Photographs: Courtesy: Amit Shah's Facebook page Sheela Bhatt
To say that he is one of the most controversial figures in contemporary Indian politics is an understatement. Former Gujarat minister of state for home Amit Shah, who is out on bail on grave charges of ordering fake police encounters, was brazenly made general secretary of the Bhartiya Janata Party and assigned the most difficult and impossible-looking task of getting more than 30/35 seats from Uttar Pradesh (which has 80 Lok Sabha seats) in 2014.
Shah’s role in UP is likely to make or decimate the political fortunes of his boss, Narendra Modi, Gujarat chief minister and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
He is likely to depend on the hard work of the BJP’s team in UP, manipulative politics of using the media and spreading of clear political messages to voters and setting up a network of caste-based leaders in nooks and corners of the state.
The man who knows Modi like no one else
Photographs: Courtesy: Amit Shah's Facebook page
Already, Shah’s kind of politics is being blamed for the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar but he is unruffled. Currently the BJP has 10 seats in UP but if it gets 20 or less in 2014, Modi is unlikely to become prime minister. Like Andhra Pradesh strengthened Congress’s claims to power in the 2004 and 2009 election, UP will play a similar role in defining Modi’s and the BJP’s destiny in the coming years.
Shah, who is a sharp political brain, also has killer instinct. His party, his leader, the media and people of UP are paying close attention to him. He is working under the burden of tremendous expectations and against too many odds. However, Shah is spreading his game-plan with unusual confidence -- his critics say ‘over-confidence’.
In one sentence it can be said that Shah will ask his party to go for covert Hindutva and adopt the development plank overtly. Modi’s name and photograph is enough for Shah to tell UP voters what his mentor’s politics is all about.
While Modi, in rally after rally, sells the dream of development, Shah will mobilise the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh/BJP cadre to bring Modi-sympathisers to the booths.
Shah is a past master at setting up and running election campaigns. Shah has been L K Advani’s polling agent in many elections. In a businesslike manner he uses party funds to set the election machinery.
After all, before becoming MLA he owned a factory manufacturing PVC pipes. His management skills were used in the limited geography of Gujarat. Now it is on test in the much bigger and much more complex political battleground of UP.
Shah is a man who knows Modi’s mind. Modi understands that Shah knows his job. The new chapter in electoral politics has just begun in Uttar Pradesh.
Shah gave his first exclusive interview to Rediff.com’s Sheela Bhatt after taking charge of UP. The first of a two-part interview:
Have you agreed to talk to Rediff.com because you think elections are coming earlier?
It has nothing to do with the prospect of elections. However, I don’t see any possibility of an early election. The Congress party is trying to control the damage by announcing certain steps but I don’t think elections will held anytime soon.
'Encounter cases are politically motivated; non-Gujarat encounters are never scrutinised'
In view of the seriousness of allegations against you, it’s surprising to see your confidence to take the lead in Uttar Pradesh. From where do you get such confidence? Is it the case that you don’t take such grave criminal charges seriously?
As far as the charges against me are concerned, my party has never accepted it from the beginning. As far as I am concerned, accepting of any allegations is out of question.
I have passed through the process. It’s politically motivated. It’s a fraud and conspiracy. Let me tell you in detail. During my tenure as minister of state for home, the country saw some 1,500 encounter killings of criminals, while in Gujarat 17 people were killed in police encounters. Gujarat is one of the states which witnessed the minimum number of encounters.
Still all the encounters of Gujarat are being scrutinised while the rest are not being reopened. Non-Gujarat encounters are not touched. Except the encounter of Maoist leader Azad, none of the hundreds of encounters have been questioned anywhere in India. Even in the case of Azad, the Central Bureau of Investigation has closed the file.
It proves without doubt that encounter cases are politically motivated. It’s due to the connivance of the NGOs and the Congress party. They gave the investigation to the CBI. They didn’t do their job professionally, they did it politically. They did everything possible to trap me. Since young age I am in politics. I have, always, lived among the people of Gujarat. I know public sentiments. Every time I have fought elections, I have improved my victory margins. Even after the cases, I have fought elections. Even people have accepted my version. They have elected me after my jail term. They have rejected charges levelled against me.
When I was made general secretary and in-charge of Uttar Pradesh the decision proves that my party rejects the CBI’s investigation.
You had been giving these arguments when you fought the election last year. But, the letter by D G Vanzara (DIG of Gujarat police and one of the main accused in the encounter cases) clearly targets you.
In his entire letter he has not said that we asked him to go ahead. As we haven’t given any nod, so the question doesn’t arise to make any allegation against us. In the first place, he doesn’t think he has done anything wrong. He believes that whatever he has been doing on the job was service to the nation. All he says is that I haven’t taken care of the police officers who are in jail.
Do you accept his charge?
The letter and the investigation of it is a part of the legal proceedings so I won’t say anything.
'I don't see any question mark in the people's eyes'
Photographs: Courtesy Amit Shah's Facebook page
Amit bhai you are in-charge of the UP election preparation of your party. It means that you are on the national stage. In UP you are meant to provide leadership on the eve of the general election of 2014. Isn’t it awkward that a leader, who is facing serious criminal charges and has been in the dock for long, is one of the important political leaders of the country’s largest state?
If I am really guilty then my soul would never allow me to lead. You should know the basic character of the Congress party. They have misused the CBI the maximum since the days of Indira Gandhi. Not just with me, the Congress has been doing this to Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Jaganmohan Reddy.
There are scores of examples of the CBI’s misuse against their political adversaries. When they want to harass political adversaries they take a tough stand through the CBI and when they want to cajole political adversaries they ask the CBI to take a lenient stand. The CBI investigations are never done as per judicial norms. The CBI investigations take shape according to the Congress’s requirement. Now, even the public knows this.
All these questions don’t occur to you because you are neither the people’s representative nor living amongst them. I live with the public. I read the people’s eyes. I feel their sentiments. I don’t see any question mark in the people’s eyes. In democratic politics nobody is above the people.
You are talking about the Gujaratis in your constituency.
I have travelled in UP for some two months now. I meet non-Gujaratis at airports, at railway stations, on highways, in villages. I travel around the country all the time. If people have any doubts or questions against me it will show-up in their eyes immediately. Only you have a question against me.
'BJP will emerge as the biggest party in UP'
Photographs: Courtesy Amit Shah's Facebook page
How did you enter politics?
I became a member of the RSS in my childhood days then joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (The BJP’s student’s wing). I am a science graduate. Till I was elected as an MLA I was a businessman. After getting into politics, I gave away my business and factory to my partners. After becoming an MLA, I am not doing any business. I have my savings and investments. I have inherited some investments in stocks and shares and I earn my living out of it.
Many people in Ahmedabad say that you have never experienced poverty and you have never faced adversities in life that comes with the economic struggle at an individual level. You are known as a person having confidence bordering on arrogance.
Yes, it’s true that I have never seen economic deprivation. I was born in a rich family and brought up that way too. I have not seen a cash crunch. But, I firmly believe that whether you come from a traditionally rich family or poor family, what matters more for one's progress in politics is your sentiments for the people, your talent and a constant belief in your convictions.
How do you read the ground realities in Uttar Pradesh?
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP will emerge as the biggest party in the Lok Sabha election. We are building a strong foundation in UP to facilitate a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.
'The demand for change is met suitably by Narendra Modi'
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
What are the trends prevailing in UP?
The trend is for total change. There is a positive and hopeful sentiment for our leader Narendra Modi. There is tremendous anti-incumbency against the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress.
Even the BSP?
The BSP is supporting the corrupt rule of the United Progressive Alliance at the Centre. They have lost the election just recently. People have fresh memories of their rule, too.
We see that it’s true that there is anti-incumbency against the UPA rule in New Delhi. There is dissatisfaction and disappointment with the SP’s rule in Lucknow but it doesn’t mean that there is positive vote for the BJP.
It depends how you look at it. In UP from 1967 to 2013 most times people have voted one-sided, in one direction to bring about change and vote out the government. People of UP knows that the SP or the BSP are not in position to bring about the change in New Delhi.
Rather, these two parties are supporting the UPA at the Centre. As I said there is a demand amongst the people of UP for change. The BJP is best poised to bring the change that people want. There are numerous issues that have created anti-incumbency. Price rise, hopeless administration, insecurity, terrorism, lack of leadership and corruption have contributed to the current mood. People want change and they think the BJP is the only option currently available to them.
You can define in your way the mood for change. Another strong factor is also there in our favour. The demand for change is met suitably by our leader Narendra Modi. People are waiting to vote for Modi. They like the strong leadership, zero tolerance for terrorism, able administration, security to common men and the story of a corruption-free regime.
Whatever deficiencies in the leadership people are experiencing currently are not seen in Modi. They see all the qualities of good leadership in Modi. They find him matching with their aspirations. I see a positive wave for Modi in UP and in other parts of India. The BJP is going to gain in a big way out of it.
'Gujarat leaders are branded communal but Akhilesh is still secular for media'
Your presence in UP itself is divisive.
My image is the creation of the media.
In Ayodhya, once again, you asserted that the Ram temple will be constructed over there.
I only said that I had prayed before Lord Ram that I wish with the help of every section of the society the temple will be constructed as soon as possible.
So in the 2014 election you will not rake up issue of Ayodhya?
Our party has clarified that Ayodhya is not an election issue for us. Keep aside Hindutva; the terrible anti-incumbency is enough to defeat the Congress.
I will again say that your face itself signals radical Hindutva. Those forces which demolished the Babri mosque and the forces that divide India are represented by your presence in UP. Your critics think your nomination in UP itself is an act of divisive politics. Your image is of a divisive leader. What are your comments?
The BJP has nothing to do with the riots of 2002! The riots were the reaction of the people to the Godhra incident. The reaction was so huge that the established machinery could not meet the challenge of these spontaneous reactions. That’s why the riots continued for a brief period. If the occurrence of riots makes the government communal then what will you say about the government of Akhilesh Yadav? In last two years more than 90 riots have taken place in UP but still the Akhilesh government is secular for you!
We are writing against him, too.
I haven’t read anywhere that the Akhilesh Yadav government is communal. Imagine what you would have written about us if in last two years such riots would have taken place in Gujarat. The question is to look at us with a different glass. You should change your outlook. You should report professionally, while keeping a neutral stance.
'My image is based on a fundamentally flawed mindset'
Photographs: Courtesy Amit Shah's Facebook page
Personally, you are emerging as the divisive leader on the national dais.
The certain mindset from where this question has emerged has shaped my image, too. That mindset has created wrong image of me. That mindset is flawed fundamentally so the image that you have created of me will always be incorrect.
Then what’s your real image? If you are not a Hindutva leader then who are you?
I am in politics since the last 35 years, not once have I faced a charge of corruption. In last 35 years I have never ever changed my political track. I have always been what my party stands for. In last 35 years of public life wherever I have gone, whether it is the Ahmedabad district bank, the Gujarat State Fertilizer Corporation or in the government, I have tried to bring in reforms, new policies and able administration. I have a record of governance behind me. It’s up to you what you are looking for in my story.
That’s not true. There are leaders like Arun Jaitley or Sushma Swaraj in your party who are considered moderate. In that sense, we consider you hawkish.
What you believe in is not the issue. Give me just one evidence or argument on the basis of which you have formed my image? What did I do that you have certain perception of me?
You went to Ayodhya first after you took charge…
I was not home minister in 2002 when the riots took place. The riots didn’t occur during my tenure. The media perception of Gujarat ministers are formed by linking us to the riots.
'A new caste has been born which is fed up of misrule of India'
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters
Fake police encounters occurred during your tenure.
During Mayawati’s rule more than 500 police encounters took place. Why is Mayawati not hawkish for you? Why is she not considered communal? During the same time in Maharashtra ten times more encounters occurred (than in Gujarat) but why are you not branding Maharashtra CMs communal? Why is Bihar CM not communal where six times more police encounters have been noted if compared to Gujarat? The media should go in-depth into those encounters too.
You are a Gujarati and have limited experience. Uttar Pradesh has more than double the number of voters compared to Gujarat. Many more districts and many more regions like Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh, Awadh etc. Some critics say by the time Amit Shah learns the caste complexities of UP the elections will be over.
If I would have been listening to my critics then I would not have done anything in my life. Whatever work I am given, I never think whether I will be able to do this work or not. I only ask myself if I should do this work or not. I am happy that I am given such a responsibility by the party. I am also conscious about the enormity of the responsibility given to me.
What’s new here? What’s different from Gujarat?
If compared to Gujarat, the political awareness of voters and political workers is many times more in UP. Due to that their participation is much more in politics. Public is politically alive here. They form their political opinion with maturity.
What do you think of casteism in UP? Which castes support the BJP?
A new caste has been born which is fed up of misrule of India! That caste is joining us lock, stock and barrel.
Watch out for Part II next week where Amit Shah speaks on his boss Modi and more.
TOP photo features you missed last week