Modi’s image will help BJP expand footprint in South India: Amit Shah

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[Nistula Hebbar]

BJP president Amit Shah is on a whirlwind 95 day tour of the country for organisational mobilisation of the party in areas of strength and weakness. Nistula Hebbar catches up with him in the midst of a heatwave in Telangana. Excerpts:

The Modi government is completing three years this week. What is your assessment of these years?

There are achievements in every field as far as the Narendra Modi government is concerned. We are the fastest growing economy and we have been able to control inflation, agriculture has also shown adequate growth, foreign reserves have gone up. The release of 104 satellites recently, we have made a place for ourselves in space technology. But the biggest achievement of the Modi government has been that the country’s self confidence has grown. The direction of its growth has been made clear and the scale of the vision for the country has grown. For example, even after 70 years there are 14,000 villages with no electricity, we don’t decide that 1000 or 2000 villages will be electrified, but that not a single village should remain without electricity, not a single home without a bank account, that in the next five years five crore households will be provided cooking gas. The scale of Narendra Modiji’s vision has impacted the achievements of this government, as well as the people’s expectation from its leadership. And it is this expectation and the political will of the leadership by Modiji which generates achievements.

The Army has just carried out aggressive firing across the Line of Control and had undertaken surgical strikes last year as well. What is behind this aggressive policy?

In the field of defence, the decision to go through with surgical strikes has made the entire world change the way it looks at India, that the Modi government is firm in its actions and this image has been established. It is a decisive government, that backs its army. Both the army and the Central government have indicated by these actions that not only do they care about the safety of our borders but also the honour of our soldiers. Tuesday’s action has raised not just the morale of the Indian army but also the entire country.

There is a view that the government has not been as aggressive on economic reforms as its numerical strength would have supposed.

There is a difference in the way that pink papers defines economic reforms and the way that the government led by Narendra Modiji does. For me this government has done its utmost to positively affect the GDP through acts that liberate the economic potential of our most disadvantaged citizens. It has been transformative in its approach. For example, if you build a toilet in a house where the young girls there had no access to it and feared for their safety everyday, or you provide cooking gas to a woman who spends hours in a day collecting firewood and toiling in a smoky kitchen, it is a liberation of a most basic sort, one that truly empowers them. The economic reforms that this government has undertaken taken has been more than what any government has done in the last 22 years. Decisive steps have been taken towards a transparent economy through GST, the Jan Dhan Yojana, Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) through Aadhar. It has been aligned with schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, Mudra, crop insurance, e-markets which are reforms geared at access to institutional credit and public services.

Many feel that it did not serve the purpose for which it had been undertaken.

It is easy to be dismissive of this decision as it was a huge one with manifold ramifications. To demonetise a huge load of currency of 1.25 billion people was a courageous thing. As far as what it’s achieved is concerned, the huge amount of currency hidden away in the homes of the corrupt, even political leaders is now in the system, and is available for use in development schemes. Today no one can say that the money is outside the system, and tracking and trailing of black money arising out of this exercise is going on. Other than that, for 91 lakh PAN cards to be issued in one year, is an effect of demonetisation. The rise of 18% in direct and indirect in the space of a single year is an effect of demonetisation. And I believe, in the coming days, that the budgets of both the Union and state governments will go up by over one and a half times thanks to demonetisation and the imperative of doing business in white economy due to the GST.

You have frequently separated the electoral victories of your party from the need to increase the ideological acceptance of the BJP. Aren’t elections an endorsement of an ideology?

I do say this, because I believe that without ideology any political party becomes just a machine to win elections and ultimately it does not do any good to the country and people.

Are you referring to the Congress?

I am referring to many such parties. Those that abandon ideology are reduced purely to an election winning machine. The BJP was established because we believed in a certain ideology and from the Jan Sangh to the Janata Party, and the reason for parting ways from the Janata Party was purely ideological. Today, we have been able to establish a different path in governance at the Centre and in the various states where we have a government because of ideology.

You are currently on a 95-day non tour across the country, ostensibly to strengthen the party in areas where it is weak. What is the logic behind your itinerary?

For me the word area is a bigger conception for me than just states that you are alluding to. For example, the BJP is strong in Gujarat, we haven’t lost a single Assembly poll in the last 22 years, but we want to strengthen the party in the booths that we have lost in these polls. In Uttar Pradesh, at the moment we are in a good position, but there are many booths where the BJP lost, where we want to strengthen. Having said that, I am spending 24 days in the south including Lakshadweep, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu and I believe that people will support the BJP in the south in a big way in the coming days.

The BJP is perceived as a north Indian party in the South. In a state like Tamil Nadu how do you propose to bridge the cultural gap?

The BJP is an all India party. In Tamil Nadu, our party will be made up of our leaders and workers from the state, so where is the question of a cultural gap?

If language, culture and food could divide us, we would not be a nation. The core of India is Bharatiyata, which is above all other cultural differences.

The poor face similar problems in north, east and south. The way the Modi government has worked for poor in last three years, BJP has become the favourite party for all marginalized sections which includes Dalits, Tribals and farmers. I am confident that this image of Modi Ji will help us expanding our party in South as well other regions of the country. Our party work will be taken forward by leaders and workers from the state, so where is the question of a cultural gap? I am spending 24 days in the south including Lakshadweep, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu and I believe that people will support the BJP in the south in a big way in the coming days.

There is speculation that film star Rajnikant may join the BJP.

Rajnikantji has expressed a wish to enter politics. I have said earlier also that good people should enter politics and he is welcome if he chooses to do so. As far as joining the BJP is concerned, we have not had any such conversation.

Your party is also accused of meddling with the AIADMK after Jayalalithaa’s death.

We have not interfered in the party at all. The vaccum that was created after the sad demise of Jayalalithaji has resulted in the party’s internal disputes to surface. That is the issue. It has nothing to do with the BJP.

In Karnataka, the one southern state where you are in a dominant position the party is facing some internal disputes. How will this affect poll prospects there in 2018?

We don’t expect the issue to last for long. We expect it to be resolved much before the polls are around.

There is news of a strain in Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan, can we expect chief minister Nitish Kumar to return to the NDA fold?

That is something only Nitish Kumarji can decide. We haven’t received any such signals from him till now.

The NDA is short of 18,000 votes for the Presidential polls. How will that affect the choice of candidate?

We are speaking to our NDA partners and will be talking to other parties too, after which a candidate will emerge.

What is your view on the Modi government’s relationship with large swathes of the minority communities in India.

Let me make it clear that the Modi government does not discriminate against anyone in whatever development policies it undertakes. For example, if we are distributing cooking gas, it goes to the homes of both majority and minority community, 4.5 crore toilets have been constructed since this government came to power, both in majority and minority homes. There were 17,000 villages where the government provided electricity, we don’t know how many are majority dominated villages, how many minority.

The BJP won a mandate in Uttar Pradesh cutting across all sections of society, and yet in two months there have been incidents like those inSaharanpur. How do you look at it?I request you to compare any other state with a state with a population like that of Uttar Pradesh, and look at the data on violence. I would also like you to look at the kind of caste violence that previous governments in Uttar Pradesh had under their regimes. The BJP government’s performance has been good in comparison even in the two months that it has been in power. And Yogiji hasn’t even had enough time to make changes in the administration and to make sure that its functional, even then I would say that he has done well. I would also say today in that in the next five years you will see Uttar Pradesh come out of the list of BIMARU states.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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