Buoyant Amit Shah sets all-important 2017 UP election as BJP's next target
Fresh from a thumping victory in Assam and a good showing in West Bengal and Kerala, BJP president Amit Shah is in an unusually buoyant mood and has now set high targets for himself and his party — winning the all-important Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh
Fresh from a thumping victory in Assam and a good showing in West Bengal and Kerala, BJP president Amit Shah is in an unusually buoyant mood and has now set high targets for himself and his party — winning the all-important Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. He however, is cautious of the fact that high notes like these often allow complacency to set in and guards himself and other party leaders against that: “Safalta barkarar rakhna bahut badi chunauti hoti hai (Maintaining this level of success will be a challenge),” he said. He however, added that “good works” done by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre will keep the party on an expansionist path of success.
Contrary to public perception that Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was rising in Uttar Pradesh and this time around was the principal contender for power, Shah believes that it is the Samajwadi Party (SP) and not the BSP against whom the BJP will be pitched in a direct fight for power. To a query from Firstpost about why this was the case and why he thought BJP was in the reckoning for power in the state, Shah said SP has a “strong base” and a comparatively good organisational spread, but added that people were “looking up to the BJP” and “have lot of expectations from us because avyavastha (mis-governance, chaos) has percolated down to the bottom”.
When asked if the emphasis on Dalit outreach by Modi, the party and himself was working to the detriment of Mayawati’s BSP and to the benefit of the BJP, Shah said he didn’t look at it that way, "Har vanchit par jyada dhyan dena sarkar aur party ka kartvaya hai (it is duty of the government and the party to take special care of deprived sections)".
For all practical purposes, the BJP will sound its electoral bugle in the most populous Hindi heartland state on Thursday when Modi addresses a public rally in Sharanpur. Although this rally is part of five rallies that he is addressing in Rajasthan, Orissa, Karnataka, Shillong and of course, Uttar Pradesh on his completion of two years in office — or what the BJP likes to call Vikas Parv Pakhwada — the implicit message of holding his rally in Western UP at this stage is lost on no one. Shah will begin his preparatory work in Uttar Pradesh on 1 June, when he will be touring the state. He will be there again on 4 adn 8 June.
The BJP is holding its national executive meeting, to be attended by all the high and mighty on 12 and 13 June in Allahabad. The executive meeting will conclude with a public rally addressed by Modi. Shah underplays it saying, “Don’t link it with the Uttar Pradesh elections, these are the usual government and party programs”.
Shah candidly said he learnt a lot from the Bihar experience (read as debacle). “Maine kaafi manthan kiya hai (I have done a lot of introspection), but I can’t make all that public.” It has all been internalised. To a question on how much Nitish Kumar's plans to tour Uttar Pradesh extensively could damage the BJP’s prospects, pat came his reply: “That will end up benefitting us. Hamaara vote toh jaana nahi hai, jo batna hai woh unke vote mein batna hai (We aren't the ones who will lose votes, it will be their votes that will be split)”.
Interacting with a group of journalists on the occasion of the Modi government's two years in power, he was in an unusual chatty mood. He talked extensively about party, government, poll prospects (present and future), laughed, cracked witty one-liners and even took mild digs at a journalist who insisted that he was in on supposed inside information and suggested that Ajit Singh was joining the BJP.
Shah said the victory in Assam was very satisfying. It was, he said, a “childhood dream” for him to see a BJP government in that state. Many old-timers who had for decades worked or supported the BJP experienced the heartening satisfaction of finally seeing a BJP government there. “Assam was ideologically important for us,” he said. On Monday, chief ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Nagaland met Shah. The formation of a non-Congress Northeast democratic council with the BJP’s new entrant Himanta Biswa Sarma as its convener was announced. To a query about why the BJP was putting so much emphasis on the Northeast, the BJP president said it was “because it is as much part of India as anywhere else. We are focusing on all areas, also expanding our party’s base in regions where our presence has traditionally not been strong.”
For him sweetest of all poll results is Kerala, not because the party has opened its account there, but because the BJP has polled 15 percent of the total votes. “Happiest is the Kerala result. We will form the next government in Kerala." Is he being overly optimistic? No, not at all, he said. For any other party this would be business as usual but not for the BJP. In 1985, BJP held a 12 percent vote-share in Gujarat and in 1990, the BJP formed a government there, he added. The same applies to Haryana. In 2009, the BJP had only nine percent of the votes and in 2014, it got a clear majority on its own with a vote-share in excess of 33 percent. This has also been the case in Assam.
The year 2017 will present a major challenge for the BJP. Elections will be held in seven states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. “I am working hard to ensure that BJP wins in all the seven states”, he said.
Does he think Congress-mukt Bharat is politically a good thing for the BJP because it faces tougher challenge from regional parties as against smooth sailing against the Congress? Shah said, “Congress-mukt Bharat as a concept has been misinterpreted. Of course we want to defeat and remove Congress from all the places it rules, but by using this term we don't mean the Congress party per se, but the system of mis-governance and corruption that the Congress symbolises. We have to uproot the kuvyastha (malpractices) and free India from these things for a better tomorrow."
While the BJP is celebrating all over India, Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel has reason to worry. Shah did not rule out her removal ahead of the Gujarat polls, which are scheduled to be held in the second half of 2017. This writer had earlier written that Anandiben would be given a dignified exit, she would leave the chief ministerial position saying that she was quitting because she had turned 75 and would thus pave way for a new leader to lead the party in the 2017 polls. She in turn would be honourably given some constitutional post. “No decision has been taken yet,” was Shah's cryptic reply. But he was assertive in saying that the “BJP will win the next elections in Gujarat with a two-thirds majority”.
The stress on BJP was meaningful.
He indicated that a Cabinet reshuffle was on the cards but gave no clue as to when it could happen. Was he withholding re-structuring within the party for that? “Don’t link restructuring in the party with the Cabinet reshuffle. They are two different things. Anyone can go from here to there and come here from there. I can send anyone from party to government and accept anyone from government to party position. It all depends on requirement and circumstances," he added.
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