‘The media is trying to revive the Congress! When elections come we will know the truth about it’
‘There will always be pain if my party loses the polls. That requires introspection, and we are doing it’
‘We will convert our well-wishers into our workers. That is the design behind our membership drive’
The second part of BJP president Amit Shah’s interview to Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com, to mark the completion of one year of the Narendra Modi government.
Amitbhai, reading the election mandate right is an art. It is believed that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are probably making a mistake in reading the 2014 mandate. The mandate says loud and clear, that ‘under the leadership of Modi, initiate a comprehensive and quick development of the country. And, do it without corruption’.
But it seems the BJP and RSS are not sticking to the people’s mandate. Just look at the headlines of the last one year, they are all about Hindutva, ghar wapsi, take away the voting rights of Muslims, beef ban etc… What’s going on?
Due to these statements, will roads not be built in India? Will any such controversy stop the supply of electricity? When is the media is linking these statements (such controversies), to the agenda of development, it is a major attempt to communalise India’s agenda of development. Show me one instance where there is a contradiction in the agenda of development.
I find this response insensitive.
You have asked me an insensitive question.
Will any Muslim like such an answer when the controversy is about snatching away the voting rights of Muslims?
Arre! But who is taking anyway about anybody’s voting rights? Just because somebody says such a thing, will anybody lose his vote? Who is trying to do it? Nobody!
But we know that all such plans start with opinion-building, floating a trial balloon. Raut (Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP) is after all from your ally party of many decades.
In our country a lot of people talk a lot of things and make such attempts. The MIM to Muslim League have spoken many things, with whom the Congress has formed a political alliance and state governments. At that time you didn’t ask the Congress such a question? Then, you didn’t link up such statements to the government’s agenda of development. In Nagaland and Mizoram the Congress and its allies proclaim in their manifestoes that they will rule the state on the basis of the Bible. But, you didn’t question the Congress or its allies.
The media should put an end to such double standards.
Okay, then you tell us what were the people’s expectations of you. Were issues like ghar wapsi, beef ban etc expected of you? How do you read the mandate given to you?
The people’s expectation was that we should increase the growth rate. We have done it. The people wanted prices under control. We have done it. The people’s expectation was that India’s prestige should rise on the global platform. We have done it, and sincerely at that. The people’s expectations were that India should have good relations with our neighbours. We have tried to do so, and, it has improved.
I will talk about the most fundamental issue about your government. Many analysts, many bureaucrats and those of us who have been reporting in New Delhi since long, especially feel this way. From the day Modi entered the PMO we expected a new language from the government, a new template to run the government, fresh policies and a new style of governance. But we don’t find this. We feel the government is working exactly within the system the Congress has left behind.
(Says with chilling effect) And, to that we have only added nishtha (dedication)! We have added sincerity of purpose. We have stopped pilferage in Delhi. Like, the Congress created a Jan Dhan Yojna on paper. We created 14 crore bank accounts. That is our nishtha.
There is another example. Since many years natural calamities were hitting our farmers hard. But, when we saw our farmers’ plight we changed the rules proactively. We displayed sensitivity. We relaxed the rules overnight. This, I consider nishtha.
The Congress gave away 600 mines to big industrialists and to friends and relatives. We have auctioned less than 50 mines, through a transparent process, and got Rs 2 lakh crore plus. This is due to our nishtha.
Even then journalists find us to be friends of corporates but do not find the Congress, which gave away 220 mines absolutely free to rich people, corporate-friendly!
But the people voted for you to do so. They gave votes with hope. People gave you their votes because they expected you to auction coal and spectrum with sincerity.
The problem is, you work 10 per cent and make headlines as if 80 per cent work has been done. That is the issue. You make exaggerated claims of the work done.
Your problem is we are not giving you enough headlines because we are busy working! (Laughs) Unlike the media, we don’t believe the country runs on headlines.
Arun Shourie gave an interview where he, too, alleged that the government is into manufacturing headlines.
I don’t want to comment on Arun Shourie.
Other critics are also alleging that power is concentrated among the three of you, that the PM, Arun Jaitley and you wield the real power. Can anyone deny this?
Nobody thinks so in my party.
Sushmaji is not talking at all. Rajnath Singh faced embarrassment after adverse reports about his son surfaced, which he spoke about to the Economic Times. You are not seeking the advice of the Margdarshak Mandal, as well.
Nobody thinks so in my party.
After Goa what all happened with L K Advani is public knowledge, the letter he wrote to the party president was made public. Since then why has been there no patch-up in public? Why are no efforts made to address the hurt feelings of veterans Advani and M M Joshi?
We do not make public our attempt to patch up.
So efforts are on?
If I say anything it will become public…
When will you cajole Advani?
This is an internal matter of my party. So far, I don’t think Advaniji is sulking.
You were facing court cases in the Sohrabuddin encounter and others. The court in Mumbai has discharged you in the case, and Central Bureau of Investigation is not going to appeal against it in the higher court. Don’t you think this affects your credibility along with the CBI’s because you are now in power?
I do not want to talk about it because it has legal consequences.
Former police officer D G Vanzara, accused in the Sohrabuddin case, has written a letter saying you ‘created the sorry state of affairs for the Gujarat police in general and he alleges that some co-accused police officers are not being helped in the case'. What do you have to say about it?
I have nothing to say against Vanzara. It is the court which is deciding such issues.
Much earlier than we expected, within a year of the election results, one sees signs of life in the Congress. In the 2014 election they lost disgracefully but still they are getting reasonably good media coverage. They have started getting some response from the people as well. People jokingly say Congress ke achche din aa hi gaye.
What is your observation? Do you find traces of early revival in the Congress?
The media is trying to revive the Congress! When elections come we will know the truth about it. In four state elections this “all-India party” has come in the 3rd or 4th position. In one state it got zero seats. Due to its poor performance it is not fit enough to even get the status of Leader of Opposition in Parliament. I do not know how you can say the Congress is showing some sign of life.
Rahul Gandhi is active again. The recent speeches by Sonia Gandhi show renewed fervour.
Did you hear the response of Jitendra Singh (minister of state in the PMO) to her? That is enough, it contains all our arguments. You can’t become a political leader by reading the script written by some good writer!
Sonia Gandhi said sarcastically, ‘the BJP deserves credit for keeping vacant critical appointments in the government structure, especially those that have independent authority to question the working of the government’s machinery. What is the government afraid of?’
Amitbhai, this is quite a legitimate question. Why are you not appointing a CVC and Lokpal?
None of our appointments has been struck down by the Supreme Court. During their regime the Congress’s four appointments had been struck down.
Soniaben should first look into her government’s performance in the matter.
The process of appointments is on. The Supreme Court had asked for an affidavit, we gave it. Then, the court asked for a short-listed panel which was given in a sealed cover. Both issues are before the court.
Where is the Lokpal?
We will certainly get one.
When you want crores of bank accounts to be opened you do it with nishtha and speed.
We will get the Lokpal as soon as the rules are framed. We had some legal hurdles for it which have been removed by amendments in the law. I don’t know the exact status of it now.
But, I am very sure that we have not done anything at all that would require anybody to go to the Lokpal!
Is there any shadow of fear still lingering over the 2002 riots and a few encounter cases?
Not at all. This is only in the minds of the media. People have voted us to power three times after 2002.
As party president, you fought the political battle to win the Delhi state election ferociously but you lost disgracefully. What kind of inner democracy is there in your party when no review has taken place of the Delhi defeat? It was not even debated in your national executive.
How do you know we did not debate it? The national executive is a closed-door meet. You are not getting any information because our party is disciplined. We have got an explanation inside the party forum.
Any regrets over the harsh defeat in Delhi?
There will always be pain if my party loses the polls. That requires introspection, and we are doing it.
Has the Delhi defeat made you weaker?
If you think victories and defeats in polls make a leader weaker or stronger then you will have to count our winning 282 seats, add to it the Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand elections, along with Delhi. Make a balance sheet of all the polls.
I, personally, don’t believe that defeat or victory makes you strong or weak. Parties don’t run like that.
If one observes how you spent your last year in power, it is clear you put all your energy into the membership drive. In spite of it, see how badly you lost in the West Bengal local elections.
Where are your members? Where did they go during the Delhi polls? Political parties are built from grassroots but here you are going from top to bottom. Where is the street-fighting and andolans for ideals?
You lack the correct information. Our karyakartas have gone from house to house to make people members. One room in our party office is full of forms that our workers have collected. They have persuaded people to give missed calls. The entire method, the process, is digital but we have been on the ground and we have conducted a movement for membership.
There were some complaints about duplicate membership and other issues, we have addressed them all. We have motivated our teams to meet as many people as possible and request them to give missed calls to become members.
We didn’t want to merely use the voter’s list to register members. We developed a transparent method to enrol members. You can’t force anybody to dial the number. Then, they have sent their address too by SMS. In three months’ time we will go back to each one of them to collect more information. We will collect details of education, qualification, income, etc. From this we will sort out 15 lakh members and impart training to them, we have even designed a special training programme for them.
We will convert our well-wishers into our workers. That is the design behind this drive.
We believed street-fighting for people’s cause helps expand the membership of political parties in an organic way.
All these years we have been fighting on the streets, that’s why we have got 10 crore members now!
There are many people who have refused to become members. Our drive touched approximately 25 crore people but we could convince only 10 crore people to become members.
It is because of our party’s background and participation in andolans that motivated people to give a missed call to our toll free number and become members.
What do you want at the end of the membership drive?
I have some 100 BJP members’ names, addresses and the background on each polling booth in India. After three months I will have the complete bio-data of those members. In areas where the BJP had no presence at all, we will have booth committees in place. Our organisation will rise in those areas from scratch.
Do you mean that after building up such organisational strength the BJP won’t lose elections again?
I am not saying that at all. The party can lose elections even if the organisation is strong. But, I am duty-bound to spread my party’s principles and ideals to more and more people.
Narendra Modi had enjoyed a certain public image when he was sworn-in as prime minister on May 26, 2014. What is the difference in the public’s perception of him then, and now in May 2015?
It is difficult to judge any government that takes over the reins of power with a five-year mandate. To make a project, plan it and implement it and let the public take a call about it is just not possible within one year.
But, the direction of our projects and their implementation is definitely in harmony with the people’s expectations.
Do you think the PM’s image has been hurt after wearing that pin-stripe suit with his name monogrammed?
Surely the media created a controversy out of it. But, I am happy to see that the money that was raised from the auction has been donated to the Namami Gange project.
You, Modi and Jaitley are quite averse to the media, especially when it criticises the government’s actions. Now, Arvind Kejriwal has also joined you.
I am not at all against the media. I have never been against it. But, I also don’t believe that nobody can ever speak against the media.
How is it possible that nobody can ever speak against the media? Is it that only the media can speak against everybody but nobody can ever speak against the media?
But, sometimes it seems your government has a tendency to blame the media. Like, you said the media is reviving the Congress.
No, I said the media is “trying” to revive it. That is the reality. The media can’t revive it.
I will again say that I have no prejudices against the media.
You don’t interact normally and regularly with the media.
What am I doing now? I have planned a few other interviews, too.
I think the media has a definite role in a democracy. But, it is not the only player.
Sometimes we meet some media-persons in Delhi who behave as if only they have a role to play in running a democracy.
- Part III: 'We now have a prime minister who talks'