BJP president Amit Shah takes the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election as seriously as the 2014 Lok Sabha election. UP is his obsession — he began scripting his poll strategy in June 2016 when he travelled across the state and met hundreds of aspirants. Over the last 12 months, not a single day has gone by when he hasn’t worked on his “UP file.” He believes the BJP is set for a clear majority — even if not many in his party agree. Excerpts from an interview to The Indian Express on the campaign trail:
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Are you hoping to repeat in 2017 the social engineering you created in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 Lok Sabha elections? Are you trying to consolidate it?
That consolidation process is over. We have done it through the Modi government’s projects for poor, women, exploited and backward classes. Demonetisation consolidated it even more. This election in UP will certify it.
In Gujarat, Narendra Modi was a Hindu poster-boy; then he became hero of the Gujarati middle class. Now Modi talks about the poor when the Opposition attacks him on demonetisation. Modi uses the language of Indira Gandhi when she said “Main kehti hoon garibi hatao, woh kehte hain Indira hatao.”
Indira Gandhi gave the slogan but didn’t remove poverty. We work on the ground with passion and we will. Living in Delhi, you can’t imagine what a poor woman goes through without a toilet in her house, what is life like without power or without cooking gas or what difference it makes to the family without any bank account. The Modi government has taken steps in these four sectors and shown concrete results. First time after independence, Modi government has gone to villages (under Ujjwala scheme) to distribute LPG to 2 crore BPL card holders.
If they have jobs, people will buy gas and get toilets. Where are the jobs?
Why do you assume the BJP government, under Modi’s leadership is just for five years? The BJP government has got a long tenure. People want the Modi government for a long time to come. They want the leadership of Modi. And my question to you is: until jobs are generated, should we not build toilets, provide cooking gas?
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Toilets and gas cylinders are obvious needs.
Why don’t you ask someone why until today these things are not provided? Do you agree or not that providing toilets, power and gas is a good thing?
But it’s not enough.
If it is not a big achievement then why couldn’t any government deliver on this in the last 70 years? Kar nahi payi kyonki na niti thi, na neeyat thi. We have policy and intention, both. No economy in the world can give jobs to 50 crore people. Where will these forces work? Who will be their employers? We have opened up the new horizon of self-employment for 4 crore people. For a country with a population of 120 crore, self-employment is the best option. It is impossible to have 120 crore jobs.
When Modi and someone like you shifted to Delhi, the expectation was that businesses will have a smoother run. To many, it’s difficult to accept that when Modi is in Delhi, country’s growth rate hasn’t touched even 7.5%.
We will win UP and make UP grow above 10% and country will, also, get higher growth rate due to UP. This is why it’s very important to win UP. Once we win UP, after March, you will see change in India’s growth rate.
How will UP impact the Central government?
In UP, once a non-corrupt government is formed, we will see that the government works tirelessly to remove poverty in UP and that would help India only. Our victory in UP will be a great boon to Indian growth.
That also means if you lose UP election, it will have an impact, too.
I don’t think at all that we will lose in UP. And how can it get worse than what it is now? We are not in power in the state today.
In UP, since last June, you are spreading Shatranj (chess board)
It’s not fine to use phrase, spreading shatranj. I was working hard to strengthen my organisation in UP.
What is this strategy that has ended up pitting a Prime Minister against a Chief Minister?
Door, door tak (far and wide)…it’s not PM versus CM. You may find it so because you have seen a PM for 10 years whose rallies people didn’t throng to. That’s why you are unable to digest a PM who is helping in, campaigning in state election. This country has seen many PMs. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Atalji. They took their party amongst people. Election is festival of democracy. It is responsibility of PM to talk to people. And why not? He is our party’s supreme leader. (sarvochch neta)
But the PM’s office carries certain dignity. He has national security, diplomacy and defence to look at. Here PM goes to Barabanki and Lakhimpur Kheri to criticise a Chief Minister.
Those national areas are being handled fine. Look, any Prime Minister who works for 7-8 hours, he can’t do this. The Prime Minister who works for 21 hours daily — he can manage, both very well. PM Modi is balancing both. It is his duty to see that UP gets good governance and faster development.
So it means the Prime Minister will always remain in campaign mode?
It is the PM’s prime duty to keep going back to people and be with them. With the help of one party, he becomes a PM. Government is of one party. And PM is the topmost leader of that party. That’s why he should campaign if and when needed.
Last year, in an event at Ashoka hotel, you told the media that BJP’s competition in UP is with Samajwadi Party. Last week in Lucknow, you are talking of a fight with BSP in first few phases. This has created confusion in your cadre.
There is no confusion. Rajniti prawahi hoti hai. (Politics is a dynamic process). The day SP gave away its 103 seats to Congress, it got weak. The Congress doesn’t have cadre in those seats. SP workers are not accepting or working for Congress candidates. So the ground situation has changed. By the way, even last year, I said that all over we have fight with SP but in western UP, we are in fight with BSP.
Who is your closest competition now?
Now, SP has caved in so we are much ahead of both of them. Their fight is for second and third position.
So BSP is your closest competitor?
Difficult to assess but in first and second phases we were fighting BSP.
You won big in 2014 which must have taken care of many insecurities. Your party gave a slogan like sab ka saath, sab ka vikas. But still not one ticket to a Muslim leader. Why?
We don’t see voters as Hindus and Muslims. I don’t believe in dividing people into categories.
But you said all castes and communities should be well-represented in the power set-up. There is no Muslim representative in Lok Sabha from UP.
It is people who elect our representatives. The SP-Congress alliance and the BSP have given a disproportionate number of tickets to Muslims. When you talk of polarization, should you not be asking them why they have given disproportionate representation to a community?
We saw in many rallies that on the issue of slaughter-houses, BJP is getting a huge response. Doesn’t a popular issue come with its cost? Of the 1623 registered slaughter-houses, many are registered in Maharashtra. You know that the employment-oriented leather industry is inter-connected with animal hide. What kind of an economic loss will shutting down slaughter-houses create?
Not true. There won’t be any economic loss. By saving animals, we will produce more milk and dairy products. Animals do die in the natural process. Then, their hide is useful. Why are you not thinking of the situation in drought? In the Ganga and Yamuna river beds, if farmers have two animals, he can survive difficult days. They won’t die of hunger if animals are at home. In UP, lots of misery is due to the fact that milk-producing animals have been slaughtered mercilessly.
This promise in manifesto, is it economic wisdom or religious sentiment?
What is religious about it? The owners of mechanical slaughter houses are forcibly taking animals to keep running their factories. They steal animals. This is purely economic issue linked to farmers.
You are 51 years old. You got success quite early in life. But your approach to politics is usually very conservative. A relatively young president of the party releases a manifesto which talks about an “anti-Romeo squad.”
I have a request for you. Please go to Meerut. Stay there for one year in Meerut Cant area. After a year, I will see how modern you have remained. Parents in many UP cities keep flats on rent in Delhi at un-affordable cost and suffer so much. This is real law-and-order problem. Don’t see it otherwise. What did SP government do? Why no such squad was formed to curb the menace? Security is responsibility of government. You can’t give a free hand to protect a particular vote bank. This can’t go on.
Do you mean Muslim vote bank?
It’s not Hindu-Muslim issue. Anti-Romeo squad is for those who trouble young girls. Whoever they may be.
Once again, you are fighting elections trying to use Modi’s image.
It’s not like that. The election is fought on many issues. But Modi is our topmost leader. The BJP is gaining in a big way from his work, from the BJP government and from people’s strong feelings for Modi.
This time, after tickets were distributed, the mood within the party changed. Many people were dissatisfied.
When they see the party is winning, there will be more heartburn over not getting tickets. There was resentment for two to three days because on each seats there were 35 to 70 applicants and only one was given ticket. But now chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai, our cadres and leaders have plunged into the campaign.
Your audio talking to Jat community leaders went viral. You sounded low. Have Jats deserted BJP?
Wait for the result. As for my tone, let me explain. When I am asking for votes, I can’t talk like a bully. Being president of the political party, I beg for votes from anybody and everybody and you have to request softly. I was talking of incorrect propaganda against BJP because Haryana’s Jat agitation is represented wrongly among Jats of Western UP.
When you fly across UP, what issue dominates your mind?
UP is full of infinite possibilities. Sheelaji, I come from the state where water level has gone down 1200 feet. Here you get water if you dig 50 feet. Here I see with wonder hundreds of kilometres of fertile land. I believe, in this world, UP’s youth is the brightest lot. We had BIMARU states. Now, only U of BIMARU is lagging behind. If BJP gets UP, we will show 10% actual growth in first five years. That’s our promise.
Some people have observed that in Bihar you talked about “firecrackers in Pakistan” and all that. But this time your speeches are more restrained. The charge is that BJP is going for covert Hindutva.
I don’t do politics covertly. I do it with guts. (danke ki chot per karta hun.) My party doesn’t have any policy that needs to be kept secret. From 1950 to 2016, we have same policy and same direction.
In Western UP you raised certain issues that led to polarisation.
We never did it. If, we speak about law and order issue you are making it communal.
You are talking of riots.
In UP, 500 riots happened in the last five years and should we not utter a word? The riots are strictly law and order issue. It’s not a communal issue.
If you are worried about law and order and talk of Muzaffarnagar riots, in the same breath, you need to talk with sensitivity about those displaced Muslims who are living a life of misery in relief camps.
See, this is my point. I haven’t talked about, even, Hindus. I am not talking about Hindus and Muslims. I am talking about rioters. In no speech, I have uttered the word Hindu or Muslims. I talk of Dangai (rioters). I say that we should have a government that can stop riots.
In UP, you had a suitable CM candidate in Rajnath Singh. He is second-most powerful man in the government. If he is fit to be Home Minister, surely he can be a good CM candidate. He is a former CM, too.
This is privilege of party’s parliamentary board. Journalists should give space to us.
Is he unwilling or the party doesn’t want him?
Don’t get into this issue. As soon as we win UP, our legislative board and parliamentary party will jointly select a BJP CM.
Demonetisation has created havoc in the society. The queues outside the ATMs have made you unpopular.
Wait a minute, please. I didn’t know you will be here, right? (Jagdishpur, near Amethi) Let me take out our latest confidential survey done for Phase 3. Yesterday, we asked voters how do they perceive Narendra Modi’s important work. We asked them to prioritise. In this survey, 26% people said demonetization is a big achievement and 31% appreciated Ujjwala gas project. In every survey, we get support for Notebandi. Aap log hawa main hai. On TV you see footage outside banks and pass judgment. We work on the ground. In the first phase, 32% gave us thumbs up for notebandi. I want Opposition parties to make demonetisation election issue.
Some poor people are day-dreaming that they will get some reward by supporting notebandi. The poor are distressed.
Nobody can fool the poor of India. He knows well what’s good for him. There is no end to this discussion. When results will come, you will know that UP people have supported notebandi.
In New Delhi, there is debate about the expanding power of BJP. Just in case BJP wins UP, then too much power can make any government arrogant. Look at what’s happening in Mumbai. Your treatment of Shiv Sena is a case study.
We have fought election separately four times before. We have different assessments of our respective strengths. That’s the fundamental issue. We are not arrogant and don’t want to be. We (Sena and BJP) are together in the government and we will remain together. Thackeray is criticizing us because it’s election time. BJP leaders are also talking against Sena.
In Una, Dalit atrocities happened; before that, the Rohith Vemula case hit the BJP’s image because you were questioning his caste. Will these not impact UP?
After UP results, come and count votes for the BJP in booths of Dalit areas.
Even during the Modi wave in 2014, the BSP got 19% of votes.
2014 se is baar hamari laher bahut badi hai. (This time, the wave in favour of BJP is stronger than it was in 2014).