Defence minister Rajnath Singh sought to dispel the notion that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) would harm minorities. In a conversation with ET, he said the Prime Minister, who no one in the Cabinet knows better than him, was quite anguished by such allegations. The minister also spoke on a range of other issues, from the nittygritty of defence funding to the situation at the border. Edited excerpts.
How do you plan to reconcile the shortfall in the defence budget with high ambitions?
No doubt a budget constraint is always there. But if ambitions have a firm conviction, then there is a solution to every problem.
There is a view that state governments should share the national security burden…
This is under consideration. I won’t go into details at this moment. Whatever we do, will be done with the consent of the state government.
How is the post-Article 370 security situation in Kashmir, now that winter has passed?
The situation is quite normal in Jammu and Kashmir. Everything is as cool as it was in winter. There is peace in Kashmir.
Where are we positioned on Rafale fighters one year after the Balakot strikes?
By the last week of May, four Rafale fighter planes will come to India. Thereafter, one jet will come every one and half months till the time we complete 36 planes. There is no proposal now to buy more (Rafale) jets. I think this much would be enough. The country doesn’t need to worry. Whatever is needed, will be there.
Who do you think is the bigger threat to India – Pakistan, China or both together?
As of now, I don’t see any significant threat from China. Yes, there are some perceptional differences over the boundary issue. They have their argument, we have ours. There have been face offs post-1962, but no confrontation has escalated. In recent times, our relationship with China has improved a lot. I had recently visited the border and complimented the rational approach of both armies.
I even spoke about this with the Chinese defence minister when we met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet. He offered to come to the border from the Chinese side, and I from the Indian side, to shake hands.
You don’t anticipate a Dokalam-like situation?
You have seen we are not weaker than China in Dokalam. (Hum kahin se unnees nahi hain.)
Being an MP from Lucknow, how do you read the statement from the Iran government?
There could be some confusion as far as CAA is concerned. But I don’t think any Indian citizen, whether Muslim or any other, should feel threatened with that.
This was said by Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi at that time too. This came up in the Nehru-Liaquat pact and even Mahatma Gandhi had said that if there is any trouble for minorities living in Pakistan, then India should worry about them. With the way minorities are being treated in Pakistan, there was no option for us. I prepared the CAA Bill as the home minister in 2016. And I can speak for the government and the Prime Minister because I also understand the intention very well – no decision would be taken on a communal basis.
Some people say that instead of using ‘Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian,’ the word ‘minorities’ should have been used…
The problem is that if these countries changed the definition of their minorities in future, we would have not been able to give them citizenship from religious persecution. That’s why we have not used the word minorities.
Are you surprised by the reaction to CAA?
I think there is a need to dispel confusion among Indian minorities. India can never discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or community. India is the only country which considers not only citizens living within its own borders, but also people across the globe, as an extended family – Vasudaiva Kutumbakam. Till this government is here, till this Prime Minister is here, discrimination among Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians will always be a crime.
Who in the Cabinet knows the Prime Minister better than me? All kinds of allegations are being hurled at him. I can share that sometimes the PM is pained by such baseless allegations. (Prime Minister Narendra Modiji ko mujhse behtar Cabinet mein kaun jaan sakta hai? Tarah tarah ke allegations lage hai. Mai puri saaf goi se batana chahta hoon – kabhi kabhi hamare PM ko isko lekar peeda hoti hai. Unki manostithi ko main dekhta hoon jab iss prakar ke bebuniyad, niradhar allegations unpar lagte hai.) At my rally in Meerut, I had said, as far as minorities of the nation are concerned, no one dare touch them.
How will India deal with companies doing business with Pakistan (in the arms sector)?
It will depend on the nature of business. We don’t consider anyone untouchable in the world, either a person or a country.