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Cover Story: General Election 2019

Amit Shah: ‘Nationalism should be the main issue in every election’

PR Ramesh is Managing Editor of Open
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Between flights to multiple states, rallies, roadshows and relentless phone calls, Amit Shah tells PR Ramesh why the BJP will return to power in Delhi


 

 

 

The BJP describes 2014 as a watershed year in India’s politics and governance. What about the Narendra Modi Government effected a shift from the past in both policies and governance?

In the years preceding the Modi Government, India was on the downslide on every front, be it economy, industrial growth, exports, FDI and investments, social and physical infrastructure, welfare, foreign policy, the neighborhood, internal security and Pakistan. Every issue was botched up, bringing India down to her knees and the Government in perpetual paralysis. Pakistan mocked us at every international forum despite India facing repeated terrorist attacks from their non-state actors. The Government’s response was, at best, ineffectual. There were bloody attacks on our country such as in Mumbai. Scores of civilians were killed by Pakistan-controlled forces. But things have changed now. Over the last five years, there has been a paradigm shift in every sphere. The world today acknowledges that Islamabad is a sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism. Every key nation has mounted intense pressure on them to stop exporting terror and Pakistan stands isolated. I consider this a significant achievement of Prime Minister Modi.

That is on the external front. At home, the UPA accuses the BJP of pursuing divisive politics.

There is no evidence to prove this charge. Are policies of the Government directed at benefiting just one section of the society? Certainly not. But what was happening in the 10 years preceding the Modi Government? Look at how they treated even terror crimes. The Congress manufactured ‘Hindu terror’ for vote-bank politics. A Hindu cannot be a terrorist. A Hindu is one who feeds even the ants that bite them. The Panchkula court judgment in the Samjhauta blast case exposed them. The prosecution did not have any evidence and concocted a chargesheet under pressure from Congress leaders. Seven people were caught after the blast and our own probe agencies said it was a handiwork of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Why were those seven set free? Swami Aseemanand was framed by the prosecution. It was a criminal attempt to tar Hindus with the terror brush. And it completely collapsed in the courts.

The Congress claimed that ‘Hindu terror’ was as much a threat to the nation’s security as ‘Islamic terror’.

The people of this country know that the Congress president, who gives a clean chit to the Lashkar and accuses Hindus of indulging in terrorism, cannot be trusted with our nation’s security. The Congress president should tender an unconditional apology to the nation for the appeasement and vote-bank politics that his organisation practices.

What is the key issue for the BJP in this election. Is nationalism the core of your campaign?

Elections should be fought on issues concerning nationalism. It should be the main issue in every election.

The opposition says making nationalism the principal issue is aimed at obliterating every other issue.

We are also seeking a mandate on our track record. On the promises that we met and the efforts that are being made to make the country’s economy robust and its democracy vibrant. Contrast our five years with that of the Congress’ 10 years. The last election was fought on the UPA’s corruption and consequent policy paralysis. The Government had feeble leadership and decisions were allowed to be taken by outside people without accountability. And the voter rejected the then Government and the Congress got an all-time low tally.

The voter will make decisions based on the track record of parties, above all, based on who is best suited to run this country. I can see a Modi wave sweeping across large tracts of this country, says Amit Shah

How has the situation changed now?

The situation is completely different now. There is a transformational Government that has changed the lives of crores of people. People have benefited from forward-looking policies. The youth of this country realise that we have leadership in Modi, that [he] will strive hard to support their aspirations and ambitions. People in this country have experienced Modi’s leadership making a sharp departure from the way governance happened in this country. And that will ensure a big mandate for the BJP in this election.

How do you think this change in governance will play to the BJP’s advantage?

In the past, there were caste chieftains who controlled the votes of their community. Today, the voter makes his or her independent decisions. The leadership of regional and caste-mired parties like the SP and BSP can no longer make deals in Lucknow’s air- conditioned drawing rooms on behalf of Uttar Pradesh’s voters. The voter will make decisions based on the track record of the parties, above all, based on who is best suited to run this country. I can see a Modi wave sweeping across large tracts of this country and this will ensure a better performance for my party than in the last election.

The Congress, under the command of Rahul Gandhi, is trying to chart a script to revive itself. And his supporters maintain that he has the wherewithal to challenge the BJP.

Some people have made daydreaming their favourite sport. Rahul Gandhi knows that even Amethi, once known as the Gandhi family’s pocket borough, is no longer a safe constituency. He has been taking his constituents for granted all these years. Rahul Gandhi and his family are responsible for the backwardness of the constituency. People there are no longer willing to back him and the writing on the wall is clear. The decision to select Wayanad in Kerala as a second seat to contest from only confirms it. The Congress lays heavy premium on minority vote- bank politics and that’s why Wayanad is seen as a safe seat for Rahul Gandhi.

The other state key to your electoral calculations is West Bengal.

True. The Bengali voter is looking to the BJP to drastically change the way things are being run in the state. I am confident the BJP will emerge as a dominant force in the state, winning at least 23 Lok Sabha seats. There are three important issues being debated in the current elections in West Bengal. The poor of the state want a drastic improvement in their lives. They expect it as a right now. They have been denied even basic livelihood opportunities for decades. Second, the average citizen is angered by the Mamata Banerjee government’s minority appeasement policies. There are restrictions on the movement of Hindu devotees during Durga Puja, the government brazenly interferes with their customs and beliefs. A Bengali teacher is now unwanted in the state and what the government promotes is Urdu. Every Bengali citizen is angry over state-sponsored trampling on their culture. They are no longer willing to suffer this humiliation. And third, the government has also been soft on infiltration from neighbouring countries, thus worsening law and order.

We always try to build a consensus on issues within our alliance. What really matters is the path dissenters pursue in the election. Except the PDP, every other ally stands solidly with us, says Amit Shah

The BJP recently faced setbacks in three northern states where you had won almost all Lok Sabha seats. Are you worried of a shortfall in the General Election?

In the first place, my party will repeat its 2014 performance. We were not able to form governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh but are comfortably placed in the Lok Sabha election in all three nonetheless. Already, there is widespread disgruntlement against the new state governments. Recent seizure of large amounts of cash in Madhya Pradesh shows that the Congress has converted the state government into a cash-mobilisation machine. The election will be fought on Modi’s leadership and the people will respond to his appeal.

The opposition has been popularising a narrative that the BJP may emerge the largest party but will fall well short of a majority.

We will return with an emphatic mandate. There is a groundswell of support for the Prime Minister and BJP. And we are going to make inroads into areas that have so far remained alien to us. We had won only eight of the Northeast’s 25 seats. This time, our tally will go up to 20 there. West Bengal and Odisha together account for 63 seats and we won just three in the last election. The BJP’s performance in the two states will make pundits and adversaries run for cover. And our alliance in Tamil Nadu is going to keep the BJP in good stead. We will also make impressive gains in Kerala, which had remained out of our reach.

In the past, we have seen some allies taking positions on key issues that are at variance with your party.

Every party has the right to air their views. We always try to build a consensus on issues within our alliance. What really matters is the path dissenters pursue in the election. Aside from the PDP [BJP did not have alliance with the PDP in the last election] every other ally stands solidly with us. In fact, we have expanded our alliance to include JD(U) in Bihar. The Rajbhar party in UP, AIADMK, PMK and DMDK in Tamil Nadu. In the Northeast, we have a larger alliance. Today, we are the biggest alliance and the fear of Modi is prompting opposition parties to come together. But the opposition has failed to forge a front against the NDA.

Some people have made daydreaming their favourite sport. Rahul Gandhi knows that even Amethi, once known as the Gandhi family’s pocket borough, is no longer a safe constituency, says Amit Shah

The BJP maintains there are no corruption charges against the Government. But the opposition, particularly Rahul Gandhi, has been highlighting the Rafale contract, alleging the decision was aimed at favouring a business house.

The allegations have no legs to stand on. Rahul Gandhi thinks that lies, if repeated at regular intervals, will stick. But truth will always prevail. The Supreme Court verdict and the CAG report have shown that the Modi Government got a better contract for the country than what the UPA was negotiating.

A strong Jammu and Kashmir policy is a keystone of the BJP’s ideological position on homeland security. You have said that both Articles 370 and 35A will be abrogated by 2020. The opposition says this will create a dangerous situation where the state’s accession will be questioned and its relationship with India gravely endangered.

From the days of the Jan Sangh, we have been clear that the country cannot have two Constitutions and two prime ministers. Our leaders have laid down their lives for the cause of this nation’s integrity. Our stand on the issue is unalterable.

Have Rahul Gandhi and his party wrested the welfare narrative with NYAY or the minimum-income guarantee to the poor?

The Congress has been promising to eradicate poverty for the past 70 years. It has been fighting elections on this slogan since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru with little or no result. In contrast, under the Modi Government, several schemes have been launched for the welfare of the poor. The Government opened 350 million Jan Dhan accounts to ensure seamless transfer of funds—Rs 92,000 crore have already been transferred into these accounts; 250,000 houses have been built in the past five years; 60 million women have been given free gas connections; Modicare offers Rs 5 lakh to 100 million people. These are a few examples. In contrast, if Rahul Gandhi promises to give one kg gold converted from potatoes at his factory, it will only invite ridicule. The Congress has no credibility and the voter is not willing to trust the party or its leaders.

The middle class was a key backer of the Modi electoral project in 2014. There is talk of restiveness among them over the competitive welfarism between the BJP and the Congress. Are you confident of their continued backing?

There is an attempt to build this argument that the middle class is irate and no longer with us. Wrong. This Government has protected the interests of the middle class better than previous regimes. Who gets the benefit of inflation falling by four per cent and tax relief of up to Rs 6.5 lakh? Who will be using these new highways and airports? Increase in seats in educational institutions, more IITs and AIIMSes also benefit the middle class. Every section of society benefits from the work done for the people.

There are also charges of data on key social indices being suppressed and altered to suit the Government’s growth story, including unemployment figures.

The problem is with both the data and the lies being purveyed by our adversaries. Mudra Yojana has disbursed Rs 6.4 lakh crore to 163.6 million people, 15 million houses have been built, 80 million toilets, 100,000 villages have been covered through optical fibres, 18,000 villages have been electrified in the past five years. E-commerce and car-rental services have flourished in recent years. Do you mean to say that all of these don’t create jobs? The opposition is desperately trying to spin a tall tale of joblessness.

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