Ram temple. We need large tracts of land for the area imagined around the grand structure. We must welcome the land which we are getting without any legal wranglings, albeit at a much higher price.
But a larger issue is why are these people, who not just did not contribute to the temple but also opposed it at every step, getting stomach aches? The Congress-led UPA I government in 2007 had gone to the extent of submitting an affidavit in the Supreme Court denying the very existence of Lord Ram and saying that he was a fictional character. Their senior minister then Kapil Sibal too had said that there was no scientific evidence to prove that Ram Setu was man-made.
This issue has been raked up in view of the next year’s assembly elections in UP and Uttarakhand. The Congress never does anything without keeping elections in mind.
Q: The farmers’ protest against the three agri-marketing reform laws has been going on since November 26, last year. Is it the central government’s failure that it could not find a solution to it?
A: Just like the anti-CAA protests, this farmers’ agitation is also unnecessary and meaningless. The three farm laws are 100 per cent in the interest of the farmers and the nation.
Secondly, a handful of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and western UP are protesting. Third, the protests are being held by the farmers’ moneylenders, who we call arhatiyas. Fourth, Punjab and Haryana were the top two states for decades in procurement of crops. However, Madhya Pradesh has overtaken them and several other states are also moving fast to become leaders in procurement. The farm laws are harming the interest of the arhatiyas and, therefore, the protests.
Q: The protesters have only two demands – scrapping of the three farm laws and according a legal status to minimum support price (MSP). Does the centre have an ego issue in accepting them?
A: Why should the government accept their demands? When the laws were passed in Parliament, members of all parties were present in both the houses. The opposition participated in the debate and voting thereafter. The bill got passed despite BJP not having a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Therefore, the demand to scrap the laws is to challenge Parliament. Secondly, implementation of the farm laws is optional.
The states are free not to implement them. The protesters are trying to dictate terms to the government. They should suggest the model for MSP which they want to be implemented. But they are not even ready to talk.
Q: It is alleged that Kumbh in Haridwar contributed to the spread of Covid and caused the death of several people, including sadhus. Do you believe holding the religious event was a blunder?
A: It was neither the fault of the central government nor the Uttarakhand government. It is totally an attempt to create a false impression. Covid hit several states where neither Kumbh nor elections were held as in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath created a new perception about Kumbh. The defamation campaign is to undermine this perception.
Q: What has been the impact of Covid pandemic on tourism?
A: Tourism has suffered worldover. There is no doubt about the fact that India has also been a victim. However, the loss has not been universal. Metro cities and big hotel groups are facing bigger crises. Our industry could not handle domestic tourism properly between the two waves of Covid pandemic. Tourism in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa was badly affected. We face the challenge of handling foreign tourists whenever the tourism sector opens up.
Having said this, let me also add that the challenges also bring opportunities. According to global estimates, post-Covid revival and survival of tourism would be the fastest in India. One of the reasons why I claim this is because when Covid had struck last year, the foreign tourists in India at that point in time did not feel safe to go to their respective countries. They felt safe here in India.
Secondly, after the first Covid wave, no other nation except India helped the countries whom we gave medicines to. Global perception about India’s tourism is quite high. China was a major tourist point before Covid. But the world’s view about China has changed. India is the only alternative to China.
Wellness tourism offers the best opportunity to become a tourist destination. Whether it is yoga or Ayush, these are home to India. We also offer pure allopathic treatment. Hence, tourism would prefer our country for treatment and peace in the post-coronavirus pandemic phase. When tourism catches pace, India will emerge fast on the global tourist map.
Q: Has your ministry prepared any roadmap for the revival of the tourism sector?
A: The thumb rule of tourism is that revival and survival happen automatically when tourists arrive. Even the government gave a package after the first Covid wave. However, we faced a major challenge. There were only 1,400 hotels registered with the tourism ministry till then. To broadbase the data, we launched a NIDHI (National Integrated Database of Hospitality Industry) portal for the hotels to register themselves with a self-declaration. So far in the last months, the number of hotels has increased to 41,000. This is a major achievement.