With five poll-bound states and their checkered political landscape, BJP president Amit Shah once again has the task of taking BJP to the finishing line. In an interview with Network 18 Editor-in-Chief Rahul Joshi, Shah talks about Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and why he is confident that the BJP will get a two-third majority.
Though development remains high on the BJP agenda, the party has also focused on the state of law and order in UP under the Samajwadi Party government. While stressing that there is no room for dynasty politics in the BJP, Shah says the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance cannot divert attention of the voters from issues like law and order, land grab and cow slaughter.
The BJP president says though UP polls would not be a referendum on demonetisation, he is confident that the people are with the Narendra Modi government. He also said that three months are not enough to assess the full impact of demonetisation on black money.
Terming surgical strikes ‘a decision made of political will’, Shah says peace with our neighbours will be always be a priority, however, India’s attitude will depend on Pakistan’s behaviour.
Shah also talks about the BJP’s stand on the contentious Ram Mandir issue and the party’s poll strategy in Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand. Though Shah will soon turn focus on Gujarat, he shares his vision for 2019: “My first objective is that BJP wins 2019 with a bigger margin than 2014.”
Here is the full transcript:
Welcome, and thanks for speaking to Network18. Let’s begin with the state Assembly elections. You just released BJP's manifesto in Uttar Pradesh. What does it have that others don't?
The preamble of our manifesto says that over the last 15 years Samajwadi Party and BSP have taken Uttar Pradesh backwards. A comparison with other states in the last 15 years will show UP, despite its huge potential, has seen very little development. This is true if you look from the perspective of governance, administration, law & order, and most all in the farm and industry sectors. Take employment, there has been little work done, all of this has held back UP’s progress. So we have tried to give a platform to build a stronger structure so that in five years the BJP government can leap over the 15 years of developmental backwardness. We will take UP to the level of other developed states in the country.
Your manifesto talks of waiving farmer loans, offers zero-interest loans, free laptops and promises schemes for education and health. You have laid emphasis on law & order, which is one of the biggest issues...
Well, I would say you have to look beyond loan waivers and zero interest loans. We’ve also promised to set up a system to buy crops from farmers, start computerised e-mandis so that the farmer gets a good price for their produce. We will also try to give soil health cards to all farmers in three years. The farmers can assess the fertility of their land, get information on what kind of fertiliser and seed to use etc. Based on all this information, the farmer can increase his yield to help UP make up for all the lost years. Many states have implemented zero interest loans. The farmers are desperate, we want to give a platform to do much better.
You have also talked of Ram Mandir, Kairana exodus and stopping cattle theft and slaughter. You have also promised helicopter services but only to Hindu religious spots. Is this a return to soft Hindutva?
Please don't see ban on slaughterhouses from that point of view. In all of UP – whether it is western UP, Awadh, Rohailkhand or Purvanchal – you will see that due to slaughterhouses, cows that give milk are finished. If there is a drought or flood, farmers fall back on cows for sustenance. UP has unlimited potential for milk production. I come from Gujarat where the availability of water is much less than in UP. But dairies have record production there. In UP, we want to prevent cattle smuggling and slaughter. Today even FIRs are not registered in UP in such cases. We have planned to set up dairies so that farmers will get good prices. This will also help them add value, and improve livelihoods.
We'll return to some of these issues, but my first key question. How many seats to do you give to BJP in Uttar Pradesh?
It is too soon to speak of entire UP, but I strongly believe that in the first and second phases, we will win 90 of the 135 seats.
So you are looking at a 2/3rds majority?
Definitely. We will get a 2/3rd majority.
So who is your fight with: The SP-Congress alliance or Mayawati's BSP?
With the alliance between Samajwadi Party and Congress.
Don't you think Muslim, Yadav, some upper caste votes will stand behind the alliance and give the BJP a tough challenge?
It is easy to talk theory. Look at the law and order situation in UP, every girl whether she is Yadav or from any other community, is harassed. Poor and backward suffer the worst... Urban law and order too is worse. That's why there is exodus, everyone is affected. If mothers and daughters are raped on highways like it happened in Bulandshahr... if this is the kind of government we have, then it's everybody's problem. In the heart of Mathura, in Jawaharbagh, a gang led by Ram Vriksh Yadav occupies government land for three years and kills policemen who go there. No law abiding UP citizen can tolerate this situation. The election will be on this issue (of law & order). Akhilesh Yadav is wrong if he thinks he can fool people with his family drama and an alliance. That is not going to happen. Law and order is an issue today. Exodus in west UP is an issue. Cow smuggling and slaughter is an issue. Women's security is an issue. Land grab is an issue. Whatever you do, you will have to answer it all.
It is said that these Assembly polls will be a referendum on demonetisation. Do you think so?
It won’t be correct to say the UP polls would be a referendum on note ban. Because in UP, there are so many anti-incumbency issues. The mining mafia is running free; if it takes Rs 18 crore per km for constructing a road, tenders are given out for Rs 31 crores, people want to know where the Rs 13 crore gone. But even then if the Opposition wants a referendum on note ban, we are open to it. In the issue of note ban, the people of UP are with BJP. And they will vote on the lotus symbol.
So you believe note ban will help BJP in UP Polls?
Do you think the note ban has helped curb black money?
I would say if someone wants to analyse the impact of such a historic decision looking at just three months, it would be a tad too fast. This is part of a big strategy. Right from the day the BJP government was sworn in at the Centre, we declared war against black money. The first resolution of the first Cabinet meeting was to implement the Supreme Court order to set up a special investigation team on black money. Till then up to demonetisation we have taken around 29 steps in this direction. But if within three months of note ban someone expects black money to be extinguished, then that person needs to understand the principles of economics better.
A lot of the demonetised money has come back to the system. So people believe big capitalists have gotten away. In the near future will you be taking these people to task through steps like IT raids?
People are spreading this canard that all the money that has come back to the banks have automatically become white. Anyone who has deposited more than Rs 2.5 lakh in banks after demonetisation, there is a list of them, and agencies are working on that. And the government has brought in a tough legislation. The money that has come back to the system will be used for the betterment of the living conditions of the poor. Those who don’t have food, those who don’t have shelter, those who don’t have toilets, those who don’t have electricity or drinking water, this money will be used for their upliftment. Up until now, this money was locked up in the coffers of politicians and industrialists. Now it is back in the system.
So will you make sure this money reaches the poor?
There are schemes in place, more schemes are being chalked out. The Cabinet is working on these decisions.
The surgical strikes against Pakistan was another big decision by the Modi government. Will your stand on Pakistan harden in the coming months?
India’s attitude towards Pakistan will depend on Pakistan’s behaviour. We want good relations with all. Peace with our neighbours is a priority. But if this is seen as our weakness, then that is a mistake. This government is led by Narendra Modi. Putting our soldiers and borders at risk will not be tolerated anymore. Surgical strikes were a decision made of political will. The bravery of the Army ensured it has changed the way the world looks at India today. In the coming days, it will only benefit India.
And do you think it will it benefit you in the Assembly elections?
People of the entire nation, except some political leaders, are with us. You would have read Rahul Gandhi's statement of 'khoon ki dalali'. I am yet to understand what he wanted to say.
You already rule the Centre, now if you come to power in UP too, will you build Ram Mandir in Ayodhya?
We have a very clear stand on Ram Mandir, that we will explore ways of building a temple within the Constitutional framework. This can be done in two ways: Either through dialogue or through a court order.
So your government is committed to the issue?
Yes, we are committed. Within the Constitutional structure, we will find ways to build a temple.
In 2014, when BJP got 71 seats in UP, people attributed it to the Modi wave and your Midas touch. Do you think this will work this time as well?
In 2014, the entire nation wanted a strong leader and the BJP had made the right decision by announcing Narendra Modi as the party's PM candidate, and we fought under his leadership. There was a wave across the nation and UP was no different. I am indebted to the crores of BJP workers who worked tirelessly to convert that wave into votes and scale it up to a tsunami. As a result, NDA got 73 out of 80 seats in UP. It's because of that decision by the people of UP that we are running a government with full majority at the Centre. This time around people are tired of the misrule of this alternating governments of SP and BSP. There has been no development in 15 years. Corruption is rampant, law and order has totally collapsed. Youth are leaving the state for jobs in Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru leaving behind parents and wives. UP has everything. There's water below 50 feet; there is level, fertile lands for kilometres on; there is abundant water thanks to the blessing of Ganga and Yamuna. And there is talented, hardworking youth. But there is no development because the system has collapsed.
But you faced crushing defeats in Delhi and Bihar despite Modi's popularity. Have you learnt any lessons from those mistakes, which you wouldn't like to repeat this time?
Our party had set up a committee to examine these two defeats. It won't be proper to discuss that in public, but I would like to clarify that both states had peculiar political environments. And we won Assam, all local polls, by-polls, made progress in states like Kerala, Bengal. Approval for Modi has come from across the country.
This time BJP's strategy has been breaking and making alliances. You have aggressively drawn key Opposition leaders into BJP. How will you gain from this?
It is not right to say these leaders are leaving their parties. This is political migration. Fed up with dynastic and caste-based politics and naked corruption practiced by parties like BSP, many leaders are leaving their parties and migrating to BJP. I believe that the society will gain from the consolidation of such good leaders. If that consolidation happens towards BJP, it will be good for the country, good for UP. Because India cannot dream of double digit growth without UP growing at double digits.
You just spoke of dynasty politics. But BJP had to distribute a lot of tickets to kith and kin of senior leaders despite Modi’s appeal not to ask for tickets for family members.
Let me clarify our position here. Dynasty politics is when Akhilesh Yadav becomes the chief minister of UP sidelining all other party leaders. Or when Omar Abdullah becomes the chief minister after Farooq Abdullah. Jawaharlal Nehru followed by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia ruling through Manmohan Singh, and now Rahul… That is dynasty politics.
In BJP, family members of leaders are free to work hard for the party, run for elections and become MLAs. But whether they will become chief minister or not depends solely on their merit. So let’s not have simplistic definitions on dynasty politics. If Rahul Gandhi has a child, there is no confusion then who will be the next Congress president. But can you guess who will be the next BJP president? No you cannot. This is the difference between the BJP and all other parties. The greatness of BJP is that a man from a poor household can rise up to become the PM... A booth worker like me who used to do wall paintings for the party can become the national president. In this party there can never be any dynasty politics.
As elections approach some politicians have started making communal statements, trying to polarise the electorate. How will you deal with such leaders? The PM has warned them in the past.
Please do not link this with the BJP. UP presents a peculiar condition. There's anger among the general public. People are reflecting the public mood against the politics of appeasement and vote bank. If someone speaks up against the politics of appeasement and vote bank, he is only articulating the public mood. But I agree there should be no communal agenda in polls. If we appeal to end mechanised slaughterhouses, then it cannot be called communal, we are doing it for the farmers. A task force against exodus in western UP can’t be termed communal, it is a constitutional right of the people. In UP, people have stopped sending their daughters to colleges because the girls get harassed. We have promised that BJP will form an Anti-Romeo Squad to save these girls. This is not communal. It is the right of every girl to study in her own city or village. That is why it would not be correct to paint everything as communal.
Western UP is very important for you. Who do you consider responsible for the ‘exodus’ there?
Without doubt this is a result of BSP and SP's vote bank and appeasement politics. This would have never happened if the police did its work within the framework of constitution. This only happened because police was used to strengthen vote bank politics. Which constitution mandates that FIRs be registered on the basis of caste and religion? This needs to be stopped.
What steps will you take in this direction if you form the government?
We raised these issues earlier also. When Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh were heading the government we took steps then and these activities did stop. We have 12 state governments in the country. There's no exodus happening anywhere. It is the police's job to maintain law and order within the framework of the Constitution.
Pending payments for sugarcane farmers is a big, perennial issue in western UP. How do you plan to address this?
No one cared for the sugarcane farmers for a long, long time. But now the Modi government has started working to protect the interest of cane farmers. We increased ethanol consumption so that cane farmers get their due. We stopped import so that farmers get the right price for their produce. Export subsidies have meant they get a good price for their produce. Cane farmers did not get their payments in time. We fixed that too. We have said two things in our manifesto. We will deliver the Rs 6,000 crores due to cane farmers within 120 days of coming to power. We will engage the bank and collectors to this effect within 120 days. We will set up a system where they will get a 14-day postdated cheque from the day he offloads cane in the mill. I think this will be a huge step. No one has taken a step like this in 70 years. We will be extending this assistance to all the sugarcane farmers upon assuming office.
Any specific plans to fix road transport and infrastructure in UP?
We have promised an East, West, North & South corridor to the people of UP. We have promised to connect every village to tehsil office by bus. Along with this, we have also said we will improve medical facilities.
Just before the Bihar Assembly polls, RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat had raised some concerns on reservations. BJP suffered the consequences. Last week, RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said something similar. We want to know what is your position as far as reservation is concerned.
Neither Mohan Bhagwat said any such thing then, nor has Manmohan Vaidya said any such thing now. Manmohan Vaidya was asked a question on religion-based reservation. But someone took away the question and showed just the reply. This caused the controversy. He clarified the next day. The question very clearly was about his view on the Sachar panel suggestion on religion-based reservation. The Sangh has always said that the present situation needs the existing system of reservation. BJP’s position is also clear. Constitutionally mandated provisions of reservation in India, with the cap prescribed by the Supreme Court must continue. This includes SC, ST & OBC. We have miles to go.
But now that you have asked this question, I want to ask a question to SP, Congress and BSP. They talk about reservations for minorities. Where will they get it from? The highest court has put a cap of 50 percent. So you cannot go beyond that. Many states have reached 50 percent already within the existing SC, ST & OBC reservations. If they want to give reservation to minorities, then who will they take it away from? SC, ST or OBC? So it is not us who are opposing reservation for Dalits, OBCs and tribals. They are. It is they who talk about giving reservation on religious grounds. They must clarify to the people of UP on whether they want religion-based quotas or not. And if they want it, then they must specify who will they take it away from? We have clarified, now the SP, Congress and BSP should clarify. Grounds of reservation must not be religion. The Constitution does not mandate this. So we must all maintain the existing system.
You fought many state elections without any CM face. There was a CM face in Assam and it helped. Why is there no CM face in Uttar Pradesh?
This is always the decision of the parliamentary board. We had no face in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. We won elections in these states. We've had no chief minister face in most of the elections we won. And, whoever will be our CM face (in UP) will surely be better than theirs. That's certain. People have seen through these faces.
The PM opposed triple talaq. Your manifesto also mentions it. What's your take?
We believe that the Constitution mandates every woman should get her rights, and that includes Muslim women. Triple talaq curtails the rights of Muslim women.
Moving away from UP, what are the realistic chances of you winning in Uttarakhand?
We will certainly form a government in Uttarakhand by a good margin.
A lot of Congress leaders in Uttarakhand have joined BJP. You think that will help you?
See, this is a process. One party is breaking up. And the good people are drifting towards ours. Don't look at this process as defection. This process has happened before elections and not after elections. This is not aaya ram-gaya ram politics.
It is said that Goa is a close fight for you this time. It is also said that you had to prop up Manohar Parrikar as your face in Goa just before this difficult election. Do you agree?
No, the party hasn't taken any such decision as of now that Manohar Parrikar will go back to Goa. We have said that if the people of Goa and elected MLAs feel this way, then both options are open. A decision will be taken by parliamentary board based on legislative party's opinion. We are in a strong position in Goa. For the first time, the state is seeing a government complete its full term. Congress had 12 chief ministers in the first 10 years. Goa's growth had come to a standstill.
You also had two CMs…
We had two because one had to move to the Centre. Parrikar didn’t have to leave because of any infighting. One chief minister became the Defence Minister, that's why we had another one. Had Parrikar not come to the Centre, he would have completed his five-year term as chief minister.
Will Parrikar go back if required?
As I said, we have kept that open ended.
What is your assessment of Punjab. It is said that AAP and Congress have a lead?
It is a triangular contest in Punjab. BJP-SAD is in the fray with full force. A tremendously talented man like Parkash Singh Badal is leading the charge there. There are very a few leaders like Badal sahab in this country today.
The Shiv Sena seems upset with you. They are fighting the corporation and zilla parishad elections on their own. Will this affect your relationship in the state and the Centre?
This is not our decision but that of the Shiv Sena. We have an open mind and they are our trusted ally. We are with them in the Centre and the state governments. What’s happening is a friendly match. It is for the people to decide.
So these are just differences and not a long-term fight?
There are no differences. It is just that both parties have different internal calculations. Both parties believe in their position of strength. We have left it for the people to decide. But I don't agree that this is going to cause damage to our alliance.
The next big election after this will be Gujarat. What according to you will happen there?
We have swept all municipal elections and by-polls in Gujarat. We are in a very strong position. We haven't lost a single election since '90.
So you feel your new team is going to win again?
Most certainly we will form the government. And that too with two third majority.
What is your assessment of 2019 elections?
A survey in one of the papers says if elections are held now, then NDA will get 370 seats. And BJP will get absolute majority. But we are not in 2019 yet. We will emerge stronger then. There will be more development, progress and safety by then. We will emerge stronger by raising the standard of living of the poorest of the poor. I am confident that this Jan Kalyan Yajna will make the BJP emerge stronger. We have empowered the poor of this country. Only a poor woman would know the joy of having cooking gas as opposed to a smoke-filled hut. Only a poor woman would know the shame and pain of defecating in the open at 2 am for want of a toilet. It is our endeavour to have a toilet in each house. No government so far had thought of toilets, gas and even a small bulb to light up the house of poor. Even after 70 years of Independence, 60 crore people did not have a bank account. We got these people connected to the mainstream by opening these bank accounts. I believe that the results will surely be positive. And we have honestly worked towards the upliftment of Dalits and backward communities to raise their living standards.
Some big economists feel that demonetisation will lead to slow growth…
It is possible that a quarter or two may reflect this. As of now it doesn't. As of now nothing has gone down. Neither the revenue nor income. But even if we assume it does get reflected in a few quarters, just imagine what Rs 8 lakh crores in excess entering the system actually means. Rs 8 lakh crore that wasn't of much use to the country's growth! Money that was lying in coffers and chests has now come back into the system. I believe that this is going to create a massive difference.
I have interviewed you on a number of occasions in the past. You always appear relaxed.
I am quite relaxed today also.
Any secret to this?
We consider elections as a festival to celebrate democracy. We enter the electoral fray with our ideology, agenda, manifesto and the strength of the cadre. Winning and losing isn't important for us. We do not believe in caste-based politics. Neither do we believe in dynasty politics. We believe in the politics of performance. And we have started this type of politics.
What is the next step for Amit Shah? Will you enter electoral politics in the Centre in 2019? Will you join the government, or go back to Gujarat ?
There is no question of me returning to Gujarat. And I am in central politics only.
Will you join the government?
This is no time to think of that. My first objective is that BJP wins 2019 with a bigger margin than 2014.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2017 21:29 PM