HT Interview: ‘BJP provided road map for Sonar Bangla,' says Amit Shah
It might not be incorrect to say that West Bengal has been on Union home minister Amit Shah’s mind for a long time. Indeed, at the peak of the campaign in the Bihar assembly elections, Shah landed up in the state (as he has been doing regularly for several years), where his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has become a significant political force in the past decade. Not surprisingly, in the coming round of assembly elections to four states and a Union territory, Shah’s primary focus has been West Bengal.
Shah has set the party the target of winning 200-plus of the 294 assembly seats in the state. In an interview to HT, he said anyone sceptical of this claim need only look at the party’s performance in the 2019 general elections when the party improved its tally from two MPs to 18 and nearly equalled the Trinamool Congress’s (TMC’s) vote share.
While the TMC’s campaign centres around “Bengal Ki Beti” Mamata Banerjee versus an outside force, the BJP, Shah asserts that the people of West Bengal are rooting for a change.
Shah sees the BJP winning Assam and West Bengal, the BJP-AIADMK alliance winning Tamil Nadu, and the party improving its seat share in Kerala and Puducherry. Edited excerpts:
There is an accusation that the BJP has polarised the elections in West Bengal on religious lines. There is also a charge that it lacks a narrative.
If giving voice to issues that matter to the people of West Bengal is seen as religious polarisation, then it’s a new definition of polarisation I have come across. We say there should be unfettered celebrations for Durga Puja; why should anyone object to it? So why did they [TMC] stop it? Why was Saraswati Puja stopped? Wasn’t that religious polarisation? The BJP has not said a word against any religious celebration; we do not have any objection to anyone observing Ramzan or holding Christmas celebrations.
As for the lack of narrative in Bengal, the Opposition may have nothing to say, but we have provided a road map for Sonar Bangla (golden Bengal).
You have stated that the BJP will get 200-plus seats in West Bengal. What makes you so sure of achieving that target?
The people of West Bengal have accepted the vision for the state’s development that has been put forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP’s performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state, when it won 18 seats, needs to be studied to understand how we came up with the number of 200-plus. If you juxtapose the performance of the BJP in the last Lok Sabha with the assemblies, you will get the drift of how we have arrived at that figure.
After winning 18 seats, the confidence has gone up that the BJP can win. And the party already has strengthened its presence on the ground, and in 85% of the booths, our organisation and booth infrastructure is in place. There has also been an erosion in the TMC camp; so many of their leaders have left.
Women voters have emerged as a crucial constituency in all elections. There seems to be a tussle between the BJP and the TMC for their votes.
We are not fighting for their votes; the women are already with us. There are a few states in the country where women are the worst-affected because of the state government’s apathy, and West Bengal is one of them. Besides lack of opportunities, women in West Bengal have been subjected to violence by the TMC cadre, and the state tops the charts in as far as crimes against women are concerned. We have promised job reservation for women in the state because they were 100% ignored (by the previous government). There is a huge gap which needs to be bridged. Moreover, women have been at the centre of the Modi government’s schemes in the last six-and-a-half years. And once the BJP comes to power in West Bengal, the double-engine BJP government (at the Centre and at the state) will ensure that women in state get all the benefits of the women-centric policies of the Modi government.
The conversation around the implementation of CAA is intriguing. It is panning out differently in Assam and West Bengal?
All I will say is that CAA is a central law.
The Congress has stated multiple times during its election campaigns in various states, including most recently in Assam and West Bengal, that it will not allow the implementation of CAA?
The Congress needs to be asked to spell out its policy clearly. They have been saying they will not implement CAA, but why are they not saying that they won’t implement NRC (National Register of Citizens) as well? Rahul Gandhi should tell people of Assam what his party’s policy is about NRC.
How does the BJP perceive the Opposition’s alliance in Assam?
The Congress will be pulled down by [aligning with] Badruddin Ajmal (of the AIUDF). The people of Assam are tired of terrorism, illegal infiltration, and protests. By staying with Ajmal, you ( Congress) cannot ensure an end to any of these problems. There was a time in Assam when protests, killings and curfews were common; we managed to change all that. The state has been set on the path of development.
The Opposition’s alliance has been forged anticipating our victory. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, we’re promising an andolan (protest), atankwad (terrorism), ghuspaith (intrusion) and now a baad (flood)-mukt (free) Assam.
In West Bengal, too, there is an alliance of the opposition parties. The Congress is aligning with the ISF there.
I cannot understand the Congress — in Assam they are aligning with the AIDUF, in Kerala with the Indian Union Muslim League, and in West Bengal with the Pirzada of Furfura (Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF). What kind of a secular party is this?
What are the issues on which the BJP is seeking re-election in Assam. How is it poised to take on the Congress alliance?
There is nothing left for them here. We will win with a comfortable majority. In Bodoland, for instance, more than 5,000 people were killed when the Congress was in power; in the last five years, after we signed the Bodo settlement agreement, more than 2,000 extremists laid down arms and agreed to join the mainstream. We will also work out a rehabilitation programme for them.
In the past five years, our government has undertaken several initiatives that did not happen in the last 60 years, such as building five bridges over the Brahmaputra, laying out a network of over 20,000km of roads, and building hospitals including a cancer hospital in PPP model. After a long time, there has been no curfew for over 7-8 days, and this is a big achievement.
It was the BJP government that gave Bharat Ratna (highest civilian honour) to Bhupen Hazarika and rid the jungles of Kaziranga of illegal encroachment. The people of this state recognise this, and we will win with a better majority than 2016 because of the government’s achievements.
The Congress has promised to hike the wages of tea garden workers...
We are already providing two-and-a-half times the wages that were given during the Congress rule. When the Congress was in power, the workers had to pay cut money (commission) from their wages; the BJP ensured that salaries are credited straight to their accounts, for which 7.5 lakh accounts were opened. In the Union Budget, PM Modi has kept a separate fund of ₹1,000 crore for their health care, education and other needs. The tea workers know which party works for them; it is quite another thing to come for paryatan (tourism) and photo sessions.
Have you set a target of how many seats the BJP will win in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry?
We will improve the seat share in all these states. In Tamil Nadu, there will be an NDA government.
In West Bengal, there has been a lot of heartburn over ticket distribution, in some places you’ve had to change the candidates following protests.
These are internal issues; since ours is a disciplined, cadre-based party, we will resolve these issues. These things will not impact the election. This election is of the people of Bengal and our cadre is with us and we are working together for parivartan (change).
Some people complain that instead of organically increasing the strength, the party is relying on acquisition.
But the party has already grown till the booth level. We have booth-level committees across 85% of the booths and it is a strong organisation that we have built in the state. You must know we are a cadre-based party and that is what matters to us the most.
The issue of political violence has been flagged by the BJP. The party has sought the Election Commission’s intervention.
Whenever a government is about to change, the police and the anti-social elements are the first ones to sniff the change...