False narratives about “the death of democracy” and free speech in India are aimed at stalling the country’s progress and are emerging mostly from within the country, former Solicitor General of India Harish Salve has said in an exclusive interview.
In conversation with NDTV’s Editor-in-Chief Sanjay Pugalia as part of a special series to mark the 76th Independence Day, Harish Salve also explained India’s strong push for the extradition of Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya, tying in with the ongoing negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the UK.
Speaking about the anti-entrepreneurial mindset of “vested interests”, Harish Salve said today courts were being used by countries to try and stall India’s progress.
“The perception of India is changing, and no country would like any country to outpace them. For example, our biggest ‘friend’ China – India is in direct economic conflict with it – these countries try to use the courts,” said Mr Salve, one of the most sought after lawyers in India.
“Nobody can say anything about India’s economic progress. So, a narrative is created about India – “democracy is dead in India”. That you are able to stand in India and say ‘democracy is dead’ is biggest proof that democracy is alive…Unfortunately, the narrative is being created mostly from India.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Salve also delved into talks with the UK on a Free Trade Agreement and said India was at the negotiating table “on equal footing” with the UK.
India, he said, is engaged in hard negotiations for the FTA and its stance was correct. “Today we are at the negotiating table on equal terms, so it is taking time,” he asserted.
The senior lawyer said UK’s eagerness to sign the FTA with India was inconsistent with its delay in sending back fugitives like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya.
“The problem in the UK is that the first step to extradition, which is judicial, is done for both Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya. The final step has to be taken, now that all legal steps are completed. But now there is some asylum claim…”
“I know that whenever there is a high-level meeting, (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi asks, ‘Where are they? Why should UK become the home for Indian fugitives?’. Then they (UK) talk about FTA with India. It is inconsistent.”
Mr Salve also talked about the recent Supreme Court reprieve for Rahul Gandhi and the allegations of the Congress using freebies for votes.
The language used by Rahul Gandhi in his “Modi surname” comment was exceptionally disrespectful, he said, adding that the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend the Congress leader’s conviction was driven not by the merits of the case but by concerns for his constituency.
“Whether Rahul Gandhi should be convicted or not is a different issue. But the highly disrespectful manner of talking… you are making false accusations and then you say I am in public life…Everyone knows, however much he denies it, he dreams of becoming prime minister. Is this his stature to use this sort of language?” Harish Salve questioned.
“Supreme Court judges said what he said was wrong and it is not right to talk like this. But the conviction was stayed because the constituency should not go unrepresented until there is a decision on his appeal (against conviction). That is why it was stayed, not on merits,” Mr Salve remarked.
The renowned jurist also voiced his disgust with the politics of freebies, calling it the “worst kind of politics” and a form of corruption.
“This is not a distortion, it is a type of corruption. You give out the taxpayer’s money with both hands, to win an election. There cannot be worse politics than this,” Mr Salve said, citing the Congress’s five-guarantee promise in Karnataka.
“Karnataka Chief Minister told MLAs… we can’t do your development projects as we have to fulfill promises….Taxpayer’s Rs 40,000 crore is being spent on those.”