London: A packed house in Central Hall Westminster was rapt in attention Wednesday night when Prime Minister Narendra Modi answered a long list of questions ranging from what his government back home had achieved since coming to power in 2014 to criticism he continues to face and explained just why these drive him to strive even harder.
In what was a free-willing chat in front of the Indian diaspora here, PM Modi was straightforward and characteristically charming - using examples and metaphors galore to answer every query put forth.
Following are some of the excerpts from the program which was titled Bharat ki Baat, Sab ke Saath.
"Development is being made a people's movement"
PM Modi said that people have more expectations from the BJP-led government because people have more faith that his government can deliver. "Mahatma Gandhi made the struggle of freedom a people`s movement. I am making development a people`s movement," he said.
"I have lived in poverty"
In what could have been a veiled dig at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, PM Modi said his humble background helped him understand the needs of the poor in India. "I do not need to read books to understand poverty. I have lived in poverty, I know what it is to be poor and belong to the backward sections of society. I want to work for the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden," he said.
"My life in railway station taught me much"
PM Modi has often cited examples from his growing years to explain why he is still only a common man. "My life then taught me much. It was about my personal struggles. When you said Royal Palace, it is not about me but about the 125 crore people of India," he said.
"My special diet includes 2 kilos of criticism daily"
Admitting that criticism is a healthy part of democracy, PM Modi said he considers it a gold mine. "For the last 20 years, I have been on a special diet. I take 2 kilos of criticism daily. That's the secret of my fitness. "I always welcome criticism. I give so much importance to your criticism that I try to accept in my life and it is a goldmine," he said to a rapturous response from members in the audience. "I am not worried about criticism. Please criticise because that keeps us alert and aware. But criticism has been degraded to allegations now."
"The surgical strike was an answer to the exporters of terrorism"
Taking a dig at Pakistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism, PM Modi said that the Indian Army had been instructed to first inform Pakistan about the 2016 surgical strikes before releasing information to the media. "They (surgical strikes) were a message (to Pakistan) that India has changed and their antics will never be tolerated. I am proud of my soldiers. The soldiers executed the surgical strike without making a single mistake and with 100 per cent perfection. And they returned before sunrise," he said.
"Cowards come and kill our jawans. Do you want me to stay quiet?"
Referring to Uni attack, PM Modi was scathing in his criticism of terrorism. "We will not tolerate those who like to export terror and those who try to stab at the back. We know how to give back strong answers and in the language they understand," he said.
"Rape is a rape"
PM Modi also touched upon incidents of gruesome rapes back home in India and said that such horrific acts are unpardonable. " "A rape is a rape. How can we tolerate this exploitation of our daughters?" he asked.
"India at forefront of humanitarian missions, setting global agenda"
Highlighting how world opinion of India has undergone a change since he came to power, PM Modi said western countries are increasingly looking towards India to lead the way in a number of fields. "No one considered India capable of conducting humanitarian missions. Yet, when we evacuated our citizens in Yemen, other countries asked us to do the same for them. And we did," he said. "When the Rohignya crisis unfolded and refugees started pouring into Bangladesh, we sent containers filled with rice to ensure no one there went hungry. We understand our commitments and we are now in a position to set our own agenda and play a larger role in the international arena. We have an independent foreign policy.