HT interview: We’ll do exceptionally well in Bengal, Odisha, says Amit Shah | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

HT interview: We’ll do exceptionally well in Bengal, Odisha, says Amit Shah

May 20, 2024 07:33 AM IST

Amit Shah dismisses Opposition narrative on BJP's quest for 400-plus seats, says people support Modi. Talks elections, law & order, and more in an interview.

Amit Shah, Union minister of home affairs and cooperation, believes that the country’s citizens are mature and vote carefully, dismissing the theory that the Opposition has managed to get across the narrative that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) quest for 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha is a means to do away with reservation benefits for backward castes and classes. People have accepted the BJP and the NDA’s return to power, he adds, one reason why there’s apathy among supporters of Opposition parties (and a dip in turnout). In an hour-long interview at his Delhi residence, Amit Shah spoke to R Sukumar of Hindustan Times and Shashi Shekhar of Hindustan on the elections and beyond. Edited excerpts:

Union home minister Amit Shah (Sanchit Khanna/HT)
Union home minister Amit Shah (Sanchit Khanna/HT)

This election is for saving country, religion & culture, uplifting poor: Amit Shah

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The Hindi belt has been your strength. During the first four phases, this region recorded a lower turnout than the rest of the country. Do you have any apprehensions because of this?

I was worried after the first phase, but by the time the third phase of voting began, I discovered that the Opposition’s voters were not showing up. They are deeply disappointed that the result is already in (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s favour; and they believe it is better to sit than go out (to vote) in the hot summer. This isn’t good for democracy though. They should have cast their votes too, but because of widespread disillusionment among the INDIA bloc’s voters, turnout has fallen. In states where you see high voting percentage (this time) like West Bengal, Assam and Tripura, the voting has always been high, and even there, there is some dip in turnout. If you do an analysis, you will find that there is a correlation between this dip and the areas where the Congress has traditionally had support.

Initially, it appeared that your party was winning comfortably. But reports suggest that several foreign portfolio investors have found in their surveys that you are not winning as many seats as initially expected, resulting in them starting to sell (their holdings) in the market. What is your opinion on this?

Foreign agencies can’t do proper surveys in the country. There are numerous reasons why the stock market goes up and down. We are monitoring and fighting the elections at the grassroots level. I do not have a single rally after which I do not sit with 40-50 of our workers (to discuss what is happening). According to their feedback, there is nothing to worry about.

This election is viewed as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What do you think?

This is just wordplay. Both sides have settled on candidates for the post of Prime Minister.

Who’s on the other side?

Only Rahul ji has been projected; no one has spoken for (Mallikarjun) Kharge ji. We are contesting elections under Modi ji’s leadership, and he will become the Prime Minister for the third time.

The BJP shattered caste barriers in both the 2014 and 2019 elections, consolidating its vote base. This time, it appears that caste-based mobilisation has resurfaced. What are your thoughts?

I don’t think so. Voting is taking place regardless of caste. Yadavs also voted for us in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

You have struck alliances with the Rashtriya Lok Dal and Nitish Kumar (of the Janata Dal United) with caste equations in mind?

Nitish ji is an old friend. Some people took him to the other side due to some misunderstandings. We did not strike a partnership with the RLD because of caste. We wanted to ensure our party’s outreach to a significant section of farmers, and therefore we allied with the RLD. It has nothing to do with electoral victory or defeat.

What are your expectations in the southern states?

We will be the largest party in Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu (taken together).

What about Bengal and Odisha?

We will do exceptionally well in Bengal and Odisha. In West Bengal, we will get 24 to 30 seats. We will form the government in Odisha (the assembly elections in the state are happening along with the Lok Sabha elections), and win more than 17 Lok Sabha seats.

The Srinagar constituency registered a record turnout in the polls that are happening after the revocation of Article 370. Everyone was surprised by the number of people that turned up.

We didn’t contest there this time. The Jamaat-e-Islami and Hurriyat, which previously boycotted voting and refused to acknowledge India’s Constitution, have supported the process this time. Both voted and stated that they were participating in the electoral process in accordance with the Indian Constitution. This is a significant development that has happened in Kashmir.

When will assembly elections be held in Kashmir? Will you participate in it?

The Supreme Court has established a time limit for assembly elections, which will be held in August or September. We will undoubtedly participate in the assembly elections and win seats.

And statehood for J&K?

As I have repeatedly mentioned, even in Parliament, after the elections are held, we will restore statehood.

Inflation and unemployment have had a big impact on people. You are accused of having done no work on these issues. What is your response to this?

You would have most likely heard about these problems even when you voted for the first time. The Narendra Modi government has done a lot of work in terms of jobs. When explaining the issue of employment, left-wing journalists treat only government jobs as employment. From this viewpoint, both of you are unemployed. We have an infrastructure budget of 11 lakh crore. That would have translated into some jobs. Someone will undoubtedly do the construction work. The speed of railway and road construction has doubled. The amount of (power) grids laid in the 70 years was equalled in the past 10 years. So, has employment not increased?

Along with this, we promoted the idea of self-employment. 470 million people have received Mudra Loans. We provided a loan of 27.75 lakh crore for this. I am pleased that of 470 million people who have Mudra Loans, 99.5% are not Non-Performing Assets (NPAs). About 8.5 million street vendors have been given Swanidhi Loans. We have seen the creation of 117,000 startups. In 2016-17, the unemployment rate was 6.1%, and it is projected to be 3.1% in 2023-24. Inflation was double-digit in 2013-14, but it has already dropped to 4.83%.

When Modi ji became the Prime Minister for the first time, the country had 22.2 million demat account holders. Today, this figure is 150.7 million. The market capitalisation in 2014 was 85 lakh crore; and now it is over 400 lakh crore. The benefits of this increase have gone to all shareholders — 150 million of them. Young people who are self-employed or in a startup also put their savings in mutual funds or hire an investment consultant. This has become a major source of employment. The Opposition likes to talk about five industrialists who have benefited, but, actually, the benefits have gone to 150 million Indians.

One of the charges against your government is that you used the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation to try and block the creation of the INDIA bloc of opposition parties. Despite this, they say, the alliance has come together, and the elections are being held with a joint Opposition candidate in around 300 seats. What are your thoughts on this?

Tell me, if there is no cooperation between the Communist Party, Trinamool (Congress), and Congress, what role does ED have in this? What role do we play if there is no coalition between the Left and Congress in Kerala, or the AAP and Congress in Punjab? On the contrary, where ED has intervened, an alliance has emerged. There were 5,155 PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) cases registered under our government. Politicians account for only 3% of that total. 350 crore cash was found in the home of one of their MPs; 51 crore was found in the home of Mamata Banerjee’s minister, and 31 crore in the home of a staff member of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha minister Alamgir Alam. What’s the answer to this? I ask in rallies whether anyone has ever seen so much money? Not one hand is raised. Even now, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has not suspended Alamgir, and Mamata Banerjee has not suspended Partha Chatterjee (the minister in question). Why?

Oppn leaders didn't attend Ram temple's consecration due to fear of losing vote bank: Amit Shah

Some Opposition leaders who joined you also had cases against them; yet, they have neither been raided nor summoned.

Their raid and summoning stages have ended. The charge sheets have been filed. After this, the agency has no authority, the court has to decide. Charge sheets have also been filed against Rahul and Chidambaram sahib (former Union home minister P Chidambaram). No action is being taken against them either. It will happen (in court) when their turn comes.

The distribution of citizenship certificates in the midst of the elections has become controversial.

Look, this is not fair. First, people criticise us for taking time to frame rules for CAA; then, when we do and issue citizenship certificates… The main question is not when the certificates are distributed, but whether they should be granted citizenship or not. I’ve explained CAA several times. As a result of this, no one will lose their citizenship in the country. These people (who are being given citizenship) came as refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh; the minority population in these countries has shrunk. Here (in the absence of citizenship) they do not have the right to vote; they cannot be admitted to hospitals; they cannot obtain government jobs; and they have difficulties even in education. How will they live?

You say the election is one-sided, yet you have raised the fear that Rahul Gandhi would enforce Sharia laws (in India) if the Opposition alliance wins. They did not implement Sharia in 60 years; why will they do it now?

Haven’t done it in 60 years? This has been in place since 1939 here; what constitutes Muslim personal law? It is part of Sharia. On our part, we are now discussing adopting the Uniform Civil Code, which has already been implemented in Uttarakhand, and they, for their part, are claiming that they would bring back personal law. If you wish to establish Muslim personal law, you must implement comprehensive Sharia. Those who commit treachery should be stoned to death, and those who rape should be publicly hanged. You should cut off the hands of the thief.

Will you bring a central law on UCC?

UCC is a significant social reform for which our country has waited years. The Uttarakhand government appointed a commission, chaired by a retired Supreme Court woman judge. Her report served as the foundation for the creation of this law. There should be social, religious, and legal scrutiny and debate about it. If it is implemented in one or two states, there will automatically be debate and legal scrutiny.

UCC is a significant social reform for which our country has waited years. The Uttarakhand government appointed a commission, chaired by a retired Supreme Court woman judge. Her report served as the foundation for the creation of this law. There should be social, religious, and legal scrutiny and debate about it. If it is implemented in one or two states, there will automatically be debate and legal scrutiny.

The Opposition says that you are seeking votes in the name of the Ram Mandir?

This would not have been an issue if they (the opposition) had attended the Ram Temple’s pran-pratishtha (consecration) ceremony.

They claim the Sangh called them, which was insulting. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said in an interview that they were invited by the BJP.

The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, not the BJP, invited them. The BJP has no role in it. She either does not have the information or is lying.

The Prime Minister has said that he will distribute the money of the corrupt to the poor. Is there a roadmap for this?

He did not say so. He has said that he will look into this possibility. A legal solution will need to be found. If there is no legislation, one will have to be created. I am telling it exactly as he has said it.

What hope do you see in contesting elections alone in Punjab?

The goal of contesting elections alone in Punjab is to reach every voter. Our workers are working hard to attain this goal; I am not claiming that we will be the number one party, but both our vote share and seats will increase because of the trust people have in Modi ji.

There are allegations that the BJP will amend the Constitution; that the benefits of reservation will be taken away. What are your thoughts on this?

We have enjoyed absolute majority for 10 years — we have a majority now; had a majority in 2014 — but we did not make such efforts, and we have no such intentions. We used the majority to remove Article 370, abolish triple talaq. We will use the majority to implement UCC. People are mature, they don’t listen to such charges. People of every caste and class are voting to give Narendra Modi 400 seats.

In the last 10 years, we have seen you in a variety of roles. BJP president, home minister, and minister for cooperation. What do you see yourself doing in the BJP’s third term?

You’re looking at all of them incorrectly. All three roles followed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s plan. If there is a fourth role, it will be determined by the party. My job is only to carry out the party’s instructions.

On the three new criminal laws

Our endeavour is to deliver justice within three years and timelines have been added in 35 sections.

In addition, we have sharpened the focus on crimes against women and children; a new chapter on this has been introduced in the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (which replaces the Indian Penal Code, 1860). We have also taken cognisance of new crimes, such as snatching. In today’s technological era, it is very important to prevent snatching of mobile phones. Mob lynching has been defined for the first time. Terrorism has been defined in the law for the first time.

Also, the focus of the new criminal laws is justice, not punishment. It is justice that is in line with Indian legal philosophy. At the same time, the aim is also to build the world’s most modern justice system. It is flexible enough to accommodate any technology that will be developed in the next 50 years.

The new laws (they also include the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita which replaces the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam Vidhayak which replaces the Indian Evidence Act of 1872) also provide for action against proclaimed offenders.

In cases where the punishment is 10 years or more, including life imprisonment and the death penalty, the offender can be declared a ‘proclaimed offender’. And a new provision has been made for the attachment and seizure of property outside India. Our laws have now become more relevant and effective to stop the new methods adopted by criminals.

On Left-Wing Extremism

The battle against Left-Wing Extremism is in its final stage. The home ministry has a three-dimensional strategy to tackle Left-Wing Extremism: controlling extremists through better strategies; improved co-ordination between Centre and states; and public participation through development. Between 2004-14 and 2014-24 (March), there was a 53% reduction in incidents of violence, from 16,134 to 7,569.

There was a 72% reduction in deaths of security personnel (to 499) and a 68% reduction in deaths of civilians (to 1,462). Success has been achieved in establishing camps in Maoist strongholds such as Barmasia and Chakarbandha in Bihar, and Boodha Pahar and Parsnath in Jharkhand, completely eliminating security vacuum there.

Since 2019, 195 new camps have been opened, which have brought down the security vacuum in LWE-affected areas to near zero, barring a few areas. Already this year, 24 new camps have been opened, and plans are in place to open 44 more camps in a phase-wise manner according to the situation.

On terrorism

The Modi government has a “Zero Tolerance Policy” on terrorism and major terror incidents have reduced in number in the hinterland — from 43 in the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance rule to 10 in our time, with the number of casualties of security forces and civilians reducing from 874 to 21.

Even in Kashmir, total incidents have come down from 7,217 in 2004-14 to 2,227 in 2014-24, with the number of total deaths coming down by 68% to 915 and the number of civilian deaths by 81% to 341. The big change in Kashmir is that we have one Constitution, one national flag and one Prime Minister now.

We have implemented 53 schemes involving 58,769 crore for the development of Jammu & Kashmir. There are now around 34,000 elected public representatives in the UT. And in 2023, the tourist footfall touched 21.1 million.

PoK ours, we will take it back: Amit Shah in Uttar Pradesh

We also amended the NIA Act, including new offences under the agency’s jurisdiction and granting it extraterritorial jurisdiction. NIA has registered 567 cases so far, out of which 125 have resulted in convictions. We also came up with a comprehensive 25-point action plan to control terror funding. NIA has seized 400 properties related to terrorism. And all financial channels related to left-wing insurgent groups, organised crime gangs, and Khalistani terrorist groups are being curbed.

The UAPA has been amended, giving us the power to confiscate property acquired/related to terrorism and the power to declare person a terrorist. And since 2019, 57 people have been declared terrorists . And a total of 44 organisations, including four since 2019, have been banned.

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