BJP president Amit Shah tells The Sunday Express that the public is not bothered about what the media writes and that the BJP will win 150 seats in Gujarat.
What is the difference between the 2012 and 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections?
There is a huge difference. In 2012, Gujarat had a BJP government that was trying development in the face of a central government that was staunchly opposed to it (ghor virodh). In 2017, Gujarat and the Centre both have BJP governments. Now, the BJP government in Gujarat is pursuing development with all possible support from the central government. That has made a big difference. In 2012, Narendra Modi was the chief minister; in 2017 he is the prime minister, and pays attention to what is happening here. That is a huge positive difference in the politics of Gujarat. It is after a long time that the BJP is in power at both places. This has benefitted Gujarat.
But don’t you think 22 years of incumbency poses a different challenge when Narendra Modi himself is not here?
I think the word anti-incumbency has been defined negatively. If there is anti-incumbency, there are also votes from good work. Anti-incumbency hits only those who don’t work on the ground. We have brought many changes in the last 22 years. For example, we now have 24 hours power. The height of the Narmada dam has been raised, and Narmada water has reached many villages. The Sujlam-Suflam and Sauni schemes have raised groundwater tables by 22 feet. The dark zone has practically disappeared. The (school) dropout rate that used to be 38% now stands at 3%. Enrolment rate has jumped from 62% to 99%. There have been huge changes, with beneficiaries across the state. Even from central government schemes. About 27 lakh people have got loans under the MUDRA scheme. Gas cylinders have been distributed. Some 3,000-4,000 women have got gas cylinders in each Assembly segment. This brings a positive energy among the public. We feel it when we go canvassing.
What do you think of the Patidar issue and the role of Hardik Patel?
This agitation has definitely succeeded in creating an illusion. But as the discussion on reservation progressed and finally the formula that emerged — a formula that is constitutionally impossible — there is a sea change among the Patidar community. I believe that it has become clear in the elections that the Congress’s promise is not possible on the issue of reservations. It has become clear to most of them.
And what is your assessment of Hardik?
I do not want to comment on this.
You reeled off statistics on progress, but the election discourse seems to have shifted to Jain-janeu.
This is the discussion in the media, not among the public.
But even your leaders highlight how Rahul Gandhi declared himself a non-Hindu at the Somnath temple.
Our leaders haven’t spoken much on this. It’s only when they (the Congress) levelled allegations against the BJP, that we sought to set the record straight. The BJP has no role in this. (Congress spokesman) Randeep Surjewala levelled allegations against the BJP. All we asked is, who is the man who wrote that? Whether that person belongs to your party or not, you should clarify.
What is your faith? Jain or Hindu?
I am a born Hindu. Vaishnav.
From the Gujarat development model to this….?
This is in your (media’s) mind. The public is not bothered about this. For you, these make headlines. You must print this.
But it is running on your social media handles… the temple register thing.
Show me. People (not associated with the BJP) posting is different. People can post anything. That we can’t stop.
Why is this tone developing in the last couple of days that we should not let Modi be embarrassed (sar nahin jhukna chahiye)? Yesterday, Rajnath Singh said something similar.
It may have been said by some. Every person has a different way of communicating. But the people of Gujarat are standing rock solid behind Narendra Modi. I have toured every district as part of organisational meetings. I have visited 16 districts for public meetings so far. I didn’t see any confusion anywhere. We are going to win by a huge margin.
We saw you putting in extra work in UP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the party organisation needed revival, and work was still needed during the 2017 UP Assembly elections as the recast organisation was new. But why do Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have to put in so much hard work in Gujarat?
You have a different way of seeing this. In a democracy, BJP leaders and workers treat elections as a celebration and an opportunity to propagate our ideology and the work of our government before the public, as also a way to get to know their concerns and difficulties. This exchange between the public and party and its elected representatives, the CM and the PM, is essential. This is the lifeblood of democracy. Presenting this mass outreach as a reflection of fear is wrong. This is the practice of the BJP. The media keeps highlighting how many ministers have been deployed, etc. This doesn’t bother us. When say, Dharmendra Pradhan or Ravi Shankar Prasad were not ministers, or when Bhupender Yadav was not an MP, they used to go out as party workers. Now they are ministers or MPs, they still go out. BJP leaders strive to keep a constant connect with the public.
We don’t think you had to do this much, say, for the Lok Sabha elections… going and meeting the party’s Shakti Kendra leaders?
We will not do so during the next Lok Sabha elections as well. It’s not possible for the Lok Sabha elections. Lok Sabha elections happen at a higher level. The micro planning increases as elections go local.
But why is it that BJP leaders are not able to hold rallies in Patidar strongholds?
Take the list from us. We are holding public meetings everywhere. These are rumours.
Narendra Modi’s meeting was shifted away from Kamrej (in Surat).
It was because the venue was too small. And where it was held also has a huge Patidar population. That region is also full of Patidars. For your information, Narendra Modi had a roadshow through a locality densely populated by Patidars in Surat.
Have fears of a blowback kept the BJP from denying tickets to incumbent MLAs to the same extent as in earlier elections?
In 2012 we denied tickets to 32 MLAs; this time, 36 MLAs have been denied tickets. If you count me and (former CM) Anandiben, who opted out, the number will go up to 38.
Given the large crowds attracted by the three new-age leaders (Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani), the question arises whether your government fell short of meeting the aspirations of the youth in the last 22 years.
Now the crowd that is seen is nothing but public meetings of the Congress. Just that they don’t have Congress banners. Muslims attending Hardik’s rallies mean that the Congress and Hardik have joined ranks.
But do you think the Congress has the capacity to mobilise such massive rallies?
They have got 30-35 per cent votes always. Meetings are not attracting 1-1.5 lakh crowds. These are Congress party meetings.
But doesn’t it indicate a failure to capture and address the aspirations of the youth?
That’s because you are seeing it from a distance.
Even if you look closely, people do say that jobs have not been created to the extent that was promised by the Vibrant Gujarat investments.
I have travelled across Gujarat. I am telling you, there is no major problem among the people. A perception has been created. But as the elections draw closer, these perceptions will be cleared.
If you don’t look at this as reflecting the aspirations of the youth, how do you read their support to the agitations by Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh?
It is not my point that the issues raised in those agitations are not (genuine) issues. But there is no constitutional solution visible to one of their demands.
Cotton and groundnut commodity prices have emerged as a concern for farmers, has the state government been sensitive enough?
The state government has provided bonuses over and above the MSP for both these crops. And they have been procured in large quantities as well. Groundnut procurements have been very high and we will continue that until March. No farmer will have to sell below the MSP and without the bonus.
But groundnut farmers are saying they were promised Rs 1,500 a quintal.
No such promise was made.
Gujarati entrepreneurs have faced disruptions from demonetisation and GST. Now that you realise that it was too much of a shock, you are trying to contain the fallout through relaxations in GST.
This is an example of a twisted view. No one is running helter-skelter. We knew about the December Assembly elections before the GST rollout was finalised. If we were thinking like that, we could have set a post-December date for GST’s launch. For a taxation reform of the size of GST, the biggest taxation reform, the review was begun at the end of 90 days. For the first 90 days, we observed the repercussions, took representations, before we started to tweak it. Now the GST Council, where the government of every political party is represented, is looking at it every month. All of them are putting their heads together to change the tax rates as well as rules. Even the drafts are being prepared for changes that may be required in the Act. This is happening every month. These have no links to elections. Such a big reform is likely to become popularly accepted (lokbhogya) within six months when we would have corrected many difficulties. The government is extremely sensitive. The PM and finance minister are personally attending to these things. Sticking to the letter of one law is not the best way to go about always. If there are teething problems, they should be understood and corrected.
UP was a referendum on demonetisation, and…
I never said UP was a referendum on demonetisation. The opposition tried to make it a referendum on demonetisation. That’s why media represented it like that. Now you will ask about GST referendum. We have never said it is a referendum on GST. But if the opposition wants to make it so, we have no objections.
So you don’t believe that the victory in the UP urban local bodies was a referendum on GST?
See, elections are never contested on a single issue. In Gujarat, the safety of traders and businessmen is also an issue. Inspector raj, corruption of the Congress regime, curfew for 212 of 365 days that used to cripple business activities, are also issues.
But all that was 22 years ago.
So if they return after 22 years, the same things will recur. That party remains the same. They function in the same way. They are running the same casteist campaign. Their rang-dhang remains the same. What are the issues for the Congress? If you take out the mean of election issues of the Congress, they have no issue but casteism.
But what is the solution to the demands of identity groups?
Everybody will have to discuss to find a solution. This is likely to be a long process. It will require prolonged discussions.
Given the bitterness between the government and opposition, do you see a solution?
I will think positively. I think discussions can produce some way to address these issues. And it has to be found.
What if the BJP doesn’t get 150 seats?
I do not talk in ifs and buts. When I say 150, I mean we are winning 150 seats. We will speak after the counting is over on the day of results.
What is the basis for this confidence, despite 22 years of incumbency?
You may call it anti-incumbency. What was the situation 22 years ago? Villages used to get 6-7 hours of power, now they get 24 hours power. There used to be an average 200 days’ curfew a year; now Gujarat is curfew-free. Saurashtra women faced a scarcity of water, now they get assured water seven days a week. Farmers would not get water then, in fact, 63% of Gujarat was in the dark zone, now only 6% of Gujarat is in the dark zone. We saved the children of Gujarat from fluoride-laden drinking water. 38% was the dropout rate, 63% was the enrolment ratio. Now we have taken enrolment ratio to 99 per cent, and brought down drop out rates to below 3%. There is not a school where fewer than eight classrooms have been added in the last 22 years. Rahul Gandhi is alleging privatisation of education. He is not aware of the facts.
I don’t know which NGO has given him these figures. People are laughing at him. Primary education has reached every village. No matter what some people argue, industrial development has happened because of Vibrant Gujarat. GDP figures bear testimony to industrial development. Agricultural growth has happened. As against 20 lakh bundles, now we have 1.23 crore bundles of cotton from the same land. Because irrigation has expanded. It’s not at the expense of wheat and paddy crops. Wheat, cotton, horticulture, everything has grown. Sugarcane production has gone up, so has cotton production. Where has the income from this gone? It has gone to farmers. Motorcars have gone up by 300%, motorcycles have risen by 1,000%. The 6 crore people of Gujarat are not going to believe what Rahul Gandhi is saying because these people have seen development at the grassroots level. Two generations passed by waiting for the Narmada dam. Now we have closed the doors of Narmada. Villages have got water and power. Rahul Gandhi should take any one year of any of his Congress-ruled states and compare any one year of BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Why is it that BJP’s seats have steadily declined from 2002 to 2012 — from 127 to 115?
115 from 127 is not called a decline. This is not a major fall. This time we will get 150. Our vote percentage has been good. You are asking me this, why don’t you ask Rahul Gandhi that he (the Congress) got wiped out in Amethi? They didn’t win a corporation in UP. If he had travelled in Amethi the way he has travelled in a Gujarat, he may have saved the Amethi urban local body.
Why is the BJP so afraid of Rahul Gandhi?
The BJP isn’t afraid of him at all.
Every attack is against Rahul. No one is attacking Bharat Solanki, Arjun Modhvadia, or others.
The Congress hasn’t projected a face, whom to attack then? They are contesting a faceless election. Who is the Congress’s leader in Gujarat?
Who is the BJP’s face in Gujarat?
We are contesting elections under the leadership of Vijaybhai (Vijay Rupani) and Nitinbhai (Nitin Patel).
So the blame for defeat will lie at their doorstep as well?
Your imagination of our defeat will not come true. We will win with 150 seats.
What has deepened the caste/identity faultlines despite your statistics of development in last 22 years?
The politics of caste is in the distant past for Gujarat.
Why has it surfaced now?
You need to change the spectacles through which you see. The election results will make it clear again. The politics of caste has become the past in Gujarat. Gujarat will not cast its votes on caste. Gujarat will vote for vikaswaad.
The Congress had levelled allegations against your son on the basis of reports of his financial transactions. What is your response?
There is nothing worth responding. Allegations were levelled against my son, and my son has gone to court. If you want to add, you can also implead. The Wire can also add to it. But now they do not let the case proceed. The Rs 80 crore that was talked about was turnover, not profit. 80 crore kama gaye… kama nahin gaye, 1.5 crore ka ghaata hua hai. Why is there a need to respond when those people don’t know the difference between turnover and profit?
There were reports of the death of a trial judge of the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case…
There were contrary reports as well. Do print that as a response.