Under Modi, a new caste has emerged in the country, that of beneficiaries: Shah | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Under Modi, a new caste has emerged in the country, that of beneficiaries: Shah

May 04, 2023 02:29 PM IST

Union minister Amit Shah says a Uniform Civil Code has been on the BJP’s agenda since the day our party was formed

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win a clear majority in Karnataka, surprising everyone, Union home minister Amit Shah said in an interview, adding that while, from the outside, the elections may look polarised, on the ground, it is the development work done by the BJP that is talking. Shah also dismissed opposition parties coming together to take on the BJP as a photo-op and said that it would have no impact on votes. Edited excerpts

Union home minister Amit Shah dismissed opposition parties coming together to take on the BJP as a photo-op and said that it would have no impact on votes PREMIUM
Union home minister Amit Shah dismissed opposition parties coming together to take on the BJP as a photo-op and said that it would have no impact on votes

What are the prospects of the BJP in Karnataka?

Even before the elections were announced, I visited the state for about 11 days, and after the polls were announced, I have been visiting the state every two or three days. I have visited about 70% of the districts in Karnataka and I have felt a surge in support for the BJP everywhere. The enthusiasm of our cadre to ensure that the BJP gets a majority is also at its peak. There is an overall sentiment that Karnataka has to remain a stronghold of the BJP in the South.

Based on my feedback and my experience, I am confident that the party will win reach the halfway mark and win a minimum of 15 additional seats over the halfway mark (there are 224 seats in the assembly). The elections results will surprise everyone.

Will the BJP be able to buck the trend of the incumbent not returning to power?

There is no such trend...the Congress returned to power four times and the Janata Dal (Secular) also returned to power three times.

Read here: BJP will get 15 seats more than halfway mark: Shah

But since 1999 there has been a change...

It is meaningless; each result comes with its own electoral dimensions. It is not correct to link it to any date. Parties come and go, but electoral history is based on the comprehensive political situation, and I feel now people in the state want both stability and the BJP in power.

In the Karnataka election manifesto, you promised the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Why not have a central law to implement the code?

UCC has been on the BJP’s agenda since the day our party was formed. Even when we were not in a position to form the government, we used to include it in our manifesto, and we used to do so as a public opinion building exercise. But the constituent assembly also favoured the UCC... it had expressed hope that Parliament and the state assemblies will implement a common code at the right time, after widespread consultations. BJP governments in Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have set up committees that have begun public hearings.

It is valid to ask why there is no central law for its implementation... but this is a subject that is in the domain of the state as well as the Centre. Second, it is a critical issue with wide ramifications and can have a revolutionary impact on social life. So, we want there to be extensive discussion on the issue on the ground, and one or two states should formulate the law, which can withstand legal scrutiny and then, with maturity, after wide discussions, UCC should be implemented. Such a big decision should not be rushed.

You did away with reservation for Muslims in Karnataka. If this reservation was unconstitutional, why was the decision not taken earlier?

I have said this several times publicly that we delayed the scrapping of the quota and should have done this before. Reservation based on religion is unconstitutional. Our Constitution grants reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and on the basis of backwardness, not religion. There are many Supreme Court judgments that have made it (reservation policy) very clear. There is no scope for reservation on a religious basis.

There are several states, including Telangana, where such reservation is prevalent.

The BJP’s stance is clear that since the Constitution does not permit reservation on the basis of religion, wherever we form the government, we will end the practice. I said so recently in Telangana also.

You have also mentioned NRC (National Register of Citizens) in the Karnataka manifesto. Is there a problem of (illegal) outsiders in the state?

It is not exactly an NRC, but a sort of a survey. A state government has the right to conduct a survey of its citizens.

Will rebels affect your chances in Karnataka ?

In the last three elections there have been rebel candidates...this time, there has been a drastic reduction in their numbers.

Why were the senior leaders denied tickets, was it winnability or generational change?

It is not about winnability. [Jagdish] Shettar had himself decided that he will not work as a minister under BS Bommai, so then why does a senior leader like him want to come a legislator? But we could not succeed in making him understand that a new leader should get a chance.

[Laxman] Savadi’s term as MLC (Member of Legislative Council) ends in December 2028, why does he want to be a member of the assembly? And if he wanted to be a legislator, why did he accept the MLC ticket a year ago?

These are decisions based on principles that we could not make them understand. But I am saying this, both Shettar and Savadi will lose.

You have banned the Popular Front of India (PFI); do you see this benefitting the BJP in the Karnataka polls?

It will have a big impact on the nation’s internal security. It (ban) helps enforce the rule of law and also acts as a speed breaker... when so many people are jailed at once, they need to create a new cadre, create new outfits and expand their work, so it stalls their pace. The government’s approach of zero tolerance for such organisations that are a threat to the internal security of the country becomes apparent to the last man in the queue. I feel there is an advantage...all state governments and the Union government took the decision to act against PFI and imprison its members at the same time. The court too has upheld the ban.

The Congress has spoken about its intent to ban the Bajrang Dal.

I feel the reason for this decision is the policy of appeasement that the Congress party follows. From any which way the Bajrang Dal cannot be accused of being a threat to the country’s internal security or anti-national activities. But this has been the policy of the Congress for years, they put a lock on the Ram Temple (in Ayodhya) ...

Going by the narrative, the election looks very polarised.

If we analyse from just one point of view then it seems so...but when we are on the ground, then you see the effect of the BJP government’s work -- the 14 irrigation schemes that were fast-tracked, the expansion of the metro from 6km to 56km in Bengaluru, the impact of the suburban railway, the construction of eight-lane roads from Bengaluru to Chennai and Hyderabad and six-lane road to Mysuru. There are scores of such development projects that the BJP will benefit from. When we view it from a distance and from the prism of news headlines, then we feel there is (polarisation)...but 48 lakh (4.8 million) families have got toilets, 37 lakh (3.7 million) houses for the poor were constructed,1.4 crore (14 million) get free ration and all BPL (below poverty line) families get health insurance of up to 5 lakh. And in toto, the effect of the ban on PFI will have an impact on Bengaluru and Karnataka’s security.

There is a perception that caste impacts voting preference in Karnataka. Do you think that the work that the BJP government claims to have done in the state will change that? Will development trump caste preference?

After Narendra Modi became PM in 2014,a new caste has emerged in the country, that of beneficiaries. This new caste has broken all the previous bindings of caste. In Karnataka alone, excluding overlaps, there are at least 40 lakh (4 million) families that have benefitted from one scheme or the other of the BJP and they feel that after 70 years, this government has brought a change in their lives. We have not distributed revadis (sops), we have raised their living standard. A family now gets a house, they get a toilet, power, water, cooking gas, health insurance and free foodgrain, so, the entire income is used for educating the children and for starting new businesses. Earlier, the income used to be spent on just getting these things and there used to be a single dream -- to get a house. I believe the welfare schemes have broken all caste barriers. The importance of caste does remain in the country’s political system -- but the BJP represents all castes. We are in a win-win situation, we have representatives of all castes and irrespective of castes, we have a new vote-bank that is Narendra Modi’s fanbase.

Read here: Siddaramaiah speaking against Lingayats as he has sensed defeat: BSY

The BJP and the Congress both accuse each other of corruption. The BJP says if the Congress returns to power it will use the state as an ATM. How will the BJP tackle the allegations against the state government?

The Congress should spell out the schemes where there was corruption and who was involved. There has to be a basis for levelling the charge, just as there was when the 2G (spectrum) scam came to light. All the scams and scandals during the Congress regime had a basis, either the court took notice, or the vigilance commission did, or CBI had to inquire. And if they claim that we (BJP government) do not take action, then they can approach the court.

I want to ask, what about the Congress president in the state (DK Shivakumar) , there is an FIR, he went to jail and is out on bail. People are not swayed by utterances alone, it (the allegation) sticks only when there is proof.

The Opposition blames the government for misusing agencies.

They can go to the court. All the investigations into the scams during their rule were ordered by the courts. And as Opposition, when we raised the issue in Parliament, we used to give concrete proof, which the court used to take cognisance of and issue orders.

The Karnataka polls are largely being seen as a tussle between the BJP and the Congress. Both the BJP and the Congress have also dubbed the JD(S) as Team B of the other. Do you think this is a bipolar contest between the BJP and the Congress?

The JD(S) is nowhere in the picture. In the last election, it was the party with the smallest mandate, and they took support from the Congress to form government and get the CM’s post. Now, people have realised that they don’t want to vote for the Congress so, voting for the JD(S) is pointless because, in the end, it will go to the Congress itself. Those who do not want to vote for the Congress will naturally come to the BJP.

The BJP seems confident that the rejig in the internal reservation will help shore up its numbers; however there are castes such as the SC Left and the Banjaras who are not happy with the changes.

We ended 4% reservation for Muslims and by default, the quotas for Vokkaligga and Lingayats went up. The reservation for Dalits was as per the report that was pending for long, but the Congress did not have the courage to implement. We did it and the people of Karnataka have welcomed the move.

The Congress is trying to turn it into a political issue, but it will not succeed.

There is a lot of pressure from certain groups such as the Lingayats to announce a chief ministerial candidate.

Bommai is the sitting CM, where is the question of announcing a name?

But the state seems to favour personalities over other aspects. A lot of people feel former CM BS Yediyurappa is still the tallest leader...

He is a tall leader but he himself said he does not want to continue as CM. The party also has a rule (on age) and he had followed it. Just because he is not the CM, does not mean he is not our party’s leader. Even at this age, he addresses five rallies a day, yesterday he was with me for three rallies and he speaks fluently. I sometimes wonder -- when I am his age, will I be able to speak like that?

The Congress has complained to the Election Commission (EC) about your statement on there being riots if it comes to power.

The EC will take a call. Such complaints are made during poll season, but I think I have not violated the model code of conduct

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is planning a meeting of Opposition parties after the Karnataka polls. Do you see an alliance taking shape nationally?

Opposition unity in the current political context seems like an impossible feat. All the parties that are contesting against the BJP are mostly regional parties and their acceptance and the ambit of their work is limited to one state. What will be the impact if Nitish Kumar goes to address a meeting in Punjab or Mamata Banerjee goes to Gujarat in support of Congress or Akhilesh Yadav seeks support for Trinamool Congress in West Bengal? All these people are competing against us in their own states and if they come together, there will be a photo op and will be good for newspaper headlines. But there will be no impact on the transfer of votes.

If the Congress and regional parties put up consensus candidates ?

The Congress now has a limited impact...what difference will it make if the party allies with any party in UP or Bengal? They have zero and one seat in both states. The Congress is now barely surviving in states. In this political landscape, there is no relevance of Opposition unity, it exists only in for optics and for media consumption.

A lot of Opposition parties have said that an alliance cannot be formed without the Congress. But given the party’s political heft, is there any other party that can take its place in the Opposition’s alliance?

Even if there is a grand alliance, what will the Congress give Mamata Banerjee in Rajasthan, in Madhya Pradesh, in Chhattisgarh or Gujarat? Over a period of time, the areas of operation for all these parties have segregated, they cannot help each other, they can only make a bid to unite pre-poll.

But I feel all this is unnecessary since we will win with 2/3rd majority.

It has been four years since the reading down of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Are you satisfied with the work that has been done on the ground? Has the Union Territory been mainstreamed?

Success in J&K can be seen in three aspects -- percolation of democracy, development and control on terrorism. For 70-plus years after Independence, democracy did not percolate, there was no evidence of development and terrorism too was at its peak. I feel in all three aspects, the lieutenant governor’s (LG’s) administration under central rule has done well. Today, more than 30,000 local body representatives, who were elected, are working on the ground, the infrastructure that they need, such as a tehsil panchayat, has been provided. Earlier, democracy was limited to only 87 MLAs and six MPs. There was no implementation of Panchayati Raj rules under the ruse of Article 370 before.

There has been a reduction in terror cases as well; under various heads, there has been a dip of between 30-70%. For sometime now, you would not have seen people throng funerals of terrorists, this means that people now have distanced themselves from terrorists. Instances of stone pelting that were commonplace earlier cannot be seen anymore. There is data to support these claims...We have also taken stern steps, for instance, if anyone wants to apply for a government job, they will need a certificate from the police station to state that they did not take part in stone pelting. Strict action has been taken against relatives of terrorists killed. All this has resulted in a dip in terror acts and also shrunk the terror ecosystem.

It is a big achievement that 1.8 crore (18 million) tourists visited the UT in just one year.

The third aspect is development; the work to provide tap water in every household is now complete; during the past two winters, instances of power cuts were fewer than 3%. Under the industrial policy, investment is flowing into Kashmir. Work to provide infrastructure is underway and institutions are being established. When I met IIT and IIM students, it felt nice to hear students from Kerala and Gujarat studying in Kashmir. This is changing the situation on the ground.

Comparatively a lot of work has been done, but development is a continuous process, and we should not remain satisfied...so lots must be done still. But the disha and gati (direction and speed) are right.

The next step is elections in J&K...

I cannot say when the elections will be held as it is decided by EC. As of now they (EC) are preparing the electoral rolls and the objections that they invited shows that earlier rolls prepared under previous governments have left out the names of the many displaced Kashmiris. Till the time that is rectified, and the process of their registration is not complete, I feel the electoral rolls will not be complete. When EC feels that the work is complete, election will be held immediately.

The former LG of J&K, Satyapal Malik, has made some allegations about the governance and administrative issues.

I only want to say that Satyapal ji should have said all this (the allegations) while he was in office. When he speaks about all these issues a year-and-a-half after demitting office and ahead of elections, it is natural for people to think that these utterances are political.

You were in Arunachal Pradesh recently. On the one hand there is the issue of border dispute with China in the Northeastern region and on the other, a focus on development. What do you think is the impact of resolving simmering issues in the region?

There has been a reduction of 60-70% in incidents of violence in the Northeast. Approximately 8,000 insurgents have surrendered. There has been a 70% reduction in the notified area under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) since 2019. The Congress in its 2019 manifesto promised the repeal of the act, I was then the BJP president and I said I won’t repeal it but we will ensure that there is no situation that calls for its implementation. The peace on the ground shows this clearly. Apart from this, pending issues between states over boundaries have been resolved. We have done good work for the development of the states and the region. Narendra Modi is the only PM who has visited the region more than 50 times in the last nine years. He has not only reduced the physical distance between the region and Delhi, but also the distance between hearts.

We spoke of caste and elections earlier; will the barrier of caste be broken in Bihar ?

Absolutely, look at the growing acceptance of the BJP in the state. In the last election the BJP emerged as a bigger party than Nitish Kumar’s (Janata Dal United); had caste been a factor, then it wouldn’t have been so. We have broken these barriers in UP and Bihar, it is a long fight but the results are good. Earlier, governments used to be decided on the basis of caste, dynasty and appeasement, now we have been successful in installing the politics of performance.

Is Khalistani sentiment reviving in Punjab? Did the government take action against Amritpal at the right moment?

What is seen on surface does not mean that the Khalistani sentiment has found acceptance among the ordinary Sikhs and Punjabis. We feel when Waris Punjab De (Amritpal’s outfit) breached all limits...then the government of India and the government of Punjab took the right decision at the right time.

Read here: Shah hands out job letters to civic staff in Delhi

There is a perception that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that criticise the government or work in the area of environment lose their FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) licence.

I don’t think more than 10% of the NGOs would have lost their licence. Working in the environment sector does not mean that they will not abide by the law of the land. Money coming into the country from abroad is a sensitive issue and there is a law for that, no one should transgress that. If anyone does that, then surely there will be action.

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    Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.


    Sukumar Ranganathan is the Editor-in-Chief of Hindustan Times. He is also a comic-book freak and an amateur birder.

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