How do you assess BJP’s prospects in this round of state polls?
There are still a few days to go before Telangana votes. But so far as the three states of the Hindi belt — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — are concerned, I see a strong current of anti-incumbency against Congress, including in MP. I saw it first hand in my tours of the states. In Madhya Pradesh, which I have looked at closely in the last two and a half months, people vividly recall the misrule, corruption and non-governance that defined the 1.5 years Congress was in office after 2018. In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Congress governments deviated from the tasks of development and maintaining law and order, which has hurt people. In sharp contrast to the adverse opinion towards Congress, people have a positive opinion towards BJP. Not just because of the Modi government’s welfare schemes but also because the Centre, under BJP, never discriminated against Congress-governed states. Even Congress has not accused the Modi government of pursuing a stepmotherly attitude towards its governments. I think BJP is on a strong footing in all three states and we will win all three, margins can vary.
You were also confident of winning the Karnataka elections, but you suffered a big defeat.
You are right. We were off the mark in Karnataka and lost heavily. I feel that we failed to put our viewpoint across and convince the voter. But it is only a few months since elections, and people in Karnataka are already regretting, they are traumatised by the complete non-performance of the Congress government. They won elections by making a lot of promises, all of which remain unfulfilled. You will see the result of this betrayal soon. We will again sweep the Lok Sabha polls in the state.
But isn’t it odd that Congress should be facing anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh when it is BJP which has been in office since 2003, barring a break of 1.5 years?
In politics, 1+1 does not always make 2. In Gujarat, we have been in office since 1995, whereas we came to office in MP in 2003. Yet, we have been the consistent winner in Gujarat. What is crucial is not the length of your tenure, but what you do with it. In MP, our work since 2003 speaks for itself. You only have to compare the state of affairs under the Congress regime. People remember it as the party responsible for ‘bantadhar’ (wreck) because of non-existent infrastructure. The experience of voters in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is no different. Apart from the lack of attention on development, non-governance and corruption, people are also upset because of Congress’s politics of appeasement and its dangerous manifestations — be it the killing of Kanhaiya Lal in Rajasthan or Bhuneshwar Sahu in Chhattisgarh — by fanatics. People are conscious these days and can understand what is going on.
You attributed your failure in Karnataka to the inability to communicate your message. You must have taken steps to fix the flaw. It seems that you are also using a new playbook for these states. Unlike in Karnataka, you have not kept veterans out on the ground of their advanced age, while fewer incumbent MLAs have been dropped. Also, in some instances, veterans have been replaced by their family members.
No. We don’t junk our playbook because of one defeat. BJP was known for losing elections. I was the national president when we lost Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan in 2018; that is, just before the last Lok Sabha polls. Did we discard our style because of the setbacks? We have consistently focused on winnability as an important consideration. This was the case earlier, and continues to be so. Decisions are shaped by the options you have. Your elbow room shrinks if you don’t have too many.
In the current instance, Union ministers and MPs have been fielded. Isn’t this unprecedented?
In politics, there is no one template. You cannot be rigid. We have seen many people moving from state politics to the central arena. By the same token, if a senior party leader feels that he has had his fill of central politics and wants to move to his state, it is incumbent upon the party to consider their requests on merit.
Some feel that they have been pushed into states as alternatives to leaders who have long been faces of the party. Is there a future for Shivraj Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje, considering the party has not projected them as its face?
They all are fighting elections, and energetically. The leadership issue will be decided later.
In Rajasthan, is it the first time in three decades that you are in the fray without a face? Don’t you think that this experiment in collective leadership can hurt you in a state where BJP remained synonymous with, first late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and, recently, with Vasundhara Raje?
I don’t believe so.
You sound bullish on Chhattisgarh. Not long ago, BJP itself appeared to have given up on the state.
I am confident because of what I saw during my recent visits. I have felt a huge anti-incumbency there. The party has recently been working and I see good results coming from that. You can ask your contacts in Congress, they are no longer as confident as they initially sounded. They have not been able to put up a good campaign and BJP will exploit that.
Do you think the Mahadev Book online betting scam will hurt Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh?
Surely it will. It has affected public opinion. But please remember that the Baghel government already had a solid reputation for corruption before the betting scam was busted.
But the ED has been accused of targeting Baghel and other opposition regimes because of BJP’s political vendetta.
Allegations are always going to be levelled but there are courts in the country and everyone, the government as well as the opposition, are accountable to them. The aggrieved can always move the judiciary.
Bhupesh Baghel has positioned himself as an OBC leader. Will not ED’s action earn him sympathy?
I don’t see that on the ground. What stands out is the goodwill for BJP because of the Modi government’s pro- poor welfare schemes. Conservatively speaking, in all states, 60-80% of voters have benefited from them — from free Covid vaccination to free foodgrains given during Covid, which will continue to be available, free LPG gas connections, toilets, homes, electricity, health insurance cover of up to Rs 5 lakh, Ayushman Bharat, free education. They have a very positive impact on the lives of 60-80% of voters. The country as a whole feels more reassured because of what has been done to boost its security, prosperity and respect. Be it G20, or the new Parliament, or keeping the Sengol there, Kartavya Path, or landing Chandrayaan-3 on the south pole of the moon… each of these episodes has had a positive impact on the voter’s opinion. The Prime Minister made women’s quota in legislatures a reality even when there was no pressure for it in recent times. This was unprecedented and has improved his popularity among women.
You don’t seem optimistic about Telangana. Only a few months ago, the state had seemed full of promise for you.
I said Telangana will go to polls later. Let five days pass, and then we will see where things stand.
What impact will such an outcome have on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls?
I have just said that we lost all five state elections last time around. And when Lok Sabha elections came, we won 80% of LS seats from these states. In fact, if you leave Telangana, where we could not win many, our haul from the other states, Mizoram included, stood at 90%.
But the results cannot be without any impact. They certainly have a bearing on your equations with allies.
Not really. As far as NDA is concerned, everyone makes demands based on their popularity and strength and they are justified too.
So you are certain of BJP’s win in 2024?
Absolutely. In the 2024 elections, I have no doubt that BJP will prevail and PM Modi will come back with a bigger margin.
You have delivered on BJP’s key poll promises like Ram temple and scrapping of J&K’s special status. What is going to be your main campaign theme for 2024?
Please understand that at the time when we are celebrating 75 years of Independence, Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, it is the youth who have the biggest share in the demographic. Modi ji, who has ignited patriotic fervour among them, occupies a special place in the country. The youth thinks that when their time comes, India will have grown big and they will have a share in national prosperity and glory. This sense of hope gives our country and our party a lot of strength.
Is the extension of the free foodgrain scheme a prelude to similar measures in the build-up to the 2024 campaign?
It is not right to link such actions of this government to elections. Just to refresh your memory, no election was scheduled when the PM brought in the Jan Dhan account scheme. Was there any electoral compulsion for him to announce the free toilet scheme during his first Independence Day address from Red Fort in 2014? Please recall that the launch of the free LPG connection scheme did not coincide with any election? These are well thought out measures for the empowerment of the poor.
What is your opinion about the INDIA group?
Please understand that opposition unity is just an illusion. Can there be opposition unity in Telangana or Kerala? There can never be. On the other hand, it is already a fact in states where it is possible — in Bihar, Maharashtra. Then, there are states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal, where Congress is the only opposition. So which unity are we talking about? The high-profile efforts of opposition leaders are at odds with the reality on the ground.
Congress party can never respect Indian culture: Amit Shah
Congress is going about caste census with full gusto.
What policy a party pursues is exclusively its concern. But the OBCs know very well that Congress has always been opposed to them. They dumped the recommendations of Kaka Kalelkar and Mandal Commissions in the deep freezer. Who opposed the Mandal Commission in Parliament? For so many years, they denied constitutional status to the Backward Classes Commission and it was left to PM Modi to fulfil the task. Modi ji introduced OBC quota in NEET, Sainik Schools, in the allotment of petrol pumps and gas stations. BJP has always stood by Dalits, Adivasis and backward classes. It is our tradition. The tribal affairs ministry was established during BJP’s term. Tribal Aayog was established when BJP was in office. The first tribal President was also elected during our time. This shows the mentality of the party. That is why we have the maximum number of MPs and legislators from among OBCs, Dalits and tribals. People are no fools.
Restoration of OPS was a major poll issue in states like Himachal which BJP lost.
It is true that many are demanding the return of the old pension scheme. But we also have to look at the availability of resources and budgetary constraints. A committee has been formed to examine it.
Is the PM’s support for Madigas’ demand for sub-categorisation of Dalits in Telangana a precursor to similar exercises in other states or at the Centre?
Many states already have similar differentiations. The lot of Madigas in both Telangana and Karnataka is very bad and requires special consideration. That’s why BJP has taken a principled decision to support it and take it forward.
First, you removed triple talaq and then you have started enacting Uniform Civil Code in party-governed states. Is this not a part of BJP’s politics to target a particular community?
No, uniformity of laws was part of the vision of the framers of the Constitution. UCC is part of the mandate laid down under Directive Principles in Article 44 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has regretted the delay in fulfilling this and has, on several occasions, cited Article 44 to remind governments of dereliction of their duty. Unfortunately, Congress ignored the task assigned to us by the founding fathers as well as the court’s exhortations because of its greed for votes. You tell me, what can be the logic for faith-based laws for different religious communities in a democracy that is governed by the Constitution? Faith-based laws are symbols of discrimination and appeasement. We believe that every citizen should have equal laws and equal rights. As you can see during our tenure of nine years, we have taken all our schemes to every citizen without any discrimination, irrespective of one’s religion. It is in Congress’s nature to do politics based on religion and that is why the curse of triple talaq persisted despite being brazenly anti-women until the arrival of Modi ji. Modi ji has done the historic work of freeing Muslim women from the curse of triple talaq.
You have launched a campaign against Rohingyas who have taken refuge here. Isn’t this violation of their human rights?
The Modi government has launched a campaign to find Rohingyas and infiltrators across the country and just three days ago, the NIA succeeded in nabbing 44 infiltrators from 10 states. This is not an isolated operation, it is a coordinated operation in which infiltrators continue to be caught from different parts of India. As for your question, there is a difference between refugees and infiltrators. Rohingyas are infiltrators and invoking human rights to shield them has always been part of the politics of appeasement of Congress and others. But for us, the security of the country and the rights of our citizens are paramount. I am absolutely clear that we have to find them and smash their network. This is a question of India’s security and the rights of our citizens.
The ban on PFI has also been attacked as a polarising step.
PFI and other separatist organisations are not only a threat to the unity, security and prosperity of India, people who spread religious fanaticism are also the biggest enemies of humanity. The Modi government has a clear policy of zero tolerance towards them, and we are committed to uproot them. The kind of action we took on PFI has become an example for the rest of the world to follow; the way we caught its key leaders and clamped down on their activities across the country. It has broken the back of those who promote terrorism in India. The INDI Alliance would, of course, protest for obvious reasons. The onus is on Rahul Gandhi and his allies to explain why they always have to spring to the defence of anti-nationals.
You have been raising the issue of Ram Mandir in every speech. Is this also not politics of vote bank?
For BJP, Ram temple has never been a matter of politics. Ram Janmabhoomi and Lord Shri Ram are symbols of faith of innumerable people. The construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is a tribute to that faith… It would be very narrow to look at it from the election point of view because it has been our main issue right since BJP’s inception, having been part of our election manifestos for decades. BJP always fought this battle legally and in the end truth prevailed, crores of Hindus won. The consecration of Ram Mandir on January 22 in the presence of PM Modi will be a proud day not only for every Indian but also for Sanatanis of the entire world. We are happy that this conflict that festered for 550 years was resolved under Modi ji’s prime ministership. I also pay tribute to lakhs of karsevaks and leaders like late Ashok Singhal ji, without whose struggle this would not have been possible. It is natural for Congress, which kept Lord Shri Ram confined to a ramshackle tent for 70 years and conspired to delay the verdict, to be unhappy. The magnificent Ram Mandir will not be a pleasant sight to them.
Elections are yet to happen in J&K. What has the abolition of special status achieved?
The Modi government believes in the democratic system. I have always said that holding elections in Jammu & Kashmir is the EC’s prerogative. The delimitation process is over and I am confident that the EC will soon make a decision. As for your scepticism, unprecedented things have been achieved and are happening. Stone-pelting has ended and terror is headed to meet the same fate. Glorification of terrorism and those who support it has been completely banned. Bandhs and funerals of terrorists have now become a thing of history in Kashmir. This year, a record number of more than 2 crore tourists visited. Cultural heritage is being restored. Be it Kheer Bhawani Fair or Shri Amarnath Yatra, they have been seeing a throng of pilgrims. The splendour of Dal Lake has been restored, private investment is coming continuously and IIMs, medical colleges, engineering colleges are being opened. Infrastructure in the Valley is rapidly getting strengthened through new projects of roads, bridges, tunnels, railways, irrigation and power generation. The faith of our Kashmiris in the democratic system has returned, an example of which is the huge voter turnout in the panchayat and urban body elections.
Will the Citizenship Amendment Act ever be implemented?
The CAA law has been passed by Parliament. It is already the law of the land and the process of its implementation is in progress. Earlier, it was delayed due to Covid but you can rest assured that its implementation is inevitable.
Is the delay deliberate? Will the implementation be timed to coincide with LS polls?
This is unfortunate that a humanitarian issue like this is being linked to electoral politics. Isn’t this a fact that thousands were massacred and many more displaced in the communal carnage in the wake of Partition? Many of our unfortunate brethren managed to escape, but many got stranded and are condemned to lead an unfortunate existence marked by threats to their lives. People like Gandhi ji and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, even Nehru, had assured that in case of religious persecution, they can always come to India. CAA is the fulfilment of that solemn pledge. It is sheer travesty that Congress, which has appropriated the Gandhi surname, has discarded his vision for the sake of vote bank politics. I consider it to be my privilege to have piloted the bill and am committed to ensure its early implementation.
In the last session of Parliament, you also piloted the bill to bring three new laws by making amendments in IPC, CrPc and Evidence Act and called it freedom from the laws of the British era. But the opposition has dismissed the effort as just window dressing?
What else can be expected from those who remain slaves of the colonial mindset. Perhaps, they do not understand the difference between the colony that India was in the 19th century and India of the 21st century, a new and aspirational collective. Shouldn’t the definition of ‘treason’ change from what it was when we were slaves? Is it possible even to conceive a system for administration of justice which does not lend itself to the application of forensic science and new technology? Anachronistic laws have been the main reason for our current poor conviction rate and delay in getting justice. Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam are not only freedom from the mentality of slavery but are also modern and age-appropriate, meeting the requirements of law and justice in 21st century India. This is the result of Modi ji’s forward-looking vision. The country is soon going to introduce the three laws which will strengthen the dynamic and effective judicial system.
After becoming the home minister, you have focused on ending Maoism, but the security challenge continues.
This has been a big fight. The Modi government has taken more steps than all the previous regimes put together to curb this problem and we remain committed to end this menace. We have switched from defensive to offensive response. Source of their funds have been choked and they are struggling. The districts affected by the problem have shrunk to 45, all in Chhattisgarh, from 96 across several states in 2010. There has been a 94% reduction in deaths of security personnel fighting Naxalites, 87% reduction in civilian deaths and 76% reduction in incidents of Left Wing Extremism, which shows that our direction and policy are right. Our security forces have entered their core areas and created more than 100 permanent camps. Budha Pahad and Chakrabandha were liberated from Naxalites after 30 years. I am confident that we will soon see a Naxalism-free India.
The government has also taken on the drug menace and you are the first home minister who has placed himself in its forefront.
I see drug addiction as the gravest threat to the country and its people. It destroys the country’s future by ruining the young generation. I agree with you that it is going to be a tough battle. Even developed countries of the world have given up fighting the syndicates but in India, our Prime Minister has launched a campaign for a drug-free India. We at the home ministry have resolved to drain the entire swamp. There is an increase of 321% in drug-related arrests and drugs worth more than Rs 22,000 crore have been seized. More than 10 lakh kg of drugs have been destroyed in the last one year by the home ministry along with other agencies