BJP national president Amit Shah, elected unopposed recently for a second term to steer the party, faces an immediate and formidable challenge to win assembly elections in four states in the next few months.
The 51-year-old hit the ground running a day after his re-election with a rally in Howrah where he took on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal over terror taking roots in the state and rampant corruption in the form of chit funds.
Pushing to break new grounds for the BJP, Shah gave a glimpse of his plans to Shishir Gupta, executive editor of Hindustan Times.
Congratulations on your second term. What will be your priorities for the next three years?
Nearly two years after he was elected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still the most popular leader in the country. Since he belongs to the BJP, it is natural that the party will benefit from his popularity. My biggest priority is to use the country-wide popularity of PM Modi to strengthen the BJP for times to come.
It was to translate this popularity that we started the BJP membership campaign. To date, we have added 12 crore, 80 lakh new members. They are only well-wishers as of now. My priority is to turn these well-wishers into full-time party workers. I want to use PM Modi’s popularity to strengthen the party organisation in places where it is weak and give permanence to the growing acceptability of the party and its ideology in those parts of the country.
On the organisational front, I want the new members to imbibe the good policies of the Centre, BJP governments in states and use the party as a medium for them to participate in the nation’s development process. I will use these members to expand the BJP in regions where the organisation is still missing by setting up offices and libraries in all districts of the country. Want to use the expanded cadre to identify the problems facing the country and sensitise the party headquarters.
My plan is to use innovation and research to suggest the Modi government on policy issues and resolution of issues facing the country. And to give maximum publicity and reach for implementation of the Modi government’s new policies using the party cadre. This will be my focus for the next couple of years.
Where does social media fit in with this party expansion?
Even today my party, I believe, is far ahead of its rivals in terms of conveying its message through social media. But a lot of work has to be done so that my party acquires the cutting edge. I want to attract the aspiring Indian youth towards the party using the popularity of PM Modi and his good governance.
You face a formidable challenge in assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu? Is your party geared up for it?
One must understand that there were six assembly elections after BJP came to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In none of these states, the BJP was in power. But despite that, the BJP formed the government in four out of six states. We formed a full majority government for the first time in Haryana and Jharkhand, in Maharashtra there’s a chief minister from the BJP for the first time and the party came to power for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. We lost both Bihar and Delhi but our electoral support has not decreased dangerously. This means we have not lost our supporters even in these two states.
When politics of the country changes, then the centre-point of politics also changes. There used to be a time when the politics of the country ran on Congress versus all or Indira (Gandhi) versus all. Today, the political pattern is BJP versus all or Narendra Modi versus all. I believe this is the indicator of the BJP’s powerful rise. This has increased the credibility of the BJP. Otherwise, how could parties having ideological and policy differences with others join hands against the BJP? They have done it for purely electoral survival.
Elections, one must understand, is a numbers game in the end. The BJP will have to now strategise for politics of 51%. As far as the forthcoming elections are concerned, the BJP is in an expansion phase in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. We are increasing our footprint in these states. But I firmly believe that the BJP will break all past electoral records and have a major role in government formation in these four states with maximum edge in Assam where we never had more than 20 MLAs.
But your main challenge is going to come in 2017 with Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat going to polls?
The BJP has maximum stakes in these elections. In all these states, the BJP’s position is very good. We play the role of younger brother in Punjab. I believe with hard work, good political strategy and popularity of PM Modi, we will be able to galvanize our workers towards government formation in each of these states.
Technically, this is your first full three-year term as party president since you were standing for Rajnath Singh for the past 16 months after he joined the Modi government as Union home minister?
We should not get into this first term or second term. I always believe that it is very important to work for the party as we are guided by the Constitution in a democratic framework. I am eternally grateful towards the crores of party workers and leadership for believing in me and allowing me to lead the party organisation.
Your detractors find your way of functioning too autocratic and not approachable. Is this true?
As far as teamwork is concerned, none of my office-bearers would say that because all decisions are taken after detailed discussions with them. Delhi may think that I am not accessible but my workers do not share this belief.
When are you planning to reorganise the party? Are there any plans on the anvil?
I have told you my priorities. Only an experienced team of workers can take these plans to a logical conclusion. I alone cannot do it. So those people who have worked at the grassroots, capable of hard work and committed to the party ideology will find their way into my team. We have a lot of committed workers who will help me achieve the party’s objective in focus areas. The reorganisation may take some time. I have not discussed this with all the senior leaders of the party. It will take some time.
How much role the RSS has in this party reorganisation?
Media over-exaggerates the Sangh’s role. The BJP’s decisions are its own. The Sangh does not interfere in day-to-day internal policy decision-making.
When you were made party president in August 2014, you decided to increase electoral focus on the eastern states, keeping in mind the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and offset any losses in the west.
I did not say this. I only said there are seven states, Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the BJP needed to increase its electoral footprint. In the past 16 months, we have really focused on these states and I am convinced that the party will do very well in elections in these states. And the feedback I am getting from the Northeastern states Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura are very encouraging. For the first time the BJP has emerged a political force in these states.
During the Bihar elections, anti-BJP forces were seen joining hands to defeat Modi? How will you counter such moves?
The simplest way is to spread the BJP’s ideology to the maximum number of people and increase its public support base. The BJP has always fought elections with the help of its cadre or organisation and the popularity of its leaders. I believe, we will be able to increase our strength on both fronts. And as I have said before, the BJP electoral strategy should be aimed at politics of 51%. And the BJP is doing a new kind of politics. In the past decade, wherever we got electoral support in states, we have successfully and repeatedly countered political barriers of caste and regionalism.
The BJP has for the first time introduced politics of performance and achieved success to a certain degree. I like to give you examples of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and Rajasthan. We have been re-elected on the basis of our performance. I believe the BJP will be able to do the same in states and the Centre.
Your term ends in 2019. Are you prepared for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and give a second consecutive term to the Modi government?
This is a challenge for each and every worker of the BJP because the kind of transformational change we want for India cannot be achieved in just five years. We will fulfil the promises made in the five years. But the BJP will definitely bring about fundamental changes under the leadership of Narendra Modi in the second term.