About a year ago, when Amit Shah was airlifted from Gujarat to be paradropped as the BJP’s charge d’affaires in Uttar Pradesh, the man was seen as an eyesore, not only by his teeming critics, but even by party insiders who felt neglected and ignored by the party high command. The 50-year-old confidant of the party’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi was seen as an ‘intruder’ by several BJP leaders while others saw in him the alleged ‘villain’ of the 2002 riots and fake encounters in Gujarat.
Thirteen months down the line, the scenario appears to have changed drastically. It is this controversial Shah who calls the shots for BJP in UP, the state that has become the key battleground, where victory is crucial for Modi’s dream of becoming the country’s next prime minister to come true.
Not only was his role visible in the selection of candidates for the poll, he also physically sits over a core team that mans the special war room created at the state BJP headquarters in Lucknow. And with the help of his multiple cellphones, he not only keeps track of handpicked volunteers spread across the state’s 80 Lok Sabha constituencies 24x7, but also maintains his liaison with the wide network of RSS activists in every nook and corner of the state.
In an exclusive interview to Sharat Pradhan, Shah insists on flatly denying that he was there to supplement Modi’s development agenda with the desired dose of ‘Hindutva’—his recent utterances spiced with ‘badla’ (revenge) assertions emerging as a glaring example of how old habits die hard. Excerpts:
While your leader Narendra Modi shuns even a mention of Ayodhya and instead of toeing the BJP’s typical Hindutva line, prefers to talk ‘development’, you seem to be keeping that flame alive through your provocative talk of ‘badla’?
That is a totally baseless charge manufactured by the media. I never meant that. It was a total misinterpretation of what I had said.
The common perception is that you said all that to polarise the Hindu ‘votebank’ further on communal lines, even as Modi is steadfastly projecting himself as the ‘development man’.
I have never talked about the BJP building a temple (at Ayodhya). I have simply said that millions of people in India are keen a grand temple be built there.
Let me tell you exactly what I said that day. In fact, I have put the entire video clip on my Facebook account so that anybody can see how my words have been twisted and turned to create ‘masala’ for news. What I said explicitly was that if people were worried on account of the price rise, they must take ‘badla’ by exercising their vote in favour of the BJP; if you do not get 24-hour electricity, take your revenge by pressing the button with the lotus sign; also if you are being treated like a second-grade citizen, take revenge by voting for the BJP. Please read my entire speech and then tell me if I have uttered anything objectionable. Who does not know how bad law and order and other conditions are in UP? It is not easy to even lodge an FIR in a police station.
But since your party always emphasises its ‘ek Bharat’ theory, one is bound to interpret it as your refusal to accept India’s plurality.
That is simply because of the Congress party’s wrong interpretation of secularism. If you want to know what will happen to Muslims if Narendra Modiji were to become prime minister, then let me clarify that we are talking about each one of the 125 crore citizens of India. And Modiji has proved it by ensuring the overall and comprehensive development of Gujarat where there is no discrimination against anyone. If you do not believe me, look at the Sachar Committee report which clearly spells out how Muslims in Gujarat were better off than Muslims in other parts of the country.
But there are apprehensions in the minds of all secular outfits considering your government’s controversial role in the 2002 riots.
The law of the land has cleared every doubt. But the media only wants to continue harping over false perceptions created by it and by some self-styled secular groups. I can only say one thing—we will not do any such thing that would give rise to any cause for worry to any Muslim. There is no need for any Muslim to worry.
What about all the talk of a uniform civil code?
Well, that is not Modi’s concept. It has been our party’s stand. It is a purely secular concept. I am sure there would not have been any hue or cry over it if Pandit Nehru had not brought in the Hindu Code Bill.
Everyone knows that the road to Modi’s success lies only through Hindu polarisation....
That is a false allegation and a false notion. We firmly believe that a voter has no religion. It is an insult to the voter to classify him in terms of Hindu or Muslim or for that matter any other religion. This simply reflects your own mindset and your insistence on viewing things through your own coloured glasses.
What is your concept of secularism?
About Modi contesting from Varanasi, the BJP had to field someone from Varanasi after all. So how can you impute all kinds of motives to that decision?
Treating every citizen as equal and not discriminating between anyone on the basis of religion. And let me tell you that it is the Congress-led UPA government and some of its allies who have failed to live up to truly secular standards. They have designed schemes only with the appeasement of a section in mind; is it secular to withdraw cases against those booked for terrorism? Is it secular to introduce a scholarship only for Muslims? Why can’t you have the same scholarship for everyone? Actually, these are the kind of things we would like to reform. Nothing else.
Your prime ministerial nominee refused to wear a skull cap even as he was busy trying to woo Muslims?
Modi has already stated that such a cap was never worn by Mahatma Gandhi or even by Pandit Nehru or Sardar Patel. Can’t you see that those who tried to make it a big issue were only making political capital out of it? Let me tell you that the kurta pyjama that Modi wears is originally a Mughal outfit.
Do you mean to say that you are not playing the Hindutva card at all?
This will perhaps be the first Indian election in which people are voting only on the issue of development, let me tell you. Let me also tell you that this will also be the first time when you will see a welfare state in the true sense.
Are you saying that the upa’s multiple schemes like Right to Food, Right to Education and Right to Information were not directed towards the welfare of the people?
You can see how they have brought in the right to food. They have promised such a quantum that India does not have. It’s total falsehood. We do not believe in making false promises.
You can see how the Congress brought in the right to food. They promised a quantum that India does not have. We do not believe in making false promises.
What kind of policies do you have in store? The common apprehension is that your policies would be divisive.
I don’t understand why you cannot change your mindset about the BJP. Let me tell you, our government will be the guardian of all Indians—not just Hindus. Why can’t you all understand that much?
But you people keep on talking only about Hindus.
We have never talked about any special interest of Hindus.
What about your visit to Ayodhya where you talked about building a temple or Narendra Modi choosing to contest from Varanasi, which is so symbolic in a religious way?
I never talked about the BJP building the temple. I simply said that millions of people of this country were keen that a grand temple be built in Ayodhya. As for Modi contesting from Varanasi, let me tell you that the BJP had to field someone from Varanasi after all. So how can you impute all kinds of motives to that decision?
Well, you are a shrewd RSS man. Therefore, while Narendra Modi is busy limiting himself to his development plank, you issue intermittent statements to keep your Hindu hardliner in good humour. Have you succeeded in your mission to bring an end to what you always refer to as minority votebank politics?
All I would like to tell you is that we have always been misunderstood. So far we have been in the Opposition. Now that we are going to come to power, we will prove everybody wrong about the perception that has been created about us.
From a state-level leader, you were propelled to national limelight some five years ago and then made incharge of UP BJP. And today you are the all-powerful Modi lieutenant. What was the turning point?
While I don’t see the Congress getting into three digits this time, it’s a bit too early to say it will collapse. After all, there’s no denying it is a big national party.
Well, it was the exposure of rampant corruption in the UPA government and undermining of the prime minister’s position—all because of one person. More than a year back, it was decided that I should shoulder the important responsibility of managing the polls in Uttar Pradesh. So I moved from Gujarat. I may be national general secretary but I believe in being just a small worker. But now it is my duty to ensure the success of the party in this state.
What is your idea of India?
But what you did in Gujarat in 2002 surely does not reflect that?
You do not talk about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots or the riots in Bhagalpur.
The Gujarat riots were seen as state-sponsored. And in any case two wrongs do not make a right.
That is a false charge already proven in investigations carried out by the sit appointed by the highest court of the land. But the media does not want to believe it while it does not question the Congress for what happened in 1984. In the 12 years of Modi rule, Gujarat has remained completely riot-free. There is no blot on our government. But you cannot see that.
Do you see this election as the end of the Congress party?
While I do not see the Congress getting into three digits this time, it is a bit too early to say that the party will collapse. After all, there can be no denying that it is a big national party.