In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Assistant Editor Ravish Tiwari, BJP UP in-charge Amit Shah talks about his winning strategy in Uttar Pradesh, the party’s run-ins with the EC, the CBI cases against him, and why Narendra Modi won.
AMIT SHAH: I have seen several elections. The difference this time is that this election is being fought on an agenda — can a welfare state be created in a multi-party democracy?
RAVISH TIWARI: How did the BJP go about changing its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh?
In UP, there were many challenges for the BJP. First of all, we haven’t been in power for a long time. In the 2009 election, our tally was around 10, and we were roundly beaten in the Assembly. UP’s election preparation started against this background. But the main aim was to raise our agenda above caste. This was a big challenge for us — stopping the local party or caste issue and making the Narendrabhai wave and BJP wave manifest was our biggest challenge. First, we divided UP into 21 clusters, according to their geography and political history.
Then we made strategies for every cluster. After that, to convert that into votes and the votes into seats, we made booth committees at 76 per cent of the booths. Then we strengthened the tehsil and zilla units. When Narendrabhai was announced the PM candidate, UP was divided into eight zones, a command area was chosen and we rallied our men and resources in these areas. Every polling booth would have one Bolero that could carry 10 people. We were able to cover around 70 per cent of the booths like this. So connecting Narendrabhai to every booth was a successful exercise. Then, our videos comparing the progress in UP to that of other states were sent to every village in UP.
SUNIL JAIN: Would you say caste is no longer an issue on which elections are going to be fought, but development?
I don’t think the issue of caste will disappear from politics altogether. But we have been successful in showing that elections can be fought on an agenda. Many times, one can get distracted during elections, allegations can be thrown around but, by and large, these elections have been focused on the agenda of development.
ARCHNA SHUKLA: You put up one of the biggest marketing campaigns the country has seen. Was this because you had some apprehension about your chances?
As far as I am concerned, even if we can win a seat by 1.5 lakh votes, I am ready to slug it out for every vote. Elections should be fought like this.
SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE: You said the BJP divided UP into areas, and addressed specific issues there. Did you face particular problems in Muzaffarnagar, given the riots there?
My party had nothing to do with the violence. As far as Muzaffarnagar is concerned, we were at the receiving end. It was publicised by the media and by the Opposition that we had a role in it, but the government wasn’t ours.
COOMI KAPOOR: Your detractors say you did two things in UP: created polarisation in western UP and, in the east, played the caste card.
As far as Narendrabhai’s OBC caste is concerned, we did not raise the issue. It was Priyanka (Gandhi) who first made it an issue. And no one would say that we should not have responded to that. If anyone has to be blamed, it should be the one who started those allegations. And I want to ask all of you — if the statement given by Priyanka was instead given by me, what would have happened?
MANEESH CHHIBBER: We haven’t seen the so-called ‘first family’ getting attacked as much as this time round. Was it a well-thought-out plan to make it appear like a BJP versus the ‘first family’ contest?
Tell me if there was ever an attack on the family by our leaders, senior or junior, without an issue. No attack was made without an issue.
PRANAB DHAL SAMANTA: What ultimately changed the BJP position in UP?
A big win doesn’t happen just like that, it’s a culmination of many factors — the belief people have in Narendra Modi’s leadership, the BJP’s continuous opposition to UPA I and II, and the strong anti-incumbency towards both the state and Central governments. People saw an answer in Modi. They also saw how the BSP and SP helped the UPA. So, naturally, the benefit of anti-incumbency against the UPA and the environment of change didn’t go to the BSP, and definitely not to the Congress.
COOMI KAPOOR: Do you think it worked to the BJP’s advantage that the party put an outsider in charge of the campaign for UP? What was the reason?
First, the BJP always makes someone from outside a state as its in-charge. Secondly, you are right, I didn’t know UP and that is why I wasn’t biased. It could have worked as an advantage.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: You seem very excited about Amethi. But in Rae Bareli, it seemed that the BJP was fighting with a defeated mentality. Your party workers were not happy with the ticket selection either. Was there some sort of pressure there?
If there was any pressure, it would have been in Amethi and less in Rae Bareli. Because the Congress’s future is in Amethi. So this talk about pressure is not right, but sometimes equations are established in seats.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You are accused in CBI cases, such as the fake encounters of Sohrabuddin Sheikh — his wife was raped (as per a witness) and burnt — and Tulsiram Prajapati. Is this your idea of a welfare state?
There was no allegation about rape. As far as the encounters are concerned, my party’s and my stand is clear. These are just allegations. The charges have not even been framed yet. Only a police report is there. When the court decides on it, then we’ll talk. There is no truth in this case. When I got my bail, the Gujarat High Court also said that there is no prima facie evidence against Amit Shah. On this basis, I was granted bail. The Supreme Court later confirmed it. So far, this has been the judicial version. I’m not talking about the CBI because the agency has mounted an absolutely false case against me.
During the period of the BJP government in Gujarat, there were 1,500 encounters across the country. Out of those, 17 took place in Gujarat. All 17 are being probed. In the other cases across across the country, only one is being probed. And all were acquitted. Is it right to target one state by using a sensitive issue like an encounter for political vendetta? This is something that has to be corrected in a welfare state.
I’ll tell you what is my definition of a welfare state. Every village gets electricity 24/7; every village is connected by roads; the dropout ratio is brought down; the water level is brought up by 22 feet in every village; not letting the agricultural growth fall below 10 per cent; as far as GDP is concerned, maintaining it above 10 per cent; special schemes in tribal and coastal areas to enable development. Tribals not getting their budgetary approval according to their population ratio is unfair. In Gujarat, there have been provisions for five years to allot budget according to the population. These are all the works of a welfare state.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: The Gujarat encounters are important because in each encounter, those who were killed were accused of plotting to kill Modi. Secondly, when the home minister of a state is made an accused, it is a big thing.
Who has made him an accused? It is not the state. The CBI is working at the behest of our rival party. Let me explain. In the Ishrat Jahan encounter, the central IB (Intelligence Bureau) had played a role. If phones of the state home minister and the police officer are being probed, then why wasn’t there a probe into the phone conversations between the central IB officer and the country’s Home Minister? The central IB comes under UPA, do you think they will listen to me? I suggest you look deep into the matter and see the political conspiracy as well.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You called Azamgarh the base of terrorists. What was the basis of that statement?
I did not call it the base of terrorists. Within a few months of coming to power in UP, the SP government launched an exercise to drop charges against 40 terrorists in 20 cases without any judicial probe. This encouraged the terrorists. If any terrorist attack takes place in any part of the country, some links can be traced to Azamgarh. This is a factual position.
Manu pubby: What do you think is the biggest threat to our security? Is it Pakistan and its State-sponsored terrorism, or is it China?
The biggest threat, according to me, is the government and its policies which are careless about security. If the government’s policies and priorities were right, there would be no threat to our security… Policies make all the difference.
Shobhana Subramanian: Will your party allow FDI in multi-brand retail?
Our party has made its position clear that we are against foreign investment in multi-brand retail. My party acts according to its manifesto. It’s all very clear and there is no confusion.
KAUNAIN SHERIFF*: Is something like the National Advisory Council required?
I believe that fewer the extra-constitutional authorities, the better.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Will you elaborate on your role in Snoopgate? The UPA II government wanted to set up an inquiry commission on the allegations. If your party comes to power, will you set up a probe?
There is already a commission probing Snoopgate. The Gujarat government has selected a retired judge and he is probing it. If I have to say anything, it will be in front of the inquiry commission, because the law restricts me to say anything before that.
RAVISH TIWARI: When you were giving the definition of a welfare state, you said that depending on the population of tribals, funds should be allotted. Do you agree with the definition that the SP also follows in UP, that Muslims should be allocated resources depending on their population? Secondly, do you see any virtue in a Minority Affairs Ministry?
What I spoke about with regard to the tribal community, there is a constitutional provision for that, and we have worked according to that. Another constitutional provision has been made for backward communities, wherein those minority groups that fall in the backward category get the advantages provided to them. It’s their right. And if a provision is made for the poor, they have full right over it as well. But we are not in favour of making provisions based on religion.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: You said you were not in favour of extra-constitutional authorities. However, in the NDA government between 1999 and 2004, the role of the RSS was seen in a similar light. This time, the Sangh has worked really hard for you.
Ever since the Jana Sangh was established, there has been talk about the role of the Sangh. But the personal decisions regarding the party and its work are taken by BJP members themselves.
@Sithanthi**: Does a clean chit mean one’s accountability is over?
There is no question of accountability being over. But we have to accept some process. According to the Constitution, there are laws to determine whether someone is guilty or not. If those laws claim someone is not guilty, there is no question of accountability then. We have to follow some law. We can have a law that states that all journalists of The Indian Express can hold someone guilty or not, we can have that process too. But we have to accept a process.
@parthtrivedi183**: What is the possibility of you becoming the chief minister of Gujarat?
Thanks to the people who conspired against me, I am part of the national politics of the BJP.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You said that the BJP didn’t have any role in the Muzaffarnagar riots. But you felicitated leaders against whom FIRs were lodged over the riots. Later, you exhorted people to ‘take revenge’ at a meeting there.
Our party leaders who were named surrendered on day one. On day two, the court let them go because there was no proof against them. Only our three leaders out of all the accused had NSA (National Security Act) thrust on them. Under the NSA, there is no bail (for six months). It was a vindictive political move. At 11 am, they were sent to court, by 11.15, they were let off for lack of proof. When they got bail at 1 pm, they were booked under the NSA. After 40 days, when the NSA trial happened, they were let off again. It was because of this that we felicitated them with garlands. You should ask this question of the other parties. Why is it that workers of only one party faced the NSA? They won’t have any answers.
As far as my statement is concerned, you haven’t read the full text of what I said. The Indian Express had done a lead story on this, but if you had published the full text of what I said, I would have been satisfied that Ramnath Goenka’s spirit is still here. My full text was, ‘UP is backward and if you want to change that, vote for the BJP’. ‘If you want to take revenge for the fact that the state of affairs in UP is not right, vote for the BJP’. ‘If you want to change the condition of women in UP, and change the fact that there are so many crimes, vote for the BJP’. Revenge wasn’t to be taken with swords or knives. ‘Press the lotus button for change,’ I said. If you think this is a communal statement, I have nothing further to add.
RAVISH TIWARI: Modi has said repeatedly that he doesn’t believe in appeasement like wearing a skull cap. What do you call donning a Sikh turban?
The clothes that I am wearing (kurta-pyjama), they could be considered an influence of the Mughals. I have no issues wearing this. In fact, all politicians wear it. If someone wants us to wear something with a political purpose, we are against that.
RAGHVENDRA RAO: Modi called the Election Commission partisan and biased. It was the first time that someone so senior from a national party raised fingers at the EC’s credibility. Even your campaign had been stopped by them, but you got permission eventually. Does the BJP still think that the conduct of the EC in this election was not fair?
As far as I’m concerned, I had given a speech and, in my view, I said nothing wrong. But during the campaign, the speeches that were given, whenever the EC had an issue with that, we accepted it. I tweeted about this as well, that I may have bowled a ‘no-ball’. As far as Modiji is concerned, not giving a candidate permission to campaign in his constituency was unfair. But I don’t want to point any fingers at the EC.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: You said whatever the CBI has done against you is wrong. When the BJP comes to power, will you revisit those cases?
The UPA government was wrong, not the CBI. And these cases have been taken to court already; there is no need to revisit them. Since Emergency, the UPA has worked with a mindset of revenge. You cannot makes those claims about the NDA. It isn’t in our nature to make cases against the Congress.
SHALINI LANGER: What is your opinion of Arvind Kejriwal? Do you think he gave a good fight to Modi?
One thing is certain, they are losing in this election. So my opinion doesn’t matter. The public will decide about them.
DILIP BOBB: After all the campaigns and the exchanges, what is going to be your relationship with the Congress?
In the history of Indian politics, the Congress has got the lowest number of seats this time. As far as their future is concerned, that depends on Rahul Gandhi.
PRAWESH LAMA: Will your government bring back Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed?
All I can say is that the BJP has zero tolerance towards terrorism and any breach of security.
This Idea Exchange was held before the results were declared.
Transcribed by Pallavi Pundir and Swetha Ramakrishnan *EXIMS student **
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