BJP chief Amit Shah, under whose leadership the party has won nearly every election, in a rare freewheeling interview tells CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil about the secret behind his success and his grand plans for the party. Excerpts:
You said that at the age of 13, you had done a comparative study on politics. What made you enter politics and when did you decide?
I said I have been a student of politics since I was 13 years old and I believe in comparative analysis of everything. I have always been a Sangh Swayamsevak. My focus was not to enter in politics, but to be in public life.
The BJP already has 11 crore members. What next for Amit Shah?
I don’t have a personal agenda. The party had an agenda of taking BJP to every booth in the country. There are many states where the BJP is in power. Under PM Modi, we want India to have higher respect.
If I had thought about the future, I would not be where I am right now. I have achieved this only because I never thought about the future. I just keep on working, and I try and fulfil whatever responsibility the party gives me.
In three years of your party leadership, what have been the biggest achievements?
The party now works together. Even in the government, there are members of the party who work relentlessly under the guidance of our PM. Taking a cue from Modi’s aura, our party has moved from strength to strength. It’s a collective effort.
You have given the party Mission 350. In Odisha, you have spoken about 120 seats. Many might term it as an ambitious plan.
Mission 350 is a term coined by the media, not by me. But yes, it is certain that the party wants to expand in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bengal and North-East. We are doing our groundwork well and I am sure that we will achieve electoral success in these states.
As the head of the ruling party, where do you think the Opposition is failing?
Politics in India has always been governed by three aspects — caste, nepotism and appeasement. Now, however, under the able leadership of Modi, India has seen a tremendous development and change. The three aspects I mentioned have been dumped by the citizens of the country. BJP has always focused on performance-based politics and on the basis of this, democracy has a new vision and direction. This is the reason why we have been successful. We have only concentrated on performance, nothing else. There have been controversies, but we have never been affected by it. We have our eyes firm on the target. Making politics of performance the central point in Indian polity has been our biggest plus point. And I would like all parties to follow this performance-based politics than any other aspect.
Isn’t strong Opposition very important for a healthy democracy?
Of course, it’s necessary. But then I can’t make the Opposition, the people do.
You have shown a keen interest in Odisha and West Bengal. Do you think Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee are challengers?
If at all, there have to be challengers, they have to be performance-based and I don’t think Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee pose a challenge to the BJP. The states they rule are still two of the most backward states in the country.
With reference to West Bengal, we are seeing BJP events being cancelled, permissions being denied for use of auditoriums, etc. How do you read this?
I think not giving permission to the Opposition or letting them speak at events might be her habit. But such acts don’t work. Starting from Indira Gandhi, many leaders have tried to suppress voices but it has not happened. I will go to Bengal for sure and conduct an event.
Where is the BJP lacking in Odisha and Bengal? Do you think it’s also important to project a face?
The party’s strategy and the face for these two states will be decided when the elections are near. There will be discussions at the Parliamentary Board level and then things will be taken forward. As far as shortcomings are concerned, I think they are much less now. If you look back at the previous polls, BJP has been at third or fourth position. Now, in both states, it is the principal opposition. Also, I’m seeing anti-incumbency in both states, which is favorable to the principal opposition.
But if the civic poll results are anything to go by, Mamata Banerjee seems have a loyal voter base.
Analyze it minutely. There has been a growth in the BJP’s base in the state. That’s a big development, brushing aside the TMC and Congress. And also, let’s not forget how elections are conducted there — there’s so much rigging. Mamata has left behind the Communists in terms of rigging the elections.
In Tamil Nadu, do you see Dravidian politics as a big challenge?
Even in Tamil Nadu, we are trying to bring focus on development and transparency.
You have said that by 2018, all north eastern states will be with BJP and its allies. Take Sikkim, for example. In the last 35 years, they have never voted for a national party. How do you look at that?
As far as Sikkim is concerned, as part of North-East Democratic Alliance, the ruling party there is a part of NDA and therefore working in tandem with us. So, we are all together anyway. NEDA was created by us for the north eastern states and all NEDA members are with us on this.
There is always some speculation on the equation between BJP and RSS. How would you define it?
The equation is as it should be. The BJP and the RSS have the same equation that a nationalist party should have with the largest nationalist organization. And it is a good equation.
There is perception that you have changed the language of politics. The way you announced President Ramnath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s candidature, it was seen as surprise by many political observers.
The BJP has always functioned like this — from the party and its office. This might be the first time that we have a complete majority as far as President and the Vice President are concerned. That said, the BJP has always worked like this. BJP has always worked from the party office and not from any leader’s house.
What are you reading these days?
I am reading a book on history. It talks about times starting from the origin of Earth right till the modern Indian history.